Category Archives: Reviews

A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY – Sophie Hannah

game family

Avaialble now from Hodder & Stoughton

Source: Bookbridgr

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better…

After fleeing London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine Merrison plans to spend her days doing as little as possible. But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to seem strangely withdrawn. Checking Ellen’s homework one day, Justine finds herself reading a chillingly articulate story about a series of sinister murders committed at the family’s new house. Can Ellen really have made all this up, as she claims? Why would she invent something so grotesque, set it in her own home and name one of the characters after herself? When Justine discovers that Ellen has probably also invented her best friend at school, who appears not to be known to any of the teachers, Justine’s alarm turns to panic.

Then the anonymous phone calls start: a stranger, making accusations and threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big ones and a smaller one for a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. If the police can’t help, she’ll have to confront the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

This one was a real head-scratcher for the majority of the story…

Right from the start our protagonist Justine starts experiencing things that could be considered really quite supernatural. On the way to their new home, Justine passes a nondescript and unimpressive house, yet feels an inexplicable and overwhelming psychic sense that she will someday be safe and happy there.

Then there is the ‘story’ being written by her teenage daughter, Ellen – a project for school apparently, about a disturbingly dysfunctional family and some very unsettling murders, all set in the very house that Justine and her family are starting their new life in.

Then come the creepy phone calls. Somebody knows Justine and they want her out, and Justine has no idea who they are or how they know her…

I was a bit disheartened in the beginning, because I wasn’t really looking for a supernatural read at the time, and couldn’t really be bothered with another haunted house story. Luckily I was given some hope when Justine’s husband mocked her about the supernatural – well it’s only ever when nobody acknowledges these things that they occur, so I figured there must be more to it…

It seemed like forever that I had no bloody idea what on Earth was going on! All events were strange and mysterious, everybody seemed shifty, and I think I questioned Justine’s sanity at least twice as much as she did herself. Usually in these kind of mysteries, I spend my time trying to work out who is behind it all – this was made a hell of a lot harder when I couldn’t work out what “it all” was, let alone who was behind it! It certainly made for a page-turner; I was desperate to discover where this was all headed.

And then there was the big reveal; or more accurately, the slow, deflating, disappointing reveal. I hadn’t liked or related to a single character, and couldnt fathom the reasoning behind some of Justine’s deductions or actions; and so the only thing keeping me going was the promising discovery as to why all of these bizarre things were happening. Cue gaping plot-holes, dismissive mental health ‘explain-aways’, and a ridiculous plot-twist involving a dog! I felt cheated.

In fairness, I do think that Ellen’s ‘story’ is worthy of a mention as a saving grace for me; you get to read snippets of it as Justine does, and I have to say I did find her blunt style of storytelling very funny and endearing – despite the disturbing content. Sometimes you may find yourself just wanting to carry on reading that and leave Justine to get on with her crazy dramas alone!

Overall this was a real page-turner; a mystifying psychological suspense that will send you crazy with confusion and delight; unfortunately I didn’t feel rewarded for sticking with it and would have given a far better review had I left the story halfway through.

*My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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ADULT ONSET – Ann-Marie MacDonald

adult onset

Available now from Sceptre

Source: Publisher ARC

Mary Rose McKinnon has two children with her partner Hilary and a fractured relationship with her mother Dolly; she also has issues with anger management and lives in fear of hurting the children and these feelings seem somehow rooted in a part of her childhood she has trouble remembering.
Is Dolly – the kind of big personality who makes all Mary Rose’s friends, and even waiters in coffee shops, exclaim ‘I love your Mum!’ – really harbouring a dark secret about what caused Mary Rose’s childhood injuries, and is Mary Rose doomed to follow the same path with her own children?
ADULT ONSET is a heartbreaking, hilarious, hugely satisfying novel about family ties and the joy and agony of parenthood. Ann-Marie MacDonald gets under the reader’s skin and gives voice to the feelings we have all experienced but may never have examined.

My husband took our two sons fishing on the weekend. It was ‘boys day – no girls allowed’. Some mothers might take offence at this, or feel left out and unwanted – I, however, can think of little worse than sitting and staring at still water for hours on end in 30 degree heat, and so I relished in those few peaceful hours, sitting in the sunny garden, relaxing and reading Adult Onset.

Of course, I did have a moment of worry. Our youngest is only 5 and a bit of a tearaway. Could he really sit patiently in the way only a good fisherman can? Or would he get bored? Start running about a little too close to the water’s edge? Slip and fall into the unknown depths? Would my husband be able to jump in and grab him in time? Should I have gone to ensure everybody would be safe and well?

At what point does maternal concern turn into neurotic panic? When does the glass go from being half-full to smashed into a million tiny pieces across the floor? And what events or circumstance could be behind these trains of thought?

Enter our protagonist, Mary Rose McKinnon. Mister, as she is affectionately known, spends the majority of her day at home with her 2-year-old daughter Maggie. Maggie is a handful – stubborn, independent, and defiant – and an expert at raising Mister’s temper. Mister doesn’t feel the same loving bond with Maggie as she does with her 5-year-old son Matthew, and her anger sometimes brings her all too close to hurting her young daughter. And yet she is forever imagining the worst scenarios in which her children are terribly harmed, and so she spends her days trying to child-proof their lives.

Mister has some issues, that’s for sure. Unfortunately she isn’t very certain about what those issues are or where they stem from. There’s something though, just on the periphery of her memory, both glaringly obvious and a complete mystery. If she could just figure out what it was – would she become a better mother? A better wife? Would she finally be able to repair the damaged relationship she has with her own parents? Would she stop envisaging the worst possible scenarios with regards to her children’s safety? Would she stop having such horrific visions? Would she be able to control her anger the next time Maggie pushes that button?

This did make for quite uncomfortable reading sometimes, mainly because I know I am nothing like this woman as a mother, and yet sometimes I found myself relating to some of her less outrageous moments. Although there was a lot of delusion and neurosis peppered throughout the book, it was not attention-grabbing and gaudy, but subtle and yet intense.

MacDonald also cleverly takes the reader through a walkabout of Mister’s psyche via Mister’s own fictional creations – Mister has already written two books as part of a fantasy trilogy – and any Freudian would have a field day with Mister’s work, I know I particularly enjoyed the psychoanalysis of these parts.

The reader is also taken back in time to Mister’s childhood, and we get to look in on her own mother’s experience of motherhood and the debilitating tragedy that is the loss of a child – and that thing that almost every new mother is terrified of; post-natal depression.

One thing that did leave me wanting was the ending to this story. I’ve learned that I need a good showdown at the end of a book that has consumed me so, but then, life isn’t always full of showdowns is it? Not everybody gets finality and closure… sometimes you have to just get on with it.

Adult Onset is a beautifully lyrical account that examines some of those aspects of motherhood that aren’t all ‘floured hands and warm bosom’; how in some mothers maternal concern is indeed replaced by neurotic panic; and how events of our own history, big and small, can have such a lasting and monumental influence on everything.

Oh, and if you were wondering, our youngest had a wonderful time fishing with his dad and brother – he didn’t catch anything, but thoroughly enjoyed eating most of the sweetcorn ‘bait’!

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HOW I LOST YOU – Jenny Blackhurst

How I Lost You

Available 23rd April 2015 from Headline

Source: Bookbridgr

They told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don’t you? My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life. This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he’s dead? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

Any book that starts with something a little different to the usual scene-setting intro usually does a good job of grabbing my interest. How I Lost You manages this by starting with a letter written by our protagonist, Susan Webster/Emma Cartwright, to the parole board – getting stuck right in with all the tragic and harrowing details of her crime for which she is seeking forgiveness.

Susan has now been released after 4 years imprisonment for the murder of her infant son, Dylan. She cannot remember anything of the actual event, only what she was told by professionals and heard during her trial. Susan was diagnosed with puerperal psychosis – the most extreme post-natal depression – and has blacked out the whole event. Now trying to rehabilitate in a new town under a new persona, Susan starts to receive mysterious letters and packages relating to her son. She cannot make sense of these ‘gifts’ – has someone local discovered her identity and wants to torture her? Is it a vengeful prank at the hands of her ex-husband? Is she crazy and sending these to herself? Or might Dylan really be alive? Armed with the unlikely help of her best friend and old cell mate Cassie, and Nick Whitely, the journalist who covered her trial; Susan sets out to find out the truth about what happened to her son and who is tormenting her, and she stumbles upon a dark secret that spans back 20 years…

I really enjoyed this book. It is full of mystery that had me hooked from the offset. There is nothing too obvious to begin with, so you will be left scratching your head for a fair old while. And further mystery is added when you are given some flashback chapters that go back some twenty years; and you know that of course these flashbacks must link to our present-day story somehow – but if you figure out how straight away…well then you’re a better person than I!! But, if you are anything like me, you won’t have to wait too long for some answers as you will be speeding through the pages with relish.

This was a real ‘Goodness how many bad guys are there?’ kind of read – where you’ll soon be urging Susan not to trust anyone! Throughout the book I had my suspicions about certain characters, but it’s a very elaborate plot and so you can’t put your finger on the exact roles of all the players here. And the way the author entwines the characters so that practically everyone you come across does indeed play an important part in the story is very well thought out. You really need to take note of every detail in this one.

The character development was fantastic, I found myself really liking people that common-sense states I shouldn’t. Susan has just the right mix of remorse, anger, and confusion to make you really like and sympathise with a woman who is essentially a child-killer. Cassie has enough sass, humour, and compassion to make you warm to yet another murderer. And Nick plays the sleazy-journalist-turned-knight-in-shining-armour role very well. Even your ‘bad guys’ are well developed and some real depth is given to their darkness. Ok so their past may have been a little clichéd, but I was willing to let that one slide as it was a cliché that I genuinely didn’t foresee.

How I Lost You is a real nail-biter steeped in mystery, suspense, tragedy and unknown danger. And it is a cracking read for any fan of the psychological thriller!

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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CLOSE TO HOME – Lisa Jackson

close to home

Available now from Mulholland Books

Source: Bookbridgr

HOME IS WHERE THE FEAR IS…

The house where Sarah McAdams grew up has always terrified her. But now she’s moved back with her daughters, determined to put her childhood fears behind her.

It’s harder than she thought. Increasingly haunted by the past, Sarah soon realises that the present has its own threats. One by one, teenage girls are disappearing…

Frantic for her daughters’ safety, Sarah feels the house’s walls closing in on her once more. Somewhere deep in her memory is the key to a very real danger.

And only by confronting the terrifying truth can she protect her children from a nightmare that is roaring back to life…

In Close to Home, we have two main plot lines; that of Sarah McAdams and her daughters returning to Sarah’s childhood home to renovate the grand but dilapidated house, and the kidnapping of local teenage girls. Of course, when you have two avenues like this within a book, you know they are eventually going to link up – unfortunately it is pretty obvious how they are going to link up, and so you spend much of the time just waiting for that to happen.

Although I would say this a ‘readable’ story; I wouldn’t particularly call it very enjoyable. Yes there was a bit of mystery to pique my interest, and a little bit of leading me up the garden path as well, however this was overshadowed as there were just far too many flaws.

First of all it was all a bit trite; the old haunted house, the repressed memories, the rekindled high school love (literally with the boy-next-door!), the small town life, the difficult mother/daughter relationship, the tensions between the rebellious teen and the popular girl and the naturally ensuing stealing of the boyfriend… I could go on!

Then there was the fact that there was such an array of characters and yet I couldn’t find a single one to like. Sarah’s relationship with her daughters makes for uncomfortable reading. I get that they are unhappy about having to up sticks to the land that time forgot, but there seemed to be zero love between the three. 17 year-old Jade hated her mother for dragging her from her friends, boyfriend, etc, (although this meant she was missing a grand total of, I think, two) and 12 year-old Gracie seemed to believe everyone was beneath her, and was also completely and utterly useless at foreseeing the coming danger to her family considering how “gifted” she was with the premonitions and such.

As for the ‘love interest’ Clint Walsh, well he was more wooden than the picket fence dividing their properties, and seemed to be there purely for the want of a bit of forced romance. Oh, and there is a whole paternity plot in there that I simply cannot fathom the necessity for. There are a good number of other characters in there that had the potential to be brilliant – but were all very meh… oh and the ex-boss, who had been on precisely three dates with Sarah before she called time on that ‘relationship’, playing the spoilt rich brat who doesn’t like “No!” who then decides to set up camp on her land with the old binoculars…really?!

The ‘twists’ in this story were not exactly very twisty; like I say I was led astray with one mystery regarding Sarah’s past and the flashbacks that she suffered since returning to the house, but where I kept thinking “I know this is what the writer wants me to think, so I wonder how she’ll spin it…” well it was “spun” precisely by being exactly the event I’d presumed but just with somebody else in the spotlight…and it was all a bit icky and didn’t fit the feel of the rest of the book. As for the kidnapping culprit, well we are naturally led to believe it is the local ‘no-gooder’, and so much is focussed on it being him that of course it wont be, will it? And so who was it??? Well obviously it was that guy that you in no way care about because, as his known character, he has had all of one appearance and two lines in the whole book!

I can absolutely guarantee that there will be people who really enjoy this book, I certainly didn’t hate it. But it just had far too much going on – most of which was completely unnecessary. Some of the fat needed cutting, and the lean seasoning.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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THE ROYALIST – S.J. Deas

The Royalist

Available now from Headline

Source: Bookbridgr

William Falkland is a dead man. 

Falkland fought for the King. Now, he awaits execution. Yet when he is led out of Newgate Prison with a sack over his head, he is not taken to the gallows, but to Oliver Cromwell himself.

Now more than ever Cromwell needs a man of conscience. Mysterious deaths are sweeping the camp of his New Model Army and, in return for his freedom, Falkland must uncover the truth. 

As he delves into the troubled world of the resting soldiers, Falkland unearths secrets so dark he struggles to prove their existence. Surrounded yet alone, the noose around Falkland’s neck begins to tighten. 

Is his luck about to run out?

Historical fiction is pretty much uncharted territory for me, I’ve never really been one for history, but thanks to Mr Deas I am now a happy little convert!

The year is 1645, and the story begins with William Falkland – a Cavalier for King Charles I – imprisoned for disobeying the King’s orders. Falkland believes he is being taken to the gallows, but in fact is taken to none other than Oliver Cromwell himself. Cromwell recruits Falkland to investigate some suspicious suicides that have been occurring within the New Model Army camp. And thus the mystery begins…

I think there’s a lot to be said for first person narrative – I’m a big fan of this writing style and it almost always guarantees my immediate interest. I must admit I worried initially about how much of Ye Olde English I would be subjected to – people of yore tended to go all around the houses to say something didn’t they?! – but I actually really enjoyed the prose. There was enough to add to the authenticity, but not so much that I needed the Rosetta Stone!

And talking of authenticity, Deas has a real skill for scene-setting. I felt that I had been dragged right back to the 17th Century and it was a fantastic trip! I truly felt the chill of the harsh English winter and its knee-deep snow. My nose wrinkled at the filth encrusted people living in a time when hygiene was most certainly not a top priority. My stomach turned at what passed for a decent meal – and what didn’t but was eaten anyway! And I physically winced during the extensively detailed violent scenes.

But above all, I was most engrossed with the characters in this story. Our protagonist, Falkland, was a bad soldier but a good man. His depth was first-class. A man who hates himself for holding onto the slightest morsel of hope during such desperate times. A man who clings to the memory of his family and the hope he will one day be reunited with them. A man of duty and conscience, who will disobey his own King for what is right and just. A man who berates himself for caring for a woman who is not his wife. A man who will risk his life to do what is right by the memory of young soldiers whom he has never met. Basically, I loved the guy! Other characters – Cromwell, Fairfax, Warbeck, etc. – were all each as detailed as the next. This story had some real nasty people in it – but not your panto bad guys; these were real everyday men, mostly living very ordinary lives for the time – and they were terrifying!

Deas has delivered an intriguing, drama-laden, heart-thumping crime thriller with historical accuracy and authenticity. I found myself sorely disappointed at the last page; not with the ending, but that it had ended! Then, lo and behold, I discover that The Royalist was merely the first instalment in the William Falkland series, and a very big smile returned to my face.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

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DAY FOUR – Sarah Lotz

Day 4

Available 21st May 2015 from Hodder & Stoughton

Source: Publisher ARC

Four planes. Three survivors. One message. It seemed like the end of the world… but it wasn’t. This, however, just might be.

The extraordinary, unforgettable sequel to THE THREE – perfect for fans of The Shining Girls, The Passage and Lost.

Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait.

That is, until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There’s a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer… and maybe something worse.

I was so very excited when I received Day Four. After thoroughly enjoying Lotz’s first novel The Three (see review here) I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next…

Well I’m sorry to say I was disappointed. But this may be wholly down to my own expectations. As a ‘follow-on’ I’d expected just that – but in fact this was a completely separate story (so works as a standalone), although with the same underlying premise.

Naturally it was difficult not to compare the two novels. The style and formats are completely different. The Three is set retrospectively – based on witness accounts of some very strange goings-on; whereas Day Four has a more ‘real-time’ setting. Unfortunately this meant there was an awful lot of building up to events, it really took a long time to get going.

I was eager to find out what was going on in The Three – I was impatient to find out what was going on in Day Four.

I dipped in and out a lot. And it wasn’t until I was about ¾ of the way through that I felt the book having any sort of effect on me. And granted, it did get quite creepy and unsettling (not nearly as much as its predecessor) – but I just felt that I was way too late to the party, and by this point I struggled to care.

I found it interesting that the only part of the book I really enjoyed were the witness statements at the end – I suppose for their similarity to the format of The Three. But like I said, these came at the end…

I didn’t really get any closure for either of the stories. Both raised the same questions and gave the same elusive answers – and I thought as a follow-on I might have been given a bit more.

Ultimately, if any reader were to approach this with the expectation of it being merely an instalment in a series, then they may well enjoy it. I needed a bit more. For me, it definitely suffered from ‘sequel-itis’.

The Three felt very Stephen King meets J.J Abrams; Day Four felt more like Tales from the Crypt meets Doctor Who.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x 

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I LET YOU GO – Clare Mackintosh

let you go5 star

Available 23rd April 2015 from Little, Brown Book Group UK

Source: NetGalley

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating…

This is how I wish all books could be! I Let You Go had everything I could possibly hope for; fantastic characters, heart-wrenching emotion, spine-chilling fear, gripping intrigue, nail-biting drama…oh and I love twists, right? Well, I lost count of the number of fantastic shockers in this one!

The story begins with an account of a horrific hit and run accident that instantly claims the life of 5-year-old Jacob. And I can admit that I was welling up very early on… I mean very early on – we’re talking about the prologue here!

Jenna can no longer live with the pain, so has run away from the ghosts of her old life and set up home on the idyllic Welsh coast. Haunted by the tragic events of that day, and mourning the death of her son, she slowly adjusts to her new way of life – even eventually meeting a new love interest. But no matter how far she has run, or how much time has passed since that awful day of the hit and run accident, she is still forever haunted; plagued by nightmares, constantly on edge, and doubting she will ever really find peace again.

The book alternates between what is happening with Jenna, and the goings-on at Bristol CID; specifically for DI Ray Stevens who is still investigating the hit and run incident. A year has passed and they are still no closer to catching the culprit, and it is difficult to keep a case going with absolutely no leads, and where even the victim’s mother has seemingly given up – having disappeared off the face of the earth.

Almost immediately you realise all is not as it seems, but I could never quite put my finger on what it was. Little teasers were peppered about and I knew I was waiting for something… yet Mackintosh was able to distract me with some fantastic story-telling and brilliant character development, so I didn’t spend too much time on attempting to guess.

Nobody was placed in the story merely for the sake of it. Each character was given depth and complexity. Of course, the story centres around Jenna, the accident, and her loss (and the subsequent police investigation), and yet the reader is also given insight into Jenna’s damaged relationship with her family; Ray and his colleague Kate’s questionable relationship; Ray’s struggling marriage and wayward son; even Jenna’s new love-interest Patrick is given a tragic back-story! There is so much going on and yet never too much that it gets messy. Each subject is given adequate attention to earn its place within the story – and there is so much more going on that I won’t even attempt to be vague about, because there are some cracking twists in there and it would be criminal for me to even hint at them! I even went back to early chapters thinking I would catch the author out in some huge continuity mistake… alas, on reading those same lines with new information, I could only admire the sheer genius of it all!

Clare Mackintosh is an amazingly talented writer. Her depiction of a mother’s torment following the loss of a child was authentic, raw, and both sensitively and tastefully done. The romantic sub-plots were realistic; in approach, pace, and awkwardness! Jenna’s fear and torment are palpable throughout. Ray’s struggle for work/home-life balance, and the necessity to constantly question his own integrity is very grounding. And the drama is laden with an urgency that puts all else on hold.

Definitely one where 5 stars are just not enough! I cannot imagine anybody who would not thoroughly enjoy this read. If I could only ever recommend one book for any TBR list, it would most definitely be this one.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x

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