Review: ‘The Queen of Hearts’ by Kimmery Martin ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A debut novel set against the background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humour and empathy and explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness…

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers – Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harbouring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the centre of Zadie’s life-both professionally and personally-throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

I loved this book so much that I could read it every single day and it would bring me joy. An intelligent, poetic, mesmerising and delightful book about humanity, agony, hope, love and friendship.

Zadie and Emma have been friends since being assigned as roommates at a camp for kids interested in medicine. They stayed in touch and have been best friends throughout college, medical school, marriage and children. They can talk about anything and everything, with one exception. In their third year of medical school something terrible happened that they have an unspoken agreement to never discuss. So when Emma texts Zadie saying she wants to talk about Nick, someone who is a part of what they don’t talk about, Zadie feels like the wind has been knocked out of her. Why now?

Set in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the present day with flashbacks to their third year at medical school in Louisville, Kentucky, the story is narrated by both main characters. Early on Zadie reveals she did something that lead to someone’s death that year and Emma tells us that she has never told her best friend the truth about what happened. As we discover more about Nick and what happened that year, secrets are revealed and their strong friendship is tested like never before. Can it survive a secret kept for almost two decades?

This spectacular debut novel was one I was highly anticipating reading. I love medical fiction, something that probably comes in part from having a Mum who’s a nurse and also because before I became too ill to work I spent many years working in doctors and dental surgeries. I will admit that I judged this book by its beautiful cover. I know we’re not supposed to do that but we all do it, am I right? Thankfully in this case it was justified and I fell in love instantly. It started with a great opening paragraph that instantly portrayed the deliciously lyrical and witty style of writing that had me savouring every word and completely immersed in the pages.

Zadie and Emma were great characters and I was completely invested in their friendship and rooting for them to survive the storms of this story. I liked that the author didn’t shy away from showing how flawed they were and instead made it into an example of how even the good among us can do wrong and cause pain and how every little decision can have often unforeseen and far-reaching consequences. In terms of secondary characters I have to mention little Delaney. That girl is a firecracker! She was so much  fun to read and I loved her precocious, fun character that shone through every time she was on the page.

Though most of this book is written in a lighthearted manner there were some gut-wrenching scenes. My heart was in my throat reading as Zadie lost her first patient and in other tragic moments, and I found myself blindsided and unable to stop reading as the long-held secrets were finally revealed.

Kimmery Martin has written a beautiful book that is a perfect amalgamation of her two loves: medicine and literature. Her extensive medical knowledge shines through and I loved reading the details of medical life and procedures and cracking up at some of the anecdotes of life as a  doctor and mother. The Queen of Hearts is expertly written and I can’t wait to read the author’s second book next year. I will be recommending this to everyone.

Thank you to Kimmery Martin for my signed copy of this novel.

Out now.

Review: ‘The Missing Years’ by Lexie Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Review: ‘The Missing Years’ by Lexie Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An eerie old Scottish manor in the middle of nowhere that’s now hers.

Ailsa Caler has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago. Her father.

Leaving London behind to settle her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, accompanied by the half-sister she’s never taken the time to get to know.

With the past threatening to swallow her whole, she can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her, or ignore how animals take care never to set foot within its garden.

And when Ailsa confronts the first nighttime intruder, she sees that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything…

The eerie and bizarre is woven throughout this tale about family and self-discovery from the outset. Chapter one ended in a terrifying and unexpected manner that had me shook. I wasn’t sure if I should read this at night…

“The Manse is listening, holding its breath”

Unused to people knowing about her family, it’s a shock for Ailsa to realise her family is part of local legend and that everyone in the small community has an opinion on her mother, who was a somewhat famous painter, and her father’s disappearance, after a diamond buying trip twenty-seven years ago. Many of the locals are openly hostile to her being back while others are fascinated by the story and The Manse. As Ailsa begins feel watched by the house and strange, menacing things begin to occur, she feels increasing unease. Surely the rumours of the supernatural surrounding The Manse can’t be true. And who would want her gone so badly that they threaten her? I thought Ailsa’s attempt to rationalise what was happening, her fear and suspicion of everyone was well written. As a reader I couldn’t make sense of it all and didn’t know what to believe either.

I liked that before each chapter there would be a short paragraph imagining a different scenario for her father’s life since he disappeared. These were a great insight into Ailsa’s thoughts on the matter as she otherwise holds her cards very close to her chest, preferring not to really speak about him or how she’s been affected by his sudden vanishing when she was just seven years old. In fact, Ailsa is a bit of a lost soul. She was dragged around various homes by her mother who couldn’t afford to care for her daughter for many years and their relationship never recovered. They were estranged at the time of her death, which is also the reason she has never got to know her half-sister. Her forced independance and struggle to open up were all evident as she attempted to reacquaint herself with Carrie and build a real relationship.

This book was filled with an array of colourful characters. Jamie and Fiona McCue, siblings who are also Ailsa’s closest neighbours, were probably the most colourful of all. Fiona is fascinated with The Manse, some might say obsessed, and believes some strange things about it. Even her adorable son, Callum, has some unusual ideas. Ailsa doesn’t trust or like  Fiona and she’s her prime suspect for all the strange goings on at The Manse.

“I can almost see the emotions swirling inside me, a scarlet and black tornado.”

The breathtaking finale had me on the edge of my seat as I raced towards to end. I had no idea how it would end but nothing prepared me for the shocking twists as the author pulled the rug from under me. Atmospheric, haunting, creepy and macabre, the author’s poetic style of writing adds to the tone of this novel. The Scottish dialect from some characters was a little tricky to read at first but soon became nothing more than a way to hear their voice in my head more clearly. A steady-paced, engrossing read for anyone who loves a good thriller.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: 6th June 2019.

‘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.

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.