Book reviews by a book lover for other book lovers.
Hi, I am an avid reader and have been all my life. I put it down to being an only child and having a teacher for a mum. The idea of this blog is to share my passion for reading and review new and upcoming books as well as those that may have been out for several years.
I also review on Twitter @Bookliterat
After my review this morning of his latest novel, The Good Samaritan, I welcome author John Marrs to my blog to discuss A Life in Books.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I live in Northamptonshire with my partner (also called John) and our dog, and I commute to London each day where I work as a journalist for Express newspapers. I write film and television interviews for S Magazine, TV Life, Big TV and I’ve previously written for Q Magazine, Total Film, The Independent, Guardian and Now. Writing books began as a but of fun. I started almost five years ago, but now it’s become a parallel career.
What was you favourite book from childhood?
I didn’t have just one, it was anything written by Franklin W Dixon, the creator of the Hardy Boys series of books. I was obsessed with them and when I grew up I wanted to be him. It was only when I got older that I learned he didn’t exist – it was a conglomerate of writers writing under than name! It explained why he managed to rattle out 190 full-length novels…
What type of books did you read as a teenager?
I was more about the comedies at that point. Like everyone my age, we devoured the Adrian Mole series and I remember loving Tom Sharpe’s novels like Blott On The Landscape. They seemed a bit saucy back then, but if I was to re-read them I bet they’d be quite tame now. I was also really into The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?
The Catcher in the Rye. That really spoke to me, a book that’d been written some 35 years earlier (when I first read it for my GCSE English class). I haven’t read it for some years but I plan on reading it again before the year is out.
What is your favourite classic book?
I’m going to refer you to the answer above. This book will never date. Each time I go to New York, I still smile when I think about Holden Caufield.
What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?
There are few which have made an impression on me. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (who I’ve had the pleasure to interview a couple of times) or The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson stand out. I also adored Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. I’d say my favourite of late has been The Circle by Dave Eggers. I wish I had written that book.
What book to you think you should read but never get round to?
There are two on my bookshelf – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. They’ve been there for ages but I’ve never had the time to pick them up and dive in.
What do you consider to be your favourite book ?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S must be up there, I read this when I was backpacking around the US for a year when I was 21. I also adore The Beach by Alex Garland. From start to finish, this book never let me down. I think it’s brilliant.
Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?
There are a few that if I don’t enjoy, I’ll stop reading. I can’t continue with a book if it’s just not resonating with me. Most recently it’s been The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and Paula Hawkins’ Into The Water.
If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you
I’d take Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as I’d like something to sink my teeth into, and the complete set of the Hardy Boys adventures – just for old time’s sake.
Kindle or Book?
Considering I started writing for eBooks, it should be the former. But as I don’t actually own one (only the App on my iPad), it’s books all the way for me. It would make more sense to love the Kindle but I like looking at a book on a shelf – and most recently my own, something I never thought would happen.
Laura Morris works at End of the Line, a charity phone line for those who need to speak to someone and get reassurance when they are contemplating suicide. She bakes to raise money to keep the helpline going and gives the impression of being the perfect wife and mother to those she works with.
But Laura has not had an easy life, she has been unwell, she is having problems in her marriage and is fast approaching forty. She also has a secret, she doesn’t want to reassure those who call End of the Line and save them, she wants them to die so she can hear their last breath.
Ryan’s wife, Charlotte is one of those who was unlucky and got through to Laura, and is now dead, committing suicide with a stranger. Ryan wants to learn more about his wife’s death and the man with her. What he doesn’t take into account is how far Laura will go to protect her secret, after all who would suspect a Good Samaritan of murder.
After reading John Marrs’ The One earlier in the year I was excited to be given the opportunity by Tracy Fenton from TBC on Facebook, to review this latest novel. The Good Samaritan is an erudite, dark, tense, psychological thriller with a cast of flawed and interesting characters. The plot is fast paced, and disturbing with many twists and turns to wrong foot you at every chance. John Marrs’ writing style grabs your attention and keeps it throughout the book both with the changes of direction and the flawed narrators.
The plot is narrated by Laura and Ryan, with an input from Johnny, Ryan’s brother. Laura is a multi faceted character and is obviously traumatised by her past and has a warped sense of reality. She is very manipulative to those vulnerable people who call End of the Line, using them to validate her own life and get her kicks from life.
Ryan is character I had sympathy for, he falls to pieces after loosing his wife, convinced she wouldn’t have taken her own life, and especially not with a stranger. We get the contrast of Ryan’s life both before Laura’s death and after, which enables the reader to see the extreme change in his personality and the way his life has changed beyond recognition; almost study in grief and its effects. In his quest to seek answers he completely underestimates Laura, and finds himself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
I don’t want to say too much about this book in fear of giving too much away. What I will say buy The Good Samaritan and read it. This is a fantastic, stomach churning edge of your seat thriller; perfect for these dark winter nights.
To celebrate the release of The Pearl Sister, the fourth instalment in the Seven Sisters series, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to interview Lucinda Riley.
Where did you get the idea the write a series of books based on the constellation of the Pleiades star cluster?
Just after New Year in 2013 I was searching for my next story but wanted to find an overarching angle to add another element to my past/present writing, something that would challenge and excite me – and my readers. I have always watched the stars – especially the Seven Sisters cluster near the belt of Orion – and on that frosty night in North Norfolk, I looked up to the heavens. Thinking also of our own seven children, I was struck with the idea for a seven book series based allegorically on the legends of the Seven Sisters constellation.
Do you have a favourite sister and her story?
For me, choosing a favourite sister would be like choosing a favourite child, so I’m afraid it’s impossible to say. Although I must admit, because I am currently working on Tiggy’s story, The Moon Sister, I probably feel closest to her right now. I adore her compassion and her spirituality.
I love to hear from my readers, and many of them tell me they have a sister with whom they particularly identify; for example, for some it is Star’s determination to come out of the shadows, for others it is Ally’s bravery and positivity. The wonderful thing about writing a series of seven books is that we don’t have to say goodbye to any of the sisters for a while yet.
Do you have a plan or diagram of the timelines for the stories so there are no inconsistencies?
No, I very rarely write anything down; it’s all in my head. Although I do have a tiny notebook the size of my palm which I keep with me to jot down an idea when it strikes. Of course, in a series of this scale, potential inconsistencies crop up quite a lot – I always need to make sure that the sisters are in the right place and don’t contradict things that have happened in previous books. But these things are all taken care of in the editing process. After writing my first draft, I edit the book at least twenty times, to ensure that it is as perfect as I can possibly make it.
Which sister are you writing about now, and which countries has it taken you to?
Tiggy is the most spiritual of all of her sisters, as we have seen in previous books. In The Moon Sister, readers will discover more about her work with animals at a secluded Highland estate in Scotland, but her journey will also take her to heat of Spain. Characters from earlier in the series will reappear in very unexpected ways.
At the end of The Pearl Sister, there is a short titbit of Tiggy’s perspective, which may shock some readers. You will have to wait until The Moon Sister is released in 2018 to find out more…
Apart from The Seven Sisters books, I understand you have another book coming out next year, can you tell me a bit about it?
Yes, The Love Letter will be published in the UK in July 2018, and it is rather different to my previous books. It’s a thriller set in the 1990s in London and Ireland. I originally wrote the manuscript a long time ago when I was living in West Cork, where the landscape is so inspiring.
The main character is a young journalist, Joanna Haslam, who is sent to report on a memorial service held in honour of the renowned actor Sir James Harrison, who has recently died. There, she meets an elderly lady who gives her a package of old documents — including a fragment of a mysterious love letter that hints at a dramatic back-story. Joanna’s curiosity is awakened and she begins to investigate. Little does she know that she has embarked on a mission that is not only dangerous, but one that will also throw her own heart into turmoil — because Marcus Harrison, Sir James’s grandson, is as charismatic as he is enigmatic….
When writing, do you have a particular place where you write, and do you have to be strict with yourself about sitting down to write?
After I’ve completed all my research, I begin writing the first draft – although ‘writing’ isn’t actually accurate, because I narrate the story into my trusty Dictaphone. I work best outside in the open air, but even if I’m indoors, I’m always pacing and on the move. I spend weeks talking to myself – my kids think I’m crazy, although they’ve got used to it over the years. I then hand it over to my assistant, who has the task of converting my verbal ‘vomit’ into words on a page.
I do work extremely long hours, and sometimes it’s a hard slog, for example if a particular section isn’t going well. But generally once I’ve started on a book, I don’t find it difficult to discipline myself because I become so involved with the characters and the story and can’t wait to get back to them. I feel privileged to be able to do this for a living.
When writing I also have a strict timetable of drinks – English Breakfast tea in the morning, coffee at 11am, and rosé wine from Provence at lunchtime!
What was your favourite book as a child, and why?
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. They both have fantastic heroines whose imagination and kindness helps them make their way in the world. Both books feature orphans, which perhaps may have subconsciously influenced me to write The Seven Sisters series about adopted young women.
Do you have much time to read, and what are you reading now?
I read every single night before going to bed – I believe that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader, and I’m a bona fide bookworm. I’m currently working my way through the ‘Inspector Lynley’ mystery series by Elizabeth George.
Which writers have inspired you to become an author?
My favourite period is the 1920s/30s and the wonderful authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh who wrote so evocatively about that part of world history. They have inspired my love for the historical. Most of my books are therefore told in dual narrative format, with powerful back stories and an underlying moral of forgiveness, acceptance and understanding of one’s past – in order to live happily in the present and also to embrace the future.
Going back to The Seven Sisters series, you have recently launched a charm bracelet and a set of charms that represent each sisters heritage, I recently purchased one and it is a beautiful piece of jewelry. The profit from the sale of the bracelet and charms are going to the charity Mary’s Meals, could you tell me a bit about the charity and why you chose it?
Mary’s Meals is wonderful charity that provides more than one million children across 14 countries with a meal at their school or place of education. Providing food in this way attracts children to the classroom and helps give them hope for a brighter future. This means that children who were once too hungry to concentrate now have the energy to learn. Parents who were anguished at not being able to feed their children themselves have more peace of mind and encourage them to go to school.
Writing the Seven Sisters series has taken me across the globe, and the more I travel and experience, the more I realize what privileges we in the Western World so often take for granted. When I heard about Mary’s Meals, I loved the simplicity of the idea behind it. It gives hope to children, and nourishes their bodies as well as their minds.
Every penny of profit from the sale of each Seven Sisters bracelet goes towards providing the £13.90 needed to feed a child at school for a year. If anyone reading would like to buy a charm bracelet, simply go to https://thesevensistersshop.com/
So far, the response from my readers has been fantastic, and I would like to thank all of them for supporting this amazing cause. We have now raised enough money to sponsor Assembly of God Mission School in Liberia for a whole year.
Thank you for answering my questions, I am a huge fan of your writing.
You can learn more about Lucinda and her books at www.lucindariley.co.uk
This is the third in my series of genre specific top ten authors. I have separated women’s contemporary fiction from romantic fiction (chick lit), which will feature in a later blog post. This genre does seem to encompass a wide range of books ad can be interpreted in different ways. I am not saying any of these books cannot be read by men, of course they can, I have simply gone on what genre the books marketed for.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that this is my personal list, of authors I have read. I am sure many of you will disagree with some of my choices, if so please comment so I can see some of your choices and add them to my ever growing TBR pile.
Lucinda Riley has gradually become one of my favourite authors at the moment. I first found out about her books when Hothouse Flower was chosen for The Richard and Judy Book Club. Lucinda has written several stand alone novels as well as currently writing the fifth book of her Seven Sisters series, which is my favourite series of the moment. I have reviewed the first four in this series on my blog: The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister, The Shadow Sister and most recently The Pearl Sister. Of her stand alone novels my favourite is The Midnight Rose spanning four generations of the Astbury family and takes us from England to the palaces of India. She is a very skilful writer who brings both characters and places to life. I also really like that she doesn’t have a lot of surplus characters, each is there for a purpose, a tip many authors could take.
It was my mum who introduced me to Karen Swan’s books, my first being Christmas at Tiffany’s, about Cassie, whose marriage falls apart and spends the next year living with each of her best friends, in Paris, New York and London, in order to decide what she wants to do with her life. The sequel to this, Summer at Tiffany’s was released last year, and is still sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Karen Swan releases a book every Christmas, and for me Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without one of her books. They are full of great characters, and set in wonderful locations. I recently reviewed The Rome Affair, which I think is her best book yet. This years Christmas novel is The Christmas Secret which I will review in a couple of weeks time, just before publication date.
Kate Morton is another author I found out after The House at Riverton was chose for the Richard and Judy Book Club. I am a fan of the two plot line structure, one historical, one contemporary: I find it really grabs my attention and keeps it, it prevents the book from getting flat at any point. The plots each have a mystery at the centre, whether a missing child, an abandoned young women, and murder, that cross generations and decades. Kate Morton is a fantastic writer, as the stories twist and turn with each chapter leaving you at a cliff hanger so you have to read on, and just when you think you know the ending, there is always a surprise.
The Languedoc trilogy, Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel are fantastic read. Again there is the dual timeline and they have a plot full of conspiracies and mystery. There is always a strong woman at the centre of the plot, both in the present and in the past. They are very much a mixed genre containing romance, mystery, thriller, history and a bit of the supernatural. These novels certainly keep you on your toes and encapsulate a lot of France’s history. Since writing this trilogy Kate Mosse has written a couple of historical novels as well.
Leaving the World is a book that stayed with me long after I read it. Douglas Kennedy writes about everyday dilemmas that turn peoples lives upside down. His writing is full of emotion, and he has a brilliant understanding of the human psyche. His most famous book is probably In the Pursuit of Happiness, that was turned into a film with Will Smith. My favourite so far is Five Days, a modern day Brief Encounter about a chance meeting in a hotel lobby changes the life of the main protagonists. It follows Laura as she questions her previous twenty years of marriage and the loss of her dreams as she became a wife and a mother. It really is a beautiful book, stylishly written, and full of emotion. If you haven’t read any of Douglas Kennedy’s novels, I highly recommend them.
Sally Vickers is one of those authors whose books I will buy without even needing to read the book blurb. She has a lyrical style of writing that entrances you and draws you Ito the very heart of the story. Her books also deal with some serious issues, self discovery, death, faith, redemption and loss. Being a huge fan of art history her debut novel Miss Garnet’s Angel is a book that has stayed in my heart. It follows retired teacher, Julia Garnet as she takes a spiritual journey to Venice, its churches, art after the loss of a close friend. Entwined with her story is the biblical tale of Tobias and the Angel, whose story is in a set of paintings in a local church to which she is drawn. Of all her books, I think the most clever is Mr Golightly’s Holiday, about an author whose has had a previous bestseller but whose reputation is in decline after failing to write another great work. He is left to consider his work, the death of his son and the modern world, full of emotion and reflection it is a great read.
Like Lucinda Riley and Kate Morton, Rachel Hore’s books have the split timeline that I enjoy in a book, and she is another author whose book was chosen for The Richard and Judy Book Club. At the centre of each plot is a mystery from the past that has repercussions in the present. Her writing is very descriptive, both in relation to the characters and the locations. I have read The Memory Garden, A Gathering Storm, The Glass Painter’s Daughter, The Dream House and most recently The House on Bellevue Gardens. All these books have a strong female lead, both in the past and present, wonderful characters and plot lines that will compel you to read on.
When I read The Midwife’s Confession a few years ago, I was hooked to Diane Chamberlain’s books and writing. All her books have a dilemma at the centre that none of us would want to be presented with. The plots are very emotive in their narrative and full of conflicting emotions. The great thing about this is that you start to question what you would do in the characters position. Plot lines include child custody battle, babies switched at birth, family secrets and lies and suicide. Diane has written a large number of books so there is a wide range to choose from, so give them a go.
Amanda Prowse is the author of sixteen novels, and all are bestsellers. Amanda shows great understanding and empathy for her characters and the difficulties they face. Her books deal with everyday problems, faced by many, head on. The plot lines are immersive and highly emotional. The characters are well developed and come across as very real, they could be someone you know, and that is what makes these novels a brilliant read.
After reading The Making of Us, a novel about identity, where a secret binds three very different characters, I was hooked and have since bought all of Lisa’s novels, even though I have not read them all yet. I love her characterisation, she really brings the characters to life and makes the reader invest in their lives and care what happens them, even if they are all a bit flawed. Recently Lisa has moved into thriller writing very successfully.
So, these are ten of my favourite contemporary women’s fiction authors. I hope I have given you some inspiration for future reading.
This evening I welcome author Robert Rees to bookliterati blog to discuss some of his favourite books in A Life in Books.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Hi, I am 57 years old and was born in Berkshire. My father was a teacher of History and then headmaster at various schools. I attended Eton College and Trinity Cambridge before pursuing a career in the City of London. After retiring from the City in 2007, I now divide my time between a house in Kent and Provence writing music, novels, and plays.
What was your favourite book from childhood?
I read a lot as a child, most of the normal canon – the Narnia books, Paddington, EE Nesbit being my favourites. I also loved all the various mythologies and graduated quickly from them onto the Lord of the Rings. However, after finding a book on how to make fireworks, my chief love became science and in particular chemistry – a love that I have never lost, despite not really using it in my later career. I particularly enjoyed reading about the history of science.
What type of books did you read as a teenager?
Heavily into Tolkien and similar fantasy books, including a lot of science fiction. But I also enjoyed Russian and French literature. Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier, and Father and Sons by Turgenev were my two favourites.
When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?
As I was a scientist my English studies ended at 16. The books we were made to read – generally Dickens or Thomas Hardy, were not my books of choice – though for French I did enjoy The Outsider by Camus. I became interested around that time in philosophy ( here was a course for scientists who could write properly at school – not a big group!) so I should add in the History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell.
What is your favourite classic book?
I think it is almost impossible to name one – but if you twist my arm then probably Jane Eyre (or maybe War and Peace)
What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years
Difficult as there are so many – but I was very taken with both novels by David Nicholls, Us and One Day. Also The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachmann
What book to you think you should read but never get round to?
That is easy – I have taken a copy of Proust “a la Recherche du temps perdu” on holiday for at least the last three years and it remains unopened
What do you consider to be your favourite book ?
The book I have undoubtedly read the most – though at a much younger age would be The Lord of the Rings.
Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?
If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you?
Are we allowed the Bible free, like on Desert Island discs? If not, that would be one. Then probably Shakespeare’s works – including the sonnets. If Bible allowed then War and Peace
Kindle or Book?
Robert Rees’s novel, A Season In The Sun, is available to buy now.
CeCe D’Aplièse has never felt that she fitted in anywhere, and following the death of her adoptive father, the elusive billionaire Pa Salt, finds herself at breaking point.
In desperation, and armed with only scant clues her father has left her, CeCe begins a search to discover her true origins….a search which takes hero the searing heat and dusty plains of the Red Centre of Australia.
But what is her connection to Kitty McBride, a Scottish clergyman’s daughter wholes there over a hundred years ago?
As CeCe unearth deeply buried and long forgotten secrets, she starts to believe that this wild, vast continent could offer her something she never thought possible: a sense of belonging and a home…
I have previously reviewed the first three books in this series, The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister and The Shadow Sister, so I have been eagerly waiting for the release of this fourth book in the series. In my opinion The Pearl Sister is the best so far, I was immersed in CeCe’s story, I really couldn’t put this book down.
CeCe’s story takes the reader to the beautiful and exotic beaches of Thailand, and its antithesis the desolate outback of Australia. As with the previous three books, Lucinda Riley’s skill as a writer brings these contrasting places to life. You can really visualise the dusty, hot and desolate Australian Outback, the red dust coating everything in sight, and the intense heat of the sun. Lucinda also brings to life the history of Australia; the pearl industry, the discrimination towards those of colour and even more towards children of mixed race, and the shipping of orphans to Australia after the war and their treatment in orphanages. It was also very interesting to read about the aboriginal myth of The Seven Sisters of Pleiades, and how important it is in their culture. It is amazing that The Seven Sisters are part of many different cultures, whose basic story names the same but with small differences important in that culture. I certainly learned a lot reading this book, which enhanced CeCe’s story, and in some way the story of the other sisters as well.
I loved CeCe as a character, she has many insecurities stemming from looking different from her sisters, her dyslexia but most of all from being separated from her sister Star, whose story is told in The Shadow Sister. Throughout the book we see her grow as an independent young women, and accept who she is as a person and as an artist. I also admired Kitty MacBride who travelled to Australia as a ladies companion in the early twentieth century and ends up staying there and making a new life for herself. Her strength of character really shines through as she faces many challenges and continues to thrive in the face of adversity. Her strength is mirrored in her house maid and friend Camira, a woman of mixed race who is been and grown out of her previous job after she became pregnant. As her child is mixed race she faces having the child taken from her, but Kitty doesn’t have the prejudice of others and helps her. Overcoming adversity, both in the present and the past, is a strong theme in this book as is the strength of the female characters. The thing I enjoy about Lucinda Riley’s characters is that she doesn’t overload the reader with a lot of extra characters, there is a small cast of central characters that are important to the plot.
The Pearl Sister is a beautiful book, it will captivate you from the first page with its breath taking plot that will sweep you up in CeCe’s journey. The Seven Sisters series is getting better with each book, and we fall in love with each sister as they start the journey to find out their true heritage. They truly are a magical and captivating read, and like those before The Pearl Sister is a superb read that will stay with you long after you have finished it; a sublime reading experience.
Keep an eye out next week for my interview with Lucinda Riley which I will post on 2nd November to coincide with the release of The Pearl Sister.
Mussolini’s Island follows the lives of Francesco and his gay/bisexual friends as they are arrested for being who they are at a time in Italy where prejudice is rife and differences are punished.
They are transported to an isolated island where they meet a young girl whose fascination with the men leads to intrigue and danger.
The story involves murder and double crossing for the sake of loved ones; living with differences at a time of war; taking risks to protect others and innocence being trampled because of the prejudices of many.
Francesco is banished to the small island of San Domino at a time when Italy was run by biased, unforgiving forces. His past memories of his father mixed with his tumultuous feelings of what is right and wrong, and meeting an innocent girl desperate to escape the confines of an island life she is desperate to escape, leads to story of conflicting emotions of fear and rights.
The historical truths of this tale is heartbreaking and Day is able to weave these historical facts into a story that is modern in the way it helps us to realise that biased towards people who are gay or bisexual is not simply historical.
The point of view changes throughout the novel, you do have to be awake to keep on top of it all. Francesco is however the main character but the novel changes time throughout; does become a bit confusing at times.
I enjoy historical novels and it did engage with a less well known aspects of Mussolini’s reign. I did find that I had to reread parts at times to ensure I was up to date with what was happening but it was worth doing.
An enlightening read, highlighting an aspect of that part of history.
My guest reviewer today is Anne Skelton, a member of my book club Hens Hooked on Books.
Anne Skelton, I have six amazing children I am immensely proud of. I’m an English teacher in beautiful Scotland, working in Kirkcaldy High School.
I have always had a passion for reading that came from my parents. My first memory of books is my dada reading Brer Rabbit to me when I was very young. And when I was around 11 he gave me ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to read, it was, and still is, my all time favourite read.
The coastguard’s residence Chamber Cottage, which sits high upon the North Yorkshire cliffs, overlooking the the North Sea, holds many secrets.
Alec and Peggy are struggling to overcome their marital problems. Both damages by issues from their childhoods, they are trying to get on with their lives. But this is hard for them to do when they both believe they are being watched. As a result, Peggy, who has terrible scars on her face, becomes more agoraphobic.
To make matters worse, Peggy discovers her estranged mother is stalking both she and Alec, claiming she has a dark secret that is putting Peggy in danger.
What caused the scars on Peggy’s face? Is Alec really the monster Peggy’s mother believes him to be? And what secrets does Chamber Cottage hold?
I was very grateful to Bloodhound books to give me the chance to review Her Dark Retreat; I love a good thriller and I am passionate about supporting local authors. The opening to this book is every persons nightmare, trapped underground in the dark, with no idea of how you got there, being buried alive. This first chapter opens the door to a plot full of suspense, drama, darkness and slowly building tension. The plot is narrated by four of the characters; Peggy, her husband Alec, Peggy’s estranged mother Audrey and Maude, their nearest neighbour who has dementia. It is fair to say that all are unreliable narrators, all are flawed characters with a reason to twist the narrative for their own gain.
The cast of characters were all dealing with important issues in their lives. Peggy has a scarred face which leaves her with low self esteem and agoraphobic. Alec had a bad childhood in which he suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father that resulted in him being put in the care system. Audrey has no contact with with either of her daughters, has lost her husband and has a drink problem. Maude has dementia and doesn’t understand why her mind is foggy and that she can only remember certain things. Of all these characters it was Peggy and Maude I had some empathy for; as a woman Peggy’s facial disfigurement is difficult to live with, and has altered her life and Maude being confused, not knowing what is real and not. All of these difficult issues are dealt with great care but also with reality.
The setting of the cottage on the cliffs in on the Yorkshire coast is perfect for this book. The isolated cottage, on the edge of the rocky cliffs, being battered by the elements is a metaphor for Peggy and Alec’s marriage. They are isolated socially by Peggy’s agoraphobia, and literally by where they live. Their lives are battered by the outside influences of Peggy’s mother and to an extent Maude. Their marriage is on the rocks, and there is a coldness between them, they are walking on eggshells, and there is little affection between them, they are two solitary figures within the marriage.
Her Dark Retreat sone of those books where the suspense builds slowly, like a pressure cooker, and you know that by the end there is going to be one big release of this pressure. With so many twists and turns my stomach was clenching tighter and tighter as I read on until the gut wrenching conclusion, that shocked and surprised me. I highly recommend this dark chilling thriller, it is perfect for these dark cold autumn nights.
Tess de Vere was on work experience during the summer break from her University studies – she experiences the conviction of William Benson for murder. She is convinced of his innocence and suggests to him that he could fight back by studying the law himself.
Sixteen years later William is out of prison and trying to establish himself as a barrister against the wishes of the establishment and a public swell of opinion. Tess is drawn back into his world and starts to work alongside him – at the same time trying to work out whether he was innocent or guilty of his original conviction.
If you enjoy John Grisham novels then this book is for you. A legal mystery and subsequent investigation of not only one but two murders 16 years apart, but the writing of John Fairfax is based in England rather than America (like Grisham) and therefore seems more relevant and accessible to a reader in the UK.
It is obvious that the author is an expert in legal technicalities and these are what William Benson has studied whilst in prison making him a formidable and unexpectedly clever opponent in the law courts. I found the first quarter of the book a little slow as the scene was set and characters introduced however it soon picked up and I found it difficult to put down during the second half. The relationship between Tess and William is central to the novel but we are also introduced to a number of side plots with twists and turns along the way. Naturally the reader tries to guess the ending but it was not obvious although I would not be surprised if there were more novels involving some of the characters in this one – which I would certainly read.
I would score the book 4/5 – I rarely give a 5 but I would say what let the book down (if anything) was the first few chapters which failed to hook the reader as much as the rest of the book, once it got going. In a phrase ‘The English answer to John Grisham’
My Guest Reviewer today is Anne Packwood, who is a member of my online book club Hens Hooked on Books.
Anne works full time as an academic administrator at a university in the Midlands. She counts reading as one of her main hobbies along with dancing, crafts and going to the theatre. She normally reads at least one novel each week but sometimes this is difficult with all the other demands on her time. Her tastes in books vary and she is always willing to try something or someone new, at the moment historical fiction and crime seem to be dominating her ‘to read’ pile – she is also pedantic about reading a series of novels in the order they were written even if the author does not feel this is important – feeling that there is nothing worse than missing something in a previous book that had a bearing on the current ‘read’. If she ever has enough time she would love to write a novel herself and has taken a number of creative writing classes but is waiting for the big idea to come along.
All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she is almost relieved.
Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.
Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets, before its too late.
I don’t normally read Young Adult Fiction, but I am a huge fan of Cally Taylor’s thrillers so when she was looking for reviews for The Treatment, I thought I would give it a try. Like her other books, this is well written, spine tingling psychological thriller. The only real difference between her YA novel and her adult psychological thrillers is that the main protagonists are teenagers and of course there is a difference in the language used.
Like her other thrillers, C L Taylor has a female lead character, who is stronger in character than they think they are. Drew is a young woman who is being bullied at school, doesn’t have a great relationship with her stepdad and is quiet and introvert, something a lot of young people can identify with. Through the novel we see her grow as a person, and gain confidence in herself and realise how much she really does love her brother. As in a lot of. YA novels her nemesis is the adult, her stepdad the ‘friends’ and doctors at the Academy and the establishment. There is a fairly small cast of characters which helps focus the attention. The attention to detail of the characters gives them a sense of realism and makes them memorable so you are having to flick back for details you may have forgotten. I thought that many of the characters, and the situations and relationships they have were very relatable which enhances the readers experience of the novel, and makes the thriller more exciting.
The plot is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. The chapters are short and end at a cliffhanger point making you want to read on. Being a YA novel, I feel the short chapters make this an accessible and encourage you to read on; a much less daunting prospect than long chapters. The narrative of children being brainwashed is and idea that has always appealed to younger readers, it is a time when the YA dynamic are finding their feet, pushing boundaries and questioning the establishment, so the idea of the young protagonists taking them on is a perfect theme.
The Treatment a fast paced, rollercoaster of a thriller, written with the same skill and finesse as C L Taylor’s adult thrillers. A brilliant read.