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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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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Published: March 31st 2020
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Sexual abuse

SYNOPSIS:

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher

ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues of our age.

MY REVIEW:

My Dark Vanessa is the harrowing tale of fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye’s relationship with her forty-five-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, and the lasting impact it has on her life. It also examines themes of consent, coercion and manipulation, and asks what is it that makes someone a victim. It also forces the reader to look at their own preconceptions and the prejudices that are often found when these situations come to light.

The story is told from Vanessa’s perspective, both as an adult and teenager. In both timelines she is under Strane’s spell and believes it was a great love affair rather than abuse. But when another of Strane’s former students claims he abused her, Vanessa is forced to reconsider if it was really love and whether she was a willing participant in a loving relationship or a victim of abuse. 

Kate Elizabeth Russell has written a novel that is powerful, compelling, timely and thought-provoking. Eighteen years in the making, it feels like this story has come at the perfect time with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the increasing number of victims who are finding the strength to vocalise their experiences. She addresses the nuances of this movement, the pressure put on victims to come forward even if they aren’t ready, and the way the tide can turn so quickly in how they are portrayed. 

This isn’t an easy read. The book contained some graphic, nauseating and unsettling scenes of what I consider to be abuse and a number of times I had to put down the book and stop reading for a while. After one particularly distressing scene, I was left feeling utterly broken with tears running down my face. At these times I was especially glad that I was reading this as a buddy read as I was able to talk through my feelings with my reading buddy. 

It has been said that Vanessa is an unlikeable character, and it’s true, she’s not particularly warm or bubbly, but I think the decision to make her so complex made the story all the more compelling and real. Victims of any kind of abuse often don’t see what is happening for a long time, if at all, and Vanessa wouldn’t have begun her affair with Strane if it had been obvious to her. Reading her desperation to be noticed and loved by him as she was unwittingly groomed was heartbreaking. In her adult years we see the immense damage he has done to her psyche, her unwillingness to see the truth and tear down the house of straw she’s built in her mind and heart. I couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever be able to heal.

The real unlikeable character was the manipulative, predatory, and vile Strane. But even he has layers to his character and has an awareness that what he wants and does is wrong. He tells himself it’s true love, that they are soulmates, that she is in control and sets himself boundaries. These are all designed to negate the wrong he is doing and reassure himself that he can’t help it and that he is being ‘good’. The tragic part about Strane is that I think he truly believes these things; even when he’s saying the most awful things to scare her into complying or saying it to another girl, I think in his mind it’s actually all true. This made him someone I detested but also, as much as it pains me to say this, pitied very slightly. He was a sad and pathetic man but also a loathsome predator and there were so many times I wanted to reach into the book and do him actual physical harm for what he did to Vanessa.

My Dark Vanessa is the most dark and disturbing fiction book I have ever read. But it is also a well-written story that offers an insight on the intricacies of the dynamic between an abuser and their victim and on the #MeToo movement, filled with characters, situations and emotions that many will recognise. Just be prepared for a distressing read.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kate Elizabeth Russell is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. Her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is forthcoming from William Morrow (US), 4th Estate (UK), and will be translated into over twenty languages. Originally from eastern Maine, she earned an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 31st, 2020
Publisher: Tinder Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in this blog tour and Tinder Press for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

MY REVIEW:

For months I have been itching to get my hands on this book and was green with envy of those fortunate enough to get an early proof. So when the chance arose to take part in a last minute blog tour for this eagerly anticipated novel I jumped at it. Breathtaking, atmospheric, tender and absorbing, this exquisite story has instantly become my favourite book this year. It feels almost impossible to write this review as I know whatever I write cannot do justice to its sheer brilliance. But I will try.

Hamnet is a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy; the heartbreaking events that touched his family in 1596. It seamlessly moves between characters and timelines, using flashbacks to tell the story of the family prior to that fateful year. Before reading this book I knew almost nothing about Shakespeare’s personal life, but I was immediately immersed in their world as the author brought to life sixteenth century England. It is a work of both fact and fiction, the author creating a rich tapestry woven from the little known facts of Hamnet and his family. The writing is lyrical, poetic, and meticulous, telling the story with fluency as I savoured each word. 

Each character is deftly and vividly written, with Agnes, Hament and Judith being the ones I particularly felt a connection with.  Hament’s energy shines from the pages while his twin, Judith, exudes a delicate aura that, like her brother, made me want to protect her. Agnes took me some time to warm to but she was soon the character I related to most of all, probably because we are both mothers and I could recognise my own maternal feelings in hers. The myth of her childhood also made her incredibly fascinating and a bit of an enigma.

The most surprising element for me was how timely this story felt. I’ve read a lot about the plague, particularly Eyam, but until now have never been able to relate to the idea of being quarantined for fear of spreading a deadly illness for which there is no cure. Being able to relate to this made the fear, helplessness and heartache all the more palpable and like something that could actually happen to me and my family, rather than simply a tragic story that only happened to people many years ago.

Hamnet is an outstanding work of literature. Affecting, poignant and lingering, it is also an example of storytelling at its finest. I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve read the author’s work and I’m now wondering why I waited so long. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. Read it now!

Maggie Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and eight novels: After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions For A Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award,  This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet.

She lives in Edinburgh.

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The Secret Admirer by Carol Wyer (Detective Natalie Ward Book 6) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bookouture
Published: April 2nd, 2020
Format: Kindle
Genre: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural, Thriller

Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC of this novel .

SYNOPSIS:

‘I tried to talk to you today but you snubbed me and walked away. It wasn’t wise to give me the brush-off, Gemma. I can be a truly good friend but I also make the perfect enemy.’

Sasha’s eighteen-year-old daughter Gemma was all she had in the world. Sasha fell pregnant with Gemma when she was still at school, and the two are as close as sisters. So when Gemma’s burned and broken body is found, Sasha’s world ends. What kind of person would want her beautiful daughter dead?

Leading the case is Detective Natalie Ward, scarred by her own recent tragedy. When she finds a note in Gemma’s diary from ‘a secret admirer’, she moves quickly, determined to un-mask them. But interviews with Gemma’s devastated ex-boyfriend, and her charismatic teacher, who has been seen embracing his student far away from the classroom, don’t give Natalie the answers she’d hoped for…

And then the case takes a devastating, personal twist. CCTV footage reveals Natalie’s estranged husband David followed Gemma home every evening the week before she died.

Natalie is forced to put personal feelings aside and follow procedure, even though she can’t believe David could be guilty. But when Gemma’s housemate is found murdered, Natalie thinks the killer could still be at large. Is she right to trust her instincts about David and can she discover the truth before another precious life is taken?

MY REVIEW:

The Secret Admirer is another fantastic and gripping installment in one of my favourite series. Once again Carol has written a tense, electrifying and emotional read that had me hooked from the first page.

After 19-year-old Gemma Barnes is killed in an acid attack, Detective Natalie Ward and her team are called in to investigate. It is Natalie’s first day back since a personal tragedy and she is still struggling with her guilt and grief. There are few clues and when Gemma’s housemates start to disappear, the race is on to find who is behind the murders.

Natalie and the team are back investigating a complex case filled with a multitude of characters and suspects. I loved that there wasn’t a clear culprit and that you feel like it could be anyone, giving a sense of frustration that matches what is felt by the team. You can feel the pressure mounting as the numerous motives, clues, red herrings and twists keep both the reader and the team on their toes right until the very end.

The letters from the secret admirer were the key to the case, and the mystery of who was behind them was the biggest of all. Including letters or chapters from the mysterious culprit is one of my favourite tropes in this genre and this author always executes it to perfection. I enjoyed the glimpse into the mind, feelings and perspective of such a twisted individual and how you could see them losing control as the letters went on and they began to become threatening.

Each time I read an installment in this series I love the author even more. Her writing is always brilliant and full of the perfect mixture of suspense and sentiment. In this book, there is a lot of focus on Natalie coming to terms with losing someone close and the end of her marriage. Just reading about the aftermath of the events of the last book had me in pieces all over again. As someone currently undergoing trauma therapy, I found Natalie’s trauma to be sensitively and expertly written. It was clear it was well researched and felt very real, my heart breaking for Natalie as she battles to move on with life after such a devastating tragedy. However, I was ready to be mad and bereft all over again when Natalie’s ex-husband David came into the frame as a suspect in this case. How could you do this to us and Natalie after all she’s been through? It had me on the edge of my seat praying that he wasn’t the culprit. You’ll have to read it to find out if Natalie’s world is broken even more by the events of this book.

The Secret Admirer is a riveting, compelling and heart-rending thriller that is perfect for anyone who enjoys this genre. You can read it as a stand-alone but I would highly recommend reading the whole series, not only because it’s fantastic, but because it gives you an insight and connection to the main characters. Now I just have to wait impatiently for book seven!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Carol Wyer garnered a loyal following as an author of romantic comedies, and won The People’s Book Prize Award for non-fiction (2015). In 2017 she stepped from comedy to the “dark side” and embarked on a series of thrillers, featuring the popular DI Robyn Carter, which earned her recognition as a crime writer.

The Staffordshire-based writer now has more crime novels in the pipeline, although she can still sometimes be found performing her stand-up comedy routine Laugh While You Still Have Teeth.

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Dark Corners by Darren O’Sullivan ⭐⭐⭐.5

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Published: April 2nd, 2020
Pubisher: HQ
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Welcome to my spot on the blog tour for this absorbing thriller. Thank you to HQ for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

You thought you’d escaped your past

It’s been twenty years since Neve’s best friend Chloe went missing. Neve has never recovered and promised herself she’d never go back to that place.

But secrets can come back to haunt you

When Neve receives news that her first boyfriend Jamie has gone missing, she’s forced to return. Jamie has vanished without a trace in a disappearance that echoes the events of all those years ago. Somebody is watching and will stop at nothing until the truth about what took place that night is revealed …

MY REVIEW:

“One way or another, secrets were debts that had to be paid.”

Dark Corners is an eerie, mysterious and gripping thriller that had me hooked from the first page. It is a story about friendships, secrets, lies and revenge. How we can run from the past but it will always catch up with you.

Neve Chambers left the small mining village where she was born and raised after the disappearance of her best friend, Chloe, and has tried not to look back. But when an old friend gets in touch to tell her that Jamie, her first love, is now missing, she feels she has no choice but to go back. Returning to the claustrophobic village, she immediately feels everyone’s eyes on her and the whispered rumours resume. As she reconnects with the friends she left behind and searches for Jamie the evidence seems to suggest that his disappearance is connected to Chloe’s, forcing Neve to confront the part she played in events twenty-one years ago.

The story is told in dual timelines. In flashbacks we go back to the summer of 1998, when Neve and her six friends are hanging out and celebrating the end of their exams, unaware that before the summer ends one of them will vanish and the rest of them will see their lives changed forever. The flashbacks made the book feel part coming-of-age story, which I enjoyed, and felt authentic, bringing back memories of my own teenage years with friends in the late nineties, when we would hang out with just a curfew and there were no mobile phones and social media. I loved that these flashbacks gave  the reader a sense of why Neve was so anxious about returning to the village while also providing a dual sense of mystery alongside what had happened to Jamie.

In the present day we follow Neve as she returns to the village and searches for Jamie, finding herself embroiled deeper in mystery and danger than she’d anticipated as it seems The Drifter, a mysterious man the friends saw near the mine when Chloe vanished, is back and taking his revenge on those who saw him all those years ago. The author did a great job of keeping the reader guessing and I was totally at a loss as to who The Drifter might be or what had happened to Chloe and Jamie. 

The atmospheric, chilling, ghostly and claustrophobic small mining village was the perfect setting for the story, adding extra layers to the mystery and foreboding and casting its shadow over all who live there. The dual disappearances and timelines were easy to follow and as the tension was raised in the flashbacks, you could feel it increasing in the present day too as like Neve you became suspicious of everyone and didn’t know who to trust. 

Dark Corners is a twisty, intriguing and cryptic thriller that I devoured in just a few hours. Cleverly written, it is filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the jaw-dropping finale. A great read for anyone who enjoys this genre. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Darren O’Sullivan is the author of #1 bestsellers, Our Little Secrets, Close Your Eyes and Closer Than You Think. His latest, Dark Corners is coming April 2020.

When Darren isn’t writing, he is usually rolling around on the floor, pretending to be a pirate with his 4 year old.

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The Twin by Natasha Preston ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult Fiction

Thank you to Darkroom Tours for the invitation to take part in this blog tour and to Delacorte Press for the gifted copy of the novel.

SYNOPSIS:

In this twisty psychological thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE CELLAR, Ivy finds out that her twin sister, Iris, is trying to push her out of her own life–and might be responsible for their mother’s death.

After their parents divorced, 10-year-old twins Ivy and Iris were split up–Ivy lived with Dad, Iris with Mom. Now, after a tragic accident takes their mom’s life, the twins are reunited and Iris moves in with Ivy and their dad. Devastated over Mom’s death, Iris spends the first few weeks in almost total silence–the only person she will speak to is Ivy. Iris feels her life is over and she doesn’t know what to do. Emmy promises her twin that she can share her life now. After all, they’re sisters. Twins.

It’s a promise that Iris takes seriously. And before long, Ivy’s friends, her life at school, and her boyfriend, Tyler, fall under Iris’s spell. Slowly, Ivy realizes she’s being pushed out of her own life. But she’s just being paranoid, right? And Mom’s accident was . . . just an accident. Right? It’s not like she–or Dad–or Tyler–are in any danger. . . .

MY REVIEW:

Sixteen-year-old twins Ivy and Iris haven’t lived together since their parents divorced when they were ten. But after their mother’s death in a tragic accident Iris is now moving in with Ivy and their dad. The two have always been different and are more like strangers than sisters. But Ivy is  determined to rebuild her relationship with her twin and promises she can share her life. 

It’s a promise she comes to regret. Iris seems to not be satisfied with sharing Ivy’s life and appears to want to take it from her. Slowly, Ivy’s life begins to spiral out of control and everyone is turning away from her. Things get increasingly sinister and she knows that Iris is behind it. But everybody else is charmed by her, even their father. How can she prove that her sister is out to steal her life?

I find that YA can be hit or miss for me but I absolutely loved this one. The story and characters were well written and I liked that the protagonist and antagonist were twins. It added extra tension as Ivy couldn’t just cut ties with the person she’s sure is out to get her, she has to live with her too. It meant there was so much more at stake and made it a more personal. My favourite scenes were as the book was heading towards it’s dramatic ending. The tension had my heart racing and I couldn’t guess what was going to happen. When it ended I literally went back to see if I missed something as it was so abrupt and sitting there in a fury that the author had ended it that way. But, after thinking about it, I love how it ended and think it was a clever way for the author to finish the book. 

The story is told from Ivy’s point of view so Iris remains an enigma, with the reader wondering if what they think they see is real or if it’s Ivy’s skewed perspective and paranoia. Though I think this added more suspense to the book at times, there is part of me that would have liked to read from Iris’ perspective, maybe short paragraphs peppered between some chapters to have us see her plans and games from another side and maybe to even throw us off course a bit. We don’t know Iris’ true colours until near the end; is she sinister and conniving or is she misunderstood and Ivy just paranoid? You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

The Twin is an exciting, intriguing and gripping novel. I’ve wanted to read this author’s books for a while and I’m now a fan. I will definitely be reading her other books.  I’d recommend this book if you enjoy mysteries and thrillers even if you don’t usually read young adult fiction.

Natasha P Author photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

My name is Natasha, but most people call me Tash or Tasha. I don’t mind either. I was born in England and have lived in small towns and villages out in the countryside ever since.

My husband, Joseph, is the most supportive person in my life. Without his love, help and patience I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m a proud mummy to two amazing little boys who are my whole world.

At school I drifted through, achieving average grades. I fell into administration and receptionist jobs, thinking that I couldn’t really do anything else.

In 2010 I stumbled into writing completely by accident. I was searching the ‘app store’ and came across Wattpad – an amateur writing site. For the first few months I just read, but then I decided to type out some of the ideas swirling around in my head. I’m so glad I did because I love creating new stories.

Writing gave me an escape and Wattpad gave me the confidence I lacked.

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The Operator by Gretchen Berg ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 10th, 2020
Publisher: Headline
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this atmospheric novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Headline for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

It’s 1952. The switchboard operators in Wooster, Ohio, love nothing more than to eavesdrop on their neighbours’ conversations, and gossip about what they learn. Vivian Dalton is no different (despite her teenage daughter’s disapproval), and always longs to hear something scandalous. But on the night of December 15th, she wishes she hadn’t. The secret that’s shared by a stranger on the line threatens to rip the rug of Vivian’s life from under her.

Vivian may be mortified, but she’s not going to take this lying down. She wants the truth, no matter how painful it may be. But one secret tends to lead to another . . .

This moving, heart-felt and ultimately uplifting novel brilliantly weaves together an irresistible portrayal of a town buzzing with scandal, and an unforgettable story of marriage, motherhood and the unbreakable ties of family.

MY REVIEW:

The Operator is a character study about life in a small town. We take a peek behind the bright smiles and perfect family images of its residents, discovering the secrets and lies they hide when the town is rocked by scandal. 

Vivian Dalton is a switchboard girl at Ohio Bell. They aren’t supposed to listen in when they connect the calls but everybody does it. And who wouldn’t take the chance to discover the juicy gossip about their friends and neighbours? But Vivian’s eavesdropping comes back to bite her when she overhears some scandalous gossip about her own family that shatters her world. Worst of all, the information is in the hands of the town’s biggest gossip  Betty Miller. 

Mortified, Vivian tries to think of a way to stop the town from hearing the rumour and her family being humiliated. She soon learns that they aren’t the only ones harbouring a scandalous secret and there are others with far bigger skeletons in their closets waiting to be revealed. 

This marvellously written debut was a joy to read. It drew me in from the first pages, the authentic language and vivid imagery transporting me to small-town 50s America and the glossy facade of the lives of its residents. I thought I knew what I was getting, but the author created a rich tapestry, woven from the myriad of seemingly insignificant threads of information, that looked nothing like what I had imagined. It was hard to predict and I loved not knowing where it was going or what would happen next. I enjoyed the various literary styles the author used to tell the story by peppering it with things such as word descriptions and recipes and giving the reader an in-depth look at Vivian’s history. 

The story boasts a multitude of rich characters but centres around two women – Vivian and Betty – who are more competitors than friends. Though they despise each other, the women are more alike than they think: they both like to be in control, good appearances are important to them above all else and struggle with anger and use techniques to calm it – Vivian bakes and Betty strokes her angel charm on her watch. Neither character was particularly likeable, but Vivian did have a charm that drew me to her. 

The Operator is a wonderful, witty, intriguing and heart-felt novel. I enjoyed watching it morph into something unexpected and that even after the story ends the author’s note shines a different light on the story. I would recommend this delightful, understated and readable book to anyone who enjoys historical or literary fiction. 

Gretchen Berg Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gretchen Berg is a writer with a Bachelor’s degree in something completely unrelated to writing. Both parents encouraged her to write, but she waited until she heard “you are a writer” from more trustworthy advisors: a London psychic and a taxicab driver in Athens, Greece. The taxicab driver also said they had been lovers in a previous life, though, so, everything with a grain of salt. Gretchen is a Cancer, with Scorpio rising, who was born and raised. She loves when people dress up.

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This Lovely City by Louise Hare ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 12th, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction, Urban Fiction

SYNOPSIS:

The drinks are flowing.
The music is playing.
But the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

Atmospheric, poignant and compelling, Louise Hare’s debut shows that new arrivals have always been the prime suspects. But, also, that there is always hope.

MY REVIEW:

This fabulous debut is not only great between the pages but it has a cover that just screams “read me.” Part love story, part coming-of-age and part crime novel, this fictional story also has a true story running through its pages; the story of the Jamaican men who travelled to England on the Windrush in the Summer of 1948 and their battle for acceptance and equality. 

Told in dual timelines this is the story of immigrant Lawrie Matthews and Evie Coleridge, the girl next door that he’s in love with and also happens to be the only mixed race girl in the area. The pair are headed for marriage and, other than the daily racism they must navigate, life is good. But after Lawrie finds the body of a baby girl in the pond on Clapham Common everything changes. Lawrie finds himself the prime suspect in the case and trouble soon begins to seep into all areas of his life. As the press and public demand justice for the little girl, the city is divided, racial tensions rise and Lawrie and his friends find themselves more vulnerable than ever in the place they were told was their new home. Meanwhile, Lawrie’s discovery also threatens to uncover shameful secrets that were never meant to be revealed and could shatter their lives even further.

I’m a big fan of both historical and crime fiction so as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to read this book. Though the crime is introduced into the story early on, it didn’t feel like there was a lot of tension or suspense until later on and most of the time the story concentrated more on how being under suspicion, or being close to someone under suspicion, affected the characters in all areas of their lives. I liked this and felt that it gave the book a lot of heart that might have otherwise been missing. It also enabled important issues to be more visible in the story, rather than fading into the background. 

The author’s wonderful storytelling and vivid imagery transported me to London in the late forties and early fifties. I could almost smell the smoke and hear the jazz band playing. I could see the grimy streets and feel the fear and loathing in the air. But what I loved most was the characters and community that the author created. Their authenticity immersed me in their world and helped me to feel connected to situations I never have or will experience. Lawrie was a kind, honest man who I quickly fell in love with. His good character added to the sense of injustice at what he went through after finding the baby as you really did get the sense he was the last person on earth who could do such a thing. He was the opposite of Rathborne, the racist and vile policeman in charge of the case, who was easily my least favourite character. Evie was a sweet, innocent young woman who longed to break free of her overbearing mother. I thought a lot about how hard it must have been for her being the only mixed race person, not knowing anyone else like herself and never really fitting in anywhere. I found myself furious at her mother for how she treated her and contributed to her pain at being different, thankful she’d found Lawrie and hoping they would overcome the obstacles and get their happy-ever-after. 

This Lovely City is an atmospheric, affecting and thought-provoking debut. Deftly told, the story is steadily paced, building to a gradual crescendo as we approach the finale. I loved that there were things I found impossible to predict and I was certain I had the rest figured out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The storylines cleverly dovetailed and my jaw hit the floor as all was revealed. I would recommend this book and am excited to see what the author writes next.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Louise Hare is a London based author. Her debut novel This Lovely City is due to be published by HQ (Harper Collins) on March 12th 2020 and House of Anansi (N. America) on April 7th 2020. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Birkbeck, University of London.

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Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan – The Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist Blog Tour

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Published: October 3rd, 2019
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Genre: Fairy tale, Ghost Story, Horror, Dystopian Fiction

I’m excited to share my review for the first of two books I’ll be reading as part of The Dylan Thomas Prize longlist blog tour. Thank you to Midas PR for the invitation to take part and Harvill Secker for the gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

A shocking collection of dark stories, ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales to disturbing supernatural fiction, by a talented writer who has been compared to Angela Carter.

So here we go, into the dark.

Some things can’t be spoken about in the light of day. But we can visit our fears at night, in the dark. We can turn them over and weigh them in our hands and maybe that will protect us from them. But maybe not.

The characters in this collection find their aspirations for happy homes, happy families and happy memories dissected and imbued with shimmering menace. Alone in a remote house in Iceland a woman is unnerved by her isolation; another can only find respite from the clinging ghost that follows her by submerging herself in an overgrown pool. Couples wrestle with a lack of connection to their children; a schoolgirl becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum; and a cheery account of child’s day out is undercut by chilling footnotes.

These dark tales explore women’s fears with electrifying honesty and invention and speak to one another about female bodies, domestic claustrophobia, desire and violence. From a talented writer who has been compared to Angela Carter, Things We Say in the Dark is a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and tender ghost stories.

KIRSTY LOGAN WAS SELECTED AS ONE OF BRITAIN’S TEN MOST OUTSTANDING LGBTQ WRITERS by Val McDermid for the International Literature Showcase in 2019

MY REVIEW:

“Some things can’t be spoken about in the light of day. But we can visit our fears at night, in the dark . We can turn them over and weigh them in our hands and maybe that will protect us from them. But maybe not.”

Things We Say in the Dark is a striking, dark, curious and unsettling collection of short stories that explore fear through a creative lens. Each story has a deeper meaning under its surface, the author addressing subjects such as love, loss, longing, relationships, parenthood, sexism, homophobia and abuse.

This was my first time reading anything by this author and I was immediately pulled in by the immersive writing and loved the elements of horror and dark comedy that was infused into the stories. I enjoyed this collection but there were one or two stories that were a little bizarre for my taste. The stories that stood out in my mind were Birds Fell From The Sky and Each One Spoke In Your Voice, My Body Cannot Forget Your Body, Good Good Good, Nice Nice Nice and The Only Thing I Can’t Tell You Is Why. I laughed, I grimaced, my heart was broken and I was full of rage as the author made me feel a variety of emotions over the course of this collection. 

Between each story there is commentary from the author where she talks about her life, her motivations for writing the book and her writing process. These sections seemed to tell another, more personal, story and I enjoyed the glimpse into the author’s mind and feeling like she was almost there with me as I read. 

So if you’re looking for something intelligent, thought-provoking and different, and don’t mind stories that are sinister and creepy, then I would recommend this fascinating collection. I flew through it quickly but it is also ideal for dipping in and out of when you only have a small time to read. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kirsty Logan is a Scottish novelist, poet, performer, literary editor, writing mentor, book reviewer and writer of short fiction. She lives in Glasgow. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on retold fairytales, and her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

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Little Friends by Jane Shemilt ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

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Published: February 20th, 2020
Publisher: Penguin UK
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Domestic Fiction, Suspense, Crime Fiction

Thank you to Penguin UK for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the novel.

SYNOPSIS:

Their children are friends first. They hit it off immediately, as kids do. And so the parents are forced to get to know each other. Three wildly different couples. Three marriages, floundering.

There are barbecues, dinner parties, a holiday in Greece. An affair begins, resentments flare, and despite it all the three women become closer.

Unnoticed, their children run wild. The couples are so busy watching each other that they forget to watch their children.

Until tragedy strikes.

Because while they have been looking the other way, evil has crept into their safe little world and every parent’s biggest nightmare is about to come true…

MY REVIEW:

“I used to think truth was a simple thing. That there could only be one truth, single and essential – like light, say, or water. Now I know it comes in layers, some more transparent than others. If you look carefully – and we didn’t – you can see through the top layer to the darkness beneath…”

The lives of three families entwine with devastating consequences in this readable novel.

When Eve begins private tuition for children with dyslexia, Melissa and Grace sign their children up. Over the course of the summer, the families become friends: having barbecues and even going on holiday together. But the smiles and laughter are hiding three marriages in trouble and the adults are so busy with their own problems that they fail to notice the fear in their children and the evil lurking in their midst. Secrets are slowly revealed amid tragedy and heartbreak, leaving the three families shattered and their lives irrevocably changed.

Jane Shemilt is an author who’s been on my radar for a while but I’ve never got around to reading so I jumped at the chance to take part in this blog tour. The writing is subdued, affecting and compelling, starting slow before reaching a steady pace and then ramping up the tension as we approach the finale. The characters are deftly drawn and distinct, so that the reader never gets lost despite the multiple points of view. Eve, Melissa and Grace are each hiding marital problems and insecurities, putting on a mask in front of the others. There husbands feature prominently but it is only the women who narrate the story. We are only given small glimpses of the children’s perspectives, but they have a big impact. I did predict most of the twists but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book or the tension as I anticipated them being discovered. 

The two characters that I was drawn to most of all were mother and daughter Melissa and Izzy. It was obvious to me immediately that Melissa was in an abusive marriage, with red flags flashing loudly about her husband Paul and their relationship. Maybe it is my own history of such a relationship that made me feel so drawn to her, but I spent the book hoping she’d find the strength to finally leave and find safety away from the private hell of her marriage. Izzy is the rebel; the one who leads the other children and embroils them in games they don’t want to play. She also notices everything and seems keen to stir up trouble. I didn’t like Izzy but I felt sorry for her as I believed some of her issues could be down to living in a house with an abusive father. The dynamic between her and Melissa was sad and it seemed she needed some tough love rather than being indulged like she was by both parents. 

Little Friends is an intricate, raw and tragic story about families and dark secrets. It is a reminder of how evil can lurk in the most unexpected places and wearing surprising disguises, just waiting to tear lives apart. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

While working as a GP, Jane Shemilt completed a postgraduate diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol University and went on to study for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, gaining both with distinction. Her first novel, Daughter, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, shortlisted for the Edgar Award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and went on to become the bestselling debut novel of 2014. She and her husband, a professor of neurosurgery, have five children and live in Bristol.

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Little Friends Blog Tour