Book Review: Tall Oaks, by Chris Whitaker #TallOaks

Publisher:   Bonnier Zaffre

Publication date:   8th September 2016

tall-oaks-my-review

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

Tall Oaks is a small town that grows progressively smaller as the investigation of a missing child stalks the neighbourhood, relentlessly looking for information as to his whereabouts.

The sinister foundations of Tall Oaks are meticulously laid. But it’s as though I was eavesdropping on conversation exchanges rather than reading, catching snippets of events as they unfurled. I ‘listened in’ as the town remained stoic, and the shockwaves from the disappearance of a three year old boy ripple throughout the streets.

His mother walks the rocky road to self-destruction, blaming herself as she was the last witness to see her boy before he was gone. If only her disbelief hadn’t dulled her reactions after seeing the face of a clown on the baby monitor, as “Clown Face” was sitting in the child’s room looking right down the lens at her.

Casual police interviews of persons of interest reveal more than you could ever imagine – the façade of nice houses and the ‘let’s pretend we have a nice life’ attitudes hide the personal darkness behind the closed doors of the town’s diverse residents, which Jim, the local law enforcement, shines a light on during his investigation.

Everybody has a story: an affair, a history, the not quite belonging. ALL are brilliantly portrayed. There are a few characters who would ordinarily fly under the radar their entire lifetime, if it weren’t for recent events that is. Some are sweating it out more than others and not just because of the cloying heat. While Jim finds the good, the bad and the ugliness of their situations we see just how much of a troubled soul he is, fuelled by the lack of progress in the case and his unhealthy fixation with it.

On reflection to the desperation of a missing child, balance is restored occasionally as the story of a teenage profanity king progresses. He insists on wearing a ridiculously tight Fedora, even though it cuts the circulation off at his temples.  Yes, Manny is a wannabe gangster trying to hustle Tall Oaks with his varied antics producing the most unexpected results. He has some cracking dialogue exchanges throughout and is quite the sensation among his peers.

Tall Oaks is an evolving tragedy with an uncompromising moody vibe and remarkable quick wit.  Its sharp writing and snappy dialogue channel the undertow of deception to absolute perfection. If you asked me right now to name a book that would make an appearance in my top ten of 2016, without shadow of a doubt THIS would be one of them.

Make no mistake, it’s a THUMPINGLY good read.

Rating:  5/5 + (MORE if I could!)

(Much gratitude to the fabulous publisher for providing a copy of this book for which it is my great pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

tall-oaks-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

For fans of Twin Peaks and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, this brilliant debut is dark yet hilarious, suspenseful but full of joy.

“I always know when a book has completely blown me away – as a reader, I want to weep because I’ve finished it and I will never again get to experience it for the first time, and as a writer, it makes me want to weep because I wish I had written it myself. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE BOOKS.”
Lisa Hall, author of the No.1 Bestseller Between You and Me.

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

In Chris Whitaker’s brilliant and original debut novel, missing persons, secret identities and dangerous lies abound in a town as idiosyncratic as its inhabitants.

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tall-oaks-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. When not writing he enjoys football, boxing, and anything else that distracts him from his wife and two young sons. Tall Oaks is his first novel.

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Book Review: Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell #PrettyIs

Publisher:  Orion   |   Publication date: This edition, Paperback – 21st April 2016 

(Originally released in 2015)

Pretty Is My Review

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell Kindle CoverMaggie Mitchell is quite the magnificent storyteller. There is an unsettling strangeness about this tale of child abduction, and not in the unnerving way this event typically conjures. Pretty Is has a certain oddness, almost a surreal quality, as though it’s holding something back, something that it will never fully reveal no matter how hard you look. The only thing I could gather is that the chosen ones share a connection no one else could understand.

This story of a curious kidnapping is told in four ‘parts’, which borders on a character study of each individual as they tell their version of events. In the main the chapter headings alternate continually between the two main characters, a spelling bee champ, Lois, and a semi-reluctant pageant-happy, Carly-May (reinvented as Chloe in later life). We’re given a glimpse into their personalities to chip away at their twelve year old past, and their present day lives.

To a degree both of them appeared to have a bizarre popularity complex to win over their kidnapper during a summer they were held captive. I say ‘captive’, they appear to willingly accompany an anonymous felon known only as Zed. Sure, they raise an eyebrow at the situation and occasionally contemplate the reasons why they have been drawn together, but they never really question their actions.

To me, that is a little freaky. It pushes this horrifying scenario just a little outside of my grasp. Some of the choices these girls made jarred with me – I was torn between closing the cover never to return again, and something gnawing at me to continue reading. Continue I did, as I was too intrigued not to!

After being driven to their isolated destination we learn the girls existed in their own little bubble in the woods – no contact with the outside, only the enigmatic Zed (like the last letter in the alphabet). For all they knew the rest of the world was thinking imaginable thoughts about the things that may have already happened to them. Then why on earth didn’t they react – bite, kick, screech – ANYTHING? Exactly what hold did Zed have over them when they weren’t locked up and might have walked away? Were they naïve, a little attention-crazed, or something else entirely?

The feel of the book shifts when we’re treated to an excerpt from a book Lois wrote under a pen name, loosely based on their experience in the woods. Carly-May/Chloe, now an actress, is surprisingly starring in the film adaptation, and is taking her role very seriously. Until they come face-to-face in their respective adult spheres, we continue the journey of their relationships with their families then and now, the closeness and odd envy of each other, and of course Zed’s presence still haunts them, even though that’s quite impossible. The momentum picks up the pace when an incident threatens their already shaky reunion.

Due to the continual header exchanges, swapping between Lois and Carly-May/Chloe I admit found the reading experience a little daunting. Personally I could only digest small portions of it at a time. BUT, the characters were developing such unique personalities I simply had to see them through to the end of their ordeal.

There’s no doubt that the peculiar method of storytelling enhances the psychological shadow this novel casts, making it both maddening and brilliant in equal measure.  

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to the Publisher and Sam Eades for providing this most wonderful ARC of Pretty Is, it’s much appreciated.)

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Pretty Is Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Lois and Carly-May were just twelve when they were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin in the woods for two months.

That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they formed a bond that would never be broken.

Decades later, both women have new lives and identities. But the events of that summer are about to come back with a vengeance.

Lois and Carly-May must face the truth about their secret, shared past…

What really happened in the woods that summer?

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Pretty Is Author Bio

(Courtesy of the Publisher’s ARC)

Maggie Mitchell has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines. She teaches English and creative writing at the University of West Georgia.

Pretty Is is her first novel.

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Book Review: The Girl You Lost, by Kathryn Croft

Publisher:  Bookouture   |   Publication date: 5th February 2016

The Girl You Lost - My ReviewThe Girl You Lost by Kathryn CroftThere’s no doubt about it, the traumatic storyline of The Girl You Lost is clearly written with the intent to intrigue you from the off – this author has certainly done a damned fine job of toying with the ordinary lives of her fictional characters!

Following the abduction of their six month old daughter, Helena, life for Simone and Matt Porter was scattered in the wind. Over time they reassemble their existence without their daughter. That was until eighteen years later, when a young woman approaches Simone with information to cruelly reignite a vague hope.

The reporter instinct in Simone is wagging a doubtful finger to tell her that this could well be a hoax. But if there is any glimmer of a possibility that Helena is alive, then any mother could be excused for temporarily losing her senses, fuelled by the prospect of a reunion. After considering her options Simone decides to discover more. Upon arriving home, she offers a brief explanation to Matt and it looks like the matter could be resolved quickly. Still, the couple don’t want to get drawn in too close just yet. This appears to be a wise decision as the young woman called Grace, who had been clutching what looked to be Helena’s toy earlier in the day, goes missing without a trace.

Her disappearance rekindles the distress from all those years ago. Grace cannot be reached by phone and is nowhere to be seen, which confirms that it probably was a hoax. Wasn’t it? But how did Grace come by a toy that could have belonged to Helena? Something deeper than Simone’s professional instinct niggles at her until she decides to get the answers she deserves – the alternative would otherwise drive her insane.

Simone wades through some pretty dangerous waters before she gets close to anything resembling the truth. During her search she stumbles into a secretive world of foul abusers who take advantage at any given opportunity. Be warned, the story does include some disturbing scenes, but it’s not included as a random tangent. As dark as these episodes are, they follow the overall script and lead to a desperately shocking conclusion.

No doubt Simone’s character has faced a rough deal, but she tackles the journey without taking the self-pitying route. She seems to have the support of her colleague, Abbot, who breaks a few rules (and laws) in their mission to find this lost girl – given the periodic creepy monologue offering an insight into the actions of an anonymous source, they’d better find her – and quick.

The plot is clearly defined, with plenty of secrets to keep the mystery alive. Clipped chapters move swiftly through a powerhouse of emotions to maintain the story’s nervous edge. Put simply, it’s wickedly engaging, and one I’d absolutely recommend.

Rating: 4/5

(MASSIVE thanks to Bookouture for providing a digital copy of this title for review via NetGalley).

The Girl You Lost - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Eighteen years ago your baby daughter was snatched. Today, she came back.

A sinister and darkly compelling psychological thriller from the No.1 bestselling author of The Girl With No Past.

Eighteen years ago, Simone Porter’s six-month-old daughter, Helena, was abducted. Simone and husband, Matt, have slowly rebuilt their shattered lives, but the pain at losing their child has never left them.

Then a young woman, Grace, appears out of the blue and tells Simone she has information about her stolen baby. But just who is Grace – and can Simone trust her?

When Grace herself disappears, Simone becomes embroiled in a desperate search for her daughter and the woman who has vital clues about her whereabouts.

Simone is inching closer to the truth but it’ll take her into dangerous and disturbing territory.

Simone lost her baby. Will she lose her life trying to find her?

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The Girl You Lost - Author Bio

(Bio courtesy of Amazon UK / Author photograph courtesy of publisher)

Kathryn Croft Profile

Kathryn Croft is the bestselling author of The Girl With No Past, which spent over four weeks at number one in the Amazon chart. Her first two novels, Behind Closed Doors and The Stranger Within, reached number one in the psychological thriller charts.

Her fourth novel, The Girl You Lost, will be published on 5th February 2016, and is now available for preorder on Amazon. After six years teaching secondary school English, Kathryn now writes full time and has a publishing deal with Bookouture.

Having always been an avid reader, Kathryn believes in the power of words to entertain, teach and transform lives. She is also a firm believer in following your dreams and says anything is possible if you work hard enough and never give up!

Kathryn lives in Guildford, Surrey with her husband, baby son and two cats.

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