Publication Day – ‘The Evidence Against You’ by Gillian McAllister ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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It’s the day her father will be released from jail.  Izzy English has every reason to feel conflicted – he’s the man who gave her a childhood filled with happy memories. But he has also just served seventeen years for the murder of her mother.

Now, Izzy’s father sends her a letter. He wants to talk, to defend himself against each piece of evidence from his trial. But should she give him the benefit of the doubt? Or is he guilty as charged an luring her into a trap?

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and Gillian McAllister for the chance to read and review this novel.

Gillian McAllister has written another riveting character-driven story that I couldn’t put down.I was completely hooked and so desperate to know what happened that I forced my eyelids open and stayed up until 4am to finish it.

Izzy English lives on The Isle of Wight with her husband Nick. Tomorrow her father, Gabriel, will be released from prison after serving seventeen years for killing her mother. His release resurfaces her conflicted feelings about him: her memories of a loving father versus the monstrous murderer. His guilt has always been an indisputable fact, something she wasn’t allowed to question at first and then something she avoided looking at and her mind would repel if she tried.

The day he’s released from prison her father turns up at the restaurant her mother used to run, the one she took over after her death. He wants to come in but Izzy is too scared to do it. He puts a letter through the door protesting his innocence and asking her to go and see his best friend to hear him tell her his side instead. More letters arrive over the next few days until Izzy finally relents and agrees.

Gabe has been unwavering in his claims of innocence since her mother was killed but the evidence was against him, he was convicted so he must have done it, right? Izzy decides it’s time to open pandora’s box despite the myriad of problems and unwanted emotions it means she will face. She has to know the truth about that Halloween night eighteen years ago. So she starts to investigate what happened: looking through long sealed boxes in the attic, talking to everyone she can, trying to discern the truth for herself for the first time. Despite her decision Izzy is plagued with uncertainty and worries he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, luring her in before going for the kill just like they say he did to her mother.

The story is narrated by Izzy with Gabe also narrating once she agrees to listen to his version of events. They do this very differently: Izzy’s narration involves a lot of her private thoughts and memories that she doesn’t speak aloud while Gabriel speaks directly to Izzy. Not giving us a glimpse inside his head means the reader can only take him on face value and judge him on what he claims to be true and the way he acts, just like Izzy. I found that like Izzy I doubted his integrity as not only did she uncover suspicious things in her investigations, but when he told her a part of his story we would immediately get Izzy’s memories of the same events, revealing that Gabe had changed what happened or what was said to paint himself in a better light. How can you believe what someone tells you when you know they speak so many lies? And how can you comprehend loving the man who was convicted of taking one of the most important people in the world away from you? These questions, and Izzy’s attempts to answer them, are woven through the entire book. As a reader I rarely had any doubts of his guilt but understandably Izzy wavered. Her doubts of his guilt a constant whisper in her ear, an inviting chance to have one of her parents back and rebuild some of what she lost.

The Evidence Against you is a complex, multi layered story about love, grief, family, truth, lies, secrecy, pain and betrayal. It is also a story about living life in a prison, though not necessarily one made of bars with guards at the doors, institutionalisation and what happens to the family of victims of a crime and those who are convicted of a crime. It is intelligently written and thought provoking with flawed characters who are the key to the story being so compelling. It is steadily paced and pulls you in so you’re completely immersed in Izzy’s search for the truth. This book has cemented my love for this author’s writing style and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Out today.

‘I Know Who You Are’ by Alice Feeney ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from. But I know exactly who you are. I know what you’ve done. And I am watching you.

When Aimee comes home to discover her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ and Alice Feeney for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wow! This was my first read by Alice Feeney 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 just couldn’t stop reading.

Aimee Sinclair is an actress who’s star is rising. But while things are on the up professionally her personal life is flailing as her two year marriage to Ben is on rocky ground. The day after a particularly awful fight Aimee returns home to find Ben missing. Ashamed of things she said and did the night before Aimee isn’t sure how to act, leading the police to become suspicious of her behaviour. But what they think she’s hiding isn’t what she’s actually afraid of being discovered. You see, Aimee has no idea what happened to Ben but is terrified of the lie she’s been living almost all her life being discovered.

Mysterious, atmospheric, unnerving, perplexing and startling, this is a story where you’re never quite sure who the good and bad guys are. Can we trust what Aimee tells us? Can she trust her own memories? Should Aimee have our sympathy or disdain? What really happened to Ben?

Told in the present day with jarring flashbacks to Aimee’s childhood, we slowly learn what it is that Aimee is hiding and the shocking truths of this twisted tale. The final revelations were dark, heinous and mind-blowing. This year I’ve read some fantastic thrillers and this one definitely ranks as one of the best. A must read for anyone who loves psychological thrillers.

Released April 23rd

‘Little’ by Edward Carey ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into Madame Tussaud.

In 1761, a tiny odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors the princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The Revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and…at the wax museum, heads are what they do.

In the tradition of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, Edward Carey’s Little is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel–a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.

 

This breathtaking book reached into my soul and took up residence there. A magnificent work of historical fiction that I found all-consuming and enjoyed so much that I took my time reading so I could savour it for as long as possible.

When I started this book all I knew about Madame Tussaud was that that it’s the name of the wax museum in London and Blackpool. I had never thought that it was named after a real person or what that person’s life may have been, but the synopsis was intriguing and the cover was such a work of art that I couldn’t resist.

Although this is a fictionalised version of Marie’s life, there are many things in the story that did or were rumoured to have happened. I don’t know a lot about the time in history this was written but I have always loved history and learning more about the past. There were many amusing anecdotes woven into the story that I was surprised to find were facts and not things embellished for histrionic entertainment. I guess it’s like they say, there are some true facts that if you made them up would seem unbelievable. While entertaining us, thee author didn’t shy away from some of the more disturbing realities of the era and vividly described the true horror of the revolution, leaving me with some images I will never forget.

Though we were born over 200 years apart there are some similarities between us that helped me forge an immediate connection to Marie: I was born a similar tiny size, it was predicted I wouldn’t live and our heights are roughly the same. I also get called ‘little’, although for me it’s part of an affectionate nickname and isn’t used instead of my name like in the story. I thought she was feisty, determined, intelligent and compelling person who lived a fascinating life. She seemed to have an air of rebellion about her and often got into trouble for not abiding by society’s rules. Also she didn’t just dream of a life beyond what she was told was befitting of her, but strives to make it happen despite the many obstacles and disappointments.

The author takes this mesmerising book to another level with his remarkable storytelling and the phenomenal illustrations that illuminate the story. I haven’t read an illustrated book since I was a child and it was great to be able to visualise things exactly the way the author intended. I spent a long time just looking at the illustrations in awe.This really was a book you need to buy in print to fully experience its magic.

Filled with anguish, desperation, ambition and triumph, Little is a dark, sardonic and morbid comedy. It is one of those under-hyped books you will be glad you took a chance on. It was the first time I had read anything by this author and I became an instant fan. This is the best book I’ve read so far this year and has taken a place among my all-time favourites. Anytime this author has a new release I’ll be at the front of the queue impatiently waiting for sure. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

Out Now

Thank you to Gallic Books for my Little Tote bag.

March Wrap Up

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I can’t believe we’re a quarter of the way through the year already!

This month I have read 10 books. It is my lowest number since joining bookstagram but the quality is what is actually important and it’s been a month where almost every book I’ve read was amazing.

  1. ‘The Woman Inside’ by E.G Scott ⭐⭐⭐ – This debut thriller about a couple who have it all on the surface but are living a life built on lies and secrets  was sadly a let down for me. I had been highly anticipating this book but found it slow and underwhelming. Even the big twist couldn’t make me interested in how things turned out for the characters in this book.  Published August 8th
  2. ‘Only Daughter’ by Sarah A. Denzil ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This gripping tale of secrets, lies, betrayal and devastating revenge blew me away. It had me on the edge of my seat and reading well past bedtime as I found it impossible to put this book down. I’ve been a fan of this author’s work since I first discovered her last year, but this is her best book yet and one of the best thrillers I’ve read so far this year.
  3. ‘The Evidence Against You’ by Gillian McAllister ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This book was a complex, multi layered story about love, grief, family, truth, lies, secrecy, pain and betrayal. It is also a story about living life in a prison, though not necessarily one made of bars with guards at the doors, institutionalisation and what happens to the family of victims of a crime and those who are convicted of a crime. It is intelligently written and thought provoking with flawed characters who are the key to the story being so compelling. It pulls you in so you’re completely immersed in Izzy’s search for the truth and I was so desperate to know what happened that I forced my eyelids open and stayed up until 4 am to finish it.  Published April 18th.
  4. ‘Beautiful Bad’ by Annie Ward ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This absorbing psychological thriller begins with  a chilling 911 call in which a woman pleads for help to hurry as a child shrieks in the background… In dual timelines we are then told the story of Maddie and her husband Ian’s relationship while she undergoes therapy for anxiety and the clock counts down to The Day Of The Killing.  The eerie ending of this book is one I’m still thinking about.
  5. ‘The Dare’ by Carol Wyer ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 – The third book in the Detective Natalie Ward series, The Dare is another unputdownable thriller. I devoured this book in one sitting, on the edge of my seat as the detective and her team raced to find the person who was kidnapping and killing teenage girls. It is so well written that there was no clear suspect and I was racing to the end to find out who had been terrorising the town. This is a must read for crime fiction and thriller lovers. Published April 25th.
  6. ‘Finding Dorothy’ by Elizabeth Letts ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – As a life long Oz fanatic I loved this magnificent fictional tale of the story behind the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  from the perspective of Maud Gage Baum, wife of author Frank L. Baum. In dual timelines we see her meet Judy Garland and watch the iconic movie being made while also learning of her life, how the couple met and the story of how Frank was inspired to write the story that is still beloved by millions.
  7. ‘And They You Were Gone’ by R. J. Jacobs ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – What a breathtaking roller-coaster ride! The author has written a compulsive, thrilling and addictive debut novel that is impossible to put down. It was filled with surprising twists and turns and had me on the edge of my seat until the end.
  8. ‘Things In Jars’ by Jessie Kidd  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Bridie Devine is a detective in Victorian London is charged with finding the kidnapped daughter of a baronet that isn’t supposed to exist. Bridie finds herself drawn deeper into the murky world of curiosities, abnormalities, greed and corruption. This mesmerising novel took me completely by surprise. Ms Kidd is a remarkable writer who has woven an emotive and sorrowful tale alongside one full of mystery, charm and suspense. One of the best books I’ve read this year.  Published April 4th
  9. ‘The Vanishing Season’ by Dot Hutchinson   ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 – The fourth book in The Collector series did not disappoint. As the Crimes Against Children investigate the disappearance of eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer they find evidence linking it to a string of missing young girls going back decades, including that of Agent Brandon Eddison’s sister Faith, who went missing 25 years ago. This was a compelling thriller that I didn’t want to put down, but also didn’t want to finish, as I was enjoying it so much. The tension never waned and surged as they learned their case was even more disturbing than they’d originally believed. A great end to a fantastic series. Published May 21st 
  10. ‘Betray Her’ by Caroline England  ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Jo and Kate are two very different women who have been friends ever since their first day at bording school twenty years ago. Told in the present day and flashbacks to the friends’ time at St Lukes and the years since, we learn that all is not quite as it seems. From the start there are hints that their time at the all-girls boarding school was far from happy and that they never discuss it. Gradually, we learn the truth of those tumultuous years, along with other heart stopping revelations that unveil their closely guarded secrets and change their lives forever. From the moment I began reading I was hooked.  The author of this book has found herself a new fan and I would highly recommend this tantalising novel. Published September 24th.

So that is what I read in March. I had hoped to have finished ‘The Stranger Beside Me’, which is the book I’m reading as part of #MurderMonday , but unfortunately that looks like it will be my first book finished in April. Choosing a favourite this months is incredibly hard but I think the title has to go to ‘Finding Dorothy’ because it is not only a fantastic novel, but is about my favourite film.

What did you read in March? Have you read any of these books or are they on your tbr list? Comment below and tell me.

 

*Thank you to NetGalley, Bookoture, Thomas & Mercer, Little, Brown Book Group UK, Crooked Lane Books, Quercus, Canongate Books and the authors for the ARCs.

**All books are available now unless otherwise stated. To read full reviews please see previous posts except for The Evidence Against Me and Finding Dorothy which haven’t yet been published.

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.