Saturday, 22 November 2014

'Before the Blog' Reviews

A few more of my favourite reads, reviewed and previously published elsewhere

Pictures at an Exhibition - Camilla Macpherson

Published by Arrow, April 2012

(Originally reviewed June 2012)

London, 1942

With bombs raining down on London, the National Gallery's most treasured paintings have been hidden away. The authorities have decided that only one masterpiece will be displayed each month. And each month, Daisy Milton writes to her cousin Elizabeth to tell her about the paintings, her life - and the man she loves.

London, present day

A terrible tragedy has left Claire's marriage to Rob in tatters and there seems little hope of reconciliation. Then she finds Daisy's letters, written to Rob's grandmother, and gradually, picture by picture, month by month, Daisy's world in the 1940s becomes more real to Claire than her own. Slowly, too, she begins to notice intriguing parallels between both their lives.

But Daisy is from another time, and unless Claire can find a way to make sense of the past, she risks losing everything that she cares about in the present.

I hadn't heard of this author before I selected this from Vine but I'm very pleased with my choice. I enjoyed this book immensely. I won't repeat the plot as this has been done in detail by previous reviewers. I do particularly enjoy stories with a dual time frame and this book very cleverly wove Claire's present day life with Daisy's war time one. I did prefer the character of Daisy to Claire and in truth would have been quite happy if more of the book had been solely about Daisy and her life. I found Claire to be in the main, an unsympathetic character, wallowing in misery and being rude and ungracious to those around her. She vents her misery on her husband Rob and, in my opinion, holds him unfairly responsible for the tragedy they suffered, although by the end, I did find myself warming to her a little. Their marriage is virtually at breaking point when Claire starts to read the letters sent to Rob as part of his grandmother's estate (his grandmother was Elizabeth, the recipient of Daisy's letters).

I loved reading Daisy's letters to Elizabeth, although as a previous reviewer has commented, I would have liked to have seen some of Elizabeth's responses to these letters. We learn very little about Elizabeth and she remains a shadowy figure throughout the book. Daisy's description of life during the war years was captivating and her lively character really shone through the pages, although as the war drags on and hardships increase, you can see her character changing and maturing. I don't have a suitable phone to look at the pictures via an app but enjoyed looking them up on the internet to compare my view of the portrait to Daisy's description.

I don't know how Claire managed to restrain herself to opening just one letter a month - I would have opened them all at once - I was so intrigued by Daisy's musings. Claire becomes obsessed with the letters and with Daisy's life and the latter part of the story details her attempts to find out more about her. The parallels, or co-incidences, however you regard them, between the two women's lives made the story even more interesting and Daisy's love story definitely bought a lump to the throat.

This was an excellent debut and a book that I couldn't put down. I would certainly be keen to read more by this author.

The Underside of Joy - SerĂ© Prince Halverson

Published by Harper, May 2012

(Originally reviewed June 2012)

Losing a husband is virtually unbearable. Losing your children to the birth mother who abandoned them, whilst you are still grieving, is one heartbreak too far. It must not be allowed to happen ...

Ella counts as her blessings her wonderful husband, two animated kids and an extended family who regard her as one of their own. Yet when her soulmate Joe tragically drowns, her life is turned upside down without warning, and she finds that the luck, which she had thought would last forever, has run out. When Joe’s beautiful ex-wife, who deserted their children three years earlier, arrives at the funeral, Ella fears the worst. And she may well be right to.

Ella discovers she must struggle with her own grief, while battling to remain with the children and the life which she loves. Questioning her own role as a mother, and trying to do what is right, all she is sure of is that she needs her family to make it through each day. Yet when pushed to the limits of love, Ella must decide whether she is, after all, the best mother for her children.

I fully engaged with this book within the first few pages. Ella was an extremely likeable character, if almost a little too perfect at times. She has a wonderful life in Elbow with Joe, and his two young children Annie and Zach. Tragedy strikes when Joe, her soulmate, dies in an accident and the ready made family that she has grown to love so much over the previous three years is under threat when Paige, the children's mother decides she wants them back. She has to deal with the discovery that Joe hasn't been completely honest about their finances and about his dealings with Paige and not only does she face the huge task of making sure they can survive financially when their livelihood is about to be taken away but has a battle on her hands to keep the children with her.

The dilemma that Ella faces in her quest to keep her family together is extremely well written and it made me think about what I would do if faced with that same situation. There were however times when I was willing her not to be so reasonable and to fight harder.

An engaging and thoughtful read with well written characters and a sensitively written storyline. For a debut novel this was excellent and I would certainly be keen to read another book by this author.

Hothouse Flower - Lucinda Riley

Published by Penguin, November 2010

(Originally reviewed May 2012)

A heart-rending page turner which sweeps from war-torn Europe to Thailand and back again . . .

As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park estate, where her grandfather tended the exotic flowers.

So when a family tragedy strikes, Julia returns to the tranquility of Wharton Park and its hothouse. Recently inherited by charismatic Kit Crawford, the estate is undergoing renovation. This leads to the discovery of an old diary, prompting the pair to seek out Julia's grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park.

Julia is taken back to the 1940s where the fortunes of young couple Olivia and Harry Crawford will have terrible consequences on generations to come. For as war breaks out Olivia and Harry are cruelly separated . . .

This promised to be one of my favourite genres, a dual time story, spanning the generations and it didn't disappoint. It's a very satisfying family saga, telling the story of the Crawford family, from Norfolk to Thailand and set both in the present day and the beginning and aftermath of WWII

The story starts in the present day with Julia Forrester, apparently a successful pianist. We gather she has suffered a tragedy - she's grieving, not eating, and can barely function. Her sister Alicia tries to improve her spirits by taking her out - they end up at a sale of contents at Wharton Park, where they lived on the estate as children. Memories come to the surface, and when Julia again meets the current Lord Crawford (`Kit'), whom she last met as a child, the threads of the story then start coming together.

We then go back to 1939 to the start of Olivia and Harry's story. I enjoyed their story far more than the present day one with Julia. Olivia was a particularly engaging character and, together with the characters of those around her, is very well written.

The two different time frames work very well together, and although I did see one of the twists coming quite early in the book, there is enough to keep you interested and turning the pages.

A very enjoyable read and one that I would recommend.

Note: This is also published as `The Orchid House'.

Black Heart Blue - Louisa Reid

Published by Penguin, May 2012

(Originally reviewed April 2012)

'They tried to make me go to my sister's funeral today. In the end I had to give in ... I'd been walking in her shadow for sixteen years and I liked its cool darkness. It was a good place to hide.'

Rebecca's twin sister Hephzibah was beautiful and daring. She was the one who always wanted more. The one who wouldn't listen. Now she's gone, Rebecca is alone.

While there were two of them, they stayed silent about their home life. But Rebecca, who knows the truth about how her twin died, suddenly finds herself keeping too many secrets. Hephzibah dreamt of escape, but failed. Could Rebecca be the one to find freedom?

Original and unforgettable, Black Heart Blue is not just Rebecca and Hephzibah's story. It's a story about all of us: a story about the lies we want to believe, the truth we sometimes can't, and having the courage to discover the difference.

It's quite rare that I feel so emotional when reading a novel but this certainly was the case with this story. It's a very powerful and compelling story at which I felt sadness, anger and hope in equal measures. The story is told in two narratives of both past and present from two twin sisters, Rebecca and Hephzibah (Hephzi). The book starts with Hephzi's funeral. We are not told why she died although as the book progresses, it becomes clear. Although they are twins, the two sisters are very different. Hephzi was the pretty one but Rebecca was severely facially disfigured from a birth defect. We learn about the relationship between the two sisters and that of their lives with their parents - a religious fanatic of a father and an indifferent mother.

There were times when the book horrified me at the way the girls were treated and it's very true that you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Although the subject matter is a difficult one to deal with, its not a depressing book by any means and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. The story certainly stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. I look forward to reading more from Ms Reid.

The Good Father - Diane Chamberlain

Published by MIRA, April 2012

(Originally reviewed March 2012)

A LITTLE GIRL, ALL ALONE, WITH A NOTE THAT READS 'PLEASE LOOK AFTER ME' Four years ago, nineteen-year-old Travis Brown made a choice: to raise his newborn daughter on his own. While most of his friends were out partying and meeting girls, Travis was at home, worrying about keeping food on the table. But so far he’s kept her safe. And never regretted his decision for a second. But now he’s lost his job, his home and the money in his wallet is all he has. As things spiral out of control Travis is offered a lifeline. A one-time offer to commit a crime for his daughter’s sake. Even if it means leaving her behind. Even if it means losing her. WHAT WOULD A GOOD FATHER DO?

Having enjoyed many DC books, I was really looking forward to reading this one and I'm very happy to say that I wasn't disappointed. The story is told from three points of view, that of Travis, the `Good Father' of the title, Erin - a stranger who befriends Travis and his four year old daughter Bella, and Robin - Bella's birth mother. The different narrations go back and forth in time and as the book progresses, the reader finds out more of the background to each character and how their lives become intertwined.

Travis is a devoted young father, now bringing up Bella single handed and due to circumstances completely out of his control, he finds himself homeless and jobless and virtually penniless. He tries to do his best to provide a secure environment for Bella but the decision he subsequently makes has shattering consequences for everybody.

Erin is the stranger who Travis and Bella first meet in a coffee shop, she has her own sadness to deal with but finds herself becoming closer to Bella when the two are unexpectedly thrown together.

Decisions made in Robin's past meant that she has never been a mother to Bella. She has tried to make a new life for herself but can't help thinking back to the man she once loved and the daughter she never knew.

All the main characters were well written and believable and Bella was just adorable. You could empathise with Travis' efforts to do his very best for Bella, and you may not always agree with the choices he makes but you can understand why he made them.

I really enjoyed this book and found it an engrossing read. Definitely recommended.

Stranded - Emily Barr

Published by Headline Review, May 2012

(Originally reviewed July 2012)

What if someone wants you to stay missing? The unmissable new novel from the queen of psychological, suspenseful women's fiction.

A British woman, Esther, travels alone to a paradise beach resort in Malaysia to get away from a relationship break-up. When she and a group of fellow tourists, each with their own secrets, find themselves stranded on a remote island during a boat trip, sinister things start to happen. Esther soon realises someone doesn't want her to return from her travels - but who?

The book starts with a prologue, when you learn that something is terribly wrong when the narrator describes the ordeal of being stranded on a desert island. The story then begins.

I was pulled into the story from the start. The main character, Esther, was a 39 year old divorced mother of one, 10 year old Daisy. Esther was an extremely well written character, and one that I could easily identify with. She had decided to take herself off to Malaysia on a backpacking holiday, mainly to prove a point to her ex-husband who thinks she is incapable of organising such an undertaking. Her excitement, fears and insecurities about travelling on her own in a strange country and her encounters with the locals (some of whom are distinctly unfriendly) are so well described you could almost feel as if you were there with her as she makes her way to the meeting point for her island holiday. In fact all the main characters were well written and believable and despite their flaws, you couldn't help but see the best in them.

The holiday is idyllic at first but then events takes a sinister turn and the true characters of the people with Esther start to emerge and the tension builds as the group begin their struggle for survival.

Interspersed with the main story are chapters by a character called Cathy who, going back in time, appears to be part of a religious cult. Later in the book, Cathy's part in the story becomes clear and the two strands come together.

I really enjoyed the story, right up until about the last 70 pages and the book would have got 5 stars if it hadn't been for the way it ended.  I thought the explanation towards the end was quite bizarre with plot holes and unanswered questions. The book definitely deserved a better ending.

This was my first read of this author and I would certainly be happy to read more. In fact, I do have other books by Ms Barr to read and I'm looking forward to them.

Before I Met You - Lisa Jewell

First Published by Cornerstone, July 2012

(Originally reviewed in September 2012)

Having grown up on the quiet island of Guernsey, Betty Dean can't wait to start her new life in London. On a mission to find Clara Pickle - the mysterious beneficiary in her grandmother's will - she arrives in grungy, 1990s Soho, ready for whatever life has to throw at her. Or so she thinks...

In 1920s bohemian London, Arlette - Betty's grandmother - is starting her new life in a time of post-war change. Beautiful and charismatic, Arlette is soon drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. But less than two years later, tragedy strikes and she flees back to Guernsey for the rest of her life.

As Betty searches for Clara, she is taken on a journey through Arlette's extraordinary time in London, uncovering a tale of love, loss and heartbreak. Will the secrets of Arlette's past help Betty on her path to happiness?

I really enjoyed this book with its dual time frame. The story alternatives between Arlette and her life in 1920's London and that of Betty, her step-granddaughter, finding her way in the world on her own for the first time in London in the 1990's, and tracing the footsteps of her grandmother whilst trying to track down a beneficiary in Arlette's will, named Clara Pickle, who no-one in the family has ever heard of.

Both Arlette and Betty were innocents and of similar age when they left their island home of Guernsey for London life and we share in their new found confidence as they navigate their way through life, love and tragedy. Some wonderful characters make up the cast, each with their own back story. It is clear that a lot of research has been done, especially with regard to 1920's London and this adds to the enjoyment of the story.

My one slight disappointment is that I would like to have known more about Arlette's later life. I felt her story finished too soon however I still found it an engrossing read and look forward to Ms Jewell's next book.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Our Vinnie - Julie Shaw

Published 6 November 2014 by Harper Element

From Goodreads:

The infamous Canterbury Estate in Bradford, a hotbed of crime, drink and drugs, was a law unto itself in the ’70s. So when one of their own was wronged in any way, the community always had its own way of dealing with it.

The first title in a series of gritty family sagas, Our Vinnie accounts the dramatic true story of a brother’s determination to avenge his younger sister’s rape. Josie was just 11 when her Vinnie, then 14, was taken away to a detention centre. Distraught by his absence and left alone with indifferent parents, when she escapes from one of their rows she naively enters the house of a neighbour, Melvin, who – horrifically – leads her upstairs and overpowers her.

Convinced by her friend Carol, Josie tells her sister Lyndsey about the rape but, with Vinnie out of the picture, Lyndsey uses the information for her own ends. When Vinnie returns, hardened by years inside the system, his outrage on discovering the truth is severe. And with new abuses continually coming to light, a cataclysmic series of violent events begins to spiral out of control…

Dramatic and shocking, Our Vinnie is an unbelievable page-turner, documenting a community forsaken by society, and one brother’s unrelenting determination to take justice into his own hands.

* * * 

This book is the first of a trilogy, and billed as a true story of Yorkshire’s notorious criminal family.

Our Vinnie” is set in Bradford in the 1970s and is the story of Vinnie McKellan.  We first meet him when he is 14 years old and about to be sent to an approved school for petty thieving and general bad behaviour. Unfortunately, his behaviour doesn’t improve and so he is incarcerated for longer periods in even harsher institutions.  Despite his violent and hot tempered nature I found it impossible to dislike him – I probably would have felt differently had I thought he was inherently evil.  

His younger sister Josie was my favourite character of the family.  She was a tough little girl and her home life wasn’t a happy one; her feckless parents and drugged up sister Lyndsey didn’t seem to care much for her at all and I suppose the lack of love and attention made it inevitable that she looked up to elder brother Vinnie.  He in turn was very protective towards his sister and it was partly because of this that he got into so much trouble when dispensing his own form of justice. 

As you would expect with a book of this nature, there is a lot of profanity and some violence.  Although I did wince a little at some of Vinnie’s violent acts, this was actually no worse than any other book of this genre. Anyone who has read a Martina Cole book will know what I mean. 

Julie Shaw has a very engaging style of writing.  The book was extremely readable and I raced through it quite quickly.  It’s not a big book at just over 320 pages but despite its relatively short length, the characters feel fully formed and the storytelling flows easily with quality content.  

This was a hard hitting and thought provoking read.  At times I felt saddened and despairing because you could see history repeating itself  - the children being stuck in the same cycle of crime as their parents and being unable to change their lifestyle and circumstances.  

My thanks to Lovereading for the review copy. 

About the author:

My name is Julie Shaw, and my father, Keith, is the only surviving member of the 13 Hudson siblings, born to Annie and Reggie Hudson on the infamous Canterbury Estate in Bradford. We were and are a very close family, even though there were so many of us, and those of us who are left always will be.
I wanted to write these stories as a tribute to my parents and family. The stories are all based on the truth but, as I’m sure you’ll understand, I’ve had to disguise some identities and facts to protect the innocent. Those of you who still live on the Canterbury Estate will appreciate the folklore that we all grew up with: the stories of our predecessors, good and bad, and the names that can still strike fear or respect into our hearts – the stories of the Canterbury Warriors.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Separation - Dinah Jefferies

Published 22 May 2014 by Penguin

From Goodreads:

What happens when a mother and her daughters are separated, and who do they become when they believe it might be forever? 

Malaya 1955. It’s the eve of the Cartwright family’s departure from Malaya. Eleven-year-old Emma can’t understand why they’re leaving without their mother, or why her taciturn father is refusing to answer her questions.

Returning from a visit to a friend sick with polio, Emma’s mother, Lydia, arrives home to an empty house ─ there’s no sign of her husband Alec, her daughters, or even the servants. The telephone line is dead. Acting on information from Alec’s boss, Lydia embarks on a dangerous journey across civil-war-torn Malaya to find her family.

The Separation is a heart-wrenching page-turner, set in 1950s Malaya and post-war England.​

 * * * * 

This powerful debut novel by Dinah Jefferies is set in the 1950’s against the background of the Malayan ‘Emergency’. I have to admit I knew nothing about this time in history until I started reading The Separation but it’s obviously a subject that the author knows well from personal experience and the ever present danger of that period is superbly brought to life.  

The story is told from two perspectives – Lydia, the mother, who arrives home from visiting a sick friend to a deserted house - her husband Alec and their two girls, Emma and Fleur, have gone. No note has been left and Lydia has no idea where they are.  We also hear the other side of the story from Emma, the eldest daughter, aged 11.  Emma was closest to her mother and misses her badly but her father won’t tell them why they are leaving or when their mother will join them.  

I loved this story of love and loss …. and revenge.  Lydia is desperate to find her girls but is thwarted by acts of deceit and betrayal by those she trusted.   Her daughters feel lost and confused at their mother’s disappearance and can’t understand why she has abandoned them. There were so many times when I wanted to shout through the pages and tell them that they hadn’t been forgotten and that their mother was looking for them. 

The heat and the exotic sights and smells of the Malayan jungle and landscape are vividly described against the danger of guerilla attacks. Violence and murder are rife and as a white woman, Lydia is extremely vulnerable and faces her own share of danger.  Her mothering instincts are needed when she is asked to look after Maznan Chang, a young abandoned Malay/Chinese boy.  With no one to protect him, he needs Lydia as much as she needs him and although she becomes extremely fond of him, his presence only intensifies her feelings of loss for her own girls. 

There are some great characters portrayed here which you will either love or hate – there were a couple that I disliked with a passion.  For me, Lydia, Emma, Veronica and Adil had the most depth but each of the others, whether good or bad, had a distinct personality.   
Parts of the book are heart achingly sad but there is always hope and that is the only thing that Lydia and Emma have to cling to.  They are both very strong characters and Emma is definitely her mother’s daughter; at times she seems willful and uncontrollable – she fights against her father’s strictness whereas her younger sister Fleur, is more amenable and seems to be his favourite.  Various parts of the story which at first seemed random are bought together to a conclusion which had me near to tears.   

I love stories that educate as well as entertain and this one certainly did that.  It was an emotional read at times and all the way through I was desperately hoping that all would end well.  This was a superb first novel and I can’t wait to read Dinah’s new book, due for publication in May 2015 – The Tea Planter’s Wife. 

My thanks to Penguin for the paperback copy to review.

About the author:

Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, once lived in a 'rock 'n roll' commune and, more recently, been an exhibiting artist. She spends her days writing, with time off to make tiaras and dinosaurs with her grandchildren. The Separation is her first book.

You can find out more from Dinah's Website or follow on Twitter or Facebook

Sunday, 2 November 2014

'Before the Blog'

A few more reviews from the archive......

Deity - Steven Dunne

Published January 2012 by Headline

(Originally reviewed July 2012)

When four Derby College students are reported missing, few in Derby CID, least of all DI Damen Brook, pay much attention. But then a film on the internet is discovered purporting to show the students committing mass suicide. If it's real, why did they kill themselves when they had such bright futures ahead of them? If the suicides are faked, why the set up and where are the students? And if they're dead and have been murdered, who on earth could have planned such a bizarre and tragic end to their promising lives? Combining intricate forensics with meticulous detection and the warped psychology of a psychopath, DEITY is a serial killer thriller of the highest order to rival the very best of Mark Billingham, Peter James and Peter Robinson.

I hadn’t read the previous two books in this series but I didn’t feel disadvantaged. I was quickly drawn into the world of DI Damen Brook and his loyal sidekick DS Noble. Brooke is a flawed personality, he has a gruff manner, doesn’t remember his colleagues names or court friendship (his colleague DS Noble seems to be one of the few people that can connect with him) although as the story progresses, his human side does come to the surface. He seems to be very much affected by a previous case which is mentioned here (The Reaper) and which leads to some tension between him and his superiors. He is however an extremely good detective and as a result this book is a thrilling ride of tension and pace. There is a lull in the middle where the pace slows however the story picks up again and I couldn’t put it down until I had come to the end. There are enough twists and surprises to keep the reader’s interest and the two seemingly separate threads of the story are cleverly plotted. One of my favourite authors is Peter Robinson and his Inspector Banks series and this is certainly of a quality to rival those books. All the characters were well written and believable as was the dialogue. 

I shall now be on the lookout for books one and two in order to read the back story of DI Brooke and Steven Dunne will be on my list of authors to read in future. If you like well plotted, police procedural stories that are also page turners then I’m sure you will enjoy this one. 

Alys, Always - Harriet Lane

Published February 2012 by W&N

(Originally reviewed December 2012)

On a bitter winter’s night, Frances Thorpe comes upon the aftermath of a car crash and, while comforting the dying driver, Alys Kyte, hears her final words. The wife of a celebrated novelist, Alys moved in rarefied circles, and when Frances agrees to meet the bereaved family, she glimpses a world entirely foreign to her: cultured, wealthy, and privileged. While slowly forging a friendship with Alys’s carelessly charismatic daughter, Frances finds her own life takes a dramatic turn, propelling her from an anonymous existence as an assistant editor for the books section of a newspaper to the dizzying heights of literary society. Transfixing, insightful, and unsettling, Alys, Always drops us into the mind of an enigmatic young woman whose perspective on a glamorous world also shines a light on those on the outside who would risk all to become part of it.

This seems to have attracted mixed reviews but I really enjoyed reading this debut novel. Frances is an unreliable narrator and, as we discover throughout the story, has a manipulative personality.

Frances Thorpe has a dull existence. She lives in a small, shabby flat. Her family, and in particular, her parents, are not on her wavelength at all and she doesn’t enjoy spending time with them. She is overlooked at work in her job as a sub-editor with a newspaper where other people, with less experience get the plum jobs. However, following her presence at the accident scene, she is introduced to the Kyte family by the police, and she slowly but surely works her way into the family – she lies to them about Alys’ last words – is this merely to give the family some comfort or does she have an ulterior motive for such deceit? Her ensuing connection with the Kyte family, and in particular the father, Lawrence, a prominent author, suddenly opens up a whole new world for her, not just in her professional life where suddenly her opinions are valued and invitations start to appear but also personally. She acquires a lifestyle mixing with people that she could only have dreamed of. To what lengths would you go to acquire and retain that lifestyle and can anyone blame Frances for wanting a piece of someone else’s life?

I actually quite liked Frances as a character. She had an eye on the main chance but she wasn’t evil. Sometimes she would appear to be naive but then suddenly would be so manipulative in her actions. I thought most of the characters were well written and believable and they all held the story together extremely well. 

I think the wording on the book where it is a referred to as a psychological thriller is a little misleading and might lead people to expect more from the story. However I found it an engrossing read and would certainly look forward to reading future books by Harriet Lane.

The Promise (Belle #2) - Lesley Pearse

Published January 2012 by Michael Joseph

(Originally reviewed December 2011)

London 1914

Belle Reilly finally has the life she's dreamed of thanks to a devoted husband in Jimmy and the hat shop she's wanted to own since she was a child. But as the storm clouds of World War One begin to gather, Belle's already turbulent life is to change in ways she never imagined possible.

When Jimmy enlists in the army and leaves for the battlefields of Ypres, her world is shattered and she realises she can no longer stand by and watch, she must volunteer to help the wounded. But her work as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France throws her into the path of Etienne, the enigmatic man who played a significant role in her childhood, and Belle finds herself torn agonisingly between forbidden passion and loyalty to a good man.

But the past returns to haunt her present in other - more unpleasant - ways and Belle's character is put to the test like never before. Can she survive this most brutal of wars with her spirit intact? And will destiny finally lead her to lasting happiness even while war rages all around?

I enjoyed 'Belle', the previous book, and was very much looking forward to this sequel. I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed. When we first meet Belle again, she has married, has her own hat shop and lives a very respectable life with her husband Jimmy, her old friend Mog and her husband Garth. Life changes for everybody however with the outbreak of WW1. Jimmy enlists to go to war and a life changing event forces Belle to reconsider what she wants to do with her life and how she can help the war effort. We then follow Belle's story through those terrible war years.

Lesley Pearse has once again created a brave, likeable but also vulnerable character in Belle. She tries to do the best with whatever cards life deals her and has a strength of character that sees her through some tragic events. Despite being set during the war years, I found this to be a more sedate read than 'Belle' and not so much of an 'edge of your seat' read but nonetheless very enjoyable.

The author has seemingly meticulously researched the horrors of a soldier's life during the first world war. Life in the trenches is described so well that you can almost feel the squelching of the mud, the explosions and the terrible ordeal that the soldiers, and indeed the non-military personnel, went through.

This book contains many references to characters and events that appeared in the previous book and I would recommend that 'Belle' is read first to gain a deeper understanding of Belle's character and the background to the story.

When You Were Older - Catherine Ryan Hyde

Published March 2012 by Doubleday

(Originally reviewed December 2011)

I was doing my best to get out the door. And then the phone rang.
I almost let it go. 
New York, September 11th 2001
Russell Ammiano is rushing to work when he gets a phone call that saves his life. As the city he loves is hit by unimaginable tragedy, Russell must turn his back and hurry home to Kansas.
Kansas, September 14th 2001
Ben Ammiano is mentally disabled, and a creature of habit. Any change to his routine sends him into a spin. But now his estranged brother has reappeared, and Ben's simple, ordered world has turned upside down.

In a story as heartbreaking as it is uplifting, two brothers must bury their pasts and learn from each other, if they are to survive.

This is the first book by this author that I have read and I loved it.  Russell and Ben are brothers but are so different. Ben is the older by six years however because of brain damage, he is childlike and has to follow a certain daily routine. When Russell returns home to arrange his mother's funeral and to care for Ben, because no-one else will, without any guidance he has to devise his own `manual' on how to deal with Ben's tantrums and difficulties. The frustrations felt by Russell are thoughtfully and carefully dealt with and we have a cast of main characters, Russell, Ben, and Anat, who are believable and have personalities that the reader can care about and the love and affection that these two brothers, in their own way, have for each other shines throughout the story.

In the days following the twin towers collapse, we see how Russell's old school friends and neighbours have a heightened sense of patriotism and rightly or wrongly, the inevitable prejudice and animosity that exist against people who they regard as being against them. Russell finds himself caught between those who want to do harm and his feelings for Anat, the Egyptian daughter of a local baker who he befriends. The result of a drunken attack by his friends one night has life changing consequences for Russell and Ben and Russell is left having to make difficult decisions and forced to move forward with his life

This is a thought provoking and compelling read and one that I would certainly recommend. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Siege - Simon Kernick

Published January 2012 by Bantam Press

(Originally reviewed January 2013)

LONDON. THE STANHOPE HOTEL, PARK LANE. 16.00 A normal afternoon.

Newly engaged Elena Serenko has just made the life-changing decision to quit her job and start a new life in Australia.

Upstairs, a young woman waits for her lover; a visiting family prepare for an evening out; and a sick man contemplates his own mortality.

High up amongst the penthouse suites, a skilled and dangerous killer is hunting a quarry who's eluded him for far too long.

What none of them know is that a group of ruthless gunmen are about to burst into the Stanhope, shooting indiscriminately, and seizing hostages. 

As darkness falls and the gunmen become increasingly violent, only one thing matters. Who will survive?

I’ve read all of Simon Kernick’s previous books and have enjoyed each one. Some have hit the spot more than others and it sounds a bit of a clique but this one is a real page turner. The action starts with a cold blooded murder on the first page and the tension doesn’t let up. 

The main action takes place over several hours at the fictional Stanhope Hotel in London but there are other simultaneous distraction events taking place all over the capital – the terrorists’ planning has been meticulous.

The newly engaged hotel manager about to hand in her notice and emigrate, the man dying of a terminal illness, these are just two of the characters who find themselves caught up in the siege. Some of the finer detail may have been a bit far fetched but that didn’t really matter, it all adds to the tension.

I was pleased to see the return of Tina Boyd, albeit in a more minor role. She is a strong character and whenever she’s involved in a storyline there is always action. The various sub-plots all eventually come together to reach an exciting climax. 

The chapters are short, each told with alternating viewpoints – from the hostages, terrorists and the police. I really couldn’t put this book down and would highly recommend it. 

Lone Wolf - Jodi Picoult

Published February 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton

(Originally reviewed January 2012)

Edward Warren, twenty-four, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: His dad lies comatose, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.

With her father’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what lengths will his sister go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision? 

Lone Wolf explores the notion of family, and the love, protection and strength it’s meant to offer. But what if the hope that should sustain it, is the very thing that pulls it apart? Another tour de force from Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf examines the wild and lonely terrain upon which love battles reason.

Its rare that I read a Jodi Picoult book that I don't enjoy but when I heard of the storyline, I did wonder whether I would enjoy reading so much about wolves. However the amount of research that was necessitated made for interesting reading and having these chapters narrated by Luke and hearing his voice throughout the book added an extra dimension. The book follows the usual JP formula but its one that seems to work.

Luke's estranged son, Edward, flies home from Thailand upon hearing from his mother Georgie about the accident involving his father and sister, Cara. Luke lies in a coma and Cara requires surgery for her injuries. Cara blames Edward for breaking up the family by running away 6 years previously and thus causing the subsequent divorce between Luke and Georgie. Georgie has now remarried and has a new family whereas Luke's family is Cara and the wolves that he looks after. As the story progresses you learn more about Luke and eventually the reason why Edward left so quickly. The antagonism that Cara feels towards Edward leads to a courtroom battle as who will have the right to become Luke's medical representative - Edward believes that his father wouldn't want to live whilst Cara is determined to keep her father alive at any cost. Cara came across as being quite immature in her reasoning and towards the end, we learn the truth of a secret she is hiding that is hinted at throughout the book.

I enjoyed reading this, it was interesting and I became engrossed in the story. It seems to have received a varied response by way of review but to my mind JP just writes a story so well and they are a pleasure to read.

Like This, For Ever (Lacey Flint #3) - S.J. Bolton

Published May 2013 by Bantam Press

(Originally reviewed March 2013)

Bright red. Like rose petals. Or rubies. Or balloons. Little red droplets.

Barney knows the killer will strike again soon. The victim will be another boy, just like him. He will drain the body of blood, and leave it on a Thames beach. There will be no clues for detectives Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury to find. There will be no warning about who will be next. There will be no good reason for Lacey Flint to become involved... And no chance that she can stay away.

Keep telling yourself it's only fiction.

I haven’t read all the Lacey Flint books in sequence however this doesn’t matter as this one can be read as a standalone. This was a dark and sometimes quite scary story of young boys disappearing and later being found dead along the banks of the River Thames. Due to the manner of the killing, there is press speculation of a vampire being the killer – a theory which detective Dana Tulloch and her team try their best to disprove. However when young boys keep going missing, it seems from under their noses, they are fighting a race against time to find the killer. 

One of the central characters in the story is a young boy called Barney. He is 11 years old and lives with his father – next door to Lacey Flint, who is off work recovering from an attack from a previous police investigation. Barney is a very likeable character with issues and problems of his own. When he and his friends find a body and he suspects that the killer is someone he knows he decides to confide in Lacey who being something of a loose cannon makes her own investigations and places herself in danger. 

Lacey has a very difficult relationship with her boss, Dana Tulloch and loyalties within the team are stretched to the limit. Lacey has a dark side and her reckless nature brings her into direct conflict with her police colleagues. 

All through the book there is darkness and tension and the setting is very atmospheric. From the dark waters of the Thames to disused buildings and alleyways, the reader is always expecting something bad to happen. There are plenty of twists and turns to make this an exciting page turner and any one of a number of people could be a killer. The inclusion of social media within the story such as Facebook is a clever and effective tool making the story relevant and up to date.

I really enjoyed this book and will certainly be catching up with the back story of Lacey and her colleagues and I also look forward to reading future books by Ms Bolton. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Dark Tides - Chris Ewan

Published 16 October 2014 by Faber & Faber

From Amazon:

From the number one bestselling author of Safe House comes a story about friendship, family, secrets, lies, and the things we do for love.

When Claire Cooper was eight, her mother disappeared during Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween.

When Claire was eighteen, she and her friends took part in a Hop-tu-naa dare that went terribly wrong.

Now in her early twenties and a police officer, what happened that Hop-tu-naa night has come back to haunt them all, and Claire must confront her deepest fears in order to stop a killer from striking again.

* * * * 

My mother’s gone away,
And she won’t be back until the morning,
Jinny the witch flew over the house,
To fetch the stick,
To lather the mouse ,
My mother’s gone away, 
And she won’t be back until the morning.”

This is one of those books that begin near the end and teases you with just enough information to make you want to turn the pages to find out how it all started. The prologue is our first introduction to Claire Cooper - on the night of 31 October 2014 – the night of Hop-tu-naa, the Manx equivalent of Halloween. This night, 31 October, has particular significance throughout the book as events occur on this same date over a period of nearly 20 years. We then jump back several years to where the real story begins.

Claire Cooper’s life changed on 31 October 1995 when she was 8 years old. That was the night that her mother disappeared after taking Claire and their flickering turnip lantern for the door to door Hop-tu-naa activities. Her father was left broken and every aspect of Claire’s life has been deeply affected by the loss of her mother. Claire has always had her suspicions as to who she believes is responsible for her mother’s disappearance but has never been able to prove it. As a teenager, she gets involved with a group of friends who take it in turns each Hop-tu-naa to choose a dare, however one time things go horribly wrong and the consequences affect them all – year upon year.

This was the first book I have read by Chris Ewan but it certainly won’t be the last. The story has an original timeline – mostly being set on one recurring day and night, and this combined with the details of Hop-tu-naa folklore work perfectly.  Claire, the main character, was extremely well written and convincing – she wasn’t perfect and made her share of mistakes but this added to the believability factor. The plot twists and twisted characters make this an engrossing read and I now don’t have any fingernails left! I loved the author's easy to read style and even though the timeline changes from year to year this doesn’t spoil the pace or flow of the story. The narration is from Claire’s point of view which allows her the opportunity to keep her own secrets about events, however adding the killer’s chilling and anonymous voice to the story brings an extra element of suspense. I have never been to the Isle of Man but the author’s detailed knowledge and description of the landscape brought it to life and I had a vivid image in my mind of its bleak headlands and misty woodlands.

Having checked on my Kindle I do have Safe House to read which I bought some time ago. I shall certainly be bumping that one up the reading list and if Safe House is as good as this one, I will be adding Mr Ewan to my list of ‘must read’ crime authors.

As part of the blog tour for this book, Chris Ewan has written a post for this blog (30 October) on ‘8 Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man’. Do check out his post to find out more about this interesting island. The publisher is being very generous and has kindly allowed me to give away 5 signed copies of Dark Tides so please do enter the Rafflecopter competition. 

My thanks to Sophie of Faber & Faber for the copy to review and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

About the author:

Chris Ewan is an award-winning British author of eight novels as well as the Kindle Single short story, Scarlett Point. His popular series of mysteries about globetrotting thief-for-hire, Charlie Howard, include The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, The Good Thief's Guide to Venice and The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin. Chris has also written the standalone thrillers, Safe House and Dead Line 

Born in Taunton in 1976, Chris graduated from the University of Nottingham with 1st Class Honours in American Studies with a minor in Canadian Literature, and later trained as a lawyer. He now lives on the Isle of Man with his wife, daughter and labrador, where he writes full time.

Find out more at You can also get in touch with Chris on Twitter 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Guest Post & Competition: Chris Ewan - author of 'Dark Tides'

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for 'Dark Tides' and am very pleased to welcome Chris Ewan to My Reading Corner

Eight Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man

In 2012, Faber published my first standalone thriller, Safe House, which was set on the Isle of Man, where I've lived for the past eleven years. The Isle of Man probably wasn't the most obvious location for a high-octane thriller, and I like to think that was part of the book's appeal. When I'd finished working on Safe House, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be writing another novel set on the island for a very long time. In fact, I went right ahead and wrote Dead Line, which was set in Marseilles. But intentions are funny things, and so are book ideas, and it wasn't long before I discovered that I'd been mistaken. I had another story I wanted to tell – a story that could only be set on the Isle of Man – and so I began work on my latest thriller, Dark Tides. As I write this, I'm about halfway through my next book, which also begins on the island I call home. Shows what I know.

So why has the Isle of Man inspired me? The truth is there are a whole bunch of reasons. It's stunningly beautiful. It's geographically isolated. It has a distinct and rich cultural history. Oh, and it's also a pretty strange and quirky place – which leads me to my list of Eight Fascinating Facts about the Isle of Man you maybe didn't know... 

1. Just to get us started, let’s begin with the basics: the Isle of Man is located in the middle of the Irish Sea, roughly halfway between Liverpool and Dublin. The island is a Crown Dependency, which means it's affiliated with the UK but has its own parliament, makes its own laws and has its own police force. 80,000 people live on the Isle of Man, which is thirty-two miles long by fourteen miles wide. If you want to drive for thirty-three miles in a straight line, prepare to get wet.

2. Moving on … The Isle of Man has been voted the fifth most likely nation (after the USA, Russia, China and India) to return to the moon. No, really. The island has its own space industry and one island-based company owns two former Soviet space stations. I’m assuming the Soviets know about this.

3. The Isle of Man’s parliament, Tynwald, has been in continuous existence since 979AD, making it the oldest continuously governing body in the world. The Isle of Man was also the first nation in the world to give women the vote. New Zealand often claims this honour – but they’re as wrong as wrong can be. The island first gave women the vote on 5 January 1881.

4. All hedgehogs on the island are descended from ancestors who made it ashore following a shipwreck at Jurby in 1805. There are also wallabies roaming wild in the north, following a daredevil prison break from the island's wildlife park.

5. Talking of prison breaks, the Isle of Man only has one prison, which I visited during my research for Dark Tides. For many years, the prison was located in an old Victorian building in Douglas, but in 2008 a modern facility was opened on the site of a disused airfield in the north of the island. Male and female prisoners, as well as young offenders, are housed in separate wings.

Only having one prison creates a pretty unique environment for offenders in the Isle of Man, because aside from those individuals convicted of very serious crimes, like murder, who can sometimes elect to serve time in an English prison, every offender must be locked up together. Understandably, this can create a lot of tension for prison authorities to deal with – imagine, for example, if an offender ends up locked up alongside a fellow inmate who has wronged his or her family in some way.

6. Manx people are highly superstitious about a particular type of rodent. No self-respecting Manxie will say the word r*ts, for fear of being struck down with bad luck. Instead, they refer to r*ts as “long tails” or they might say the word "star" (no doubt the quick witted among you will have cracked this complex code). Such talk of superstition and fear leads us neatly on to …

7. Hop-tu-naa, which is the Manx equivalent of Halloween, celebrated on the 31 October every year. Although the two festivals share many similarities, there are differences, too. For example, kids go from door-to-door on Hop-tu-naa singing nonsense songs, which vary across the island, but sound like especially sinister Christmas carols when you hear them for the first time as a naive "come over" (which is what the Manx call somebody like me who wasn't born on the island). Manx people carve turnip lanterns instead of pumpkins, and the island also has some pretty dark Hop-tu-naa customs related to divination, which play a key role in Dark Tides. 

8. The Isle of Man has its own language, Manx Gaelic. While only a minority of current islanders speak Manx fluently, and the last native Manx speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974, concerted efforts are being made to revive the language, with a number of books being translated into Manx Gaelic in recent times (including Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and Allan Guthrie’s Bye Bye Baby).

Just in case you were wondering, the English translation of Hop-tu-naa (pronounced Hop Chew Neigh) means “This is the Night”, which is one reason why all the action in Dark Tides takes place on the recurring date of 31 October, moving backwards and forwards in time to chart the unsettling experiences that Claire Cooper and her friends endure during a succession of Hop-tu-naas over a period of almost twenty years.

I could go on. There are plenty more quirky and little-known facts to share. But why give them all away now? After all, if the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m likely to write more novels set on the Isle of Man in the years to come.

DARK TIDES by Chris Ewan is out now (Faber & Faber)

When Claire Cooper was eight, her mother disappeared during Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween.
When Claire was eighteen, she and her friends took part in a Hop-tu-naa dare that went terribly wrong.
Now in her early twenties and a police officer, what happened that Hop-tu-naa night has come back to haunt them all, and Claire must confront her deepest fears in order to stop a killer from striking again

The publisher, Faber & Faber, are very kindly offering 5 signed copies (sorry but this is restricted to UK entrants only)  -  Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway