‘The Corset’ by Laura Purcell ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

This gothic novel had been languishing on my shelves for a while when I decided to pick it up as my fiftieth read of 2019. The Silent Companions was one of my favourite reads last year so I began this full of high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Dorothea  Truelove is attracted to the forbidden and isn’t interested in the life expected of her as a wealthy heiress, but in becoming a better and more useful person. She spends time on charitable work which leads her to Oakgate Prison and Ruth Butterham. Sixteen-year-old Ruth is awaiting trial for murder. She grew up poor and was sold to work as a seamstress to pay of her mother’s debts. It is her talents with a needle and thread that she claims enabled her to kill, saying that she has the ability to sew death into the things she creates.

Dorothea and Ruth are two very different women. Dorothea has known a life of privilege while Ruth has known nothing but poverty. Both have suffered loss but the effect it’s had on their lives is very different. When they meet they have outlooks on life that are also different but find that they come to bond over Ruth’s story. I liked both main characters and the author did a great job of writing their diverse lives in a way that made you understand their actions and beliefs. There were some other great characters in this book too. Some I loved and others I despised.

The author highlights many important issues of the time in this novel. There is an interesting look at mental health and phrenology, women’s roles in society and how workers were sold into slavery with no rights and treated appallingly. In particular, I think Ruth’s life and the struggle of the poor in Victorian times was particularly well written. I could almost smell the rot and decay of their dank, desolate and depressing living conditions and feel their terror at being starved, having no rights and the fear of what their cruel employer might do to them for the slightest reason. There were parts of Ruth’s story so harrowing I’d have to stop reading and take a break for a while.

I am so glad that I finally read this book. Dark, haunting, atmospheric, chilling and raw, this was impossible to put down. The story is exquisitely written and has solidified Ms Purcell as one of my favourite authors whose novels are a must-read. There is so much I loved about this novel: the ambiguity, the magnificent writing and that mindblowing ending that had me sitting there in disbelief at what I was reading. I would vacillate from heartbreak to anger to disgust as I read Ruth’s story. To be honest Dorothea’s chapters almost felt like light relief in comparison.

So is Ruth mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? That is something you’ll have to read and decide for yourself. The Corset is an outstanding piece of gothic noir that I highly recommend.

Out Now

‘The Night Before’ by Wendy Walker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Twelve hours earlier, she was…

Hopeful.

Excited.

Safe.

Now she’s gone.

Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and Wendy Walker for the chance to read and review this novel.

One of my favourite things is when you go into a book with a vague synopsis. For me it heightens the tension and mystery. So I was excited to read this book as not only was the synopsis vague but the book has been receiving quite a buzz on bookstagram.

Laura has always been unlucky in love and had a fragile psyche. Fresh from her latest heartbreak she returns to her hometown and decides to try online dating. As she gets ready to go on a first date she is hopeful yet apprehensive. Her protective sister Rosie worries it’s too soon but Laura assures her she’s ready. When Rosie wakes the next morning to find that Laura has not returned she fears the worst. Laura’s not replying to calls or texts and they have no idea who she went to meet, what he looks like or where they met. As Rosie, her husband Joe, and childhood friend, Gabe search for Laura they discover more about her mysterious life and become increasingly worried about what they might find…

Wow!! This was my first read by this author but it certainly won’t be my last. I loved how the story was written in chapters that would alternate between the present day which mainly concentrated on the search for Laura, and flashbacks to Laura’s date the night before. I particularly loved Laura’s chapters. The author skillfully conveyed her insecurities, second guessing and over analysis of everything alongside her eagerness to appear “normal” and not do the things that have steered her in the wrong directions so many times before. She was someone I empathised with an related to as I’m a terrible overthinker myself. I also loved how like Laura we were never quite sure what was true and what wasn’t and that all of her chapters seemed to end on a cliffhanger so I wanted to do nothing but keep reading!

While there is much more I could analyse and say about this book I will stop here because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. Part of the joy is in not knowing.

The Night Before is a spectacular psychological thriller that I didn’t want to put down and couldn’t stop thinking about when I did. An easy read that is also a compulsive roller-coaster ride with a jaw-dropping finale and shocking twists. All Is Not Forgotten has been languishing on my shelf for a while, but after this incredible book I will be reading it as soon as possible and buying the author’s other novel. This is a thriller you don’t want to miss.

Out May 14th.

‘The Dangerous Kind’ by Deborah O’Connor ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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What if the people we trust are the ones we should fear?

One in 100 of us is what the police call a ‘potentially dangerous person’ – someone likely to commit a violent crime. These people hide in plain sight, they can be teachers, doctors, holding positions of trust, power.

Jessamine Gooch makes a living tracking the 1 in 100. Each week she broadcasts a radio show that examines brutal offences, asking if more could have been done to identify and prevent their perpetrators.

But when she agrees to investigate a missing persons case involving a young mother, she is drawn into a web of danger that will ultimately lead to the upper echelons of power, and threaten the safety of her own family.

Thank you to NetGalley, Bonnier Zaffre and Deborah O’Connor for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The 1 in 100. The “dangerous kind” of people. We have all met them: those who unnerve you as something just doesn’t sit right, the charmers who are another person behind closed doors, the ones who manipulate and control. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s all too easy after crimes are committed to see the warning signs. But do we really pay attention to them before they go too far? Could we stop them?

This dark, atmospheric thriller captivated me from the first page and didn’t let me go. The subject matter is sinister, chilling, deplorable, and all too familiar. Filled with an array of characters that will resonate, anger, disgust and devastate you this is a book that takes you to the depths of human tragedy and depravity. Expertly written, the references to fairly recent events in modern history make you feel like you’re reading a true crime novel rather than a work of fiction.

With multiple narrators in dual timelines this is a multifaceted story where you aren’t quite sure how the many characters and storylines fit together. Even so it never feels confusing which is another testament to the talent of this author. A riveting read that was brimming with tension from start to finish, I was unprepared for the jarring revelations as it all came together in a gut-wrenching crescendo.  

Out May 16th.

‘Crushed’ by Kate Hamer ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Phoebe stands on Pulteney Bridge, tights gashed from toe to thigh. The shock of mangled metal and blood-stained walls flashes through her mind as she tries to cover her face so she won’t be recognised. It wouldn’t do to be spotted looking like this. She’s missing a shoe. She feels sick.

Phoebe thought murder and murder happened. ‘Thoughts are just thoughts’, they said. Now she knows they were wrong.

At home, Phoebe arranges the scissors and knives so they point towards her mother’s room. She’s exhausted, making sure there’s no trace of herself – not a single hair, not even her scent – left anywhere in the house. She must not let her thoughts unravel, because if they do, there’s no telling who might be caught in the crossfire, and Phoebe will have to live with the consequences.

Thank you to NetGalley, Faber and Faber and Kate Hamer for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This unusual story is narrated by three very different friends, from very different backgrounds, as events unfold that will change each of their lives forever.

Phoebe is a strange, mysterious girl. She has no self confidence thanks to her narcissistic mother who controls and demeans her at every opportunity. This has led to Phoebe trying to find confidence and strength through things such as her secret eating disorder, rituals and the power of her mind; she believes that she can make things happen just by imagining them, including murder. Orla is the rich girl with the mother who gives her everything. But she is also worried about her mother discovering the truth: she is in love with Phoebe. Phoebe knows and uses it to her advantage causing Orla to veer between love and hate for her beautiful friend. Then there is Grace. Grace lives in the town’s only tower block where she is the carer for her single mother who has MS. She is weighed down by the responsibility but  also dreads the thought of anyone taking over and separating them, leading her to make decisions that are questionable as she desperately tries to hold her crumbling family together.

Although all three characters were well written, Phoebe was the one who stood out most of all. She is complex and someone who my heart broke for one minute and I hated the next. She could be unspeakably cruel but when you read how her mother treated her you understand why she did these things and that this was the way she’d learned to feel powerful and in control. She had no example of healthy love and affection and only knew toxic love. Grace’s chapters were the hardest for me to read as I’m also a mother with chronic, debilitating illnesses and for a long time I was a single parent with a child who was my main carer. Reading her hurt and anger at their situation was like a knife in my heart and I feel so thankful that my son no longer has that pressure and that he never got to the stage of feeling such anger and like his life choices were taken away from him because of my illness. I think Grace’s feelings were understandable yet are also what any parent who’s ill dreads their children feeling. I thought the author did a fantastic job of realistically portraying their situation.

This was my first read by this author and I found myself mesmerised by the lyrical, hypnotic and lurid style of writing. Phoebe’s parts are particularly stylistic and intoxicating and were my favourite to read despite their dark content. Throughout the story there is the constant theme of Macbeth, which is the book the girls are studying in English. Phoebe is unnerved by the story and feels it is bewitching her life through the book. Crushed itself is a kind of retelling of the tale with the three friends who dabble with witchcraft being the modern version of the three sisters.

This tragic story of friendship, love, heartbreak and murder is an unusual but fascinating book.It is well plotted and keeps up the pace throughout building to a sinister and shocking finale.

Out May 2nd.

‘A Good Enough Mother’ by Bev Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Dr Ruth Hartland rises to difficult tasks. She is the director of a highly respected trauma therapy unit. She is confident, capable and excellent at her job. Today she is preoccupied by her son Tom’s disappearance.

So when a new patient arrives at the unit – a young man who looks shockingly like Tom – she is floored.

As a therapist, Ruth knows exactly what she should do in the best interests of her client, but as a mother she makes a very different choice – a decision that will have profound consequences.

Thank you to NetGalley, Faber and Faber and Bev Thomas for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ruth Harland is Director of the Trauma Unit which treats patients by encouraging them to talk through their experiences in a safe space in order to begin to heal. It’s a difficult job. To everyone around her Ruth is calm, collected and can deal with anything. But that isn’t the truth. They have no idea about her son Tom’s disappearance eighteen months ago and how preoccupies her thoughts. When Ruth meets new patient Dan Griffin she is struck by his likeness to her son. She knows this will cloud her ability to treat him but all she can see is a chance to save Dan in the way she wasn’t able to save Tom, setting into motion a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

*Possible trigger warning*

I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the synopsis but somehow didn’t connect the dots that it would mean so much vivid detail regarding trauma and PTSD. As someone who is struggling with those very issues I found it overwhelming to read at first and very nearly put it aside. But I was enjoying the way it was written, found Ruth interesting and was already invested in knowing what had happened to both Tom and Dan, so I persevered. I’m glad I did as I found that as the story went on it broadened, enabling me to feel more comfortable reading. I wasn’t sure about including this in my review at first but decided that ultimately it might be best so that other readers are aware.

A Good Enough Mother is a cryptic story of love, loss, family and secrets. While I had tremendous sympathy for Ruth in regard to the pain of son’s disappearance, I found she was a protagonist that evoked mixed feelings. Although her job involves telling others they need to work through their trauma by talking about it and facing it, she hides Tom’s disappearance from her co-workers, pretending everything is fine while inside she’s broken and desperately trying to piece herself together. After meeting Dan she compounds the secrets and lies by ignoring not just her instincts, but the boundaries, rules and warning signs of treating him herself. This plunges her and many others headlong into a danger far greater and darker than anyone anticipated.

A large part of this story was about motherhood. While Ruth is proud of her work and ability to help people, what she lives for is motherhood. She loves her twins but it is clear from the flashbacks that she has always favoured her son and has used his personal struggles to reason this was necessary. She has a distant and difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and in trying to avoid those same mistakes she is blind to her own. All these things negatively impact her marriage and her relationship with her daughter who feels she’s been forgotten behind her brother’s needs. When Tom disappeared it shattered Ruth on so many levels and she has tethered herself to him all his life. She doesn’t just fear that something bad may have happened to him, but that he has chosen a life without her, which is almost even worse.

I devoured this book in just over 24 hours. It was steady paced and held my interest without exception. One of the things I enjoyed was how the book was written in a way that makes the reader aware these are past events. There are references to an incident and the police many times but we never really know who or what this entails other than the events Ruth is describing are leading up to whatever occured. I loved trying to use the breadcrumbs to figure out what had happened and what part each character played. I had a few ideas and really thought I’d figured it out but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As we got closer to the big reveal I could predict the storm but felt powerless to stop it. There was a roaring dread in my ears and my heart seemed to stop as I held my breath. Surely not? Please let me be wrong? I felt like I was feeling Ruth’s pain at that moment, my heart shattering with hers as all was revealed. This was an emotional novel and fantastic debut from the author.

Out today.

‘And Then You Were Gone’ by R. J. Jacobs ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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How can you save someone else if you can’t save yourself?

After years of learning to manage her bipolar disorder, Emily Firestone finally has it under control.  Even better, her life is coming together: she’s got a great job, her own place, and a boyfriend, Paolo, who adores her. So when Paolo suggests a weekend sailing trip, Emily agrees – wine, water, and the man she loves. What could be better? But when Emily wakes the morning after they set sail, the boat is still adrift…and Paolo is gone.

A strong swimmer, there’s no way Paolo drowned, but Emily is at a loss for any other explanation. Where else could he have gone? And why? As the hours and days pass by, each moment marking Paolo’s disappearance, Emily’s hard-won stability begins to slip.

But when Emily uncovers evidence suggesting Paolo was murdered, the investigation throws her mania into overdrive, even as she becomes a person of interest in her own personal tragedy. To clear her name, Emily must find the truth – but can she hold on to her own sanity in the process?

Thank you to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books and R. J. Jacobs for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Emily Firestone finally has her life together. After years battling to find an even keel she has her bipolar disorder under control and is happy: she is working as a psychologist with children, her own apartment, and is madly in love with her boyfriend, Paolo.

When Paolo suggests a weekend sailing Emily ignores her fears of water and agrees to the trip. After a perfect first night she wakes to find him gone. She alerts the police but is certain that as a strong swimmer he couldn’t have drowned and that he didn’t just up and leave her. When the Police declare Emily the only suspect in his death she knows finding the truth is the only way to clear her name, a task that seems impossible as her life falls apart piece by piece.

But then one of Paolo’s coworkers contacts her saying she has evidence that Paolo was murdered by someone close to him. Increasingly desperate to clear her name, Emily tries to find further proof but finds her mania intruding her thoughts more and more as she races against the clock to not only uncover what really happened to Paolo but to also keep her grip on reality.

This book was a breathtaking roller-coaster ride. R. J. Jacobs has written a compulsive, thrilling and unpredictable debut novel that I couldn’t put down.

Emily was an unreliable protagonist but also one I loved. Seeing her battle against her paranoia was riveting. She herself couldn’t trust the truth and accuracy of her recollection of events or what she was thinking which added an extra layer of uncertainty to whether or not you could believe her version of events, while also making her a character that is interesting to read. The author’s background as a psychologist shines through in these intricate details of Emily’s character and her bipolar II. The expressive language used to describe her thoughts and feelings enabled me to understand her and put myself in her shoes even though I have never lived with her condition. I also found the tidbits of information about how and why the brain works the way it does really interesting and it helped me understand mental health in a new way.

And Then You Were Gone is a fabulous psychological thriller that keeps you guessing as you are never quite sure what to believe. Filled with with surprising twists, turns and revelations this is a book that has you on the edge of your seat until the end. R. J. Jacobs is a talented new voice in fiction and I’m excited to see what he writes next.

Out now.

‘Beautiful Bad’ by Annie Ward ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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IN THE MOST EXPLOSIVE AND TWISTED PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER SINCE THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, A PERFECT LOVE STORY LEADS TO THE PERFECT CRIME.

Maddie and Ian’s romance began when he was serving in the British Army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend Jo in Europe. Now sixteen years later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America.

But when an accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD, her concerns for the safety of their young son Charlie, and the couples tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, the years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of The Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?

 

Thank you to NetGalley, Quercus Books and Annie Ward for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

This absorbing psychological thriller begins with Maddie looking for a therapist ‘12 weeks before’ and then a chilling 911 call in which a woman pleads for help to hurry as a child shrieks in the background…

Maddie Wilson and her husband Ian live in Meadowlark, Kansas, with their three-year-old son Charlie. From the start we learn their marriage is strained and both also have their own personal struggles. Maddie is seeking out a therapist to work through the anxiety and panic attacks she’s had since a mysterious accident that left her scarred and settles on writing therapy with the unconventional Dr Camilla Jones. In these sessions she also begins to open up and details her fears due to Ian’s PTSD and her worries for their son’s safety.

As we’re taken between the different timelines we see the couple meet in the Balkans when Ian was a soldier and Maddie was teaching English to poor students. Her best friend Jo lived in Macedonia, where Ian was based, and the two met at a fundraiser there in 2001. At first Jo was the one to get close to Ian but then something changed and she warned Maddie not to trust him but their friendship ended when Maddie followed her heart instead of listening to her friend. The story doesn’t just focus on them as a couple but also talks about the things they went through separately that shaped the people they are today. In the present day both are damaged and pulled apart rather than together. Ian’s PTSD causes him to be volatile and rely on drink as a crutch, and Maddie’s anxiety causes panic attacks about disaster befalling her family constantly. She dreams of escaping with Charlie and feeling safe again.

The story is told from multiple points of view, although Maddie is the narrator we see the most. The Day Of The Killing is the present day but it isn’t until near the end of the book we learn who was killed and what happened that day. Instead we are given occasional glimpses of the gruesome crime scene, which are described in beautiful but macabre detail, as the first attending officer enters the house. I liked that the story was told in this way, it added a greater level of suspense and apprehension as I was always waiting for the next snippet of information about the crime and looking for clues as to who was the victim or perpetrator in the flashback timelines. I love guessing those kinds of things and seeing if I get the twist right or if I’ve been wonderfully mislead.

The characters in this book were strong and relatable, as were a lot of their problems. We haven’t all been in war torn countries but PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks are common, as are struggles in a relationship, the instinct to protect your child, and losing a close friend after falling out. I think anyone can find something to connect to in this book. I found myself relating to Maddie the most when she first realises Ian is struggling with PTSD and wonders how she missed his darkness. When we first fall for someone we all show our best side and it isn’t until later the less pretty things are revealed and by then we can be in so deep that we dismiss our fears and what our gut is telling us, making excuses that allow us to stay because we love them and want this to work. Also, am I the only one who found this book really funny at times? Usually because of something Maddie or Jo said or did.

Beautiful Bad is a phenomenal and enthralling novel that is gripping from the start. I had my suspicions from the start about the big twist but the author still shocked me with elements of the reveal and eerily haunting ending. Fabulously written and unputdownable this is a thriller you don’t want to miss.

Out March 21st