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Book Review – ‘The Birthday’ by Carol Wyer ⭐⭐⭐⭐ OUT TODAY.

IMG_20180919_161555_839Happy Publication Day to Carol Wyer for ‘The Birthday’.  I had the pleasure of reading this book earlier in the month.

MY REVIEW:

Thank you to NetGalley, Bookoture and Carol Wyer for the chance to read an arc of this novel.

“One hot summer’s afternoon, five-year-old Ava Sawyer went to a party.  She never came home…..”

This gripping thriller begins with a child’s birthday party at a Garden Centre in July 2015.  During the party five-year-old Ava Sawyer disappears and no trace of her is found. The story then picks up almost two years later, in April 2017, when a building crew carrying out renovations on the old Garden Centre unearth a child’s body that is identified as Ava. 

The next day Audrey Briggs, who also attended the birthday party, goes missing and is found murdered. She is wearing a yellow dress similar to the one Ava had on the day she vanished.  Could the two murders be connected? Is someone targeting the little girls that were at the party? Are other children in danger? DI Natalie Ward and her team try to find the answers and whoever is responsible for the girls’ deaths with very few clues and no real leads.  Do they have a child serial killer on their hands? Is more than one person responsible? And can Natalie lead the investigation without the residual guilt from a previous child murder case affecting her judgement and confidence?

The book is narrated mostly in the present day by DI Ward but also has chapters that flashback to the killer’s childhood and a few chapters where we see the story from the various victims perspective.  Both of the latter are skillfully done as we remain in the dark as to the identity of the killer and where they will strike next. While there were a number of characters that piqued my interest as possible culprits, you are taken on so many twists and turns that even though I had a feeling about a particular character from part way through the book, I found myself doubting the accuracy of it as I’d been duped masterfully about my original suspicion early on.  I love when a writer is so skilled that you can’t be sure who the perpetrator is and you’re as unsure as the police hunting them.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I was right to think it would be right up my street as I love crime fiction. It is an edge of your seat thriller that engrosses you from the first pages and you won’t want to put down.  It is well written with great characters that you easily affiliate with and can feel the tension, stress and urgency of Natalie and her team as they desperately search for the killer. I can see the seeds being planted in the story for this book to be the start of a series and it is certainly one I will be reading

After the book concludes there is a letter from the author telling of her experience of her son going missing and being found safe quickly when he was just 3 and how it helped inspire the book.  I won’t spoil the tale for you but it did remind me of when my own son was the same age and he disappeared at a friend’s birthday party at a play centre. I’d been there the whole time, but when it was time to leave he was nowhere to be found. Myself, other parents and staff members frantically searched the building and rooms for what were the longest few minutes of my life, only for him to be found by another child hiding in the ball pool under all the balls because he didn’t want to go home!  While I smile at that memory now, I will never forget those moments of all consuming terror when I thought he was lost and am thankful we were lucky that day.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves crime fiction, mysteries or thrillers.

Out today.

 

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Book Review – ‘The Psychology of Time Travel’ by Kate Mascarenhas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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1967

Four female scientists invent a time travel machine.  They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities.  But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…

2017

Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past.  Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…

2018

When Odette discovered the body she went into shock.  Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulphur.  But when the inquest fails to find any answers she is frustrated.  Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up  her murder?

When I picked up this book I was feeling burned out on reading crime thrillers.  I needed to read something different and was looking for a book without a murder or crime to solve.  Then I came across this story. It had been on my wish list for a while and although it was a murder mystery it seemed to have the elements to also feel distinct.  I made the right choice; this book was refreshing and so gripping that I didn’t want to put it down.

Science has never been an interest or a strong point of mine, and while the science in the story is clearly well researched it also didn’t feel written in a way that was too academic or alienating of those with no real knowledge of the things mentioned. You accept that this happened and that it is now the norm for some people to live a life travelling different timelines. I like books told by multiple narrators so the various narrators and timelines didn’t take a lot of getting used to for me.  I liked how we gradually heard the story of the pioneers and how time travel became commonplace while also trying to solve who they mystery murdered woman was.

Unlike in most time travel stories, there is no apprehension about seeing, meeting or interacting with your past or future self or those who know you.  In fact it is accepted that you will visit those you love and that you will see and sometimes spend time with yourself in another timeline. It is usual for there to be many versions of a time traveller in one moment as they revisit the momentous events of their life again and again. Their “silver selves” (an older version of them) will also often give advice to their younger selves.  I liked this aspect and it added an interesting element and made me think what things I would tell my younger self and which events from my life I’d choose to revisit if I had the chance.

The time travel headquarters, The Conclave, exists like it’s own country.  It has a currency, laws, detectives, conducts its own criminal investigations and delivers its own form of justice. It is run by the autocratic  Margaret Norton, who will do anything to protect The Conclave and time travel. Every decision she makes is based on the idea “what might it cost the conclave?“.  She seems obsessed with public opinion following Barbara’s manic episode at their first press conference and uses the humiliation she felt as a justification for every ruthless decision.

In Odette’s timeline, she is consumed by discovering the identity of both the body she found and the person who killed her. The courts seem uninterested in answers and a journalist seems scared, so she uses an increasingly dangerous plan in order to get a resolution.  I had my suspicions about the identity of the woman in the basement and did work out who she was before it was before the reveal, but it was written well and there were multiple contenders so you do spend a lot of the book trying to put the puzzle together. The author weaves the pieces together like a tapestry of clues and I for one didn’t expect the final picture to look quite as it did; the description of the murder and the revelation of the culprit made me sit back in shock. Kind of like the victim themselves..  

The Psychology of Time Travel is an incredible, exhilarating, unique and captivating book that will stay with you long after you read it.  I’m excited to see what this author writes next!

Out Now.

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Book Review – ‘Perfectly Human’ by Sarah C. Williams ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, Plough Publishing and Sarah C. Williams for the chance to read this novel.

This extraordinary true story begins with the welcome news of a new member of the Williams family. Sarah’s husband, Paul, and their two young daughters share her excitement. But the happiness is short-lived, as a hospital scan reveals a lethal skeletal dysplasia. Birth will be fatal.

Sarah and Paul decide to carry the baby to term, a decision that shocks medical staff and Sarah’s professional colleagues. Sarah and Paul find themselves having to defend their child’s dignity and worth against incomprehension and at times open hostility. They name their daughter, Cerian, Welsh for “loved one.” Sarah writes, “Cerian is not a strong religious principle or a rule that compels me to make hard and fast ethical decisions. She is a beautiful person who is teaching me to love the vulnerable, treasure the unlovely, and face fear with dignity and hope.”  

In this candid and vulnerable account, Sarah brings the reader along with her on the journey towards Cerian’s birthday and her deathday.

This book truly is extraordinary.  It is beautifully written and the author manages to take us on her heartbreaking journey while also eloquently discussing the questions that we need to ask ourselves about how we view health and life, both before and after birth.

I felt a pull to this book from the moment I read the description. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy read but it is like it came to me at a perfect time.  For me what that meant was the unexpected and incredibly powerful impact it had on how I view my own life. I was born prematurely and not expected to survive.  The doctors all said if I did somehow survive I would be severely mentally and physically handicapped. I defied the odds but was diagnosed with my first of many chronic illnesses aged just 18. To live knowing my life could have been all the more arduous is something I’m used to, as is living my best life despite its limitations.  But this book made me look at this in a deeper way. Just one example is this quote from theologist Jurgen Moltmann:

“In reality there is no such thing as a non-handicapped life; only the ideal of health set up by society and the capable condemns a certain group of people to be called handicapped.  Our society arbitrarily defines health as the capacity for work and a capacity for enjoyment, but true health is something quite different. True health is the strength to live, the strength to suffer, the strength to die.  Health is not a condition of my body; it is the power of my soul to cope with the varying conditions of the body.”

The religious aspect to this book was something not every reader would like but I feel it is vital to the story of how Sarah and her husband Paul faced their decisions and the impact they caused.  I was a Christian for many years so I could understand a lot of their feelings of wondering why God had allowed this to happen and in the challenges they faced with fellow Christians.

The only negative thing about this book for me was that at times it could get too academic. The final chapter was a big example of this and I kept zoning out whilst trying to read it.  Overall though this was a powerful, emotional and wonderful book that challenges you in ways you didn’t expect.

Out October 1st.

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Publication Day Book Review – ‘Down to the Woods’ by M. J. Arlidge⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

Thank you to NetGalley, M. J. Arlidge and Penguin UK for the chance to read and review this novel.

There is a sickness in the forest. First, it was the wild horses. Now it’s innocent men and women, hunted down and murdered by a faceless figure. Lost in the darkness, they try to flee, they try to hide. In desperation, they call out for help. But there is no-one to hear their cries here…

DI Helen Grace and the rest of Southampton’s Major Incident Team are back for book 8 and have a new series of shocking and savage crimes to solve. It is the height of the camping season and a killer is targeting the holidaymakers under the cover of darkness. After a barbaric death, the brutalised victim is then left displayed between the branches of the ancient trees in the picturesque New Forest like a macabre piece of art. Is there a reason behind the way they are killed and displayed? Or is the killer just doing it to shock and haunt those who have to witness the aftermath of his violence? How and why does the killer select their victims and kill without a single witness or clue seeming to be left behind? Helen has to delve into the depths of the forest to find answers. But will she make it out unscathed?

I have been a fan of this series of books ever since the first one was published. I’ve loved all the previous novels and how well written the characters are and you get to know and care about them more with each book, feeling their joy and their pain. I also grew up not far from the New Forest so feel a connection with the characters and places in these books that makes it even more fun to read. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this installment ever since it was announced, so to get the chance to read and review it before release was an exciting privilege. 

Very quickly the fear, suspense and mystery begin and you’re on the edge of your seat reading every word. You feel every bit of terror, confusion and pain that victims experience, the evil delight as their murderer stalks and dispatches his prey and the desperation felt by Helen and her team as they try to find the killer and bring them to justice.

The addition of a new team member in this book added an extra element of mystery as you try to figure out his motives for joining the team and reason behind his obsession with his new boss. Is he a suspect? Or is he up to something altogether unconnected to the crimes?

M. J. Arlidge has done it again.  He’s written an exciting, grisly thriller that you can’t put down.  He weaves multiple characters and storylines together intricately, masking their full connection until the dramatic reveal. From the start of the book my head was constantly spinning with ideas of how the victims might be connected, who could be doing this and why. The answers were shocking and the author is able to throw us off the scent expertly in order to keep the true identity of this heinous killer a mystery. Reading the previous books did help me connect with the characters but you could definitely pick up this story without having read any of the others and still enjoy a fantastic, nail-biting read.

Released today.

 

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Book Review – ‘The Lucky Ones’ by Mark Edwards

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“It was the happiest day of her life.  Little did she know it was also her last

It’s no secret that this year I’ve become a big fan of Mark Edwards’ work.  His books are gripping, haunting and exciting. His characters are well written and the many twists and turns he takes will have you questioning what you thought you knew about them and what the outcome will be.  ‘The Lucky Ones’, my sixth read by this author since June, was no exception and lived up the the brilliance of the books I’ve previously read.

It begins with the murder of a woman by a killer who seems to believe his victim is lucky, that he just helped her.  It’s clear she is not his first kill, and nor will she be his last. When she’s found in the grounds of an old, ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises that she is dealing with a serial killer, this victim being the third one found fitting the strange m.o.  As Imogen and her colleagues try to track down the killer before they can strike again we’re introduced to another character, single dad Ben Hofland, who’s just moved back to his small hometown with his eleven year old son, Ollie, following the breakdown of his marriage. As Ben’s luck begins to change he thinks life is finally starting to go right for him, completely unaware that someone lurking in the shadows is watching and waiting for the perfect time to strike.  To make him one of “the lucky ones”.

Once I started reading this book I couldn’t stop.  It was a riveting and captivating book that had me on the edge of my seat from the start.  Although it lacked the eerie twist that is seen in the other books I’ve read by this author, that didn’t make the story seem lacking in any way.  In fact I think trying to add a supernatural element would have made it less frightening as the horrors of this tale were all too real and able to happen to any one of us.  No one ever thinks that a killer wants you to be happy. You imagine they want to terrorise you and make your last moments the most awful of your life, so reading a story where the person who wants to end your life also wants to enhance it was chilling.  

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well written and captivating crime fiction, thrillers and mysteries.

Out now.

 

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Publication Day Book Review – ‘My Real Name is Hanna’ by Tara Lynn Masih ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, Mandel Vilar Press and Tara Lynn Masih for an ARC of this novel.

First of all do not read this book unless you have a whole day free. You will not be putting this book down!

The story is narrated by a teenage girl named Hanna who lives in Ukraine during WW2. Hanna and her family are Jews and the novel tells the story of their lives from 1941 to 1945 when the Germans begin to invade and rid the village she and her family live in ‘free of Jews’. With rumours of death camps and Jews shot on sight whispered between the adults, Hanna’s Papa decided they have no choice but to flee their home and hide in the forest and then the caves near their village.

Hanna describes the confusion, heartbreak, longing, boredom, frustration, hunger and sheer terror of their seemingly never ending struggle so vividly that you feel you are there alongside her. You wonder with her how they can survive this, how anyone could, and despair that such evil exists to want to destroy others because of hate.

This poignant and beautiful story has to be read to truly understand the utter devastation of Hanna’s ordeal and incredible strength in her will to survive it.

I did also enjoy reading the Historical Note at the end of the book. It was so interesting to learn more about the real story that inspired this book and learn more about a time in our history that we should never forget or not learn from.

Out now.

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Book Review – ‘In Bloom’ by C J Skuse ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, HQ Stories and CJ Skuse for the chance to read an arc of this novel.

Rhiannon’s back and killing for two…

“If only they knew the real truth. It should be my face on those front pages. My headlines. I did those things, not him. I just want to stand on that doorstep and scream: IT WAS ME. ME. ME. ME!

After her carefully plotted plan to frame her cheating fiance Craig for the murders she has committed was successful, pregnant Rhiannon Lewis is now finding she’s not as happy as she thought she’d be. While Craig languishes in jail for her crimes, she’s living with his parents on the coast and dealing with early pregnancy, journalists vying for her story and that urge to kill haunting her every thought. Then there’s the unexpected complication of the little voice inside her telling her to stop fulfilling her murderess urges or else!  She is frustrated, bored and miserable. Without killing who is she? What is there to make her happy in life? Can Rhiannon give up the thrill of violence and be happy as your run of the mill suburban mum? Can she evade suspicion for her crimes and stop her life crumbling around her as the pressure mounts? Will she ever bond with her baby and is he or she even safe with her as their mother

In Bloom, the fantastic sequel to the book that everyone’s talking about, jumps straight in where Sweetpea left off.  I’d been slightly apprehensive before reading and wondered could it really live up to such a spectacular debut? I needn’t have worried. While there isn’t the shock factor of not having read anything like it this time around, there is again instant tension and dark humour as Rhiannon tries to avoid being caught red handed as the police look for clues against her fiance. I loved being back with this character and even though it was a few short weeks since I read book one I found I’d missed reading her unique, caustic, crude and  witty prose

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about these books is the cultural references that are thrown in at random and regular moments such as “….it’s back like Backstreet”. For me they add to the relatability of the character and make many moments even more hilarious. Putting Rhiannon in the extremely uncomfortable situations of living with Craig’s parents, being pregnant and trying to curb her thirst to kill made it an interesting read that was totally different to Sweetpea, where she’d been in the comfort of her own home, in a job she could do with her eyes closed and in control of who and when she killed. Seeing her become increasingly desperate and overwhelmed as she grappled with where she is now in life, particularly her struggle to bond with her baby and fears about motherhood, humanised her even more. We may not all be serial killers but any mother can recognise that urge to protect your child and worry that you won’t be good enough.  The moments of true emotional anguish and turmoil were another unexpected dimension to her character and a flair of brilliance from the author

This book surpassed expectations. It was hilarious, bloody, heartfelt, scathing, emotional and intoxicating. Rhiannon is the best character I’ve read in years. She’s someone you should really loathe and despise, but instead you find yourself drawn to her and rooting for her. She is the friend with the sharp, quick wit that you’d love to have, bar the murderous tendencies of course. The ending was even more electrifying than in the first book. Now I just have to face the long, arduous wait for book 3 to see what Rhiannon does next….

Out now.

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Book Review – ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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This classic book is set in the early 1900s in America’s poverty-stricken deep south. It tells the story of Celie, a young black girl who knows only struggle, segregation and suffering. She is repeatedly raped by her ‘Pa’ who then takes away the two children she bears, forced to marry an older man who mistreats her and then loses her beloved sister Nettie after she is sent away. She seems destined to a life of drudgery and pain. Then she meets the alluring singer Shug Avery and life begins to change for Celie. Shug is an independent woman who refuses to marry and has a career that takes her all over the country. She shows Celie there is a different life to be had and that everyone deserves to be loved. Slowly, Celie begins to embark on a journey of self discovery; finding her worth and finding joy in the most unexpected places.

I have had this book on my shelf for over three years. My partner bought it for me for my birthday that year as part of a theme of my favourite colour, purple. I’d obviously heard of the book and the film but had never thought or desired to read it before and in all honesty knew very little about it. As it was a gift I thought I would read it eventually, but it was never a high priority over the multitude of other books sitting waiting to be read. I decided to finally pick it up for three reasons: (1) I kept seeing it come up on Bookstagram, (2) the BookBum Book Club theme for September was ‘Back to School’ and the book is on current school curriculums, and (3) as part of Operation Clear Your TBR on Bookstagram.

As I knew little about this book I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting the opening pages to hit you like a bomb, with the horror and violence of this young girl’s life is instantly thrown at you. I found my stomach in knots at her anguish and resignation to such a brutal existence forced upon her. Her helplessness breaks your heart as she allows herself to live this way.  She knows fighting against how her Pa and husband treat her would mean ending up dead and to Celie being alive, even if it means suffering, is better than dead.

I did initially find the book hard to read as it is written exactly how Celie speaks and it takes a little time to adjust to that. However I do think writing the book that way helps the tone of the book and enables you to really get inside Celie’s mind. I also loved how it was written as letters. To me this felt like I was really reading about someone’s life and not a work of fiction.

Having now read The Color Purple I have no idea why I waited so long. It is a beautifully written book that is haunting, heartbreaking and wonderful all at the same time.  I devoured this book and could have read it in one sitting very easily. This novel deserves it’s classic status and if you haven’t read it then I suggest you do so as soon as possible.

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Roald Dahl Day

Today we celebrate the birth of the man who is arguably the best children’s fiction writer of a generation.  Roald Dahl was born on 13th September 1926 in Cardiff to Norwegian immigrant parents.  After serving in the Royal Air Force during WW2 he then became well known as a writer in the 1940s, initially for his work for both adults and children. He would go on to become a best selling author in children’s fiction.

His much loved stories were known for their dark humour, portraying adults as villains and the children as heroes. He also espoused those of a gentle and warm-hearted nature in his books and underneath the dark humour was an element of tenderness that added to their charm.

I was a child at the time he was becoming so celebrated for his children’s books and he was definitely my favourite author at that time.  I was devastated upon hearing of his death in November 1990; the idea that there would be no more of his wondrous books just seemed so wrong and tragic to me.  As a child you felt like he really understood your world in a way other adults didn’t, and his genius of making adults into villains helped him resonate with his young audience. As an adult I look back at his work with a different perspective: there’s the nostalgia of my childhood innocence and also seeing just how brilliantly funny his work really is. I loved sharing his books with my own children and have no doubt that one day my Grandchildren will be reading them too.

To me, Roald Dahl truly earned the right to be referred to as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th Century”.  Happy Birthday Mr. Dahl 🎂🎉

Question – What are your memories of Roald Dahl and his books? Which is your favourite? Comment below.

 

 

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‘A Little Bird Told Me’ by Marianne Holmes🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟Publication Day book review.

IMG_20180912_145121.jpgThank you to NetGalley, Marianne Holmes and Agora books for the chance to read an ARC of this novel.

Besides, if you were one half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?

It’s the summer of 1976. A heat wave means perfect weather for swimming at the Lido for 9 year old Robyn (Little Bird) and her brother Christopher (Kit). The only things spoiling their perfect summer is their Mum bringing home women in tears and the town gossip about it, the bullies that mercilessly tease her, the mysterious appearance of The Man in the Cowboy Hat. Then something happens that summer. Something that changes the course of Robyn and Kit’s lives forever. Something Robyn feels she must atone for before it’s too late…..

The story switched between 1976 and 1988, when Robyn and Kit return to the village to solve the mysteries surrounding what happened and so Robyn can right her perceived wrongs. In ‘76 she is a child on the cusp of adolescence, trying to figure out adult secrets and behaviours while also learning who she is. Her sense of frustration and mistakes she makes as a result of childish naivete often left me wanting to shout at Robyn “don’t tell him that” or clue her in but it was great for the story and you felt your heart break with hers as the adult Robyn is filled with deep regret for what those mistakes now mean.

The bond between Kit and Robyn and the intricacies of sibling relationships, are pivotal to this story and are well written. The author weaves the layers of the story elegantly and reveals its secrets in piecemeal; teasing you with the promise of a revelation then ending prematurely so you’re left trying to decipher it’s meaning.

I was so excited to be approved for this book. The premise was intriguing and I loved the fact that it was the chance to read a debut novel. There’s a thrill of the unknown, the possibility of finding a hidden gem of a story and a new voice who you just know you’ll follow the rest of their career. Just reading the introduction to the author started the book with a smile and the sense I was about to read something special. The letter from the publisher solidified those feelings and I wasn’t disappointed in hoping I’d find all those things. I will definitely be reading any future novels by this author. A wonderful book.

Out today