Monday, 5 December 2016

Satan's Beckoning - Michael K Foster

When a fatal road crash turns out to be murder, DCI JACK MASON is sent to investigate. Within the seemingly dark vaults of the police missing persons files, lay untold dangers. Young women are easy pickings for a serial killer who believes God has sent him to rid the world of an overindulgent appetite for greed. When criminal profiler DAVID CARLISLE is drafted into assist, Carlisle is met by the killer’s wrath.

What did I think?

I recently enjoyed The Wharf Butcher that was set in my native Tyneside, so I was excited to read this second book in the series, Satan's Beckoning.  There's always something so very special about fiction when it is based in an area that you know well, as it gives a hint of reality to our world of fiction.  

It was good to meet up again with DCI Jack Mason and profiler, David Carlisle.  It feels like they are doing a regional pub crawl as they arrange to meet at several bars of many of our local establishments.  Mason has been called out to investigate a car crash in Windy Nook, Gateshead - on an incredibly steep bank running up from Felling to the Queen Elizabeth hospital.  What's so unusual about that?, you might say.  Well, the car at fault had no driver and it would appear that the lady passenger was already dead at the time of the accident. 

When similarities become evident between this crime and one 6 years earlier down the coast in Seaham, the police and David Carlisle sift through all the clues looking for a connection.  Both victims married older affluent men, but is there any thing that connects them? The addition of Carlisle is brilliant as he is like a secret weapon for the police - he is able to tap some unsavoury sources for information, sources who wouldn't even consider talking to the police.

Satan's Beckoning is an outstanding sequel to The Wharf Butcher.  I had sweaty palms gripping my kindle as the final Indiana Jones-esque scenes played out.  I think I enjoyed it more as I had got to know the characters so well in The Wharf Butcher so I already knew some of their background and history.  Mason and Carlisle are definitely two characters I want to read more about - I just hope they don't end up investigating in my street!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Behind Her Eyes - Sarah Pinborough

Don’t Trust This Book
Don’t Trust These People
Don’t Trust Yourself
And whatever you do, DON’T give away that ending…
‘Sarah Pinborough is about to become your new obsession’ Harlan Coben
Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets…
Young, successful and charming – Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife…
Beautiful, elegant and sweet – Louise's new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her.
But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks… Is David really is the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears?
Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

What did I think?

Wow, what a book!  I completely agree with the fabulous Harlan Coben, as I'd no sooner put the book down than I had ordered another 1 or 4* Sarah Pinborough books.  

*1 if my Dad asks how many books I have bought, 4 if my fellow book addicts ask how many I really bought. 

I started and finished Behind Her Eyes in the same day and wouldn't have put it down if I didn't have to eat and, more importantly, drink.  I may have lost a whole Sunday but I gained a new author to add to my growing 'favourites' list, so it was a good result all round for me.

There is little you can say about this book without giving anything away, but it does completely have your head in knots as you try to work out what games, if any, each character is playing.  It really is a book where almost anything could happen and it's like a slowly boiling pot of malice which threatens to bubble over at any time.

It felt like fate when Louise met David in a bar but fate played a nasty trick when David turned out to be her new married boss - awkward!  Louise and David agree to forget that they ever felt a connection that night, so when Louise literally bumps into David's wife, Adele, the pair hit it off and become friends.  David can't forget about the feelings he has for Louise and it isn't long before they end up having an affair.  Louise finds herself caught between her lover and her friend, so when questions begin to get asked she has to choose which one to believe.  Choose wisely, Louise - not everything is as it appears.

I love anything outside of the norm and Behind Her Eyes certainly fits that bill.  As I got part way through the book, I did guess some of what was going on but I didn't guess the big #WTFthatending so well played, Sarah Pinborough.  Behind Her Eyes is a book to take you away from reality and into the realm of possibility; a splendid piece of imaginative fiction!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Sunday, 4 December 2016

How Much the Heart Can Hold: Seven Stories on Love - Various authors

'No one has measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.'
Zelda Fitzgerald

Love is not a singular concept.
In this collection, seven award-winning authors explore seven concepts of love: from Philautia, self-love, to Agape, love for humanity; and from Storge, a natural affection for family, to Mania, a frenzied, obsessive love.
Seven authors; seven short stories; seven flashes of love.
The publication of How Much the Heart Can Hold is heralded by a Sceptre short story competition. The winning story, based on a concept of love, will be published in the paperback edition.

What did I think?

I'm not really a big fan of short stories but there is something so very alluring about How Much the Heart Can Hold.  Apart from Carys Bray, I am ashamed to say that I hadn't heard of any of the authors but the quality of the writing from each of them is truly excellent.  

Each form of love is clear to see within each passage and it's so very moving in places.  It would be hard to pick a favourite among them but strangely enough, I rather enjoyed the final story about love for humanity.  I think it was just so very different and it actually gave me goosebumps.  Of course having recently read The Museum of You, I think Carys Bray can do no wrong and her story of familial love was incredibly poignant.  We are a strange race indeed.

How Much the Heart Can Hold: it's love but not as you know it.  Not exactly an ideal valentine's gift but certainly an interesting examination of all forms of love.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Blackout - Marc Elsberg




Tomorrow will be too late.

A cold night in Milan, Piero Manzano wants to get home.

Then the traffic lights fail. Manzano is thrown from his Alfa as cars pile up. And not just on this street – every light in the city is dead. 

Across Europe, controllers watch in disbelief as electricity grids collapse. 

Plunged into darkness, people are freezing. Food and water supplies dry up. The death toll soars. 

Former hacker and activist Manzano becomes a prime suspect. But he is also the only man capable of finding the real attackers. 

Can he bring down a major terrorist network before it’s too late?

What did I think?

I was really eager to read this book and I made the fatal mistake of having a sneaky read of the first page when it arrived meaning that I had to start it immediately.  It literally starts with a bang as the traffic lights go out in Milan causing mass chaos on the roads as cars pile into each other.  The main character, Piero Manzano, is one of those affected as he is driving home when the lights go out.  As the plot thickens it would appear that somebody has attacked not just Milan, but Europe itself.

There were so many things I didn't think of if there was no electricity and Blackout certainly gets you thinking about what you would do if there was no electricity.  There would be no fuel at the petrol stations as the pumps use electricity to pump fuel to the forecourt from the underground tanks.  Patients in ITU on life support would die without electricity to power life support machines and monitor vital signs. The main effect that really shocked me was the inability to cool down the nuclear reactors which leads to the main sweaty palm moments in Blackout.

My brain was whirring throughout the story, but more about our reliance on electricity than the events in the book.  After all, it's not that long ago when electricty wasn't available in every home and streets were still lit by gas lamps during World War II.  I think the world would literally grind to a halt if our power supply was removed but I also think it would be quite liberating to go back to more simple manual times.  We may then discover some of that elusive time, of which we never seem to have enough.

Overall I wasn't as gripped and panicked as I thought I would be.  I think that sometimes it was quite technical and a little bit over my head, but I admit that when people start talking in IT-speak my brain tends to go into meltdown.  There were a few too many characters in the book to keep track of who was who and in hindsight I wish I'd written them down and created my own cast list.

Blackout is the most thought-provoking book I have read in a long time and I have continued to think about the devastating effects long after turning the final page.  I was just slightly disappointed that I didn't get the feeling of panic and fear coming through in the writing, but it could perhaps have been a little bit lost in the translation from German to English.  It's well worth a read though, just to realise how lucky we are to have power at the flick of a switch.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

BLOG TOUR: Does My Bump Look Big In This? - Amy Lynch

The MOTHER of all comedies is due...

Newlyweds Barry and Becky are just back from their tropical honeymoon. The tans are gorgeous, and it was five star luxury all the way. But there’s a problem. Barry’s desperate for a baby, and Becky’s not quite so keen.

Surrounded by pregnant friends and a mother who’s talking about the ticking of invisible biological clocks, Becky starts to feel the pressure. When a surprise pregnancy rocks the boat, Becky’s friends and family are rooting for her all the way. Will she navigate the choppy waters to motherhood? Will she survive antenatal classes? Can she avoid stretchmarks, indigestion and her dreaded boss? And most importantly of all… does her bump look big in this?

What did I think?

One of my early reviews when I first started blogging was of Amy Lynch's debut Bride Without a Groom, which I found absolutely hilarious.  When Amy asked me if I would like to be part of the blog tour for her second book, Does My Bump Look Big In This?, I didn't even have to think about it for one nano-second.  Another laugh-out-loud episode in the life of Rebecca and Barry - count me in!

Does My Bump Look Big In This? starts with a little flashback of teenage Becky failing miserably at babysitting.  I had tears of laughter rolling down my face as the effects of the poonami were revealed.  I know we Brits do love a bit of toilet humour but anyone with even a smidgen of a sense of humour won't be able to contain their laughter.  I'm laughing again just thinking about it!

Roll forward to Becky returning from her honeymoon and Barry, her husband, is already hinting for a baby.  Becky is quite selfish so babies aren't really on her to do list at the moment.  That is until she realises that she can get some extended time off work.  So when she finds out that she is in fact pregnant, she feels far too ill to go to work but it's nothing that a spot of retail therapy won't cure.  Poor Barry's credit card is about to get a hammering!

Amy Lynch's books remind me of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series as both have huge characters with extreme personalities.  I can't for a minute imagine being friends with Becky, but that doesn't stop me finding her absolutely hilarious.  There are so many laugh out loud moments in this book but there are also times when you want to give Becky a smack in the face, for example when sneakily drinking alcohol while pregnant.  Just remember that it is after all a work of fiction, and good lighthearted, extremely funny fiction at that. I'm sure Becky and Barry's baby will look absolutely fabulous in that must-have tiara she bought...then again baby Costello might have different ideas.

This book is such good fun and, although I'd recommend reading Bride Without a Groom first to really get to know the characters, you could read this as a standalone, but I don't think you'd fully understand the enigma that is Becky Browne Costello.  You will read this and weep!  I haven't laughed so much in a long time - I had so many tears of laughter rolling down my face.  Amy Lynch has once again written a book guaranteed to put a smile on your face - thanks so much for the laughs, Amy!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Thursday, 24 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: My Sister's Bones - Q&A with Nuala Ellwood

This is one blog tour that I didn't want to miss.  I think My Sister's Bones will be one of the top books of 2017; it was absolutely impossible to put down and kept me riveted from start to finish.  You can read my review here but for the blog tour I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to put some questions to the super-talented Nuala Ellwood about her wonderful debut, My Sister's Bones.

Q: My Sister's Bones is certainly one of the best debut novels I have read and it is sure to be a big hit in 2017. For anyone who hasn't read it yet, can you tell us a little bit about it?

A: Thanks so much for those kind words. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed My Sister’s Bones. The novel tells the story of Kate Rafter, a troubled war reporter, who returns from a harrowing experience in Syria to her hometown on the Kent coast after the death of her mother. On her first night back in the house she hears a scream. At first she dismisses it as a nightmare, a manifestation of the PTSD she has developed since the events in Syria. But then she hears it again and this time she convinces herself that it is real. Has Kate uncovered a dark secret hidden in the house and is she strong enough to uncover the truth?

Q: What inspired you to write My Sister's Bones?

A: My father was a journalist and his reports on the aftermath of the civil war in Beirut really struck a chord with me when I was a child. I was brought up around reporters and have always been fascinated by female war correspondents such as Marie Colvin, Janine Di Giovanni and Martha Gellhorn, not least for the way they made themselves heard in such a male-dominated world and always sought the human story within the chaos and horrors of war. When I set out to write My Sister’s Bones I wanted to pay homage to these women. I also wanted to explore the impact of war on the psyche of the reporter. In the course of my research for the novel I looked into the link between PTSD and war reporting and found that the subject had been woefully overlooked. This inspired me to shape the character of Kate Rafter and to show, through her experience in Syria, the traumas faced by war reporters in their work and how this affects their mental state.

Q: Kate is a war reporter in Syria. How did the events in Syria affect your writing?

A: The war in Syria has had a huge effect on the writing of this novel. As a mother I have been extremely moved by the suffering of children trapped in Aleppo and the desperation of their families as they try to flee on flimsy boats towards hostility and uncertainty. As I watched these horrific scenes unfold on my television screen all I could think was that this could happen to any one of us at any time. This inspired me to create the character of Nidal, the boy Kate meets in Aleppo. Through him I wanted to tell the story of a little boy who just wanted to play football, to go to school, to be safe. Simple things that every child deserves.

Q: Have you always wanted to write a book and how long did it take for My Sister's Bones to go from idea to publication?

A: Yes, I’ve always wanted to write books. When I was a little girl I spent all my spare time writing plays and stories and ploughing my way through the books in my dad’s study. My parents introduced me to literature and the power of the written word at an early age. Dad was a journalist and I grew up listening to the sound of the typewriter bashing out scripts to deadline. To me writing was as normal and necessary as breathing. At first my writing came out song shaped – I spent my teens putting bands together and writing songs and my early twenties working as a session singer – but then after completing an MA in Creative Writing I took the plunge and started to write a novel. My Sister’s Bones required quite a lot of research so it took around two years from coming up with the initial idea to securing my publishing deal with Penguin.

Q: I've always admired authors and their ability to portray their ideas in such a way that captivates the reader. Do you have any writing tips for budding authors?

A: Every writer is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice to give to aspiring novelists. I have always been inspired by landscapes and for me visiting Herne Bay, the place where My Sister’s Bones is set, really helped bring the story to life. I spent a week there and during that time I not only got to absorb the place, the people, the atmosphere, the key locations, but I also had uninterrupted time to write. I was lucky enough to secure funding from Arts Council England for the research phase of the novel and this proved invaluable as I could really immerse myself in both the subject matter and the location of the novel. So my advice would be to create as much space as you can for your writing, explore possible funding routes (the Arts Council England website is a great starting point), book yourself onto a writing retreat or a Creative Writing course. If this isn’t possible then be selfish with your time and set aside a portion of the day – first thing in the morning or in the evening after work –that is dedicated wholly to writing. I wrote a lot of the first draft of My Sister’s Bones in snatched moments in between work and looking after my little boy. It can be exhausting but it’s worth every second when you hold your finished novel in your hands.

Q: What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

A: My writing day starts around 9:30 a.m. when I return from dropping my little boy off at school. We live by the river and the walk to school follows the river path where, on any given day, we can see swans, herons, geese and clusters of pretty canal boats. The lack of road traffic and pollution really clears the head and prepares you for the day. When I get back I’ll make a cup of coffee and take it up to my desk that overlooks the river. The activity of the riverbank outside my window seems to dictate my day as much as the clock. As soon as I see the first of the pleasure boats sail past on its way to pick up tourists from the city centre I know it’s time to get writing. I’ll write until 1pm then stop for lunch, which is usually whatever I can find in the fridge. If I want some fresh air and to escape from the house I sometimes pop out to the cafĂ© round the corner. Then it’s back to the desk to edit whatever I’ve written in the morning. If I’m doing the school pick up then I’ll stop at three. If not then I’ll carry on until about five. I very rarely work in the evenings unless I’m on a deadline or teaching a Creative Writing class at the university. I use the evenings to catch up with my family around the dinner table and then I’ll curl up to bed with a book.

Q: When you aren't writing, what do you enjoy doing?

A: I love music and singing. I used to be a session singer and still like to unwind by sitting at the piano and playing for a few hours. I also love going for long walks in the countryside. I live in York and am lucky to have some of the most spectacular hill country right on my doorstep. I grew up in the countryside and always feel better after getting my hiking fix.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing?

A: I live with my husband Nick, an illustrator, my nine-year-old son Luke and our eccentric but lovable cat Toby in a house by the river in York. I have always loved writing but spent my teens and twenties writing songs instead of novels. The change came when I decided to take an MA in Creative Writing after we moved from London to York. Then two years ago I secured Arts Council England funding to research a novel based on a war reporter. That novel became My Sister’s Bones. When it was signed up by Penguin last year in a two-book deal it was a dream come true.

Q: I love finishing a book and feeling the need to share it with the world and I will definitely be recommending My Sister's Bones to everyone I know. Do you have any favourite books or book recommendations?

A: Thank you so much. You’re right. A lot of the books I have enjoyed recently have come through word of mouth recommendations. I would definitely recommend Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, a beautifully written meditation on family, love and loss. I also loved The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle. It’s a gripping thriller with a truly shocking twist. If you like Patricia Highsmith and John Le Carre then you’ll love this. I would also highly recommend Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence, a wonderful literary thriller set in the Alaskan Tundra where a woman and her young deaf daughter appropriate a monster truck and set out to find her missing husband in the depths of the Arctic winter.

Q: Congratulations on signing a two book deal with Penguin Viking, I certainly can't wait to read your next novel. Can you tell us what you're currently working on and when we might be able to read it?

A: Thank you. It was an absolute dream to sign with Penguin. I’m just working on my next novel at the moment. It has the working title of Little Shadow and is set between West Yorkshire and Switzerland. I can’t say too much about it yet, only that it explores the subject of assisted suicide and has an even more shocking twist than My Sister’s Bones!

Thank you so much to Nuala Ellwood for not only taking the time to answer my questions but for her honest and considered answers.  If you haven't read My Sister's Bones yet, I strongly urge you to do so although it may keep you up all night as you can't put the book down once you start it!

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead. She comes from a family of journalists, and they inspired her to get Arts Council funding to research and write a novel dealing with psychological trauma in the industry. My Sister's Bones is her debut thriller.

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Life Without You - Katie Marsh

Can you ever outrun the past?
It's Zoe's wedding day. She's about to marry Jamie, the love of her life. Then a phone call comes out of the blue, with the news that her mum Gina has been arrested. Zoe must make an impossible decision: should she leave her own wedding to help?
Zoe hasn't seen Gina for years, blaming her for the secret that she's been running from ever since she was sixteen. Now, Gina is back in her life, but she's very different to the mum Zoe remembers. Slowly but surely, Gina is losing her memory.
As she struggles to cope with Gina's illness, can Zoe face up to the terrible events of years ago and find her way back to the people she loves?
A Life Without You is a stirring and poignant novel about the power of the past - and the possibilities of the future.

What did I think?

As soon as I saw there was a new book out by Katie Marsh, I just knew I had to have it so I snapped one up from Amazon for my kindle.  I read and absolutely adored Katie's first book, My Everything, and didn't think it could be bettered - but I was wrong!  A Life Without You is impeccably written, it is completely flawless and I am sure it will be listed in many readers' top books of 2016 - it's definitely in mine!  Katie Marsh really knows how people tick and understands the complexity of the heart which make her novels stand head and shoulders above the rest.

What an unusual start to a book - it certainly grabbed my attention.  Zoe is embarking on the happiest day of her life as she prepares to marry Jamie.  Then she gets a phone call from her mum's friend asking her to come and help as her mum is in trouble with the police. Wearing her wedding dress, Zoe takes a trip to the police station instead of down the aisle.  Hold on a second you say, why wasn't her mum sitting in the church with the other members of Zoe's family?  Zoe hasn't spoken to her mum in years - what could have happened that was so bad for a mother to not even be invited to her daughter's wedding?  So begins the story of Gina and her daughter, golden girl Zoe, told through heartbreaking letters that Gina has written to Zoe on each birthday.

These emotional and candid letters are placed at the end of each present day chapter, chapters filled to the brim with emotion as we see the effects of Gina's memory loss on herself and her family.  At a time when Gina really needs the support of her family, Zoe steps up to the mark by burying old grudges and sweeping aside feelings about her abandoned wedding to concentrate on looking after her mum.  With so much on her mind, it naturally starts to affect her work and she realises that she can't do it all on her own.  Time for hurt and resentment to be brushed aside and for people to show that they really care about Zoe.

Losing your memory must be such a devastating event and so difficult for friends and family to deal with.  It really hit home for me, as a book lover, when it was mentioned that Gina had a pile of books by her bed, but there was no point reading them as she would forget what she had read when she put the book down each night.  It must be so difficult to actually admit that you can no longer look after your loved one and have to look at other options available.  As Zoe struggled with feelings of betrayal and guilt, it was completely understandable and virtually palpable, but clear that she had to put those feelings to one side and do what was best for Gina.  

A Life Without You is a stunning and compassionate story of family, forgiveness and unconditional love.  It is a stark reminder that we shouldn't dwell on negative events in the past but concentrate on what is left of the future.  Katie Marsh has such emotive writing, evoking both laughter and tears, ensuring that A Life Without You is a book that will remain forever in my heart.  No words will ever do this book justice - you simply must read it for yourself.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon