‘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 Flat Share’ by Bet O’Leary ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Tiffy and Leon share a flat.

Tiffy and Leon share a bed.

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: night-worker Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want to feel at home you need to throw the rulebook out of the window…

This witty and refreshing novel instantly captured my attention from it’s intriguing synopsis and then again from the moment I began to read. This isn’t your average chic lit. It’s one full of soul, heart, courage and spirit.

Their arrangement is born of desperation: Tiffy has been dumped by her cheating boyfriend and can’t afford much on minimum wage and Leon is trying to raise money to help fight his brother’s unfair imprisonment. They have a rule they will never meet, put in place by Leon’s girlfriend, and are initially wary of each other: Tiffy wonders if Leon is a serial killer who strikes in winter after finding a bag of handmade scarves under the bed, and Leon wonders what kind of bizarre, bad-taste object-collector he’s now sharing his home with. In time, the pair begin to communicate via Post-It notes. This was probably my favourite thing  in the whole book. It is an inspired choice that had me going through a range of emotions alongside the characters and often laughing out loud. It was at this point we also begin to see that something magical and wonderful happens when Tiffy and Leon are brought together, even before they’ve physically met. Things change after their first, hilarious, meeting but the book continues to deal with the gritty aspects of the story alongside the will they or won’t they romance.

Tiffy is quirky, witty, unabashadley herself and is coming to terms with the end of a relationship that was more toxic than she’d realised. Leon is selfless, caring, shy and learning that kind doesn’t mean being walked over. Narrated by Tiffy and Leon in alternating chapters, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with both characters and to root for them falling in love with each other. I also loved Richie, Gertie, Mo and Rachel and loved the dynamic these secondary characters had in the story and how their input and support were vital to our main characters. They are a group that seem like they’d be fun to hang out with.

As I said earlier, this isn’t your average chic lit. It also deals important issues such as emotional abuse, PTSD, gaslighting, toxic relationships, housing prices making even a room in a house unaffordable for many in low paying jobs, flaws in the legal system and understaffing in the NHS. The author dealt with these issues in a subtle, sensitive and honest way that was relatable and yet also didn’t seem out of place in the story. The author did a fantastic job of showing how even when Tiffy had met someone she was crazy about that treated her right it wasn’t simple and she’d be overwhelmed by triggers and flashbacks at the most unexpected and inopportune moments.  

I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story not just about love but about trusting your heart, standing up for yourself, going outside of your comfort zones and that real love is someone who loves you for yourself instead of trying to make you someone else. An uplifting, fun, relatable and whimsical novel that lives up to the hype.

Thank you to Hannah at Quercus books for the advanced copy of this novel.

Out Now.

April Wrap Up

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It’s the end of another month and time for another wrap up. This month I read 13 books and got half way through another. Most of the books I’ve read this month have been thrillers and NetGalley e-ARCs but I enjoyed some variety with the two true crime books and Dear Mrs Bird, the latter of which was a welcome lighthearted read. So here’s what I read in April:

  1. ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ by Ann Rule ⭐⭐⭐⭐5 – This absorbing book tells the story of Ted Bundy, his crimes and how he was brought to justice. The author has a unique insight into the serial killer as the two worked together and were friends. Like many she at first didn’t believe her kind, charming friend could have committed such vile acts, but as the evidence mounted she had to resign herself to the truth of his guilt. I’ve read many true crime books in my life but reading this from the perspective of someone who is not only a friend of the killer but a crime reporter made this a unique book. It is a raw, chilling and interesting book that I would recommend to any fans of this genre. 
  2.  ‘A Good Enough Mother’ by Bev Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I devoured this cryptic story of love, loss, family and secrets in just over 24 hours. Ruth is the director of a trauma therapy unit and is good at her job, appearing calm and collected to those around her. But unbeknownst to them she’s traumatised by the disappearance of her son, Tom, 18 months ago and is distracted by thoughts of him when she meets a new patient who reminds her of her son. Seeing a chance to redeem herself she goes against her instincts and treats him, setting into motion a chain of events with far reaching and devastating consequences.
  3. ‘The Island’ by Ragnar Jonasson ⭐⭐ – Unfortunately this book wasn’t for me. Though I found the synopsis gripping and sinister and it got off to a good start before quickly falling apart. The plotting felt disjointed, chapters were confusing and rushed, there was a lack of suspense and too may characters that had no real depth. I am in the minority with this book though, most readers have loved it, so I’d recommend checking out the synopsis and deciding for yourself.
  4. ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by A. J. Pearce ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I loved this book. Despite being set in wartime and having some somber moments it isn’t a heavy read. A story of a young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist, this was a joyous, witty and well-written book.
  5. ‘I Know Who You Are’ by Alice Feeney ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Wow! This was my first read by this author and she absolutely blew me away. Mesmerising from the first page, I loved the way this book was written and devoured it within a day. I’ve read some fantastic thrillers and this definitely ranks as one of the best. 
  6. ‘The Whisper Man’ by Alex North ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – A boy who hears whispers from people no one else can see echoes the spine-chilling moment in The Sixth Sense when Haley Joel Osment’s character utters the immortal words “I see dead people” in this eerie, menacing, unsettling and sinister novel.  This book was full of twists and turns, some so jarring and unexpected I could only sit there in shock. Spectacularly written and one you don’t want to miss. Published June 13th
  7. ‘Dead Inside’ by Noelle Holten ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Everyone has a motive and you can’t help but think the victims got what they deserve in this dark, gruesome and hard hitting debut novel. The unsettling subject matter made it a hard read in places and led me to actually be glad someone was taking out the trash in their own version of justice. Though predictable at times this was a compelling and provocative novel and a good start to a new crime series. Published May 31st
  8. ‘Last of the Magpies’ by Mark Edwards ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The final installment in the Magpies trilogy ends things on a high note. The author has created a villain who, if she were real, would be up there with the best known psychopathic killers of our age. Reading reading the unfiltered inner-workings of her mind in this book was truly chilling. I couldn’t tear myself away and was in shock at the jaw-dropping revelations. Mark Edwards is fantastic at writing gripping psychological thrillers and I highly recommend this, the series, and any of his books.
  9. ‘Crushed’ by Kate Hamer ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This unusual story is narrated by three different friends, from three very different backgrounds, as events unfold that will change each of their lives forever. Phoebe thinks murder and murder happened. She must not let her thoughts unravel as she doesn’t know who will end up hurt if she does. A beautifully written and fascinating story of friendship, love and murder. Published May 2nd 
  10. ‘Columbine’ by Dave Cullen ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 – This book has been called the definitive account of the Columbine massacre, and it’s easy to see why. Ten years in the making this book is overall a well researched account of the events surrounding the murders, what motivated the killers, what was missed and the cover ups and myths that many still believe to this day. It is a captivating, hard-hitting book that I would recommend to anyone who loves true crime.
  11. ‘The Dangerous Kind’ by Deborah O’Connor ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 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 was a riveting read that had me gripped from start to finish. The multifaceted story is one where you are never quite sure how the pieces fit together until the jarring revelations that come together in a gut-wrenching crescendo. Published May 16th
  12. ‘The Night Before’ by Wendy Walker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Twelve hours earlier she was…Hopeful. Excited. Safe. Now she’s gone.. This was an easy read but also a compulsive roller-coaster ride with a jaw-dropping finale and shocking twists. I loved that it was written in chapters that alternated from Laura being on the date to the search for her and that I had no idea what would happen next right until the last moment. A spectacular thriller by a talented author. Published May 14th
  13. ‘Little Girls Sleeping’ by Jennifer Chase – Kate Scott comes across a cold case involving a missing eight year-old-girl and decides to investigate. When she finds a row of makeshift graves containing young girls she is sure there’s a serial killer on the loose and is determined to stop them before it’s too late. Review and rating coming soon. Published May 31st 

So that’s what I read this month.  I think this month it’s hard to pick a book of the month as I enjoyed so many of them. My favourites have been ‘The Stranger Beside Me’, ‘Columbine’ and ‘I Know Who You Are’ but I think the one that stands out is Columbine, because it’s a case that’s always fascinated me and reading it over the 20th anniversary of the shootings felt particularly poignant.

Have you read any of these books or are they in your TBR lists? Comment below.

Before I finish this I want to talk about reviews. I am behind on reviews by about seven books as I’m finding that the energy to type them and eloquently convey what I want to say is proving difficult at the moment. Because of that I’ve been concentrating on the NetGalley reviews but I do hope to catch up this month as there’s some books I’ve loved that I haven’t had chance to post reviews for yet, including a few I read this month.

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ, Thomas & Mercer, St Martin’s Press, Bonnier Zaffre, Bookoture, Faber & Faber, Penguin UK, Michael Joseph, Harper Impulse and Killer Reads, for the chance to read and review these novels.

‘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.

‘My Lovely Wife’ by Samantha Downing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Introducing the next generation of domestic thriller.

Every marriage has secrets. Everyone has flaws. Your wife isn’t perfect – you know that – but then again nor are you.

But now a serial killer is on the loose in your small town, preying on young women. Fear is driving your well-behaved young daughter off the rails, and you find yourself in bed late at night, looking at the woman who lies asleep beside you.

Because you thought you knew the worst about her. The truth is you know nothing at all.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK and Samantha Downing for the chance to read and review this book.

What can I say about this book? Well the first words that come to mind are: consuming, riveting, astounding, mesmerising, dark, twisted and unforgettable It lives up to the claim that it is “the next generation of domestic thriller” and is a fresh take on the genre that sets it apart from other thrillers and serial killer books.

“Life goes along like it’s supposed to, an occasional bump in the road but otherwise a fairly smooth ride.”

The story is narrated by Tobias, he’s married to Millicent and they live with their two children, Rory, 14, and 13-year-old Jenna. To everyone they appear to be just another affluent family: they have a happy marriage, a nice house, their children are well behaved and doing well at their private school and they socialise at the Country Club. But underneath this shiny veneer lurks a dark and disturbing secret.

From the beginning we know he keeps things from his wife he knows he should share, and it isn’t long before we find out she’s been keeping an even bigger secret from him. He immediately starts to wonder if she’s hiding anything more, a question that troubles him throughout the book, but ultimately he decides he trusts her.

“You didn’t think we were going to stop did you?”

This book is unusual  as it is told solely from the perpetrator’s perspective. I loved this choice as instead of trying to figure out the culprit the reader is instead left to ponder other questions about the crimes, the motive and if the carefully stacked house of cards will come toppling down around him. The first sign that this might happen is when what seems to have been the perfect smoke screen results in their daughter living in fear of her life, becoming obsessed with the news, resorting to violence and even carrying a weapon for protection. The realisation that they’ve damaged their child while protecting themselves horrifies Tobias and results in a shift of his priorities. Suddenly their hidden life isn’t so alluring and all that matters is helping his daughter become herself again. A decision that leads to his whole world unravelling and puts them all at risk.

“I always wanted to be more than above average”

A key aspect of this story is the relationship between the couple. Tobias grew up with wealthy parents who were uninterested in him and felt rejected. He started playing tennis to try and win their affection and attention without success and left home as soon as possible. From the moment he met Millicent he was captivated by her and she has always made him feel more than average. It is this that explains why he allows her to control many aspects of their family and their lives, and why he will do anything to make her happy, something Millicent clearly takes advantage of and uses to manipulate him. Their relationship also revolves around their secrets. They have their own version of date nights and secret code. Another reason Tobias enjoys their clandestine activities and brushes aside his concerns is because of how it affects their sex life. Even a simple discussion about it results in them becoming sexually charged and have wild, passionate sex, which increases the allure for him.

“Piece by piece my life is destroyed, like it was never real at all.”

As Tobias finally realises the depth of Millicent’s betrayal he struggles to comprehend how she could be so callous and cold. She isn’t the woman he thought she was. You can almost hear his heart and soul shatter  as he realises everything he thought he knew, everything he holds dear, is a facade. The book is expertly plotted and that pivotal moment when the truth dawns on Tobias occurred just minutes after it dawned on me and you are never quite sure where the story is going. At least not until the author wants you to and delivers a breathtaking twist that leaves you reeling. As the walls cave in around Tobias and time is running out the book speeds towards a spectacular, shocking and catastrophic conclusion.

It’s strange to say this about a killer but I loved Millicent’s character. She’s intelligent, manipulative, beguiling, calculating and at times a contradiction. She is unapologetic of her plans and actions while Tobias sometimes wavers. It was interesting to have a dynamic where the woman is the one pulling the strings and the man afraid of displeasing her instead of her being the victim cowering in the corner.

This jaw-dropping thriller is a book you don’t want to miss. It had me transfixed within the first two chapters and didn’t let go. The final line sent shivers down my spine and still haunts me. A debut that reads like the work of a veteran writer makes this author a talent to watch. I for one can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Out May 2nd