Monday, September 22, 2014

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me - Lucy Robinson

Published 19 June 2014 by Penguin

From Amazon:

Sally is an incredible singer but she sings only in her wardrobe where nobody can hear her. She'd rather join a nudist colony than sing in public.

That is until she ventures to New York where a wild and heady summer of love and loss changes her forever. No longer able to hide in the shadows, Sally must return home to London to fulfill a promise she cannot break - to share her voice.

But just as she's about to embark on her new life, a beautiful man turns up on Sally's doorstep bearing a sheepish smile and a mysterious hand-written message.

How did he find her? Why is he here? Does he hold the truth to what happened back in New York? And, with him back on the scene, will she still have the courage to step into the spotlight?

My thoughts:

The story begins with an Overture and an introduction to Sally and her current life.  Sally Howlett is in her wardrobe, terrified and about to start her post-graduate diploma in opera at the Royal College of Music.  Apart from a disastrous experience on stage as a child, the only singing she had done was in her wardrobe, with her teddy bear Carrot.   The wardrobe is her sanctuary, where she can sing and feel safe.   She is just an ordinary girl from a council estate in the Midlands who has an extraordinary talent for singing opera – however she has no self-confidence and despite others telling her how good she is, she refuses to sing in public. Sally lives with her flatmate Barry, a fabulously camp ballet dancer from Barry Island.  The Overture ends with a mysterious man from Sally’s past appearing at her door and having an M&S pork belly dinner slung at him. With an introduction like that how can you not be hooked!

I very much enjoyed Lucy Robinson’s latest story.  Sally is a very likeable, quirky character with insecurities and vulnerabilities that are familiar to all of us. The story jumps back and forth in time, starting with the back story to Sally’s childhood and family, focusing in particular on her relationship with her troubled cousin Fiona.  Sally starts her opera career as a dresser with the Royal Opera House and Fiona was a soloist with the Royal Ballet.  When all three - Barry, Sally and Fiona, are included on a Royal Ballet tour to America the story of their time there gradually emerges and we learn why Sally’s life changed so drastically.

There are some wonderful characters here that come into Sally’s life, some I loved and others I wanted to slap. Besides Barry and Fiona, there is the wonderful Jan Borsos – a Hungarian who walks his way across Europe to get to his place at the RCM; the two faced, spiteful Violet and the lovely Helen who becomes a great friend to Sally. Finally, the mysterious Julian Jefferson – who is he really and how does he fit into Sally’s life?

Despite the jumping timescale, the story is not at all difficult to follow and is very well structured.  Part way through the book there was an “oh” moment, when suddenly everything fell into place.  This took me completely by surprise and was very cleverly written. 

I don’t want to give away any of the story as its best discovered through reading. The cover on my proof copy said “prepare for public-transport belly laughs” – I didn’t find the book hilariously funny but I did have many snort and chuckle moments - the writing is witty and enjoyable with depth and substance to the story and so much more than ‘fluffy chick lit’.  

My thanks to Real Readers and Penguin for the paperback copy to review.

At the time of writing this review, the Kindle version is available from Amazon for just £1.99.   An ebook version is also currently available from Penguin for £1.99.  

About the author:

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me will be Lucy Robinson’s third book and follows on from the tremendous success of The Greatest Love Story of All Time and A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger. 

Prior to writing Lucy earned her crust in theatre production and then factual television, working on documentaries for all of the UK’s major broadcasters. Her writing career began when she started a dating blog for Marie Claire about her fairly pathetic attempts at Internet dating.

Lucy was brought up in Gloucestershire surrounded by various stupid animals. She studied at Birmingham University and lived in London for many years before disappearing off to South America to write her first two novels. 

She now lives in Bristol with her partner, The Man. She likes dogs and cheese and horses and seals and cake and baths and she blogs daily about funny things that have made her smile today. 

You can follow Lucy Robinson via her website, Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sunrise - Victoria Hislop

Published 25 September 2014 by Headline

From Amazon:

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building. 

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

My thoughts:

“Famagusta was once a thriving city of forty thousand people.  In 1974 its entire population fled when Cyprus was invaded by Turkey.  Forty years on, Varosha, as the modern city is known, remains empty, sealed off behind the barbed wire put up by the Turkish  army.  It is a ghost town”.  

Our first introduction to Famagusta is in 1972, before the invasion, when visitors flocked to this thriving resort for its golden beaches, smart cafés and expensive shops. Taking advantage of the influx of visitors are husband and wife hotel owners Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta.   Savvas always has an eye for profit and so with the money invested by his wife’s wealthy parents, he has built a new hotel – the most opulent so far.  They already own the Paradise Beach Hotel, but the new hotel, The Sunrise, is far bigger and more luxurious than its neighbours.  They are not to know but The Sunrise will eventually become a place of sanctuary once the invasion takes place. 

Savvas and Aphrodite live in their own bubble.  They are so preoccupied with expanding their hotel empire - no sooner has The Sunrise opened for business they (or, more specifically, Savvas) are busy planning a new and bigger hotel – the New Paradise Beach.  They are seemingly unaware of the tensions forming around them between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and take their wealth and status for granted. 

The other main character is Markos Georgiou.  He is the manager of the night club at The Sunrise and becomes so indispensable to Savvas that he becomes his right hand man.  However Markos feels much resentment towards his employers.  They have so much and take him for granted.   

I loved Victoria Hislop’s first book The Island and was looking forward to this new release. It was clearly extremely well researched and laid bare the devastation caused to both communities of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who had previously lived and worked side by side.  Their lives – and their land were torn apart by the invasion and the trust between them destroyed.  I can’t imagine how devastating it would have been for those fleeing the invasion to have been forced to leave their home and businesses in just the clothes they were wearing and to not know whether they would see their family or home again. 

For me, the stars of the story were not the Papacostas or the greedy and resentful Markos but those characters who initially played a small part in the story.  Following the invasion, the lives of two families were at the fore - the Özkans and the Georgious, one family being Greek Cypriots and the other Turkish Cypriots, but both connected in some way with The Sunrise hotel and it was these characters that I enjoyed reading about the most, in particular, a young worker called Hűseyin and his mother, hotel hairdresser Emine Özkan.  Both families had their own fight for survival amidst the continuing bloodshed in the aftermath of the invasion.

I have to be honest and say that I did struggle initially with this book and I was probably nearly halfway through before beginning to engage with the story and the characters.   I can't put my finger on exactly why because the characters were well defined and the research and knowledge were faultless but something about the narration didn’t feel right.  The story and dialogue didn't seem to have that natural flow and left me feeling disconnected and uninterested.  It also didn’t help that I found the political background quite confusing.  For me, the second half of the book was far more enjoyable than the first half. This is just my opinion and I am sure that others reading the book will love it. 

My thanks to Lovereading for the advance reading copy. 

About the author:

Inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became an international bestseller, published in thirty languages with over 3 million copies sold worldwide, and was turned into a 26 part Greek TV series. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards and is now an ambassador for Lepra. Her affection for the Mediterranean then took her to Spain, and in The Return (also a number one bestseller) she wrote about the painful secrets of its civil war. In her third novel, The Thread, Victoria returned to Greece to tell the extraordinary, turbulent tale of Thessaloniki and its people across the 20th century. Published in 2011 to widespread acclaim, it confirmed her reputation as an inspirational storyteller and was shortlisted for a British Book Award. It was followed by her much-admired collection of Greek-set short stories, The Last Dance and Other Stories.

You can follow the author via her website or Twitter or Facebook

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Hidden Girl - Louise Millar

Hardcover published 22 May 2014 by Macmillan

Paperback published 28 August 2014 by Pan

From Amazon:

Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the Suffolk countryside will promise a fresh start.

Hannah, a human rights worker, is desperate for a child and she hopes that this new life will realise her dream.

Yet when the snow comes, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village. Life in Tornley turns out to be far from idyllic, who are the threatening figures who lurk near their property at night? And why is her neighbour so keen to see them leave? Plus Will's behaviour is severely testing the bonds of trust.

Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. But as she starts to unbury a terrible crime, she realises she can no longer do that without putting everything she's ever wanted at risk.

But if she does nothing, the next victim could be her . . .

My thoughts:

When Hannah and Will finally move into Tornley Hall, a dilapidated old house that has been empty for a few years, their relationship appears to be stretched to breaking point.  It is not only the remoteness of the house in the Suffolk countryside that is a factor, but the tension between Hannah and Will.  Hannah’s longing for a child has divided them and whilst she is sure that this will be the perfect family home, Will is not so sure about the huge commitment they have made in the house.  

Hannah puts them both under intense pressure by insisting on having the house decorated from top to bottom within two weeks and ready for inspection by someone initially only known as “Barbara”.  To begin with I thought that Barbara was the mother-in-law from hell who must be shown a perfect house but no, apparently she is the person who potentially holds Hannah’s future happiness in her hands. When a heavy snowfall keeps Will in London and Hannah stranded at the house on her own, strange things start to happen, for example items being moved around in various rooms and a feeling of being watched.  At this stage, I wasn’t quite sure where the story was heading – was it a psychological thriller or a ghost story?  With sinister neighbours, no heating, no landline, an unreliable mobile phone signal and signs that someone unseen is also living at the house, it’s not surprising that Hannah starts to feel scared. 

I have to admit when I first started reading, I did take me a while to feel anything for Hannah and Will.  Hannah’s relentless decorating schedule was exhausting and I could understand why Will did a runner back to London.  Hannah had previously had a challenging and responsible career and she was used to dealing with difficult situations however her all consuming desire for a child conflicted at times with common sense decisions. Will seemed quite immature and rather than stay and discuss their problems, he ran way.
Despite my initial reservations and after a bit of a slow start, this did turn into a gripping and suspenseful read with the author skilfully racking up the sense of fear and the sinister atmosphere.  The neighbours were truly creepy and were desperate to keep their secrets hidden at any cost, giving rise to an ever present feeling of danger.  Hannah’s increasing isolation, both in terms of location and in her marriage added to the tension. The ensuing storyline was original and it certainly didn’t pan out in the way that I had envisaged.  

I did spot a couple of instances of minor inaccuracies with regard to the trains and I don’t know if these have since been corrected. Having travelled the London to Essex/Suffolk line for over 15 years from London Liverpool Street, I am not aware that you can get a train direct to Suffolk from Paddington Station.   

There are plenty of plot twists to make this an interesting and addictive read.  I will certainly read more by Louise and do have The Playdate and Accidents Happen on my bookshelf awaiting their turn.  

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy

About the author:

Louise Millar grew up in Scotland, and now lives in London with her husband and two children. Before turning to fiction, she spent 20 years working in magazines and newspapers, starting as a freelance sub-editor on entertainment titles such as the NME, Kerrang!, Empire and Smash Hits, before crossing over into women's magazines and becoming a senior commissioning editor at Marie Claire. In 2006, she left Marie Claire to start a business writing 'ordinary people's memoirs while writing freelance features for magazines and newspapers, and starting work on her debut novel, The Playdate. Her second novel, Accidents Happen was published in April 2013.

Find out more about Louise via her website, Facebook or Twitter

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Third Wife - Lisa Jewell

Published by Century/Random House
3 July 2014

From Goodreads:

London 2011: In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman is killed by a bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?

A year later, her devastated husband, Adrian Wolfe, is determined to find out.  Adrian and Maya had only recently married, and he'd always believed they were happy together.  His children from his two previous marriages loved her. And Maya loved them.

She had a job she enjoyed, she had plenty of friends, and she and Adrian were trying for a baby. They seemed to have the perfect life. Why then might she have wanted to kill herself?

When Adrian finds a hidden stash of poisonous emails on Maya's laptop he begins to identify the dark cracks in her life.

Because everyone has secrets.
And secrets have consequences
Some of which can be devastating.

My thoughts:

Adrian Wolfe is a lucky man, or so he thinks.  He is married to a younger woman, Maya; he has 2 ex-wives and 5 children and the whole family apparently gets on so well that they go on holiday together.  Everybody is happy – or are they?  When his wife Maya is killed after drunkenly stumbling in front of a bus nobody can be sure whether it was a tragic accident or a deliberate act.

I’m late coming to Lisa Jewell’s books and have yet to read many of her earlier stories but I have thoroughly enjoyed the latest ones I have read. I was looking forward to this one and on seeing that it appeared to be a darker read than usual, even more so.  

Adrian is a ‘serial’ husband, he falls in and out of love and goes through life thinking that all would be better with someone else and not really giving much thought to the wreckage he leaves behind.  He has a distant and detached relationship with his eldest son Luke and has no idea of how his children really feel.  He is very happy with the current arrangement of everybody holidaying together and either selfishly, or naively, believes that others are too.  It is only after Maya’s death that he actually begins to think about how other lives were affected and to consider how much he is responsible for what happened.

Through flashbacks, the layers of Maya’s life with Adrian are gradually revealed.  We discover what she actually thought of being ‘the third wife’.  Being married to Adrian wasn’t as wonderful as she first imagined, she finds herself being pushed to the periphery of the two families as well as being used as a babysitter.  As if that wasn’t enough, she realises that someone is determined to make her life miserable and to drive her away from the family. 

One year after Maya’s death, Adrian is still grieving.  He needs answers and when the mysterious Jane pushes her way into Adrian’s life and then disappears, he is intrigued.  Who is this woman and what is her connection to Maya?  He sets out to find the answers to the questions he should have asked himself a long while before. 

There is a lot to enjoy here.  I didn’t have much sympathy with Adrian, I thought he was selfish and self-obsessed but the story is not just about him.  The characterisations of other family members are excellent, the complicated family relationships and their allegiances are so vividly drawn with every character showing their flaws. I really didn’t know who could be trusted.  Add in to the mix intrigue and the unexplained death of a young woman and you have a skilfully woven dark and slightly sinister tale that will keep you turning the pages.

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

About the author:

Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Her first novel, Ralph's Party, was the bestselling debut of 1999. She is also the author of Thirtynothing, One-Hit Wonder, Vince & Joy, A Friend of the Family, 31 Dream Street, The Truth About Melody Browne and After the Party, all of which have been Sunday Times bestsellers. More recent releases include The Making of Us, Before I Met You and The House We Grew Up In

You can follow Lisa Jewell on Twitter or Facebook

Guest Post - Louise Millar "Where I Write"

Paperback published 28 August 2014 by Pan

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Louise Millar's 'The Hidden Girl'. 

Welcome to My Reading Corner Louise and thank you for sharing your writing room with us

Today, on my blog tour, I’m visiting Karen at Karen loves books so much she has TWO Kindles. 

Talking of having too many books, here is the room where I store all mine, and where I wrote The Hidden Girl...

Actually, that’s a big lie. I wrote a chunk of it sitting on my bed, which is where I instinctively head when I want to write (what that says about me, I don’t know), but I love seeing photos of other authors’ writing spaces, and last year, I decided to create one in the box-room at the back of my house. 

I call it a writing room because when I left my job at Marie Claire to work at home as a freelance journalist, I used to have an ‘office’, that looked like an ‘office’, with a large computer desk, trays for files and notes, and plenty of space for a newspaper and a Pret a Manger sandwich.

I wanted to change it to a place that would inspire me to write fiction. So I swapped my computer desk for a tiny, hundred-year-old writing table. I like to think lots of things have been written on it over the decades: letters, journals, secrets... It also has a concealed drawer which is handy for hiding things from my children, like my stapler. 

Above my desk there’s a visual board, which is a habit I picked up from working alongside fashion journalists and designers. It’s a kind of novel-ly mood-board, with print-outs of real-life images that mirror those in my head. It gives me an overall feel for the story, as well as a visual guide to describing detail. 

On the walls, I have lots of photos, postcards and pictures that have inspired me over the years to write, from Gothic fairytales, my childhood in Scotland, my travels and my friends.

When I want to read proofs I sit on this chair that my mum found in a junkshop when I was 15, and I’ve loved ever since. It looks out the window but I try not to do that for too long or I start getting distracted by things like wondering if you take pears off your neighbour’s tree if that is actually stealing.

Finally, I have my notebook by my laptop, ready to go for Book Five later in the year. I found it on a recent research trip to Amsterdam, and on the same day, saw a word in a shop that I knew would be my next book title. So I’ve written it on the first page... 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

'Before the Blog' Reviews

I've been adding reviews to sites such as Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones for several years and now that I have my own book blog, I wanted to keep a note of my favourite books in one place.  So a few 'Before the Blog' posts will probably be appearing over the next few months.....they are not in depth reviews but just my thoughts on books that I have enjoyed and I would like to share.

The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult

Published March 2013 by Hodder & Stoughton

(Originally reviewed in February 2013)

Sage Singer has a past that makes her want to hide from the world. Sleeping by day and working in a bakery by night, she kneads her emotion into the beautiful bread she bakes.

But when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, a quiet man old enough to be her grandfather, and respected pillar of the community, she feels that finally, she may have found someone she can open up to.
Until Josef tells her the evil secret he's kept for sixty years.

Caught between Josef's search for redemption and her shattered illusions, Sage turns to her family history and her own life for answers. As she uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between betrayal and forgiveness, love and revenge. And ask herself the most difficult question she has ever faced - can murder ever be justice? Or mercy?

I've read all of Jodi Picoult's books in recent years and despite really enjoying them all, this one is her best yet. It's a departure from her usual formula but nonetheless it is a fabulous story and my review cannot possibly do it justice.

The present day story centres on Sage Singer. Sage is 25 years old and facially disfigured, she hides away, working at night in a bakery creating wonderful bread which she pours her heart and soul into. There are very few people she feels comfortable with - Mary, the ex-nun who runs the bakery and her married lover Adam. Her two sisters are now strangers to her. Sage lost her mother in tragic circumstances and the guilt she carries with her brings her to a grief counselling centre where she meets Josef. Her meetings with Josef, an elderly German man and pillar of the local community, become a bright spot in her life, until he makes an admission which shakes her to the core.

The middle part of the story is told by Minka, Sage's beloved grandmother. Minka's story begins with WW2, when as a young Polish Jewish girl, her life would be shattered by the atrocities of a cruel regime and she would never be that same person again.

Running through the book is a separate storyline of an Upior, the true point of which becomes clear later in the story.

This is a harrowing book to read at times. Minka's story was heartbreaking and the amount of research undertaken by the author to do justice to the survivors' stories stands out. However much you think you know of the Holocaust there are no words to describe the horror of death camps such as Auschwitz and there were times when I was in tears. Minka, in particular, has an amazing strength of character and shows true courage in her battle to survive.

The latter part of the book returns to Sage and Minka and how ultimately Sage deals with Josef's confession and the question of forgiveness and revenge.

This is a shocking and thought provoking story and one which stays with you long after you have finished reading.

Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford

Published April 2011 by Allison & Busby

(Originally reviewed in June 2011)

'You just gave me hope, Henry. And sometimes hope is enough to get you through anything’

1986, The Panama Hotel.  The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during the Second World War. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel, stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his young heart to, so many years ago.

I loved this book. We follow the life of 12 year old Henry, a Chinese boy who is bullied by classmates at an all white American school and has a very remote relationship with his parents. Apart from an older man Sheldon, a black saxaphone player who busks on street corners, his only other friend is Keiko, an American born Japanese girl of similar age who joins him at the school. The story alternates between 1942-45 and 1986 and although I knew about Pearl Harbour, I never knew that the Americans rounded up their Japanese citizens and transferred them to interment camps for the duration of the war in case they were spies. The hardships that these Japanese families suffered and the loss of their homes, businesses and possessions made for very difficult reading.

Henry's feelings of confusion between loyalty to his parents and to his friend Keiko are very well explored, as is his developing friendship and feelings for her. As Henry grows older, he becomes more assertive, particularly with his controlling father and those scenes with Henry and his then ailing father are very moving.

Every page of this book was a joy to read and I became totally immersed in the story. Its quite rare that I'm sad to reach the end of a book, but it was certainly the case with this book.

Trust Your Eyes - Linwood Barclay

Published September 2012 by Orion

(Originally reviewed in July 2012)

A schizophrenic man spends his days and nights on a website called Whirl360, believing he's employed by the CIA to store the details of every town and city in the world in his head. Then one day, he sees something that shouldn't be there: a woman being murdered behind a window on a New York street. Suddenly Thomas has more to deal with than just his delusions, as he gets drawn into a deadly conspiracy.

I've read most of Linwood Barclay's books and enjoyed them all and was totally hooked on his latest thriller, Trust your Eyes.

The story centres around two brothers, Ray Kilbride, who returns home to sort out his father's affairs after his sudden death and Ray's younger brother Thomas, who lived with their father. Thomas is described as being schizophrenic and his mental health issues are pivotel to the plot. He is a reclusive character and spends his days in his bedroom, looking at a computer programme called which enables you go stroll down any street in the world and view the scene around you. On one of these `trips', Thomas sees something which brings a whole lot of trouble to their door.

I found this a great read and one of those books that you cannot put down. It was a pacy thriller with interesting, well written characters and plenty of twists and conspiracies to keep you turning the pages. There are separate strands to the plot, one involving the death of the father but they all come together at the end. The relationship between the two brothers and the frustrations caused by Thomas' issues is skilfully told and you really feel that you get to know both characters.

If you're a fan of well written thriller fiction, then I'm sure you would enjoy this book.

The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes

Published September 2012 by Penguin

(Originally reviewed in June 2012)

France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie's portrait - painted by Edouard - a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision.

Almost a century later, and Sophie's portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv's life upside down all over again . . .

In 'The Girl You Left Behind' two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most - whatever the cost.

Although I am still working my way through her back catalogue, I've loved this author's books and was thrilled to receive an advance copy of her latest one.

One of my favourite genres is the dual time story - when it's done well. I am pleased to say that Ms Moyes has covered this extremely well. I was immediately drawn in to the lives of Sophie Lefevre and her family when the story started in 1916. I had to keep reminding myself that this was set during WW1 as it was so easy to think the story was set in WW2.

The lives and difficulties of Sophie and her sister Helene were very well portrayed and the hardships suffered as a result of the German occupation of their town were so believable. Sophie, in particular, was a very engaging character and in the absence of both her own beloved husband Edouard and Helene's husband who were away fighting for their country, she was the lynchpin of the family. The title of the story refers to a portrait of Sophie, painted by her artist husband and is one of her most treasured possessions. Unfortunately for Sophie, the local Kommandant also takes a liking to the portrait and thus both her and her family's lives are thrown into danger when difficult decisions have to be made.

I was so captivated by Sophie's story that I was almost bereft when her story suddenly ended and Liv's began. I normally tend to prefer one era to another in dual time frame stories and when Liv's story began in 2006 I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy her story as much however I am pleased to say that Liv's contribution was equally enjoyable. The painting of Sophie comes to the fore in Liv's life and again is the cause of much soul searching and heartbreak.

Despite being separated by nearly 100 years the stories of Sophie and Liv are intrinsically linked throughout the book and both their characters show strength which neither thought they possessed.

I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend this to a reader who enjoys a story where they are completely pulled in and enthralled by the characters and the storyline.

The Girl on the Cliff - Lucinda Riley

Published October 2011 by Penguin

(Originally reviewed in November 2011)

Why has a secret from 1914 caused a century of heartache?

Troubled by recent loss, Grania Ryan has returned to Ireland and the arms of her loving family. And it is here, on a cliff edge, that she first meets a young girl, Aurora, who will profoundly change her life.

Mysteriously drawn to Aurora, Grania discovers that the histories of their families are strangely and deeply entwined . . .

From a bittersweet romance in wartime London to a troubled relationship in contemporary New York, from devotion to a foundling child to forgotten memories of a lost brother, the Ryans and the Lisles, past and present, have been entangled for a century. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and remarkable spirit help break the spell and unlock the chains of the past.

Haunting, uplifting and deeply moving, Aurora's story tells of the triumph of hope over loss.

A family saga spanning almost one hundred years, from the start of the first world war to the present time, with quite a large cast of characters, many of whom are forever linked through the family history of the Lisle and Ryan families where history has a habit of repeating itself. Quite often in dual time frame books, I enjoy one era more than the other, but in this book I loved both. The story starts with artist Grania Ryan suddenly returning home to her family in Ireland, and leaving her partner Matt and their life together behind in New York. I could quite understand why Grania was so drawn to the child she meets one day whilst walking on the cliff - Aurora Devonshire, a descendent of the Lisle family. The young Aurora is a captivating character, she can be devious and manipulative but also very lovable and so lonely and you can see why she captures people's hearts. We find out why Grania's mother Kathleen cannot forgive the Lisle family and advises Grania to stay clear of them and their offspring. Between the two families is a history of both love and tragedy and I found myself being caught up in the story and wanting to find out more.

I did find it a little confusing at times, trying to remember by who and how the Lisle/Ryan families were connected but part way through a book a family tree is provided which does make understanding the family connections easier.

This book appears to have attracted mixed reviews, but I just enjoyed it for what it was, great storytelling with some wonderful characters, and I raced through it, shedding some tears along the way. I found it an engrossing read and I look forward to reading more by Lucinda Riley. 

The House We Grew Up In - Lisa Jewell

Paperback Published July 2014

(Originally reviewed in July 2013)

Meet the Bird Family

All four children have an idyllic childhood: a picture-book cottage in a country village, a warm, cosy kitchen filled with love and laughter, sun-drenched afternoons in a rambling garden.

But one Easter weekend a tragedy strikes the Bird family that is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear them apart.

The years pass and the children become adults and begin to develop their own quite separate lives. Soon it's almost as though they've never been a family at all.

But not quite.

Because something has happened that will call them home, back to the house they grew up in - and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.

The Bird family, Lorelei, her husband Colin and their four children – Megan, Bethan, and twins Rhys and Rory have a seemingly perfect life in their large Cotswold home. Every year, Lorelei organises the traditional Easter egg hunt in the rambling garden and family get-togethers are the norm. Except that one Easter Sunday tragedy strikes the family and none of them are ever the same again. 

The story starts in 2011 when eldest daughter Megan and her teenage daughter Molly have the unenviable task of sorting out the dilapidated house after Lorelei’s death. For reasons which become clear as the story progresses, Lorelei had become an extreme hoarder (think of the TV programmes about hoarders where people can’t move around their house) and so she had ended up living in just one room. 

Lisa Jewell has created a beautifully written story of a family estranged from each other and torn apart by tragedy. The characters are so well written and believable and the story of their lives over 30 years has been expertly woven so that piece by piece, it reveals why the family are so sadly apart. This is not a fluffy light hearted read, it has its darker moments and covers some difficult issues but I can guarantee that once you start reading you won’t be able to put it down. 

Lisa Jewell’s books just get better and she is now a trusted and favourite author on my bookshelves. 

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published August 2011 by MacMillan

(Originally reviewed in October 2011)

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it's been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what's been missing in her life. And when she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. 

"I had spent my life being hateful and solitary and I could not, overnight, become loving and attached". I think this quote from Victoria sums her up perfectly. After a life of being in care, at aged 18 she finds herself on her own and on the streets with no home and no job. After sleeping in park bushes, she finds part time work with a florist and continues her journey with flowers and their interpretations. When she was 10, she was placed with a foster parent, Elizabeth and this is where her life with flowers began. The book alternates between her life with Elizabeth and the present, and as the story proceeds, you find out the truth of why she ended back in the care system.

It would be wrong to say I 'enjoyed' this book but it was a compelling read. There were times when I felt as though I were reading a misery memoir and then there were moments of hope and admiration for Victoria as she made a life for herself. With each rejection in her life, she feels more and more bitter and feels totally undeserving of any happiness or love.

A beautifully written book and an excellent debut novel. There are moments of heartbreak and sadness, but also of hope and love. The back of the book contains an A-Z listing of flowers and the meanings which Victoria followed throughout. I am glad that I read it, and would recommend it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Falling - Emma Kavanagh

Published by Random House/Cornerstone 
27 March 2014

Paperback published 6 November 2014

From Goodreads:

A plane falls out of the sky. A woman is murdered. Four people all have something to hide.

Jim is a retired police officer, and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared and he knows something is wrong.

Tom has woken up to the news that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.

Cecilia had packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy, and sees no way out.

Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.

'Before the plane crash, after the plane crash, such a short amount of time for the world to turn on its head'.

My thoughts:

I’m not giving away spoilers here when I say that the story begins with a plane crash and a murder – and both events have a connection in some way to one or more of the main characters in the story.

We first meet Cecilia when she is waiting for her flight to take off.  Cecilia Williams is a flight attendant – she has also just left her husband Tom and young son, Ben.  Despite suffering such a traumatic event, I did struggle to feel empathy towards her - she wasn’t the easiest person to like or to engage with and I couldn’t get past why she seemed to care more about strangers than her own family.  As the story progresses, we learn her backstory and why it is that she cannot be the loving wife and mother that her husband and son deserve.

Running alongside is a separate strand concerning the murder of a young Police Community Support Officer, Libby Hanover.  Her father, a retired police officer, had raised the alarm when he could not contact his daughter.  Libby kept her own secrets from her family and the grief and suspicion which follows her death threatens to tear her family apart.

Tom, Cecilia’s husband, is a police constable investigating the murder.  Not only does he have to cope with his wife’s disengagement and remote behaviour, he appears to be the primary carer for their son.  Having to deal with the murder of a fellow officer and trying to support her family puts even more of a strain on him.

Freya’s father was the pilot.  Freya had a strained relationship with her father and wants to know the truth of the crash.  However, in the aftermath of the tragedy she needs to be the strong one if she is to stop her family from heading towards a meltdown.

The story is told from different perspectives of the four main characters.  They are all complex with their own personal tragedies to deal with and gradually the layers of the story unfold and the threads come together.  This is very much a character driven story focusing more on thoughts and actions than the nitty gritty of forensic investigations.

The story is set against the backdrop of a snowy and icy winter and that feeling of coldness and isolation comes across so well.  I have to be totally honest and say that I didn’t find this an easy read – I can’t fault the author’s writing but I found the story just too moody and introspective.  Its marketed as a psychological thriller – in my opinion yes, it can be called a thriller/murder mystery but thinking back to other ‘psychological thrillers’ that I’ve read, that feeling of tension and fear wondering what will hit you when you turn the pages just wasn’t there for me. 

This is the author’s debut novel, she obviously has a great talent and I will certainly be reading her next book, which I believe is due out in 2015.

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

About the author:

Emma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in Psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. Now she is lucky enough to be able to write for a living. She lives in South Wales with her husband and young son.

You can follow Emma via Twitter

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Remember Me This Way - Sabine Durrant

Published 17 July 2014 by Mulholland Books/Hodder

From Amazon:

Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.

A year after her husband Zach's death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place.

As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again.

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did.

But she's starting to realise she didn't really know him.

Or what he was capable of . . .

My thoughts:

The story starts with a rather chilling prologue in Zach’s voice.  It then continues on Valentine’s Day, one year exactly after Zach’s death, with Lizzie making her first visit to the site of the crash, which is where she finds the flowers with a note for her husband…”For Zach”, and the name Xenia, drawn in a large heart.  Who is Xenia and why is there a SUV parked up tightly against the bumper of her car in the layby?  When she then arrives at his remote cottage in Cornwall, she has the strangest feeling that all is not right.

I do love a suspense filled thriller and this one has different themes running through it – psychopathic behaviour and domestic abuse being just two. We are told at the outset that Zach has been killed in a car crash however things keep happening which concern Lizzie - her flat door being open when she thought she had locked it and also items missing from their flat.   Is Zach really dead…or was the accident an elaborate charade and he is actually still alive, tormenting Lizzie in a macabre act of revenge.

The chapters alternate between Lizzie and Zach.  Zach’s voice is recalling events from the past and it is through his narrative that we learn the real Zach, or we think we do.  His twisted thoughts and actions are quite chilling.  He appears to be a very insecure, possessive and controlling person and we must surely have sympathy with Lizzie for bearing the brunt of his abusive behaviour. However Lizzie has a secret of her own – and which gives rise to her increasing belief that Zach is still alive and is following her.  As Lizzie delves into Zach’s past for the truth, the more deceit she uncovers.  Did she ever know Zach at all?

Zach and Lizzie are complex characters and both are very well written.  Zach is good looking, very confident and capable of great charm however his moods can turn on the spin of a coin whereas Lizzie is dowdy and has very little self-confidence. She has a passive character and rather than confront, she prefers to take the easy way out which can make her seem rather weak.  However she is not completely in the dark about Zach’s behaviour and a little part of her quietly enjoys the thought of him being jealous and possessive – this surely means that her loves her….

All the way through there are twists and turns and little hints which make you think “hmm, I wonder if….?”.  The story is cleverly plotted with structure and pace and there is plenty of tension throughout with no loose ends left hanging.  I rarely guess the ending correctly, and I didn’t in this case although I had part of it figured out.  This was a book that kept me up late at night just to get to the truth - but it was worth it.

My thanks to Bookbridgr and the publisher for the copy to review.

If I have tempted you at all with this review, I currently have a giveaway for two copies of this book ending at midnight on 2 September 2014 - please see the previous post. 

About the author:

Sabine Durrant's first psychological thriller Under Your Skin was published in 2013. Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles. She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines. She lives in south London with her partner and their three children.

You can follow the author on Twitter