Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: Review

Dennis Danson is a convicted killer on Death Row - the Red River murderer - but widely and increasingly believed to be innocent. Documentaries are made about him, books written, celebrities espouse his cause. For Sam, a needy young woman in England,the case details and Dennis himself exert a deep fascination, and when she contacts him and subsequently travels to the US to visit him in prison, a relationship develops between them.

But is Dennis as innocent as Sam and many others believe him to be? What really happened to the girls of Red River?

This is a tense and compelling psychological thriller - Amy Lloyd builds up the tension extremely well. While few of the characters are particularly likeable - out of everyone, I was most concerned about the cats - I was still desperate to find out what was going to happen. The deeply dysfunctional relationship between Dennis and Sam is very well drawn, wince-inducingly so at times, as things do not progress between them quite as Sam had expected or hoped.

For me the name Dennis Danson immediately evoked the serial killer Dennis Nilsen - I don’t know whether this similarity was deliberate on the part of the author (there are certain other similarities too... so maybe) but it meant I was instinctively slightly predisposed against him! Whether guilty or not, Dennis is a difficult and complex character; the real man often at odds with the image of him created by others. The character of Sam, a somewhat obsessive and vulnerable young woman whose actions are often painfully misguided and whose insecurities can at times overwhelm her - is very believable.

There are some insightful observations here on the social media landscape, particularly as experienced for the first time by Dennis - the strange world of Twitter is especially well depicted as Dennis - and Sam’s - story is served up for public consumption and, of course, everyone has an opinion...

An often disturbing but always readable journey into some dark places.... recommended.

Review also published on NetGalley and on Amazon. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood: Review

“Because I’m not reliant on anyone emotionally or financially, I can’t be hurt. That’s how a feminist is: iron-willed, Teflon-coated, in total control of every aspect of her life.”

At forty-five, Susan Green shares certain characteristics with the cactus plants she keeps on her desk - prickly and self-sufficient. She has her life arranged precisely how she wants it - her flat, her job, her personal life - and certainly has no intention of changing it. But when her mother dies - and leaves a will favouring her feckless brother Ed, causing Susan to immediately launch herself into battle - and at the same time Susan is confronted with the hitherto unimagined prospect of becoming a mother herself, her life starts changing in some very unexpected ways. What does it take for a cactus to finally bloom?

I loved the sound of this book, but it was a bit of a slow burner for me initially. Susan is not obviously very likeable, at least to start with. She comes over as judgemental, intolerant of others’ failings and apparently lacking in any warmth or humour, though I did like her independence and determination. As the story continued, though, I was drawn in and found it ultimately to be a very compelling and enjoyable read, and Susan a very engaging character.

The basic premise is not, in itself, that original - a woman who shuns any kind of vulnerability as a defence mechanism against being hurt, who gradually becomes more open to new experiences and connections with other people. However the story is very well executed and I grew to really care about Susan - my heart broke for her at times.

One advance reviewer described Susan as a cross between Don Tillman (The Rosie Project) and Bridget Jones. I can certainly see where the former comparison comes from - both highly rational, uncomprehending of others’ less rational choices, and lacking in social graces - but I’m afraid any similarities with the latter are completely lost on me. (And Susan would undoubtedly be appalled at the comparison.) To this reader, Susan is more reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant.

Not all the characters are believable: Susan’s jolly-hockey-sticks friend Brigid is a caricature, though an amusing one - I don’t believe any modern forty-five year old woman routinely addresses another as “old girl”! I did like neighbour Kate, and Ed’s friend Rob. Aunt Sylvia and her fairly awful daughters are very convincingly drawn. I’ve definitely known Sylvias...

Although it was, as I’ve said, initially a bit of a slow burner, ultimately I loved this just as much as I’d hoped, and didn’t want it to end! (It’s perhaps unlikely, but a sequel would be lovely... I really do want to know what happens next.)

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris: Review

This book kept popping up in my recommendations for an awfully long time before I finally got around to reading it. I think the unoriginal title put me off a bit... there must be hundreds of books called Behind Closed Doors. I’m sure I’ve read a few of them. I must admit, though, it’s an appropriate title here, because this book is all about the horrors (not an exaggeration) that occur in apparent domestic bliss.

It’s obvious from the start that all is not well in the marriage of Grace and Jack Angel, and that Mr Angel hardly lives up to his name. That’s putting it mildly - he’s an actual monster, one of those arch-villains with literally no redeeming features. He’s also, of course, handsome, charming and rich, because they always are, in fiction if not in life. And all-powerful, with almost everyone in his pocket, even the police. There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief required, but Jack’s clever....his heinous actions are always carefully planned and there’s little to be held against him, apart from Grace’s word, which he ensures counts for little.

It’s a real page turner, there’s no doubt about that. I had to keep reading, desperate to find out what happened and for the monster to (hopefully) get his comeuppance, even while in a constant state of slight anxiety about what horrendous thing was going to happen next. The full extent of Jack’s depravity is only gradually revealed and this generates a lot of tension.

Grace is quite an engaging character - she goes from a successful professional woman (with a rather unlikely sounding job) to someone with no power at all but she never gives up fighting. Her sister Millie - a young woman with Down’s syndrome - isn’t entirely convincingly drawn but is a likeable character. There are very few if any laughs in this book - the tone is unremittingly dark and grim - but “George Clooney” did raise a smile.

Ultimately this is a compelling read but I’m not sure I actually liked it. It’s basically a simple story of good vs evil with little nuance, and just a bit too unpleasant for me. I did like the very end, though, where a thread which has run through the novel has a satisfying payoff.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

White Bodies by Jane Robins: Review

Felix is so handsome and clever and romantic. I just wished he hadn’t forced Tilda under the water and held her there so long.’

Callie and Tilda are twins, but it seems they couldn’t be more different - Tilda is the doer, the attention getter, forging a successful acting career; Callie the observer, the quieter one, drifting into a job at a bookshop, existing around the edges of her sister’s life.

When Tilda enters a relationship with the wealthy and controlling Felix (he’s something to do with hedge funds... I don’t think I’ll ever understand what a hedge fund actually is), Callie’s anxieties for her sister’s safety cause her to be lured down some dark and dangerous paths.

From early on there are doubts as to Callie’s reliability as a narrator - she appears to have an unhealthy and certainly abnormal obsession with her golden girl sister. The relationship between the twins is complex and really rather twisted. Though intelligent, Callie has a naïveté and inexperience about her which render it doubtful as to how accurately she might interpret things at times; the author keeps us skilfully on the back foot, uncertain as to how well founded Callie’s fears about Felix are.

This is an incredibly addictive, often unsettling and very cleverly constructed read which constantly keeps the reader guessing as to where it is going; I really had no idea until very near the end, although with hindsight clues were there. The narrative voice of Callie is a triumph - she is an unusual but at the same time very believable character and you’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next. What this book kept reminding me of, and I’m not even sure why as they are very different, was the equally excellent Behind Her Eyes by Sarah  Pinborough - something about the tone, perhaps. 

Elegantly written and tightly plotted... highly recommended. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Jane Robins began her career as a journalist with The EconomistThe Independent, and the BBC. She has made a specialty of writing historical true crime and has a particular interest in the history of forensics. She has published three books of nonfiction in the UK, Rebel Queen, The Magnificent Spilsbury, and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams. White Bodies is her first novel.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Secret Child by Kerry Fisher: Review

I loved Kerry Fisher’s first novel, The School Gate Survival Guide - it was fresh and funny, even if the title was a bit meh (apparently it’s now been retitled The Not So Perfect Mum, which is even worse). Anyway the book was great and made me an instant fan of the author. I’ve read and enjoyed her subsequent books too but none proved quite as memorable as the first; however I think The Secret Child just might.

It opens in heartbreaking fashion with Suzanne Duarte giving her six-week-old baby boy away for adoption in 1968. (The year I was born!) Susie’s not an unwed teenager though - she’s a young married woman with a child already and a husband away at sea. Knowing she can never explain the existence of baby Edward and at risk of losing everything, Susie has to make the devastating choice to give him up and pretend nothing has happened. But the corrosive effects of grief and deceit will tarnish everything for her.

This has the feel of a sprawling family saga, following Susie’s life and family from 1968 to the present day, examining how all her relationships - with her loving husband Danny, daughters Louise and Grace - are changed and damaged by the huge secret she can never reveal. Can Susie ever reconnect with the baby she lost, without destroying everything?

This was a very emotional read which had me gripped from the first page, desperate to find out how things would turn out, particularly towards the end. It’s narrated first by Susie and then in the second half by her rebellious younger daughter Grace, which works very well in showing us first why Susie is the way she is, then how that is perceived by others. It’s  quite a long book and I can imagine that some people might find it too drawn out at times but it worked perfectly for me. 

A powerful and frankly heartbreaking story with believable, nuanced characters.... highly recommended.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan: Review

Late at night two teenage boys scuffle at the water’s edge. One ends up in the canal. It looks straightforward, but there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

The boy in the water, Noah, is terminally ill. The other boy, Abdi - his best friend - isn’t talking.

As Noah lies in hospital in an induced coma, DI Jim Clemo is called upon to investigate the incident. In the wake of a recent anti-immigration neo-Nazi march in Bristol, there are racial sensitivities surrounding the case, because Noah is white and from a privileged background, and Abdi is from a Somali refugee family. 

And Abdi still isn’t talking.

I loved Gilly Macmillan’s previous novel featuring Jim Clemo, What She Knew (previously published as Burnt Paper Sky - a title I prefer, to be honest). So I was excited to read this, and it didn’t disappoint.

The story is told partly by DI Clemo, partly by Noah himself and partly in the third person following other characters such as Abdi’s sister Sofia, his parents Maryam and Nur, and Noah’s parents Fiona and Ed Sadler - the latter an acclaimed photographer who has made his name through his often painful depictions of the experience of refugees. (An interesting element of the story considers some of the ethical issues around such photographs via Sofia’s response to them.)

As Clemo tries to unravel what has occurred the story takes in both modern day Bristol and the frightening world of the huge Hartisheik refugee camp in the late 1990s.

As in her previous novel, Gilly Macmillan also examines the media response to the case, and this takes on a personal dimension for DI Clemo as his ex-girlfriend Emma Zhang, now a journalist seeking to make her name, is in the thick of it. Clearly there are those keen to use the incident in order to attack the city’s Somali community, the police, or both.

This could be issue-heavy subject matter but Gilly Macmillan tells the story with a delicate touch which puts the complex, often flawed characters at the centre and never relies on easy stereotype.

There’s also a twist in the tale which I certainly wasn’t expecting, though in hindsight it almost seems obvious (those twists are always the best kind).

I loved this story - it’s compelling, insightful, humane and ultimately very moving, and deserves a very wide readership. Highly recommended.

Review also posted on NetGalley and Amazon.

Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl. She trained as an art historian and worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

BLOG TOUR! Ours is the Winter by Laurie Ellingham: Review

The blurb....

Journeying across the Arctic, their pasts are about to catch up with them.

Erica, Molly and Noah are embarking on the challenge of a lifetime, driving Siberian huskies across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic. Cut off from the world and their loved ones and thrown together under gruelling conditions, it isn't long before the cracks start to show.

Erica has it all. A loving husband, a successful career and the most adorable baby daughter. But Erica has been living a double life, and as she nears her fortieth birthday her lies threaten to come crashing down.

Molly was on her way to stardom. But when her brother died, so did her dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. Consumed by rage and grief, she has shut out everyone around her, but now she's about to learn that comfort can come from the most unexpected places.

Noah has a darkness inside him and is hounded by nightmares from his past. Tortured, trapped and struggling to save his fractured relationship, he knows this journey is not going to help, but try telling his girlfriend that.

As their lives and lies become ever more entwined, it becomes clear that in the frozen wilds there is nowhere to hide.

The review...

Are you ready for the challenge of a lifetime? Drive your own team of elite Siberian huskies 260km across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic in an experience you'll never forget!

Three people come together as part of a larger group to undertake this Arctic challenge. Molly, fizzing with barely suppressed anger and grief after the untimely death of her beloved brother, her Olympic aspirations having died along with him. Erica, hoping to use the trip as an opportunity to rebuild her relationship with her young half-sister - while also concealing some awkward truths about her own life. And Noah, deeply traumatised after a terrible event, resorting to desperate measures just to function from day to day.

As the challenge progresses, along with testing their own limits these three people find unimagined connections between them and face up to difficult realities as relationships form and fracture, and secrets emerge.

I loved the fascinating, unusual setting, and Laurie Ellingham does a great job of building up the atmosphere. It was easy to picture the frozen landscape, and the exhausting, exhilarating, challenging experience of sledding was vividly drawn. I could almost feel the biting cold and see and hear (and smell!) the dogs. I loved the dogs!

The human (and canine) characters all emerge clearly... I liked all the characters, apart from the ones you're not meant to (looking at you, Rachel). I could relate to Erica's conflicts between home and work, having experienced similar, though not when my child was so young. And as a runner myself, albeit very far from Olympic standard, I enjoyed that strand of the story too. (Minor niggle: the "last few laps" of an 800m race? Usually there's only two!)

A special mention for the cover, which is just gorgeous and represents the story nicely.

This is the first book I have read by Laurie Ellingham. It was initially something of a slow burner for me (ironic given the setting!) but once I got into the story I enjoyed it very much and will definitely keep an eye out for this author. A recommended read which almost made me want to sign up for a similar Arctic challenge! Maybe one day...

The author...

Laurie Ellingham lives on the Suffolk/Essex border with her two children, husband, and cockerpoo Rodney. She has a First Class honours degree in Psychology and a background in Public Relations, but her main love is writing and disappearing into the fictional world of her characters, preferably with a large coffee and a Twix (or two) to hand.

Follow Laurie Ellingham on:

Monday, 13 November 2017

BLOG TOUR! The Best Little Christmas Shop by Maxine Morrey: Review

The blurb...

Come home for Christmas to the Best Little Christmas Shop – the snowiest, cosiest place you can be!

Home for the holidays…  

Icing gingerbread men, arranging handmade toys and making up countless Christmas wreaths in her family’s cosy little Christmas shop isn’t usually globe-trotter Lexi’s idea of fun. But it’s all that’s keeping her mind off romance. And, with a broken engagement under her belt, she’s planning to stay well clear of that for the foreseeable future…until gorgeous single dad Cal Martin walks through the door!  

Christmas takes on a whole new meaning as Lexi begins to see it through Cal’s adorable five-year-old son’s eyes. But, finding herself getting dangerously close to the mistletoe with Cal, Lexi knows she needs to back off. She’s sworn off love, and little George needs a stability she can’t provide. One day she’ll decide whether to settle down again – just not yet.  

But the best little Christmas shop in this sleepy, snow-covered village has another surprise in store…  

The review...

The whole settling down thing wasn’t for me. I’d tried once before and it had ended painfully, not to mention publicly. What made me think this time would be any different? It wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for people like Giselle and Xander, Mum and Dad, and Dan and Claire. But the universe had other ideas for me apparently. Stick to what you’re best at, Lexi, it said. PS: this isn’t it.

An engineer for a top Formula One team, Lexi’s much more at home fixing a car in her overalls than glitzing it up with the rich and famous. It’s her dream job, though, and she even has a glamorous fiancé to match.

Now she’s back home with her large and affectionate family, minus both job and fiancé, and working temporarily in the family business - the best little Christmas shop of the title. It’s not just a Christmas shop though - the quirky village gift shop, called The Four Seasons, sells merchandise themed around the seasons of the year, changing along with them. It’s a lovely idea and certainly sounds like it would be hard to resist popping in for a browse around. 

When handsome single dad Cal and his adorable five-year-old son, George, walk into the shop one day, Lexi’s life is about to take an unexpected turn, via a spot of impromptu teddy-bear surgery and some narrowly averted swearing. There’s more than a spark between them, but is Lexi really the right person to provide the love and stability this little family needs?

I’m not personally a fan of Formula One - the noise puts me off for a start, it always sounds to me like a load of demented wasps on the attack - but I know plenty of people who love it so it obviously does have a broad appeal. Anyway you certainly don’t need to like or even know anything about Formula One to enjoy the story as it doesn’t really play a big role.

The supporting characters are fun - Lexi’s noisy, loving family, her best friend Xander and his wife Giselle, and of course little George.

Cal really was the perfect man: handsome, caring and evidently besotted with Lexi. Call me cynical but I don’t think you get too many of them to the dozen in real life! There are no big surprises about the eventual outcome but then you wouldn’t want there to be...

I think the number one word I would use to describe this book is “cosy”. It’s warm, comforting and best suited to curling up with beside a roaring fire. Preferably while it’s snowing outside.

Order on Amazon here.

The author...

Maxine Morrey has wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember and wrote her first (very short) book for school when she was ten. Coming in first, she won a handful of book tokens - perfect for a bookworm!  As years went by, she continued to write, but 'normal' work often got in the way. She has written articles on a variety of subjects, aswell as a book on Brighton for a Local History publisher. However, novels are what she loves writing the most. After self publishing her first novel when a contract fell through, thanks to the recession, she continued to look for opportunities.  In August 2015, she won Harper Collins/Carina UK's 'Write Christmas' competition with her romantic comedy, 'Winter's Fairytale'.  Maxine lives on the south coast of England, and when not wrangling with words loves to read sew and listen to podcasts. As she also likes cake she can also be found either walking or doing something vaguely physical at the gym

Twitter @scribbler_maxi
Instagram @scribbler_maxi
Pinterest  Scribbler Maxi

The giveaway... (UK only)

Win -
Signed copy of The Christmas Project
The Best Little Christmas Shop notebook
Box of mini gingerbread men
Chocolate teddy bear

Enter here!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Silent Lies by Kathryn Croft: Review

Five years rebuilding your life.... Five words will destroy it again.

Silent Lies opens with Mia and her baby daughter, Freya, attending the funeral of Zach - Mia’s husband and Freya’s father. It’s clear from the outset that Zach has done something terrible - something bad enough that strangers apparently feel justified in verbally abusing his wife in the street - the nature of which is as yet unspecified.

Five years later, Mia has gone a long way towards rebuilding her life - she has qualified as a counsellor and is running her own business, and has a new partner, Will. But when a new client, Alison, blurts out something shocking regarding Mia’s own past - and then immediately retracts it - Mia’s life is flung once more into turmoil.

The story is narrated in turn by Mia in the present - struggling to uncover the truth about her husband - and five years earlier by Josie, a young university student with a horrific, traumatic past and indeed present. The two are connected by Zach and by Alison, a strange, clearly very troubled young woman whose motives are mysterious. Who can Mia trust?

This is the first book I have read by Kathryn Croft, and I found it a real page-turner - or whatever the Kindle equivalent is. As the cleverly constructed plot unfolded, I found myself developing all sorts of outlandish theories about what was going on - always a sign of a really engaging read! And a couple of them even paid off... kind of. (That’s all I’m saying.)

Josie’s narrative was particularly compelling in a just-can’t-look-away kind of way and I found her a likeable and sympathetic character.

There are plenty of twists and turns here and the denouement is genuinely unpredictable - I doubt anyone could guess it all in advance, even if you have a vague inkling about some aspects. The last chapter is quite satisfying.

A very enjoyable read and I will definitely look out for Kathryn’s other books.

Kathryn Croft is the author of six successful psychological thrillers, of which Silent Lies is the most recent. She lives in Guildford, Surrey with her husband, their little boy and two crazy cats.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Perfect Victim by Corrie Jackson: Review

Husband, friend, colleague.... killer?

This is the second book featuring London Herald journalist Sophie Kent - I haven’t read the first, Breaking Dead, but you don’t need to in order to enjoy the second, though I probably missed out on a bit of continuity as far as the protagonist, Sophie, is concerned.

In the impressively accomplished The Perfect Victim, Sophie is grieving the untimely death of her beloved younger brother Tommy - a troubled young man, homeless, drug addicted - and struggling to uncover what really happened to him. Meanwhile, the drowned body of a lawyer is discovered and Sophie’s good friend and colleague, Charlie Swift, is implicated in her murder. Sophie can’t believe he could be capable of such a thing, but as  Charlie disappears and evidence begins to stack up that he is not the man she had thought him to be, danger comes frighteningly close to home. 

Then there’s Charlie’s social-media-savvy second wife Emily, who seems at times more intent on promoting her blog than finding her husband. But is Emily, too, all she seems?

Her investigations lead Sophie into the murky depths of Charlie’s past and the inner workings of a sinister religious cult. (Love a sinister religious cult.)

Deftly plotted and unpredictable, and at times very dark, this was one of those books which I really didn’t want to stop reading and could easily have finished in a day, were it not for pesky real-life responsibilities like going to work. Sophie is an engaging and satisfyingly complex heroine who definitely has some issues and doesn’t always make sensible choices, but also has tenacity and a toughness that belies her fragile exterior. Her brother Tommy’s addiction and mental health issues were, I thought, sensitively handled and realistically depicted by the author, and this was refreshing to see.

Corrie Jackson has created complex characters with a dark heart to their stories. Some way in, I did get a vague inkling of where things might be going with Charlie’s storyline - but it was very vague and the resolution was genuinely surprising.

All in all a brilliant read which certainly encourages me to seek out the previous Sophie Kent novel, and I will look out eagerly for more in this series in the future.

Corrie Jackson has been a journalist for fifteen years. During that time she has worked at Harper’s Bazaar, the Daily Mail, Grazia and Glamour. Corrie now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband and two children.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Her Last Secret by Barbara Copperthwaite: Review

A lifetime can flash by in a moment. A moment can last a lifetime.

Her Last Secret opens on Christmas morning in an affluent residential area of London. Shockingly, gunshots have been heard from number fifteen Burgh Road, the home of Benjamin and Dominique Thomas and their two daughters, Ruby and Amber. Clearly, something terrible has happened, but what - and who could be capable of it? As police officers cautiously approach the house, the narrative moves back eight days to follow the Thomas family in the period leading up to the events.

The father of the family, Benjamin, is arrogant and status-oriented, focused on impressing others with the success and material trappings (the Rolex, the Mercedes...) of an alpha male. He's not yet living the lifestyle to which he feels entitled, though  - after all, he only has one Mercedes. But Benjamin's bombastic exterior hides some deep insecurities - and a ticking time bomb of a secret which could bring it all crashing down.

Meanwhile his under pressure wife Dominique, feeling increasingly isolated from her husband and despised by her elder daughter, fears the resurgence of a frightening problem from her past. Dominique is often referred to as a doormat, letting her husband get away with far too much. But what would it take for her to finally snap?

Troubled fifteen-year-old Ruby has more going on in her life than her parents have any idea of. They predictably disapprove of her council-estate-dwelling boyfriend Harry, but have no notion of the true scale of Ruby's problems and in quite how dark a direction her thoughts are heading.

Then there's eight-year-old Amber, known as Mouse due to her quiet nature and tendency to hide in corners reading. (Like a mouse - only without the reading.) The most obviously innocent, lovable and vulnerable member of the family, it's Mouse we fear for most, even as she escapes into her own fantasy world where everyone is finally happy.

On the fringes of this not-so-happy family are Ruby's boyfriend Harry, Dominique's oldest friend Fiona, Benjamin's business partner Jazmine, and a frankly idiotic young woman named Kendra.

Interspersed with this narrative are snippets of the police cautiously approaching and entering the house. It's an effective technique which builds a sense of mounting tension for the reader about what they are going to find. As the officers move further through the house, the nature and scale of the disaster is gradually revealed... Or is it?

Her Last Secret (as a Sherlock fan, the title recalls His Last Vow - whether intentionally or not, I'm not sure) is a very gripping and enjoyable read. There are a few awkward turns of phrase ("her fellow peers") but generally the writing flows naturally. The characterisation is very well done and I particularly enjoyed, if that's the right word, the strand of the plot following Ruby and Harry. The tension becomes almost unbearable at times, and as the story reaches its culmination there are some genuinely emotional, even heartbreaking moments.

This is the first book I have read by Barbara Copperthwaite and on the strength of this I will certainly seek out her others. Recommended.

Review also published on NetGalley. Many thanks to the publishers for the opportunity to read and review.

Barbara  Copperthwaite is the author of four psychological crime novels, of which Her Last Secret is the most recent. She has worked as a journalist on national newspapers and magazines.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Trans Mission by Alex Bertie: Review

Apparently Alex Bertie is well-known via YouTube - I'm fairly old, so this doesn't mean a great deal to me, and I hadn't watched any of his videos prior to reading Trans Mission (great title, by the way). Although I hadn't heard of Alex before, the book - largely a lively personal account of his life so far - sounded intriguing and I was happy to be given the opportunity to read and review.

Alex is still a very young man - 22, I think - but he has no shortage of experience to write about, as Alex is transgender, having been designated female at birth. The book recounts his journey through realising he was trans, coming out and undergoing hormone therapy and surgery as well as the effect on his relationships with family, friends and partners. (His Nan's reaction, in the form of a letter, is truly beautiful.) He also discusses some general issues about gender identity and issues for trans people, particularly those who are FTM (female to male).

Although there is much more awareness nowadays that some people are transgender, Alex's voice, as a transgender man, is one that is not all that commonly heard, and this is an important book in that respect.

Alex tells his story candidly and comes across as likeable and engaging. He acknowledges that his experiences are his own and not all transgender people will have the same experiences, but nevertheless I think many people (trans and otherwise) will relate to aspects of his story. The bullying he faced at school is heartbreaking to read.

I suspect "trans issues" are more high profile now than they have ever been and many people on all sides have some strong views. Alex is not afraid to engage with difficult and thorny issues and his opinions always come across as rational and considered. (He's often quite funny, as well.) It's clear that his high profile as a trans person, through his YouTube channel, is something of a mixed blessing as it makes it much harder for him to fly under the radar on occasions when he might want to do that.

 The section written by his Mum, Michelle, describing how things were from her perspective, is fascinating and invaluable, highlighting the mixed emotions of a parent faced with a situation few parents would expect.

Ultimately this is an interesting and enlightening read from a young man who seems intelligent, insightful and very resilient. I might even go and watch some of his YouTube videos...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Foster Child by Jenny Blackhurst: Review

Is Ellie a monster... or a victim?

Imogen and her husband Dan have just moved back to her childhood home, a place of which she does not have fond memories, her family life having been not exactly idyllic. Imogen has secured a new job facilitating mental health support for children in schools, after her previous job in the private sector came to a disastrous end (the details of which are only gradually revealed).

Eleven-year-old Ellie, who attends the local school, is in foster care after her whole family died in a house fire. Ellie is an understandably deeply troubled young girl, but is she also something rather more sinister? Alarming things do rather seem to happen when she’s around…

This was a very intriguing and addictive read which effectively creates a growing sense of unease. I’m not really a fan of the “creepy child” trope beloved of certain Hollywood films, but while some of the people around her certainly see Ellie that way (the references to Stephen King’s Carrie are no coincidence), there’s enough doubt to keep things interesting. Should we be afraid of Ellie… or afraid for her? Who, if anyone, is really on her side?

It’s also an effective portrayal of a certain kind of mob mentality and the willingness of some people to point the finger at anyone who appears strange and different – even when that person is a vulnerable, very young girl. For this reason some parts of the book make painful reading, though there is enough nuance here that we can also, mostly, see things from all sides.

The plot is very cleverly constructed and effectively keeps the reader on the back foot, unsure of what is really going on.

The story was not necessarily what I expected – the “supernatural” element does add an unusual dimension, and this might not be for everyone. However I enjoyed it very much, right up to the end which unfortunately did not really work for me and while I can understand why the author chose to do it in this way, I’d prefer it if she hadn’t as it's a type of ending I dislike. Can’t say more without spoilers! While the “twist” was cleverly done, I did also feel there were a couple of unanswered questions. For these reasons I give the book four stars rather than five.

Overall though an excellent read with characters who really do get under your skin.

Jenny Blackhurst has written three novels: How I Lost You, Before I Let You In, and The Foster Child. She lives in Shropshire.