Book Review: Saving Phoebe Murrow, by Herta Feely

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffre (Twenty 7)

Publication date:  20th October 2016 (Paperback)


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.)


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)


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.



(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.






Book Review: The Doctor’s Daughter, by Vanessa Matthews

Published by:  Completely Novel   |  Publication date:  23rd June 2015  |  Edition: Review copy (PDF)

  Doctors Daughter My Review

The Drs Daughter by Vanessa Matthews SmallThe Doctor’s Daughter is brimming with secrets and lies, and tackles the subject of abuse in its various guises: mental, physical and power. It’s undeniably suspenseful, and there’s some thunderously excellent prose with sinister stand-out moments.

Since she was a child, Marta Rosenblit had been treated very differently from her sisters and what she accepted to be an ordinary life to her was a fundamentally cruel existence. She’s an otherwise invisible entity, displayed at gatherings where her father can voice his strong views on psychological matters.

As a well-respected Doctor in this field, her father can dismiss any opinion she chooses to conceive herself as being incredulous, particularly if she’s making more sense than him. To persist with her fervent beliefs on psychological matters would be seen as bordering on the hysterical, and she could see herself joining her mother in an asylum. So, she listens politely, as she is force-fed his ideas and regurgitates these at timely intervals to reinforce her father’s expertise in his chosen subject.

Never knowing what made her mother become unwell, other than because she was born, her sisters are indifferent to her and without acquaintances to call on for advice she is left with her father treating her like a second class citizen, as if her mind were feeble simply because of her gender.

How can a young lady possibly compete with such strong characters in 1920’s Vienna when her voice is being lost amongst the crowd? As you follow her story, you’ll soon discover that it’s quite the impossible task for Marta and this in turn opens a revolving door of hidden suffering for her.

Everything was set to change when she meets Dr Leopold Kaposi, a friend of her fathers. She sees him as a ray of light. Little does this naïve young woman know of Dr Kaposi’s agenda, which will leave her swirling in an eddy of confusion, only adding to her already fragile state.

I was willing her to find the courage to open her eyes. It seemed she might do just that when an anonymous parcel arrived for her. Her furtive investigations to find the sender lead her to some awful truths with the help of an outspoken and newly qualified doctor by the name of Elise, who plays the most magnificent part. It turns out the ladies may have more in common than would first appear.

It all gets very dark indeed. Without a doubt, the appeal for me was whether Marta could find a shred of hope under the emotional debris. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Rating: 5/5

(My sincere thanks to the author for providing a review copy of her book for review. SO happy she did!)

Doctors Daughter Book Summary

A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future.

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23-year-old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks than she could possibly know. Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. Nobody she has grown to love and trust is who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.

Doctors Daughter Author Profile

Vanessa Matthews

In 2014, the first draft of my novel The Doctor’s Daughter was fortunate enough to be selected for a Free Read by The Literary Consultancy (TLC), a manuscript assessment that is awarded on merit and received interest from a number of literary agents and publishing houses.

My debut poetry collection ‘Melodies of my Other Life’ was published by indie press Winter Goose Publishing in 2013. Since then I have been featured in several poetry publications and have developed my fiction writing skills through training with the Arvon Foundation.

I have been writing since my teens and during my career have penned several feature articles printed in the national media. In 2012 I started a 30-day writing and blogging challenge during which I won two poetry contests. I regularly update my blog with poetry, short stories and author interviews.

I live in Cornwall, England with my husband and four children. I am 38 years old.

Connect with Vanessa Matthews, or buy the book

Twitter    |    Facebook   |    Amazon UK


The Faerie Tree, by Jane Cable

Publisher: Troubador Publishing / Matador | Version: Kindle

I admit I almost didn’t download this one – why? I was guilty of judging a book purely by its Netgalley cover. Yes, yes, shame on me.

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover – this is an edgy, pacey story.

It was only when Jane Cable, the author, contacted me via Twitter to ask if I’d seen her book and would I like to review it. So I gave it another look, and you know what, I’m so glad I did.

I’m sorry, Jane, I still don’t like the cover – in my humble opinion, it doesn’t reflect the edgy story you’ve written. Your writing is much punchier and pacey than I’d have expected, and writing has to be good to keep my short attention span happy!


Enough about the cover already, let’s get to the story:

Love, relationships, grief, depression, hope. The Faerie Tree covers it all, yet it’s not all doom and gloom. Nor was it overly soppy either. Nothing dwells too long and the pace makes it a very quick read.

Izzie (Isobel O’Briain) is a 44 year recently widowed lady, who lives with her headstrong daughter, Claire. She is grief stricken, trying to face life again without her husband, Connor.

During a visit to into town she unexpectedly bumps into a tramp and by doing so, she recognises a face she hasn’t seen for over twenty years. Despite his dishevelled appearance, Izzie could swear it was Robin Vale, someone she was close to but lost touch with under very difficult circumstances following the death of his mother.

Izzie can’t stop thinking about their old life and tries to track him down. She finds him, but he’s in hospital. Being ill, he can’t be discharged back on the streets and needs to stay somewhere to recuperate. So, she invites him to stay with her and Claire until he can sort things out for himself.

During his stay, it becomes clear that time has passed differently for both of them. Their lives have each taken different paths, yet both of them are filled with their own grief and are dealing with it in their separate ways. In fact, each recollects a different memory of their own time together – prompting them to ask themselves: exactly how close were they all those years ago?

In alternating chapters, Izzie and Robin tell their story from their own point of view. They battle for the truth, each believing they are to blame and questioning their state of mind, whilst neither is confiding in each other. Forever wondering if they can move on from their past – is it something that will always haunt them, or can they pick up where they left off, wherever that may be?

faerie tree

Example of a faerie tree, where wishes are made and traditions are followed.

The only real constant in the entire story is a Faerie Tree with its roots still standing firm, its many branched arms holding everyone’s secrets. For many years people have visited it to make their wishes and for kids to write letters to the little folk who supposedly inhabit it.

Following a wish Robin and Izzie made in 1986, he still holds respect for it all these years later with his quiet pagan beliefs. But what actually happened that day? You don’t know until near the end whose memory will unlock the true version of events and what the future holds for them both.

For anyone wondering whether a book that mentions Paganism will appeal, never fear; the presence of ‘The Faerie Tree’ and its associations are not the main theme, so the story has a much wider audience.

I do love a story that surprises me and this certainly did. I also loved Jane Cable’s writing style. If it wasn’t for a couple of personal ‘irritations’ I would have rated it five stars (I so wanted to):

  1. I just can’t see a teenager who has recently lost their dad being so content with moving a tramp into their house (especially if the tramp’s an old flame of their mother’s).
  2. And, despite Izzie’s obvious alcohol issues, you’d think if Robin cared enough he wouldn’t buy / serve a bottle of wine to accompany every meal, even if it is at her request.

Like I said, irritations really. Just ignore me. I’m a miserable old cynic and analyse everything  x

Still highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review, and to the author for bringing it to my attention.)

You can follow the author on Twitter:  @JaneCable

If I Knew you were going to be this beautiful, I never would have let you go, by Judy Chicurel

Publisher: Tinder Press | Publication date: 4th June 2015 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

This beautiful book only

An explanation for the unusually long title is given by our narrator during the course of the story…

Despite the gorgeous cover and the title of this book, this story is not an entirely a pretty one. But it’s most definitely an ocean of dreams in life; most of them faded, jaded or both.

This is a poignant, hard-hitting story of growing up and finding your place in a changing world. It’s relayed by 18 year old Katie, who lets us into her life and the antics of her blend of friends, with her perfect first-hand account and dialogue for the era.

It’s 1972. The Vietnam War has left a tide mark around the residents of Elephant Beach, Long Island, who appear to pass the majority of their time with drugs, booze, cigarettes and sex – first time, last time or anytime.

The young struggle to make their often misguided mark on the world, believing the grass is greener, their desires being exchanged for a teenage pregnancy and a life they did not expect. Those who are older or back from the war just want to get through the day, as life has already taken its weary toll.

Not being born in the town Katie often feels like an outsider. She watches as some of her friends choose to leave The Beach for pastures new, while some of them linger and waste their lives.

This was written so well, at times I felt a little awkward listening in on the edge of the conversation. And yet listen I did, hanging out with the others, like a gossipy ol’ lady in the bar of the crumbling Starlight Hotel. I was surprised to find myself sucked into her world and quickly forming opinions about her family, friends and even casual visitors on the periphery – the good, the bad and those recently falling pregnant.

By the time I reached the end of the book I realised I didn’t do so well to judge some of the characters so harshly, as the people I’d least expected to surprise me did exactly that.

There were plenty of memorable passages like Katie’s ongoing, confused obsession with troubled ex-Vietnam veteran, Luke, which are drawn out perfectly. But the moment that stands out by miles for me is the one where everyone’s flip-flops are lined up against the beach wall in memory of a friend, like a barrier to the rest of the world – it really will bring a lump to your throat. Yet, even these bad times are balanced with subtle wit and punchy conversations.

It’s a vividly portrayed snapshot of an era, if you can ‘dig it’ that is.

Talking of snapshots, I’ll leave you with a quote from the book where a group of friends are on their fourth attempt to capture ‘the perfect moment’ with a Polaroid camera:

“…If you look long enough, in a certain way, you can almost hear us laughing, hear the laughter floating out behind us until it grows fainter and further away, like the memory of a faded scar.”

Rating: A truly beautiful 4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for the sending a copy of #thisbeautiful book for an honest review. )

You can follow the author on Twitter: @JudyChicurel    |   Publisher: @TinderPress

The Girl in the Photograph, by Kate Riordan

Publisher: Penguin | Publication date: 15th January 2015 | Edition: Paperback (own copy)

Firecombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two. The past has seeped into the soil herem like spilt blood…

The Girl in the Photograph, by Kate Riordan

This brooding story is carefully unravelled by two narrators, Alice Eveleigh, an expectant, unmarried young mother from London in the 1930’s, and Elizabeth Stanton, the lady of Stanton Hall and Fiercombe Manor. During both timelines, the writer has successfully projected a great sense of loss in different guises, despair, loneliness, but also hope.

It’s an emotional and sometimes arduous read, but it’s worth sticking with it.

Briefly, the usually sensible Alice finds herself at a place in her life that she can no longer control. She is having a child and despite her best efforts she cannot conceal her situation any longer. Her mother is disappointed beyond belief, but she writes to Edith, her old friend and housekeeper of Fiercombe Manor, which is about as far away from London as she can muster before there is any hint of `shame’.

As the Manor is cut off from the remaining villagers during bad weather and the oppressive, unkempt trees shadow the grounds and house, this often heightens Alice’s fears and experiences during her stay.

Whilst she is there, Alice learns more about the previous occupants, Elizabeth Stanton, her husband, Edward, and her peculiar daughter, Isabel, and strives to uncover their unspoken past. Through a series of discoveries via Elizabeth’s secret journal, the odd photograph, and a sense of foreboding which preys on her, young Alice feels compelled to piece their somewhat tortured existence back together before she has to leave. And perhaps during the process she can try to make sense of her own life, before she is forced to make one of the toughest choices any mother could be faced with.

This book is filled with glorious descriptions, projecting a vivid sense of the surroundings and the emotion of the story.

It was eerie and suspenseful in places, but personally I found it a little slower paced than I had expected.

Rating: 4/5

You can follow this writer on Twitter: @KateRiordanUK