Friday, 30 September 2016

Reviewed: The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech

TITLE: The Mountain in My Shoe
AUTHOR: Louise Beech
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books

PUBLICATION DATE: September 30, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.

On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she's leaving, he doesn't come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she's befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor's foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband's secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

The Mountain in My Shoe is so powerful in its emotion, it drew me into the story straight away and I was moved, shocked and completely captivated all the way through to the final page. I read and loved Louise’s debut How to Be Brave, but this book is very different and I liked that about it because I didn’t know what to expect, and so the author had me in the palm of her hand as she both surprised and consumed me with her beautiful second novel. Though there are some upsetting themes in this book, it appears above all to be a book about hope and the true meaning of family, and I absolutely loved it.

Bernadette is all set to leave her husband, Richard. He is abusive with both his words and actions and she has finally brought herself to walk out on him. But Richard doesn’t come home, and he’s not the only one. Conor, a boy brought up through the care system and who Bernadette has befriended, doesn’t arrive home either. What’s more, Conor’s lifebook is missing too. Bernadette discovers that to unravel the mystery of all three disappearances, she first needs to face up to and address her own life.

The Mountain in My Shoe alternates in chapters – from Bernadette or Conor’s perspective to extracts from the Book. Conor’s lifebook was a very moving piece of this novel. It’s honest and stays true to real-life stories of children who have spent their life in and out of care, with various different foster families. Stories from Conor’s lifebook are often sad, but not always. There is humour and creativity in Conor’s life, and he is an inspired child right from the moment we begin reading. The Book shows his true character and as the reader, have you fighting for his safe return to where he truly belongs. The lifebook is a very special piece of the novel.

Though the beginning of this book intrigued me, it was with the next chapter and the one after that and so on that I realised I had become incapable of putting the novel down, so engrossed by the engaging characters and the heart-achingly poignant story they were telling. Louise’s writing is an absolute joy to read. Her characters have real depth and emotion to them and the way she captures their feelings and their lives, both the ups and downs, makes me believe in each one of them completely as they, though fictional, are very real and human.

The structure, the narrative and the prose are all outstanding and there is a flow to Louise’s writing even when alternating between present day and the story in the ‘Book’ which has me transfixed. The Mountain in My Shoe comes across as such an effortless read yet the story inside is thought-provoking and unforgettable. The author has evidently put her heart and soul into writing this book and it was worth it. The Mountain in My Shoe is haunting and memorable, but most of all, it’s another unmissable novel from Louise Beech.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Reviewed: Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra

TITLE: Only Daughter
AUTHOR: Anna Snoekstra

PUBLICATION DATE: September 22, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.

She’d been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen―blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched―though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec.

Soon the imposter is living Bec’s life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec’s welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter―and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

Only Daughter is a creepy, chilling novel that had me gripped from page one. I loved the concept to this story and for that reason I couldn’t wait to read it. I was hooked and read this book so quickly, but the story wasn’t over for me then as the events over the course of this book still linger on my mind now. Though there are moments that feel far-fetched or a bit contrived, I won’t hesitate to recommend this book for its disturbing entertainment factor and the many surprises along the way.

The book begins with a desperate young woman in trouble with the police. She has a bit of a trick up her sleeve to escape punishment, however, by confessing to be her lookalike and missing person, Rebecca Winter. Only she doesn’t realise that being Rebecca Winter would bring way more trouble than she was in before.

I was really hooked on this story. Every time I put the book down, I was genuinely excited to pick it up and start reading again. I did this all day until I’d finished. As we see this woman slot into Bec’s old life, with her parents and brothers, things get weirder and nothing seems to add up. Whilst I spent the first two third of this book trying to figure out what had happened to Bec, I spent the final third of the book wincing and squirming as the tension and suspense soared to make this one of the most unsettling books I’ve read.

The narrative switches between imposter Rebecca’s life and the life of the real Rebecca, in the days leading up to her becoming a missing person. Through both characters’ perspectives, there was a sense of danger which only increased in intensity the further through the book I was. For someone who is also nine times out of ten disappointed by the way a thriller ends, the ending to Only Daughter was brilliantly executed and also had me cursing that the book was over!

Character-wise I went through this book changing my mind all the time over whether I liked or disliked almost every single character. The way the book is written had me questioning everyone and there wasn’t a character I didn’t have my suspicions over at some point during the course of the book. That and the fact I didn’t guess almost anything correctly at all was one of the reasons I couldn’t put Only Daughter down. It’s so rare to find a truly unpredictable thriller – but this one definitely hit the spot.

With that being said, there were times I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book. Especially when reading the real Bec’s story, parts of it didn’t feel particularly relevant and I much preferred reading the imposter’s tale. But when I finished the book, I realised that things made more sense to me now. I would love to re-read Only Daughter now I know the truth and spot all the clues and hints the author included, because there was absolutely no chance I was going to work out the mystery when reading it first time around.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Guest Post: The Killer in Me by Michael Robotham

TITLE: Close Your Eyes
AUTHOR: Michael Robotham

PUBLICATION DATE: September 22, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

I close my eyes and feel my heart begin racing
Someone is coming
They're going to find me

A mother and her teenage daughter are found murdered in a remote farmhouse, one defiled by multiple stab wounds and the other left lying like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince. Reluctantly, clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is drawn into the investigation when a former student, calling himself 'the Mindhunter', jeopardises the police inquiry by leaking details to the media and stirring up public anger.

With no shortage of suspects and tempers beginning to fray, Joe discover links between these murders and a series of brutal attacks where his victims have been choked unconscious and had the letter 'A' carved into their foreheads.

As the case becomes ever more complex, nothing is quite what it seems and soon Joe's fate, and that of those closest to him, become intertwined with a merciless, unpredictable killer . . .egins to face her darkest fears and shatter her fragile dreams. But can she ever truly break free from her gilded cage and learn to love again?

I'm excited today to be hosting the brilliant Michael Robotham on my blog to celebrate publication for his latest novel, Close Your Eyes.

The Killer in Me
by Michael Robotham

So far I’ve killed about twenty-eight people, although it’s hard to be completely sure without digging up the bodies and doing a head count. I have shot, drowned, electrocuted, blown-up, beaten, stabbed, incinerated, strangled, smothered and tortured victims. Some were innocent, others got exactly what they deserved.

Don’t think for a moment that my psychological thrillers are steeped in mayhem and violence. I don’t write about serial killers who bathe in gore, or who scoff body parts with fava beans and chianti.

Instead I write the sort of stories that make you jump when the phone rings, or check that you’ve locked the doors, or only read in the daylight.

As a crime writer I’m under constant pressure to keep the bodies coming and normally only murders will suffice because no other crime is so final. You cannot make recompense for killing someone. There is no eye for an eye. There is no taking it back.

Which begs the question:

Have you ever fantasised about killing someone? 

Be honest now. What about that speeding driver who cuts you off in traffic and almost causes an accident? Surely you wouldn’t mind seeing him go under a truck. What about your bullying boss, who makes you work ridiculous hours or claims the credit for your suggestions? Haven’t you ever pictured yourself slipping anti-freeze into his smoothie? What about when your husband or wife gets on your nerves, refusing to admit their wrong or belittling your efforts? Just for a moment, haven’t you thought about nudging them under a bus, or pushing them down the stairs?

In separate studies, two psychologists Douglas Kenrick and David Buss asked people if they have ever fantasised about killing someone. The demographic they chose (university students) had exceptionally low rates of violence, yet between 70 and 90 per cent of the men, and between 50 and 80 per cent of the women, admitted to having at least one homicidal fantasy in the preceding year.

These were just fantasies of course, but it does make you wonder. I have homicidal fantasies on a weekly basis. I get to kill people for a living, which is far more satisfying than squeezing a stress ball or twiddling worry beads. Before I married I would despatch my ex-girlfriends. Not I get rid of lanky teenage boys who take my daughters to the formal and dump them before the end of the night.

The brilliant Irish crime writer John Connolly has been known to kill off people who talk too loudly on their mobile phones, or who are rude to waitresses. I’ve killed bigots, sexists and homophobes, which can be particularly satisfying.

Sadly, some of my victims are blameless and my heart bleeds for them. In my newest novel CLOSE YOUR EYES a mother and her teenage daughter are found dead in a remote Somerset farmhouse - one of them eviscerated in a Ripper-like fashion on the sitting room floor, while the other is left lying like Sleeping Beauty in her bed, surrounded by stuffed toys. In the pages that follow, there are more victims – men and woman who are choked unconscious and have the letter ‘A’ is carved into their foreheads.

The question for my hero, clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is whether these an acts of hatred or revenge. Are victims being targeted for what they’re done, or what they represent?

There will be bodies, there will be tears, there will be justice and there will be hope because the pen is mightier and deadlier than the sword.

CLOSE YOUR EYES (Sphere) is available in paperback on September 22, 2016

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Reviewed: Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky by Holly Martin

TITLE: Christmas under a Cranberry Sky
AUTHOR: Holly Martin
PUBLISHER: Bookouture

PUBLICATION DATE: September 22, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

Piper Chesterfield lives a glamorous life travelling the world and reviewing the finest hotels. She calls nowhere home, she works alone and that’s how she likes it. For long ago Piper decided that to protect her heart she should lock it away.

So when Piper’s next assignment brings her to the newly opened Stardust Lake Hotel for the festive season, the last person she expects to face is Gabe Whitaker, the man who broke her heart so completely she could never love again.

But Piper isn’t the only one who has been frozen in time by heartbreak. Gabe hasn’t forgotten the golden-eyed girl who disappeared from his world without a trace.

Now fate has reunited them on Juniper island, can the magic of Christmas heal old wounds? And can this enchanting town be the one place Piper can finally call home?

It’s September and I have just finished my first Christmas book of the year, and although that feels far too early there isn’t an author better at getting you in the Christmas spirit than Holly Martin. Christmas under a Cranberry Sky is as expected, a festive, wonderful wintery tale and the setting of Juniper Island is built up to be so idyllic that it gives Lapland a good run for its money as far as dreamy Christmas escapes go.

Piper is a hotel reviewer and after her last stay was at a hotel she couldn’t recommend in the least, her stay at Stardust Lake Hotel is something altogether different. The place and the people are charming, the location is enchantingly beautiful and the hotel is also run by Piper’s first love, Gabe Whitaker. Piper hasn’t seen Gabe in twelve years and things didn’t end on good terms for them. A tragic incident was the beginning of the end for their relationship but with Gabe now back in Piper’s life, at least for the duration of her hotel review, the chemistry between them is quick to resurface.

There was a lot to love about this novel. Everything, from the setting to the characters, made Christmas under a Cranberry Sky a special kind of read. One thing I liked about this book was how Piper and Gabe talked about the circumstances when she left almost straight away, without making us wait for ages. This made their connection and the backstory feel more realistic, because even though many authors like to keep us in suspense in similar situations, realistically if someone disappeared for twelve years without telling you why, when they re-appear you’re going to want to know what happened. There was still, of course, a fair few moments I wanted to bang their heads together, but knowing their circumstances early on opened up the story and made it more of that heart-warming, satisfyingly romantic novel – the kind many readers have come to love from Holly.

The characters were also a joy to read about. I liked both Piper and Gabe, as well as Gabe’s family, but my favourite was Gabe’s young daughter Wren. She was simply the sweetest character who tugs at your heartstrings and I loved her involvement in the story the most.

One of the best things about Holly’s books are that no matter how magical and fairy-tale like they appear, she makes me believe in all the things she writes about. I can feel all the emotions and experience the setting and the various things which happen during the course of the book. Holly’s style of writing is just perfect for Christmas books as it is impossible to not feel festive when reading Christmas under a Cranberry Sky. Her attention to detail and descriptions and inventive imagination creates a wonderland you’d just love to experience yourself. And regardless of what time of year you read Christmas under a Cranberry Sky, you are bound to feel full of cheer and festive spirit.

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