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 fiancĂ© to match.

Now she’s back home with her large and affectionate family, minus both job and fiancĂ©, 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.