Once again this week, I’m linking up again with Vicky at I’d Rather Be At The Beach who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter/paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. This week I’m reading The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, a book which has sat on my shelf for what seems like forever and which I have heard such good things about I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to pick it up.
When the body of a young and popular teacher turns up in the waters of Sonny Lake, the first detective called to the scene is Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, a local who not only knows the area but also the victim – Rosalind Ryan, at least in passing (they went to school together).
The connection, Gem insists, is slight. The relationship between the two women non-existent. So she stays on the case, along with her partner Felix. Unfortunately, Gem isn’t quite telling the truth; she has a history with Rosalind (Rose), holding a secret that might put the case in jeopardy.
Splinter in the Blood is one of those books that opens with a scene that can’t help but hook you. A police officer at the scene of a crime, the shooting of another officer, who – instead of calling it in – is destroying the evidence.
The victim is DCI Greg Carver. And the officer destroying the evidence his partner, Ruth Lake. Why, it’s not clear – just as it’s not clear if Ruth is a dirty cop or a good one making bad decisions.
She seems good, I have to say, dogged and determined to figure out who shot Carver – and finish the case they were both already working on, the Thorn Killer, a serial killer loose on the streets of Liverpool. But there is always, all the way through the book (well until the climax) that nagging doubt.
Struggling with working-mother guilt, Marlene Greene hopes a camping trip in the forest will provide quality time with her three young children—until they see fires in the distance, columns of smoke distorting the sweeping view. Overnight, all communication with the outside world is lost.
Knowing something terrible has happened, Marlene suspects that the isolation of the remote campsite is all that’s protecting her family. But the arrival of a lost boy reveals they are not alone in the woods, and as the unfolding disaster ravages the land, more youngsters seek refuge under her wing. The lives of her own children aren’t the only ones at stake.
When their sanctuary is threatened, Marlene faces the mother of all dilemmas: Should she save her own kids or try to save them all?
I’m not much of a one for post-apocalyptic novels but All The Children sounded interesting and a way to step out of my comfort zone, which I need to do much more often if I’m honest. It also sounded like a good idea for a story. This isn’t a world in the far off future, this is in the now, the world we live in. And the way the world goes post-apocalyptic sounds scarily real, the result of a terrorist attack which releases a virus that kills a large part of the UK population – anyone basically who isn’t in the woods like Marlene, her sister-in-law, and their kids. It really wasn’t hard to imagine myself in that world, and wondering how I would respond.
You don’t get to choose your family.
She thought she’d never go back home.
But there’s something in her sister’s voice she just can’t refuse.
And hasn’t it always been that way?
What her sister asks, she does . . .
When Irini gets a call from her sister Elle in the early hours of the morning to tell her their mother is dead, Irini isn’t sure what to do or how to respond. It’s not like she knows her mother…she hasn’t seen or spent time with her since she was three year old and she’s now in her mid-30s.
She hasn’t spent much time with her sister either. When they were little, they were separated. Irini went to live with an aunt. Elle stayed with their parents. Why was never clear and, now, for Irini, it seems it might be getting too late to ask. Spurred on by her boyfriend, she decides to attend the funeral, visiting her childhood home in Scotland at the same time to try and uncover the truth.
So far, so good in the interesting plot stakes. This was a book I liked the sound of for just that and which hooked me in pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold my attention as the story continued. In part, it was the characters. I really didn’t like Irini or Elle. I found Irini confusing. She said one thing, did another. I get that this was supposed to be because she was under Elle’s thrall but I couldn’t see what that was myself.
Irini talks about how charming her sister is but I never saw it. I saw a woman with issues, who was demanding and controlling and who gets her way because people are scared of her. I also saw a damaged woman that nobody had ever seemingly taken the time to help. This is a hard one for me because a bit part of the plot twists here were based on Elle being mentally ill.
I know I read a lot of novels where there is a character that could be described as a psychopath or a sociopath but when a characters behaviour is down to what is basically stated is a mental health condition I start to feel uncomfortable. I work in the mental health field and this just has stigma written all over it. I have to say, I don’t think this is Michelle Adam’s intention I think it was just poorly thought out from that perspective.
Perhaps if it had been handled in a different way I would have felt more comfortable reading as the book went on but I just didn’t. I also didn’t quite get some of the plot twists. Was Elle evil with a master plot or a disturbed young woman? And was their a plot at all against Irini? At times it felt there was, at others not, and in the end I was left confused and slightly disappointed in the outcome.
For me, the book needed to go all out and didn’t. That said, this is a debut so maybe I shouldn’t be as harsh. It wasn’t all bad, with a good first third before I started to flag and at times I could see a flash of what could be something great. I don’t know enough about editing to say whether that was at play here but in my head this could have been tightened up and potentially shone.
All in all, then, I liked it, just not a lot – though from the reviews on goodreads I am in the minority here so don’t let me put you off (you can read the first chapter free on Amazon here if you wanted to see what you think).
London, five months before 7/7: Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time but felt unable to tell her.
Despite some misgivings, Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.
Then London is attacked…
When I received my copy of Blind Side, on the face of it I was expecting a fairly standard suspense / thriller – right up my street, don’t get me wrong, but likely similar to a lot of books I have read before and probably will again. I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised because the book is much more complex that I expected or than it first seemed.
It opens with Georgie and her best friend Julian sharing one too many glasses of wine that see them ending up in bed together. Waking up and hungover Georgie knows it’s not the best idea she has ever had but the situation is made worse when Julian tells her that he loves her, has always loved her, and wants a relationship. This is the last thing Georgie wants. Julian, though, doesn’t and won’t take no for an answer, becoming increasingly possessive the more Georgie moves away from him.
Then Georgie meets Nikolai, a Russian in London illegally and with a dark past, one he is either hiding because he is up to no good or because he is too ashamed to tell the truth. For a long time, almost to the end, it isn’t clear what his motives are. A career-minded woman, normally Georgie wouldn’t look at someone like Nikki but she finds herself drawn to him despite the secrets he is keeping. As their relationship develops, Julian’s obsession becomes worse and he will – it seems – stop at nothing to stop them falling in love.
What sets this book apart is the setting – the story takes place in London in 2005 in the run up too and aftermath of 7/7. Tensions are high and distrust is in the air. Nikolai has links to Chechnya which are hard for Georgia to ignore. Whilst I wasn’t in London during this time, the descriptions of how people felt, their anxiety and constant looking over their shoulder and suspecting people felt very real to me.
I think the setting also helped develop the characters. Not so much Julian, but Georgia was well-rounded and relatable whilst Nikolai’s discomfort at being a stranger in a strange land came across well. It helped explain a lot of their misunderstandings, which meant plenty of twists and turns in the plot and a constant second-guessing of motives. If I had any criticisms it would be the length – always a personal thing – but for me it was a little too long. However, this is minor and didn’t stop me liking the book a lot.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author Jennie Ensor in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. Many thanks for my copy Jennie.
When the world ends and you find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the country, every second counts.
No one knows this more than Edgar Hill. 550 miles away from his family, he must push himself to the very limit to get back to them, or risk losing them forever…
His best option is to run.
But what if your best isn’t good enough?
I picked up this book because I felt like I was seeing it everywhere as I was walking around London the other week. Then I found out it had been featured on radio 2 and raved about in various quarters. It had, however, apparently passed me by completely. The power of advertising is a marvellous (or dangerous) thing though and I ended up picking this book up without a second thought when I then saw it in the library a few days later.
I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I felt I had to read it. A book about a man running across the country – I worried it might be monotonous or plain old boring. Thankfully it was neither, in large part because of Ed who is more complex than he originally seems. This isn’t just about a journey across the country, it is about his personal journey.
I enjoyed watching him going from a bit of a selfish oaf who didn’t do much in the way of taking care of his family to being someone who realises how important they are to him. As the story progressed he became a stronger, nicer, person – one who stuck by his friends and took risks. And there were a lot of risks that needed taking.
This is a post-apocalyptic world and a scary one at times, not so much the people (though there are a few I wouldn’t want to cross) but because the environment is so inhospitable. There are no cars or roads to speak of (which is what makes running the only option). The sun does not shine so day and night don’t seem much different. In the end it is about endurance and determination. It takes a lot for Ed to attempt what he does and I was rooting him and his friends on the whole way.
This is a well written book with a good pace for the most part (it does flag a little in the middle but only for a couple of chapters). The characters are well developed and the story an interesting one I haven’t read in quite this way before (though there are many post-apocalyptic novels out there). It made it an enjoyable read, even for someone who – like Ed – doesn’t really like running and left me liking this one a lot. A recommended read.
I know who killed my sister.
I wrote this novel for him.
Twelve years ago, Linda’s sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him. Now, all these years on, she’s just seen him again. On TV.
He has since become a well-known reporter, and Linda – a famous novelist and infamous recluse – knows no one will believe her if she accuses him, so she does the only thing she can think of: she writes a thriller about a woman who is murdered, her killer never caught. When the book is published, she agrees to give just one media interview. At home. To the one person who knows more about the case than she does.
He knows what happened that night and she wrote a book about it but, when the doorbell rings, neither of them can be sure how the story will end.
After her sister Anna is brutally murdered and the police are unable to find her killer, Linda retreats from life. Twelve years later, she is as famous for being a recluse as she is for being an author. She hasn’t left the house in all this time. And she hasn’t stopped being haunted by her sisters death and the face of the killer she saw fleeing the scene. Then, one day, there he is staring at her from a TV screen.
Determined he is not going to get away this time, she does what she does best – writes a novel to lure him out. This is a great idea for a novel, though picking up the book I did worry it was one I might have seen before in Renee Knight’s Disclaimer. Thankfully beyond the basic idea of a crime being exposed in a work of fiction, the stories are very different and The Trap a very good book and an excellent debut.
Linda’s reclusiveness gives the story a real claustrophobic feel. Setting the majority of the book in one house could have made it boring or repetitive. Instead, Raabe makes you wonder whether Linda is right, whether she has finally seen the killer after all these years, or whether she is mentally ill and completely detached from reality. It feels like you are watching a woman completely lose the plot…or are you? To add to the questions, interspersed throughout, are chapters from the book Linda is writing which add to and contradict the story she is telling in real time.
As a character Linda is interesting if not necessarily that likeable. I struggled at times with her being an intelligent woman with the resources to help herself but who didn’t. Then again, it also made it easier for me to wonder if she maybe was the guilty party, not the mystery man on the television. And I did wonder that a lot. Her complexity was probably a good thing too because for the most part she was the only character in the book, and the only one whose viewpoint you saw. It’s hard to do this and keep a reader interested I think.
My do I, don’t I like Linda feelings didn’t stop me liking the book. The fact that it was well written, a clever idea, and had a good pace made up for it. My feelings probably did stop me loving it though as did a few times when I thought the translation (the book was originally published in German) let it down; sentences felt jarring and didn’t flow with the rest of the book. Still, these were few and far between and meant I still liked this book a lot…an impressive debut and a recommended read.
note: I received this book from mumsnet in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.
When Meg comes home to find her house trashed, the result of a house party hosted by teenage daughter Alex, she has finally had enough. The bag of pills hid in a cushion seals the deal and, fuelled by a mix of anger, frustration and worry, she makes a decision. Alex needs more help than she or her husband can provide but help a boarding school for troubled teens can.
It’s not a decision she makes easily, but she feels lost and helpless. A year earlier, Alex had been involved in a car accident and lost her best friend Cass. Meg knows it’s hit Alex hard, affecting her school work (when she goes to school) and leading her into bad company and way too many parties. When challenged she lashes out at her parents. When asked what’s wrong, she shuts down. Despite getting her help, Alex just can’t be reached. Neither can Meg’s soon to be ex-husband Jacob, who doesn’t agree with Meg at all.
Knowing that attempting to take Alex to the school herself will be difficult, if not impossible, without a major fight, Meg makes a second decision, to hire a “transportation” company, who will do the job for her. It’s owner, Carl, is the one who takes on the job, arriving at Meg’s house in the early hours of the morning to take Alex away. He will not, he promises, let Meg or Alex down. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned and, despite Carl’s best efforts Alex goes missing and the search to find her begins, leading to secrets being revealed and Meg, Alex, Carl and Jacob having to face some hard truths.
Told through the eyes of Meg, Carl and Alex, more than anything is is Meg and Alex’s story – one borne of misunderstanding and perfectly believable if I think back to my teenage years. I may not have pushed my parents to try to ship me off but I know I gave them a hard time. Being a teenager is hard. It’s especially hard when you have been through what Alex has been through, losing a best friend but also dealing with her parents divorce and failing at school. Once the secrets around Cass’ death are revealed, it makes Alex’s behaviour even more understandable. The fact that Alex never talks about it also explains Meg’s response. She makes a lot of mistakes but they do come from a good place.
As characters I liked Meg and Alex a lot. I thought they were well written and well rounded, as was Carl. I wanted a happy ending for all of them. Jacob, who didn’t get his own voice, I didn’t think was as solid and some of behaviours felt like they were more to drive the plot forward than what I might have expected. If that was the intention though it worked because after a slow start, the pace picked up and kept going till the end. I found myself turning pages and needing to know what was going to happen next. What I got wasn’t what I had expected when I bought the book – I think I was expecting more of a standard thriller / suspense and got quite an emotional roller coaster- but that is no bad thing as I really liked it a lot. A recommended read!
So I know they say you should never judge a book by it’s cover but I have to admit that’s what I did when I requested a review copy of The Girls by Emma Cline. Well almost, I also read the blurb, which intrigued me just as much…
California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life…
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.
And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
Set at the end of the sixties, when flower power was starting to lose it’s bloom, The Girls is based on the story of Charles Manson and his killing of Sharon Tate. It’s narrated by Evie, now a grown woman but 14 at the time she became involved with Russell and his followers during a long, heat-filled, summer. A summer where she had fallen out with her best friend and her family was falling apart, where she felt unloved and alone and , as well, like a typical awkward teenage girl – unsure of her looks, her personality and her place in the world.
Evie was looking for something to fill the loneliness and she found it in Suzanne, a few years older and one of a number of girls in their late teens who lived with Russell on a nearby ranch. Girls who lived freely and gave themselves freely, in love with and enthralled by Russell. Evie longs to be part of this and does everything she can to fit in, to become one of them and – to a degree – she does. In the wings, though, is he normal life which she can’t quite escape either.
Told in four parts which span the course of the summer but also the present as well as the past, Evie looks back at what happened, how she became involved with the group and how her life changed as a result. As an adult, she has the benefit of hindsight, can see the needy teenager she was, can see she had a lucky escape, but there is also a sadness to her, a sense of regret – a feeling that the rest of her life has never lived up to the summer of 1969.
“I didn’t tell him that I wished I’d never met Suzanne. That I wished I’d stayed safely in my bedroom in the dry hills near Petaluma, the bookshelves packed tight with the gold-foil spines of my childhood favorites. And I did wish that. But some nights, unable to sleep, I peeled an apple slowly at the sink, letting the curl lengthen under the glint of the knife. The house dark around me. Sometimes it didn’t feel like regret. It felt like a missing.”
In the beginning I can see why she was so drawn to the girls. They were different, exciting, lived by their own rules which must have been appealing for a young girl who felt so bound by the rules of others. As the book progresses though, the story gets much darker, the girls much meaner. You start to see how they exploit Evie’s neediness – but also how they have been exploited too, meaning nothing about the ending to this story is clear cut. There is a question about just how much they were in control of their own lives after all despite their claims of freedom. In a way, it’s tragic.
Emma Cline doesn’t make any judgements. Other than Russell there are no good or bad guys; though there is right and wrong, she shows how the line can so easily be crossed when people are lost and desperate to believe in something, anything. She also lets the story unfold slowly, taking time to develop Evie as a character who is more complex than I originally thought she would be.
The book itself is beautifully written, evoking the period, and drawing me in completely with the way it described the people and the places. It felt well researched and, whilst I don’t remember being quite as lost as Evie at 14, I do remember how hard those teenage years are and I feel Cline did a really good job capturing this. It all meant that, once I started the book, I really didn’t want to put it down. I loved it – and, with the exception of The Vegetarian, this might be my favourite book of the year. Highly recommended!
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.