Book Review: A Suitable Lie, by Michael J Malone

Publisher:   Orenda

Publication date:  15th September 2016 (Paperback )

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a-suitable-lie-coverFeeling like an intrusive fly on the wall I read this book during an uncomfortably compelling 24 hours.

The beginning is full of hope, as a widower with a young son meets a young woman who offers him a rare and unexpected chance of happiness. The middle is riddled with disbelief at just how well marital carnage can go undetected if you can become practised in telling A Suitable Lie. The conclusion is ingeniously twisted drama at its finest.

As this story proves, never assume anything. No one has the faintest idea of what goes on behind closed doors, or how they would react if they realised they were living with an abuser. Learning that the receiver of this abuse was a broad shouldered, strong minded, career driven male with the full support of his family took my breath away and was a stark reminder that it can happen to anyone.

Seeing how any individual’s personality is painfully manipulated until their confidence is diminished is dreadful to witness, but how does an ordinary family man respond? He’s no stranger to fighting his corner in a pub brawl or dealing with cantankerous customers at the bank, but in his own home does he stand there and take it all, or defend himself and risk being accused of being a wife beater?  It’s a difficult call. How do you escape such a mentally, emotionally, and physically draining situation, learning your new family is growing and the only choice you have is to do nothing, other than reluctantly accept your wife’s Jekyll and Hyde nature believing your own sacrifice will be enough to protect them?

Andy Boyd’s submissive behaviour following the regular humiliation carried out by his wife, Anna, never seems enough for her, so she approaches their intimate moments with new levels of vindictiveness.

Watching Andy become an expert in eggshell walking was excruciating to see, more so as he became withdrawn from his previously buoyant personality. Some scenes are more difficult to digest than others, but as I watched him on the verge of breaking the strength and composure he demonstrated in front of his children revealed more about his character than anything else.

You can see people hovering with concern at the edge of his life, but not really knowing the cause or extent of his problems they are powerless to guide him on a journey of endurance as dark, dark thoughts enter his mind. But it’s not just Andy Boyd who is suffering, as we meet a few other characters who are praying for release from a personal nightmare they are also living. There are so many secrets being hidden by those afraid that the truth consume them if they admit it to anyone, but mostly themselves.

A Suitable Lie is relentlessly shocking and intensely suffocating at times. Despite the sensitive subject matter and acutely distressing scenes it’s staggeringly well written and impossible to walk away from.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match… And she loves his son, too. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. He ignores it; a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything. A brave, deeply moving psychological thriller which marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland’s top crime writers.

‘A terrific read, finished it in one sitting. Disturbing but compulsive. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Loved it’ –Martina Cole

For fans of Mel Sherratt, C.L. Taylor and Angela Marsons.

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a-suitable-lie-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Michael Malone was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult, maybe.

He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Don’t ask.

BLOOD TEARS, his debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers and when it was published he added a “J” to his name to differentiate it from the work of his talented U.S. namesake.

He is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com and is blog, May Contain Nuts.

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Book Review: Cut To The Bone, by Alex Caan

Publisher:  Twenty 7 – Bonnier Zaffre

Publication date:  3rd November 2016 (Paperback)

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cut-to-the-bone-coverThis intriguing and complex story of missing Ruby Day shines a light into the murky corners of the online world we innocently immerse  ourselves in. It appears the intricate bread crumb trail of deleted virtual histories can’t be erased as easily as people can.

The unexpected disappearance of a young woman would naturally cause alarm, but what if that person was a little bit famous with a fan base monitoring the progress of any potential investigation? How long do you wait to confirm if it’s simply a case of someone having an unscheduled time out, or if they have attracted the attention of some oddball lurking in the shadows of Cyberville?

Now that’s a difficult call. Balancing the parents’ seemingly early overreaction to plead with the police to find their vlogger daughter against the fact that she was old enough to come and go without their permission, presents many issues for the detectives involved. But it seems being popular online is a hazardous occupation, as concerns escalate when a haunting video feed is uploaded to the online star’s channel showing Ruby Day as her subscribers have never seen her before.

While I was wondering whether her predicament was manufactured to increase viewing numbers or something else entirely, DCI Kate Riley and her assorted team delve into Ruby’s off and online lifestyle to reveal the hidden depths  of her ‘celebrity’ status. After she put herself forward on social media sites to offer diarised life updates and tutorials her popularity proves to be perfect for a huge sponsorship deal. Ruby Day was in demand than anyone (or she) could ever have guessed, giving new meaning to becoming a victim of your own success.

But I feel simply dreadful for the lack of compassion I felt for Ruby Day as the story progressed though, not that it’s the poor fictional girl’s fault! There were so many other stronger characters craving attention throughout, most of them having a major back story just itching to be told and their personal trials overtook Ruby’s at times.

So yes, while I would have liked to have connected more with Ruby Day I loved the creeping trepidation experienced by DCI Riley’s mother which was made worse by her condition, and also the rather unorthodox procedures of detective / loose cannon Zain Harris. He’s a bit ‘spirited’ for someone in such a responsible role, but you’ll discover for yourself that he does have his reasons for people not touching the back of his neck! Like I say everyone has a back story, even if his reactions may be cause for suspension on several occasions!

With its vlogging community undercurrent, Cut to the Bone will greatly appeal to a contemporary audience. There are heaps of devious Red Herrings and characters to get the wrong end of the stick about. For me, the underlying psychology as to how some people react to being in the public eye by either respecting the audience they attract or taking full advantage of them was both enlightening and disturbing.

Rating: 3.5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the Publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

For fans of THE FALL and Sarah Hilary, this slick, dark contemporary thriller will have you on the edge of your seat...

Ruby is a vlogger, a rising star of YouTube and a heroine to millions of teenage girls. And she’s missing. She’s an adult – nothing to worry about, surely? Until the video’s uploaded. Ruby, in the dirt and pleading for her life.

Who better to head up the investigation than the Met’s rising star, Detective Inspector Kate Riley? She’s leading a shiny new team, high-powered, mostly female and with the best resources money can buy. It’s time for them to prove what they can do. Alongside her, Detective Sergeant Zain Harris – poster boy for multiracial policing and the team’s newest member – has his own unique contribution to make. But can Kate wholly trust him and when he’s around, can she trust herself?

Ruby’s millions of fans are hysterical about what may have happened to her. The press is having a field day and as the investigation hurtles out of control in the glare of publicity, it becomes clear that the world of YouTube vloggers and social media is much, much darker than anyone could have imagined in their worst nightmares.

And the videos keep coming . . .

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cut-to-the-bone-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Alex Caan has spent over a decade working in Information Systems Security for a number of government organisations, and is currently specialising in Terrorism Studies. A lifetime passion for writing was sparked by the encouraging words of an English Teacher in school, and eventually led to Alex successfully completing an MA in Creative Writing, and write Cut to the Bone.

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Book Review: Dark Fragments, by Rob Sinclair

Publisher:  Bloodhound Books

Publication date:  8th November 2016

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Dark Fragments by Rob SinclairWhatever the opposite of the ‘Midas Touch’ is, Ben Stephens has perfected it. The brutal murderer of his first wife has never been caught, he’s constantly walking in the shadow of his twin sister, he works for his filthy rich father-in-law with dubious degrees of success, and has accrued massive personal debt. In fact, none of his efforts have made a positive impact on the world lately.

Tired of being herded in ways he doesn’t want to go, despondency erupts into rage causing him to take some pretty drastic action to try and regain control. The effectiveness of his decisions remains to be seen throughout as he gets very few lifelines thrown to him due to his reckless efforts.

Several laws are broken, as are noses, provoking unwanted interest from his detective sister, who is another source of irritation for Ben. It’s all he needs while the unsavoury characters he’s had the misfortune to become involved with are trying to flush his life down the pan.

I was intrigued to learn whether Ben was brave, desperate, or just plain foolish. I mean why else would a placid bloke with a wife, two kids and a mortgage end up crossing the path of one of the most notoriously dangerous men in Birmingham? Well, the scenario of anybody finding themselves in the situations Ben Stephens did feel a little ludicrous at first. But as he is pursued by bad luck (most of it self-inflicted) and questionable decision making (most definitely self-inflicted) his story intensifies and begins to hint at the reasons behind his quest for retribution and personal salvation.

As the story is told in the first person it feels slightly intrusive to be in the thick of things – it’s almost uncomfortable at times, especially when events go from bad to worse. These events are peppered with interviews between an unnamed source who attempts to encourage our man to validate his actions. The casual and insightful exchanges gnaw away the layers of Ben’s problems to reveal the true strength of his character and put a whole new spin on his story.

For a while I was only getting a flicker of a connection from the characters and just when I was on the verge of becoming furious with them for holding me at arm’s length everything ignited, big time.

Dark Fragments is extreme life wrestling in every possible way. It’s one man’s persistence to challenge his failures, yet he opts for the way only a disturbed professional should attempt. With his judgment clouded his mind goes off-piste until he’s truly lost and he’s left clutching at the shards of his life with both hands – and the outcome is startlingly unexpected.

Well worth a read if you get the opportunity.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a digital copy of this title direct from the author with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Murder.  Money.  Revenge.

Outwardly, Ben Stephens appears to be a normal, hard-working family man. In reality, his life has been in turmoil since the murder of his wife, Alice, seven years ago. The killer was never caught.

Now re-married – to the woman he was having an affair with while still married to Alice – Ben’s life is once again spiraling out of control, and he’s become heavily indebted to an unscrupulous criminal who is baying for Ben’s blood.

When Ben’s estranged twin sister, a police detective, unexpectedly returns to his life, asking too many questions for comfort, it becomes clear that without action, Ben’s life will soon reach a crisis point from which there will be no return.

In order to avoid falling further into the mire, Ben must examine the past if he is to survive the present – but just how much pressure can one man take before he breaks?

Dark Fragments is a fast-paced thriller with a blend of mystery, suspense and action that will appeal to readers of psychological thrillers, as well as a broad section of crime, thriller and action fans.

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dark-fragments-author-profile

(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Rob is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Enemy series of espionage thrillers featuring embattled agent Carl Logan.

His explosive debut, Dance with the Enemy, was published in 2014 and introduced the world to the enigmatic Carl Logan. The second novel in the series, Rise of the Enemy, was released in April 2015, with the third, Hunt for the Enemy, being released in February 2016.

Rob began writing in 2009 following a promise to his wife, an avid reader, that he could pen a ‘can’t put down’ thriller. He worked for nearly 13 years for a global accounting firm after graduating from The University of Nottingham in 2002, specialising in forensic fraud investigations at both national and international levels. Rob now writes full time.

Originally from the North East of England, Rob has lived and worked in a number of fast paced cities, including New York, and is now settled in the West Midlands with his wife and young sons.

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Book Review: The Mountain in my Shoe, by Louise Beech

Publisher:  Orenda Books

Publication Date:  30th September 2016 (Paperback) 

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a-mountain-in-my-shoeGuiding me through tainted and tender moments, and the unspoken ones that bring you back down to earth with a bump, The Mountain in my Shoe wrapped its words around my heart. There is no doubt this is one reading experience I will never forget.

From the immense expression of the writing to the skilled switch of characters patiently taking turns to tell the story, we are introduced to an artistically gifted boy who is waiting for his whole life to take off but his unsettled past remains an anchor at times.

Those who care for him record their contributions in a special book, Conor’s “Life Book”. The additions to the book include reports from social workers, heartfelt letters from foster carers, or a simple memory of a treasured day trip, something, anything for Conor to reflect on when he’s grown when hopefully he will have the strength to process the intimate snippets of both the good times and the upheaval.

You can’t help but want to embrace him as people shift in and out of his life. Heck, I wanted to embrace the book itself when I’d finished it. The confusion and rejection was torturously overwhelming – I can’t even begin to imagine this level of emotional chaos.

Bernadette is just one such contributor to Conor’s Book as she is a registered volunteer who reaches out to those children affected by circumstances which see them in foster care. Bernadette was matched with Conor and meets him every other Saturday, without the knowledge of her husband who has some disconcerting ideas on how a marriage should be conducted. She chose this, to dedicate a regular visiting day to Conor, and it proves to be a decision that is as beneficial for her as much as it is for him.

Bernadette’s bravery to finally leave her husband of ten years coincides with the disappearance of Conor’s life book from her bookshelf where she’d hidden it. It’s missing, along with lots of other things from her life: understanding, independence, being worth something. But more importantly, so is the moment she gets to announce she’s walking away from him a man who expects precision-timed dinner as he walks through the door of their flat, but tonight he is late from work and her exit stalls.

In the midst of her trauma, a worrying phone call shadows everything, and she pushes the biggest decision of her own life away as she learns Conor has gone AWOL after leaving school. A traumatic journey to track Conor down involving Bernadette and his long term carer, Anne, see us learning the vulnerabilities of most characters. In no way does it attempt to excuse behaviour, it’s simply a testament to how anyone can take the wrong turn and become hopelessly lost and deserted.

There are admissions and reasoning I would never have anticipated in The Mountain in my Shoe, and there’s so much life nestled among the pages of this boy’s early years that his special yellow book could draw breath. I was willing him to find contentment, no matter how fleeting, not only for the boy but for Bernadette, his young mum, and the countless others who find themselves in similar, distressing situations.

This is an astonishing yet humbling book written with a sensitivity that cannot, and will not, fail to move you.

Rating:  5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

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 life book, 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.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.

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the-mountain-in-my-shoe-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

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Louise Beech remembers sitting in her father’s cross-legged lap while he tried to show her his guitar’s chords. He’s a musician. Her small fingers stumbled and gave up. She was three. His music sheets fascinated her – such strange language that translated into music. Her mother teaches languages, French and English, so her fluency with words fired Louise’s interest. She knew from being small that she wanted to write, to create, to make magic.

She loves all forms of writing. Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism. Her debut novel was a Guardian Readers’ pick for 2015.

She is inspired by life, history, survival and love, and always has a story in her head. Her debut novel, How to be Brave, came from truth – when Louise’s daughter got Type 1 Diabetes she helped her cope by sharing her grandad’s real life sea survival story. Her second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, will be released in September 2016 and was inspired by her time working with children in the care system.

When she was fifteen Louise bet her mother ten pounds she’d be published by the time she was thirty. She missed this self-set deadline by two months. Her mother is still waiting for the money.

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Book Review: The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn (Translated by Rosie Hedger)

Publisher:  Orenda Books

Publication date:  1st September 2016 (Paperback)

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the-bird-tribunalAn eerie vibe grumbles throughout The Bird Tribunal and its creeping uncertainty has a surreal allure that I simply can’t explain.

The rolling prose is uninterrupted by speech marks creating disturbingly magical scenes of curt dialogue, so all of your senses are amplified waiting for the baffling relationship between a recent fugitive from life and an emotionally remote stickler for routine to thaw.

Sigurd Bagge’s isolated cottage feels like the coldest place on earth at times, and not just because of the weather. Still, Allis Hagtorn is attracted to the hypnotic bleakness as it allows her to disappear and leave her messy affairs behind. All she had to do to earn this privilege was to apply to Bagge’s advert for someone to carry out various household tasks and tend to the garden while his wife was away.

His wife hadn’t been home for some time judging by the state of the garden which Allis has to tackle with a scythe. He must be desperate too as Allis has very little horticultural experience. Applying strict attention to detail at all times as instructed by her employer she finds the lonely, backbreaking chores oddly gratifying and Allis’s self-imposed banishment will serve as punishment and character eraser all in one. This may be precisely what she craves, but considering she’s a presenter on TV it’s clear she has something she wishes to hide, or forget.

As Allis settles into restless oblivion she discovers life can be unpredictable behind  the cottage’s white picket fence, as Bagge may change his regimental routine to include unscheduled conversation or invite her to sit at the table to eat with him at a moment’s notice. The only constant is an indefinable foreboding until an intriguing metamorphosis is complete for the both of them.

I’m always mightily impressed when an author can effortlessly create arresting drama and suspense when most of the activity occurs in one central location – so much freedom surrounds the oppressive stage and yet the imposing rock face, an army of trees, and exactly one hundred steps leading to a wooden jetty leading out to the mysterious water provide a peculiar spiritual imprisonment. Oh, how easily the days are shattered by the occasional visit to a malevolent shop keeper who needs to pay more attention to restocking the shelves than sharing her random venomous thoughts with Allis. Still, this distracts the inexperienced housekeeper’s mind from fantasies she toys with involving her elusive employer which could be enough to drive anyone to despair…

The Bird Tribunal is heaving with a detached dreamlike quality that edges under your skin and lingers there causing time to stand absolutely still. My only wish would be that there was some way I could unread the pages so I could have the pleasure of devouring them all over again.

Rating:  5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough.

Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.

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the-bird-tribunal-author-profile

(Courtesy of Publisher’s press release)

Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is an author and columnist. She made her literary debut with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjoldisiplin), 2014. In these works Ravatn shows her unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), 2013, is a strange and captivating story about shame, guilt and atonement. Ravatn received The cultural radio P2’s listener’s prize for this novel, a popular and important prize in Norway, in addition to The Youth’s Critic’s Prize. The Bird Tribunal was also made into a successful play, which premièred in Oslo in 2015.

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TRANSLATOR, ROSIE HEDGER

Book Review: The Last Days of Leda Grey, by Essie Fox #ledagrey

Publisher:  Orion

Publication date:  3rd November 2016

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The Lasy Days of Leda Grey - CoverWhat remains behind the crumbling façade of White Cliff House in 1976 is its solitary resident and ageing star of the silent movie, Leda Grey. As time passed the strange and alluring artefacts of many a movie set are all she has for company. Yet she seems content to be alone, sweeping the dusty floor with the hem of her fraying skirt as it trails behind her.

Leda has one advantage over the bricks and mortar as she is destined to live forever after being immortalised on film by a ‘special effects’ pioneer and director, Charles Beauvois. With many an infectious spark of genius enticing her further into his possessive, artistic lair, Beauvois became her lover and captured the essence of his leading lady in more ways than one.

The parts she played during her life are sealed in metal film reels just waiting for someone to release her by feasting their eyes upon the startling, flickering imagery once more. That someone would be Ed Peters, a restless arts’ journalist who first learned of Leda Grey when her penetrating eyes meet his from behind a shop window. He is instantly attracted to the young subject in the old black and white photograph and is desperate to learn more about this spectral beauty of the silent screen, as he feels compelled to write her story.

What follows is a surreal relationship and the obscure manner in which Leda to choses to share the knowledge of her captivating early life with this young and welcome stranger. As she allows Ed into her world, I found myself immersed in an ethereal fantasy which is both seductive and tragic.

As I continued, I found an eeriness settling upon White Cliff House. It has become the polar opposite of the serenity captured by a camera lens decades earlier; a solitary candle burns low, the hands of the clock no longer turn, and the redundant props in the studio in the grounds look positively ghoulish, adopting a sinister connotation.

It’s as though after the last film was made, Leda chose to become an integral part of the decaying set while the memories of the long gone cast stir around her. During Ed’s captivating visits, he witnesses a peculiar wildness between twilight and reality, until he becomes utterly distracted by this eccentric recluse and begins to question his own sanity.

The intensely sensual and untamed echoes of the past come alive in The Last Days of Leda Grey. It is an exquisitely written, tantalising mystery heaving with imagination, atmosphere and drama. And as I have experienced when reading Essie Fox’s previous work, the techniques she applies when conveying her mesmerising stories provide so much more than I could ever dream of.  Bravo!

Rating:  4.5/5

(I received an advanced digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, and this is my unbiased opinion.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A bewitching novel about an enigmatic silent film actress, and the volatile love affair that left her a recluse for over half a century – for fans of Sarah Waters and Tracy Chevalier.

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the Brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey.

Enchanted by the image, Ed learns Leda Grey is still living – now a recluse in a decaying cliff-top house she once shared with a man named Charles Beauvois, a director of early silent film. As Beauvois’s muse and lover, Leda often starred in scenes where stage magic and trick photography were used to astonishing effect.

But, while playing a cursed Egyptian queen, the fantasies captured on celluloid were echoed in reality when Beauvois suspected a love affair between Leda and her leading man. A horrific accident left Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until Ed Peters finds her and hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.

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the-last-days-of-leda-grey-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Essie Fox’s debut novel THE SOMNAMBULIST was selected for the Channel 4 TV Book Club and was shortlisted for a National Book Award in 2012. She is the author of The Virtual Victorian (virtualvictorian.blogspot.com), and divides her time between Windsor and Bow in the East End of London. She can be found on Twitter @essiefox.

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OTHER EXQUISITE BOOKS BY ESSIE FOX…

(The covers below relate to the books I already own – I think the artwork is magnificent!)

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Book Review: Saving Phoebe Murrow, by Herta Feely

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffre (Twenty 7)

Publication date:  20th October 2016 (Paperback)

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saving-phoebe-murrow-by-herta-feelySeemingly tranquil lives feel the catastrophic shockwaves of cyber-bullying in Saving Phoebe Murrow. As this deplorable action chips away at the protective veneer of their material things and apparent success, I found myself asking if the repercussions would be the catalyst to modify their superficial behaviour.

Unfortunately, the questionable conduct of others has devastating consequences for almost 14 year old Phoebe Murrow. Her story shows the dark side of social media and how the internet can be an effective shield to protect those fuelled by misunderstandings and cruelty while they effectively destroy their chosen target – an all too frighteningly real scenario.

Phoebe’s mother, snobby Isabel Winthrop (who doesn’t like the name Murrow so kept her maiden name), appears to be in complete control while orchestrating the way her daughter should behave, and that extends to which friends she thinks would be good for her.

And there’s an unforgiving wedge if ever there was one, and the divide grows wider as Isobel subtly distances her daughter from certain acquaintances who don’t meet the ‘Isabel criteria’. She weighs up the benefits of her decision against her daughter’s history of self-harming and believes she’s acting in her best interests. But rejection is a delicate matter and may have reprisals if not handled tactfully.

Over the months preceding a desperately tragic event involving Phoebe we learn that Isabel, along with most other parents, would do anything for their children despite having opposing views of what is good for them. Most are judgemental in their own peculiar way and as a result are losing sight of the important issues obscured by their own determination.

Mechanically indulging their children and spouses, the parents seem content to keep up appearances with satisfactory results. Those who are not experiencing this level of ‘success’ conjure legitimate reasons for why they deserve better. But with the bar is set so damned high it’s inevitable that no one is ever going to reach it, not even in fiction.

The sensitive topics running throughout this book attracted some infuriating characters to stir things up. Were they fake, fickle, or utterly convinced that their decisions would make their lives better? Well, the adults were just as hormonal and reckless than the teens at times and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that one or two of the mums had received coaching from the Stepford Wives! Perhaps that’s the point as it begs the question: is it possible for any of them to eventually realise what’s right rather than what affects their highly prized social status, or will the impressions from their own childhood continue to influence everything they do?

Saving Phoebe Murrow explores the motivation that drives people to take alarming steps in order to feed their own misguided agenda until the tension of the parent-teenager relationship is tested to breaking point. The real tragedy is that unless some of them remove their blinkers they will never be able to see what truly matters, or how their actions have the power to make or break others.

Rating: 4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publishers with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

saving-phoebe-murrow-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE THE PERFECT MOTHER?

A timeless story of mothers and daughters with a razor-sharp 21st century twist, this heart-wrenching debut for fans of Jodi Picoult, Jane Shemilt and The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas will make you question how you and your family spend time online.

Isabel Murrow is precariously balancing her career and her family. Hard-working and caring, worried but supportive, all Isabel wants, in a perilous world of bullies and temptations, is to keep her daughter Phoebe safe.

Phoebe has just attempted suicide. She says it is Isabel’s fault.

Saving Phoebe Murrow is a timely tale about an age-old problem – how best to raise our children, and how far to go in keeping them from harm. Set amidst the complicated web of relationships at the school gate, it tells a story of miscommunication and malice, drugs and Facebook, prejudice and revenge.

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(Courtesy of Publisher’s Press Release)

Herta Feely is a writer and full-time editor. In her previous work she was a journalist, press secretary and activist, co-funding Safe Kids Worldwide, an organisation dedicated to saving children from unintentional injuries. Herta has received the American Independent Writers’ award for best personal essay.

She now lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and two cats, Monty and Albert. She has two sons, Jack and Max.

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Book Review: Summoning the Dead (DI Bob Valentine Book 3), by Tony Black

Publisher:  Black and White Publishing

Publication date:   6th October 2016

summoning-th-dead-my-review

DI Bob Valentine stood outside the chief superintendent’s office, worrying the thick, brown, industrial carpet tiles so much that he guessed a static shock was imminent.

summoning-the-dead-by-tony-blackIf anything conjures up a vision of DI Bob Valentine as he works, that quote does it for me. He seems like such a humble bloke; dedicated, considerate, and also fighting a fascinating battle with a unique gift for connecting with the victims, particularly the deceased ones. Yes, Bob is a psychic in denial but he must learn to recognise and embrace the not-so-subtle signs when they present themselves in his new case, especially when complications begin to set in.

In Summoning the Dead he’s trying his damnedest to focus on unearthing the awful truth behind the discovery of a body sealed in an oil drum. The truth may have been festering for over thirty years but Bob won’t give up easily, despite grumbles from higher ranking officers who seem to care more about maintaining good PR.

It’s always disturbing to learn that it’s the body is that of a child who has been disposed of in a merciless way. Given the nature of the heinous crimes preceding the death of this individual, the plot could have so easily have strayed into tactless sensationalism territory to quench the thirst of an audience that relies on explicit language, OTT violence and gratuitous imagery before a story is considered compelling. Thankfully, Summoning the Dead has the upper hand as its sensitively grounded and assured plot has you rooting for DI Valentine as the body in the barrel is just the tip of a repugnant iceberg.

Harrowing scenes from the past are punctuated by apprehension, fear, and the trauma of the uncompromising depravity that can seize innocence and break all trust. These scenes are fleeting and written from a child’s point of view, so no overly-gratuitous pictures just the simple and cruel facts are more than enough to wring your heart out – I felt utterly powerless as I witnessed the events leading up to the victim’s plight.

What makes it worse (if it could be) is that the epicentre of this crime bombshell is in Bob’s former home town of Cumnock, in Scotland. Could he have known a boy like this when he was growing up? A boy whose football kicking and sticker collecting days were over so soon? The moments he’s not working the case gives the DI call for reflection, as he’s come a long way but he still unsure where he’s headed.

I so wanted Bob to catch a break, and the animals that committed the offences. His DS, Sylvia McCormack, seems the closest person he can confide in about the spirits who reach out and she seems a supportive soul without mocking or being preachy. That’s precisely the encouragement he desperately needs between deflecting the obstacles placed by his boss and also his wife, who I strongly suspect is suffering from annoying person syndrome (for which there’s no known cure, until she convinces Bob to accept her terms that is).

Summoning the Dead is a rare find and I applaud the compassionate manner in which the challenging narrative was approached. As this is book three in the DI Valentine series and also my first introduction I was naturally worried I wouldn’t be able to connect with the already established characters but the writing is sheer class and it reads as a standalone with ease.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publishers with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

summoning-th-dead-book-review

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

“We have a dead child, and a crime scene that has been remarkably well kept for us.”

A young child lies mummified in a barrel. His hands, cable-tied, appear to be locked in prayer. As forensic officers remove the boy they are in for an even bigger shock – he is not alone.

With his near-fatal stabbing almost a memory, DI Bob Valentine is settling back into life on the force but he knows nothing will ever be the same. Haunted by unearthly visions that appear like waking dreams, he soon understands he is being inducted into one of Scotland’s darkest secrets.

When the boy in the barrel is identified as a missing child from the 1980s, it re-opens a cold case that was previously thought unsolvable. When further remains are unearthed, the facts point to a paedophile ring and a political conspiracy that leads all the way to the most hallowed corridors of power.

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summoning-th-dead-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Tony Black is the author of 13 novels. An award-winning journalist, he was born in Australia and grew up in Scotland and Ireland. Described by Irvine Welsh as his ‘favourite British crime writer’ Tony’s work took a turn away from the mean streets after the birth of his son. His Father’s Son was his first novel outside of the crime genre. Tony was shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize in 2014 and has been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger seven times, including the prestiguous ‘Dagger in the Library’ award in 2016, which covers an author’s entire body of work.

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ALSO AVAILABLE IN THE DI BOB VALENTINE SERIES…

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Book Review: The Secret, by Katerina Diamond #KeepTheSecret

Publisher:  Avon Books UK (Harper Collins)

Publication date:  20th October 2016

the-secret-my-review

the-secret-by-katerina-diamondAre you familiar with Katerina Diamond’s debut, The Teacher? No? Well, you ought to know that she’s not shy where plot grimness is concerned, pushing her characters beyond the reasonable limits of day-to-day normality. The Secret is no exception, only this time she gives ’em a damn good shove until they’re teetering on the edge.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of the emotionally isolated Miles and Grey, and here they are – the detective duo with more issues than Reader’s Digest. They wear their poker faces 24/7 to ensure their vulnerable sides are never exposed and any relationship they engage in is frenetic, brooding or fractured. They have an endless supply of sarcastic retorts to suit every occasion, and both halves of this exclusive team spot the early warning signs when they have breached each other’s personal space.

Yes indeedy, Miles and Grey are back and I love them to bits for their spectacular faults, wisecracks, and the bad luck fired at them by the bucket load.

The Secret is a tricky bread crumb trail of lies, and it was fab to delve deeper into the dynamics of the latest criminal fraternity VS law ensemble to decide where to place my trust, which wasn’t easy as there’s some serious deviousness going on! The main focus leans toward the enigma that is DI Imogen Grey. During the current investigation to find a missing woman who has links to her old partner, Grey’s past trickles to the surface including the quirks of her mother’s hoarding, the life challenges that made her as hard as nails, and the near fatal hideousness of a previous case forcing a move from Plymouth Constabulary to Exeter touched on in book one. A LOT of stagnant water rushes under the bridge for Grey in this one, dragging the truth with it to rage like a torrent throughout the pages.

This case leads us into the realms of some truly abhorrent crimes. Not only do we hear accounts of the missing woman’s imprisonment in a place where the concept of time and reality has left the building, there’s one hell of a HUMONGOUS revelation for Grey and potential trouble brewing for Miles’s ex-wife too. And I mustn’t forget the intermittent monologues of a depraved and insecure individual. These moments shine a light into their mind as they develop their private recreational activities in the name of twisted gratification. But life just wouldn’t be the same without a creepy oddball living out their dream while discreetly losing their mind, would it?

The Secret rarely strays out of the dark. Pretty much anything goes, and what does go is often explored in lurid detail. It’s extreme, wicked and disturbing – and I’m THOROUGHLY looking forward to the next one…

Rating:  4/5

(I received an advanced digital copy of this title from the publishers via NetGalley with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

the-secret-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘Diamond is the master of gripping literature.’ EVENING STANDARD

The Queen of Grip-lit is back… All hail the new Queen of Crime!’ HEAT

‘A web of a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. This formidable debut is a page-turner, but don’t read it before bed if you’re easily spooked!’ SUN

Can you keep a secret? Your life depends on it…

Bridget Reid has a secret, one that could get her killed… If she can escape the man who is keeping her locked in a basement bedroom.

DS Imogen Grey is good at keeping secrets – truths she’d never reveal to her colleagues at Exeter Police. She worked hard to get where she is – she nearly died for it. Now her past is catching up with her…

As DS Grey and her partner DS Adrian Miles search for Bridget, they uncover a terrifying web of abuse, betrayal and murder. And they realise that some secrets are better left buried…

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the-secret-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Katerina Diamond was born in Weston in the seventies. She moved to Thessaloniki in Greece and attended Greek school where she learnt Greek in just 6 months. After her parents’ divorce, they relocated to Devon. After school, and working in her uncle’s fish and chip shop, she went (briefly) to university at Derby, where she met her husband and had two children. Katerina now lives in the East Kent Coast with her husband and children.

Her debut novel, The Teacher, was a No.1 bestseller in ebook, and a Sunday Times bestseller in paperback.

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Book Review: The Black Friar (Damian Seeker 2), by S.G. MacLean

Publisher:  Quercus

Publication Date:    6th October 2016

The Seeker - My Review

Tthe-black-friar-coverhe Black Friar is an impressively tailored historical crime with a tremendous cast, whose contempt and naiveties are exposed with stunning brilliance.

No one can hide from The Seeker and it’s his duty to target anyone who appears on the Cromwell traitor radar. No matter how small the blip, it is documented and stored as evidence to be used against you and Captain Damian Seeker is one of Cromwell’s most effective agents. He bows his tall frame not out of respect to those around him but to prevent striking his head off the beams in properties he’s commissioned to search. Uncomfortable exchanges are no deterrent and he doesn’t walk away until he’s entirely satisfied with the answers they give.

Occasionally he stops by these places to innocently partake in a pie and ale. Yes, even the imposing Seeker has to eat and yet he draws the same looks from the patrons regardless of the reason for his visit – and that look is fear. He never commands silence as a hush falls upon a room as he enters, acknowledgement that he has stepped over their threshold and may inspect their conversations for treacherous slurs.

It’s now January, 1655. Two months have passed since we first met Damian Seeker (Book One) where there was much civil unrest to contend with. The country remains divided with Royalists rallying support for exiled Charles II and Cromwell’s agents rallying their forces to prevent it. The usual gentleman Seeker receives his instructions from has taken to his sickbed and temporary deputies in the form of opportunistic half-wits are trying Seeker’s patience. As they bustle through the corridors that connect the hive of intelligence at Westminster, we learn that the motives of those at the very epicentre of Cromwell’s cause cannot always be trusted.

And nor can the civilians, as public opinion sours by the day; the rich, the poor, pamphleteers stirring trouble through the written word, religious zealots, and agents so deep undercover they risk losing sight of themselves all have a part to play in this phenomenal tome.

A corpse presents further complications, as it was bricked up at Black Friars where Dominican monks have not been present for over a hundred and twenty years posing a quandary for many, including Damien Seeker. The tell-tale signs make it quite clear that the person was alive when they were entombed.

The corpse’s identity is the catalyst for the discovery of deeds that are as unpardonable as the plots stewing against the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth himself; the vulnerable are being targeted and even the emotionally resilient Seeker doesn’t like it. Despite their differences of opinion Lady Anne Winter makes a plea to the Captain to help locate her house maid who has vanished. During the course of his investigation into the murder of the ‘Black Friar’ he learns of more disappearances and cannot ignore their significance, or Lady Anne’s complicity in more pressing matters.

Through the labours of cypher cracking, cryptic clues and Seeker’s keen eye for spotting a discreet facial twitch to reveal the slightest lie, the mystery of The Black Friar and the missing children is slowly teased out. During that time, the Captain shows that a cold heart can thaw for the right cause, as beneath his armour and tenacity is a decency and humanity rarely witnessed or practiced by most.

From the anxiety that flickers in people’s eyes to the odours wafting out of a squalid cell, I admire the controlled reactions of the most recognised man in the city and the most misunderstood. I’m now eagerly awaiting the formidable Damian Seeker’s next assignment, which I believe will be his most challenging to date.

Rating:  4.5/5

Note: While this could potentially be read as a standalone, I would suggest starting with The Seeker as this explores the Captain’s relationships with certain members of the cast already established in Book One.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher and Olivia Mead with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

The Seeker - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Rebellion in the city, and a Royalist spy in his own ranks – Damian Seeker, Captain of Oliver Cromwell’s guard, must eradicate both in this action-packed historical thriller for fans of CJ Sansom, Rory Clements and The Three Musketeers.

‘MacLean skilfully weaves together the disparate threads of her plot to create a gripping tale of crime and sedition in an unsettled city’ Sunday Times

London, 1655, and Cromwell’s regime is under threat from all sides. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, is all too aware of the danger facing Cromwell. Parliament resents his control of the Army while the Army resents his absolute power.

In the east end of London, a group of religious fanatics plots rebellion. In the midst of all this, a stonemason uncovers a perfectly preserved body dressed in the robes of a Dominican friar, bricked up in a wall in the crumbling Black Friars.

Ill-informed rumours and speculation abound, but Seeker instantly recognises the dead man. What he must discover is why he met such a hideous end, and what his connection was to the children who have started to disappear from around the city. Unravelling these mysteries is challenging enough, and made still harder by the activities of dissenters at home, Royalist plotters abroad and individuals who are not what they seem…

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The Seeker - Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Shona (S.G.) MacLean was born in Inverness and brought up in the Scottish Highlands. She obtained an MA and PH.D. in History from Aberdeen University. She began to write fiction while bringing up her four children (and Labrador) on the Banffshire coast. She has now returned to live in the Highlands, where her husband is a head teacher. ‘The Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ was short-listed for both the Saltire first book award and the CWA Historical Dagger; ‘The Seeker’ was winner of the 2015 Historical Dagger.

On dealing with plot problems, characters who’ve gone awol and issues of setting, Shona says, “My search for a solution tends to involve the dog and a pair of wellies. Most things can be solved by a stomp through the woods or along the banks of the Conon river. The dog is much more conducive to this kind of thing than the children, although I have realised that a close reading of my books reveals the true hero of most of them to be a canine (see esp. Alexander Seaton #3, Crucible, and The Seeker and its sequel The Black Friar (out October 2016), passim). Those dogs are, by seventeenth-century necessity, ‘hounds’, but I like to believe that in each of them beats the heart of a Labrador.”

To avoid work altogether, she suggests getting a bike.

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Winner of the 2015 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger:

The Seeker (Book One)

The Seeker by S G Maclean - Kindle Cover