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Blog Tours book reviews Tandem Readalong

After The Silence by Louise O’Neill

Published: September 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Riverrun
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Suspense, Literary Fiction

I read this book as part of a readalong with Tandem Collective UK. This post is also part of a social media blast in connection with Quercus. Thank you to Hannah at Quercus for my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Nessa Crowley’s murderer has been protected by silence for ten years.
Until a team of documentary makers decide to find out the truth.

On the day of Henry and Keelin Kinsella’s wild party at their big house a violent storm engulfed the island of Inisrun, cutting it off from the mainland. When morning broke Nessa Crowley’s lifeless body lay in the garden, her last breath silenced by the music and the thunder.

The killer couldn’t have escaped Inisrun, but no-one was charged with the murder. The mystery that surrounded the death of Nessa remained hidden. But the islanders knew who to blame for the crime that changed them forever.

Ten years later a documentary crew arrives, there to lift the lid off the Kinsella’s carefully constructed lives, determined to find evidence that will prove Henry’s guilt and Keelin’s complicity in the murder of beautiful Nessa.

In this bold, brilliant, disturbing new novel Louise O’Neill shows that deadly secrets are devastating to those who hold them close.

MY REVIEW:

“There were three of them in the beginning, and we called them the Crowley Girls. They were born of this island, as we were; sister-children, brethren, kin. Soil and bone. A common blood running through our veins, for our ancestors, had been family, once, if you understand the ways of Insirun before we begin our story – we were all connected here. But those girls were not like us.”

Darkly atmospheric, haunting, tense, claustrophobic and addictive, After The Silence is a richly drawn amalgamation of whodunnit and character study that examines the power of silence, and the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive. 

This was my first Louise O’Neill book but won’t be my last. I have fallen in love with her exquisite writing and her ability to write about such a difficult subject with such truth and sensitivity. Because, while this is a murder mystery, the author has cleverly woven into that an examination of domestic abuse, coercive control and violence against women. It is clear that she highly researched the subject as she writes with a depth of knowledge and truth as well as great sensitivity to a harrowing subject. 

Her characters are fascinating, flawed and real. They’re people you might even recognise yourself in. As someone who lived in an abusive relationship for twelve years, I saw myself in Keelin, my past relationship in hers and my ex in some of the male characters.   I loved how using the Kinsella’s beauty, wealth and faux happiness, she highlights that domestic abuse can happen to ANYONE, even those who are strong and independent, and that coercive control is so much harder to recognise as abuse than physical abuse.  

Setting the story on the small, secluded island of Inisurin added an extra layer to the book; a threatening, eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere that permeates everyone and everything. The island is also like a character in itself, and acts as a metaphor for how Keelin feels about her marriage: the island keeping her prisoner just like her marriage. There is a very real sense of being trapped with help being out of reach. That no one can save you.  

Dark, brooding, tense and twisty, After The Silence will keep you guessing right until the end. I am now such a fan of this author that I’ve already started ordering her back catalogue so I can devour her other books. 

 Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Louise O’Neill was born in west Cork in 1985. She studied English at Trinity College Dublin and has worked for the senior style director of American Elle magazine. While in New York, she also worked as an assistant stylist on a number of high-profile campaigns. Louise has written two award-winning books, Only Ever Yours and her most recent, Asking For It, which won Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. She is currently working as a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. She lives in Clonakilty, west Cork.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Under Your Skin by Rose McClelland

Published: April 27th, 2020
Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Trigger Warnings: Domestic Abuse

Today is my stop on the tour for this dark thriller. Thank you to Emma at Damnpebbles Blog Tours for the invitation to take part and Rose McClelland for my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

When Kyle’s wife Hannah goes missing, the whole town is out in force to try to find her. One person knows where she is. One person is keeping a secret.

Detective Inspector Simon Peters and Detective Kerry Lawlor have been brought in to investigate the case, but Hannah has left no traces and Kyle has no clues.

Local Belfast resident, Julia Matthews, joins the #FindHannah campaign and becomes friendly with Kyle, sympathising with his tragedy. As Julia becomes more involved in the case than she bargained for, she begins to uncover more secrets than the Police ever could.

Julia was only trying to help but has she become drawn into a web of mystery that she can’t escape?

MY REVIEW:

To o the outside world, Hannah and Kyle Greer are happily married. But when Kyle reports his wife missing, the disturbing truth beneath that shiny veneer is slowly revealed. A dark, twisted and affecting novel, Under Your Skin is an exploration of an abusive marriage and the secrets that hide behind closed doors.

At 272 pages this is a short book, but it’s the author’s gripping and atmospheric prose that made it one I devoured in just a few hours. It took me a little while to get used to the multiple narrators and how they each fit into the story, but once I did I was able to appreciate the varying perspectives that they brought to the story. All of those voices are female and the story ultimately is one of finding your inner strength and confidence. Each woman is written with authenticity. They are strong in their own way, yet filled with self-doubt and some are fractured and fragile. But they are all women you can imagine knowing and being friends with.

I loved Hannah’s chapters. Though at first I felt like the terror I was expecting from her was missing, I quickly understood and came to have a lot of empathy for her. For the first half of the book, her chapters focus on the past and tell the story of her relationship with Kyle. As the truth about what she’d endured unfolded I began to understand why she felt a kind of relief at her situation. The other character I felt drawn to was Julia. Julia is a bit of a mess. She’s isolating herself because of depression and gets involved in the search for Hannah to try and get out more like her therapist suggested, only to find herself caught up in Kyle’s twisted web.

I loathed Kyle. He was spectacularly written and I especially liked that the author didn’t give him a voice after the first chapter, instead making him someone we see only through the eyes of the other narrators. I think this was an inspired choice. It took some of his power and control away, something an abuser despises. And, though it’s fiction, I did get a kick out of the fact he never got to gaslight the reader and have the influence a man like him would want.

Complex, dark, disturbing and told with raw honesty, Under Your Skin is an absorbing thriller that examines the truth of domestic abuse with authenticity and sensitivity.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Her debut novel ‘The Break-Up Test’ received lovely reviews on Amazon including: “Rose McClelland’s voice reads like the younger sister of Marian Keyes with a more streetwise but vulnerable edge.”

She is delighted to see her second novel ‘How to Look Like You’ also published by Crooked Cat.

Rose wrote a short play which was directed by Rawlife Theatre Company and performed in The Black Box Theatre, Belfast. She writes book reviews for ‘Judging Covers’ and writes a mixture of theatre reviews and author interviews for her blog.

Rose has been writing creatively since her twenties. She started writing her first novel six years ago. Under Your Skin is her fourth book.

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The Storm by Amanda Jennings

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Published: July 23rd, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Domestic Fiction, Coming-of-Age Story

Trigger Warning: Domestic and Psychological Abuse

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this absorbing novel. Thank you to HQ for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC. Picture courtesy of Twitter.

SYNOPSIS:

Doesn’t every marriage have a dark side?

‘Beautifully written, chilling and absorbing’ Adele Parks, Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author of Lies Lies Lies

‘Her best novel yet… Twisty, malevolent and gripping’ Lisa Jewell, No. 1 bestselling author of The Family Upstairs

To the outside world Hannah married the perfect man. Behind the closed doors of their imposing home it’s a very different story. Nathan controls everything Hannah does. He chooses her clothes, checks her receipts, and keeps her passport locked away. But why does she let him? Years before, in the midst of a relentless storm, the tragic events of one night changed everything. And Hannah has been living with the consequences ever since. Keeping Nathan happy. Doing as she’s told.

But the past is about to catch up with them.

Set against the unforgiving backdrop of a Cornish fishing port in the ‘90s, this is a devastating exploration of the power of coercive control in a marriage where nothing is quite as it seems…

MY REVIEW:

“It’s a storm glass… Seems there’s always been a storm coming, right from when he gave it to me.”

This beautifully written family drama was instantly intriguing and immersive. Questions swam in my head as I was transfixed by the mystery of what happened on ‘that night’ fifteen years ago. Just what is the secret still haunting Hannah and keeping her chained to a man she can’t stand?

Told in dual timelines from multiple points of view, The Storm is a story of secrets, lies and love set in Cornwall, one of my favourite parts of the world. But this isn’t a sunny summer tale, and the air is charged with something dark and foreboding, a powerful storm unleashing its fury, destroying lives in its wake. What will Hannah’s life look like once the storm has finally passed?  

“Nathan drains me. The way he twists everything and the mental gymnastics I have to perform in order to keep my head straight is exhausting. It doesn’t matter how strong I feel when we begin a conversation, by the end I’m shattered.”

The characters are real and relatable, with Hannah someone I connected with on a very deep and personal level. To the outside world, Hannah and Nathan have a picture-perfect marriage. But behind the facade is a marriage of abuse and fear. While the author avoids being graphic, the abuse is written in an authentic way; Nathan ruling the house through fear, threats, isolation and financial control. I hated him. He sent shivers down my spine and anger coursing through my veins. He was a typical bully who cycles between demands, playing the hero and then the victim. A man terrified of being unmasked. Just thinking about him is making my blood boil! 

Spectacularly written, absorbing and emotive, the malevolence and dread drip from the pages. I couldn’t put this down, compelled to keep reading late into the night as the truth is slowly revealed through clever twists and turns. The Storm is an outstanding mystery that I highly recommend.  

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✫

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Hello and welcome to my Author Page! So what do I write? Well, I love anything with a dark vein and secrets which affect families, and my books tend to fall into the psychological suspense category. My most recent books – In Her Wake and The Cliff House – are set in Cornwall. Cornwall is where my heart lies! My mother’s side of the family is from Penzance and I have many blissful memories of long summers spent here. I am never happier than when I’m beside the sea. Though I’m fond of a mountain too, especially when it’s got snow on it. I’ve skied since I was a child and it’s a huge passion. When I’m not beside the sea or up a mountain or sitting at my desk, you can usually find me chatting on the radio as a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club, or loitering on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I love meeting and engaging with readers, whether that’s on social media, or at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals. If you see me out and about at an event do say hello! What am I doing now? Well, I live just outside Henley-on-Thames with my husband, three daughters and an unruly menagerie of pets, and am currently writing my fifth book which will be published in 2020.

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The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

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Published: September 20th, 2018
Publisher: Headline
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Physical and sexual abuse, self harm

I read this book as part of a readalong with The Tandem Collective. Thank you to Headline for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

‘All the stuff in the papers was lies.
We were never The Ice Cream Girls’

Serena and Poppy were teenagers when they were branded as the Ice Cream Girls.

When they were accused of murder, one of them was sent to prison while the other was set free.

Now, 20 years later, one of them is doing all she can to clear her name and the other is frantically trying to keep her secrets.

Which Ice Cream Girl is desperate enough to kill to get what she wants?

MY REVIEW:

“I stop in my tracks as ice-cold fingers with razorblade fingernails scratch at my heart, lungs, stomach. This is what it feels like when the past crops up unawares, when it will not stay dead and buried as it should be.”

As teenagers Serena and Poppy, known as The Ice Cream Girls, were accused of murder. While both protested their innocence only one was found guilty while the other went free. 

Now, 20 years later, Poppy is out of jail and determined to clear her name while Serena is frantically trying to keep her past a secret. But which Ice Cream Girl is desperate enough to kill to get what she wants?

I read this book as part of a readalong with Tandem Collective and was instantly hooked. Although I own a number of books by Dorothy Koomson, it was my first time reading one and I am now kicking myself for waiting so long. Her descriptive and evocative writing pulls you into the story and doesn’t let go until the last page. Atmospheric, twisty and riveting, I couldn’t put it down and sped through it quickly instead of reading over the course of five days.

In this novel the author tackles unsettling subjects such as domestic violence and abusive and inappropriate relationships. She explores how people are drawn into these relationships, their reasons for staying, the danger of leaving and the lasting effect they can have on your mental health in an honest but sensitive way. As someone who was in an abusive relationship I could see aspects of my past in this book and in both Poppy and Serena.

The Ice Cream Girls is a dark, addictive and thought-provoking page-turner that will keep you guessing right until the breathtaking finale. The sequel,  All My Lies Are True, is out in July and I can’t wait to see where the author takes the story next. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✫

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Dorothy Koomson is the award-winning author of 15 novels and has been making up stories since she was 13 when she used to share her stories with her convent school friends. Her published titles include: Tell Me Your Secret, The Brighton Mermaid, The Friend, When I Was Invisible, That Girl From Nowhere, The Flavours of Love, The Woman He Loved Before, Goodnight, Beautiful and The Chocolate Run.

Dorothy’s first novel, The Cupid Effect, was published in 2003 (when she was quite a bit older than 13). Her third book, My Best Friend’s Girl, was selected for the Richard & Judy Summer Reads of 2006 and went on to sell over 500,000 copies. While her fourth novel, Marshmallows For Breakfast, has sold in excess of 250,000 copies. Dorothy’s books, The Ice Cream Girls and The Rose Petal Beach were both shortlisted for the popular fiction category of the British Book Awards in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

Dorothy’s novels have been translated into over 30 languages, and a TV adaptation loosely based on The Ice Cream Girls was shown on ITV1 in 2013. After briefly living in Australia, Dorothy now lives in Brighton.

In 2019 Dorothy was awarded the Image Award by The Black British Business Awards to celebrate and honour her achievements.

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Keeper by Jessica Moor ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 19th, 2020
Publisher: Viking
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Police Procedural
Trigger Warnings: Domestic Abuse and Rape.

SYNOPSIS:

He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.

But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.

Will you listen to them?

An addictive literary page-turner about a crime as shocking as it is commonplace, KEEPER will leave you reeling long after the final page is turned.

MY REVIEW:

“The trick was to never let the bruises heal, to never remember what life was like without them. Then it didn’t seem too much to bear.”

Keeper is a story about the dark side of love. It takes us to the depths of darkness in humanity and the horrors visited on those they abuse. 

It has taken me a while to write this review because it hit so close to home and triggered painful memories that can still cause anxiety and nightmares over a decade later. Reading this was a visceral experience. It made me angry, made me sick to my stomach and broke my heart while also reminding me of the strength of those of us who have known that “life”. 

A murder investigation is the springboard for a much deeper novel as the author takes a look at the truth of abusive relationships. It highlights the danger of these relationships, the stark reality that these women are in more danger when they leave that when they stay, rape in a relationship (ie marital rape but she’s not married) and also looks at its affect on mental health. Though it is a startling honest book, the author is never gratuitous and deals with the issues in a sensitive and compassionate way. She focuses on the women’s quiet bravery throughout their ordeals and offers an insight into the psyche of an abused woman. 

“She learns to name the demon. To understand that, just as cities can fall without a shot being fired, a woman can relinquish herself, piece by piece.” 

This book was filled with richly developed characters. I’ll talk about the ones I loved first of all, which was the strong female characters. They were so much more than mere victims cowering in a corner. They each had their own stories and nuances that shaped their decisions. Even if they didn’t see it, their strength the reader could recognise it, but at the same time the author showed how hard it is to break away from the control of an unhealthy relationship; especially when it’s all you’ve known or they’ve destroyed you from within. 

One of the hardest things for me was recognising my abuser in some of the men in this story. Jamie and DC Daniel Whitworth were the two where I saw him most of all. Watching Katie and Jamie’s relationship play out in the flashbacks as it slowly became toxic and unhealthy was hard. Early on I recognised the love bombing, distancing you from your friends and the gaslighting. The author did a great job of accurately portraying how they play you and make you believe they love you before slowly starting to strip away your self esteem and controlling you. DC Whitworth is initially portrayed as a caring and sensitive man, but the veneer is quickly stripped away and the misogynistic dinosaur who blames abused women for their position and is ignorant and dismissive of mental health is revealed. I would get so angry reading scenes with him, more so than with Jamie as there was no attempt to charm or gloss over the awful things he said and thought. He really was a bad fit for investigating a suicide of an abused woman with mental health issues.

Keeper is a tragic, unsettling and important novel that everyone should read. It is a powerful, heart-rending, thought-provoking and outstanding debut from a superb new talent. The author doesn’t just write about abused women, she really sees them. I don’t think I’ve read a book where I recognised myself and my past so utterly and I think a lot of others will feel the same. This is one to read in 2020 and I think it will make a great impact.

Thank you to Viking books for my gifted copy of this novel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jessica Moor is a writer from London. Her debut novel, Keeper, was published by Penguin Viking in 2020. She divides her time between Berlin and London.

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The Dark Mirror #DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth

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Purple books for #DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth

This is a very personal post that I’ve been considering sharing for about a year.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Twenty years ago today I married a man who turned out to be abusive. There were red flags before I married him but I was very young, just twenty years old when we wed, and I believed his apologies and excuses. I also didn’t see control and emotional and verbal abuse for what it was and thought because he’d “only” hit me a few times and had stopped, that everything was ok. I was wrong. Our marriage was dominated by various forms of violence that would fluctuate.

I found the strength to leave a few months before our 9th wedding anniversary. By that point we had a four-year-old son that this mama bear needed to protect.

A number of years ago I wrote this short story about that time. In honour of spreading awareness and to remind people that they can leave even after many years, I am sharing it today. I’m terrified and am shaking as I write this but I know it’s the right thing to do.

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The Dark Mirror

I’m ready. I’m wearing the ivory embroidered gown covered in lace and sparkling details, with a long train that flows out behind me like a royal robe. A tiara glitters in the mirror and a full length, white veil covers my perfectly made up face and my curled hair that cascades down my back like a waterfall. As I gaze at my reflection feeling excited about the promises I’m about to make and the life ahead something strange happens; the girl looking back begins to change. She still looks like me with the same blue eyes and auburn hair, but something is different. There is a sadness in her eyes and through them I can see her  head and heart are full of harrowing memories and broken dreams. I can see the pain, heartbreak and sorrow. Reflected in them I see the movie of her life start to play : the love and joy following solemn vows, then the anger in his voice, the plates smashing, the girl cowering in fear of his wrath, the jekyll and hyde of his character as he’s loving and adoring one moment, hateful and vicious the next. I see the anguish as she dreams of leaving but still loves him and wants to stay. I glimpse her heart breaking into a thousand pieces as he smashes up the house and tells her she’s worthless, that the child they will have is better without her and she should be dead.  I feel her longing for release so greatly that death seems favourable. She is destroyed from the inside. He’s taken away who she is and what she knows to be true piece by piece until she is nothing but a hollow shell. He’s destroyed her and thinks he’s won. That she is his and will do as he dictates forever. But he’s wrong. Deep down the fire in her is still there and she claws and fights her way back to the surface and she begins to stand up and be counted. Initially she suffers all the more for doing so. I see the hell she calls home until she can finally take no more and packing a few belongings and clutching the small boy’s hand, she flees, leaving the nightmare and all the broken promises and dreams behind. The vision has me fighting back tears, at all the woman has been through and because I know this is my future. I know she’s showing me what my happy ever after will become. I look away, not wanting to see anymore. When I look back she is gone and all that’s left is a discoloured white veil lying discarded on the floor. 

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