Pleasant

‘After You Left’ – Carol Mason

Mason.jpg

“You want to know what the worst thing is? It’s not the embarrassment, or the looks on people’s faces when I tell them what happened. It isn’t the pain of him not being there—loneliness is manageable. The worst thing is not knowing why.”

When Justin walks out on Alice on their honeymoon, with no explanation apart from a cryptic note, Alice is left alone and bewildered, her life in pieces.

Then she meets Evelyn, a visitor to the gallery where she works. It’s a seemingly chance encounter, but Alice gradually learns that Evelyn has motives, and a heartbreaking story, of her own. And that story has haunting parallels with Alice’s life.

As Alice delves into the mystery of why Justin left her, the questions are obvious. But the answers may lie in the most unlikely of places…

Girl meets boy. They fall in love. She moves away and they find their own paths in life. They meet many years later but know they cannot pursue their love. With a present day story intertwined, this plot follows two female protagonists who have been disappointed in love. And the end result? A read that isn’t too original.

Surprisingly, I found it difficult to emotionally connect with Alice and Evelyn. The plot was a struggle to get into and I found it fell a little flat. I could see where the story was going and whilst there were a few surprises, I don’t think the whole “parallel story” was well executed. Alice’s story originally had me transfixed – her husband suddenly leaves her just after their wedding day – but Mason was unable to continue the pace and anticipation. At times, the plot felt muddled and as if Mason was trying too hard.

Evelyn’s story progresses over several decades but she appears to be a timeless character. Mason makes many references to the night Evelyn and Eddy first met – so much so, that I thought I had slept through reading this part! Instead, Mason provides this romantic yet, fateful episode at the closing of the novel. Whilst I did answer many questions, I believe it would have added more intrigue if this had been part of the prologue.

There are some sad scenes in this novel, particularly those set in present day. Eddy’s dementia and his lack of memory regarding his life with Evelyn was particularly poignant. It is one I’m sure many readers will be able to relate to and it was this aspect that made me the story so emotional. Otherwise, it all fell a bit flat with me.

Despite struggling to get into this narrative, it was pleasant and easy to read. Not the most enjoyable, it is probably best suited to someone in a “reading slump” who needs a gradual reading “pick me up”. If you have just finished a five star, banging read, then come back to this later down the line.

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Cornish sunshine

‘Coming Home’ – Fern Britton

Coming Home

When the only place you want to be is home…

When Ella’s beloved grandmother dies, she comes back to the beautiful Cornish coast to heal her heart. There she finds her home again and discovers a new life, and new love… But she also opens a treasure trove of secrets.

Sennen left Cornwall a young single mum but unable to cope. She left her children, her
family and part of her. She’s spent the years hiding from her past, hiding from herself.

Now it’s time to come back. To Cornwall. To face her mistakes. To pray for forgiveness. To hope for a future with her daughter.

The cover of this book instantly appealed to me, coupled with the Cornish setting (we all know I love a good book by the sea). However, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Britton; for me, she has always been a television presenter and, honestly, I was a bit sceptical about her writing talents. But, I am so glad I picked this up as I really enjoyed this warming story about a family of three generations.

The premise of the novel is quite sad. Very early on, we learn that Sennan, a very young mother, runs away and leaves her two toddlers behind. Unexpected pregnancies before she has even reached seventeen, it was impossible not to feel emotional when it is clear that firstly, Sennan has been played a fool; and that secondly, she is completely out of her depth and overwhelmed by her new responsibilities as a mother. Running away to Spain in the hope of meeting her children’s father, she soon realises that actually, she is on her own, subsequently carving her own path in life – away from her parents and her children.

Sennan leaves emotional chaos behind her. Her parents are responsible for raising Sennan’s children and, through the non-linear narrative, we learn about each generation and how the past meets the present. Not much time is spent on Sennan’s parents, the writer mostly focusing on Sennan’s story and her children – Ella and Henry. Moving from Cornwall to India, I loved the “sunshine feel” of this narrative and felt literally and emotionally warmed whilst reading this story.

As mother meets her children again, Britton successfully conveys how emotional it is for all three characters involved. The most touching part for me was when Sennan eventually discovers her parents’ graves. The description and narration of Sennan’s thoughts were touching and it literally gave me goosebumps. It is a reflection of Britton’s fantastic writing and, whilst it took me a bit of time to get stuck into the story, the narrative carries you through to an anticipated happy ending.

Once again I have discovered a new author and I am really pleased to have given this book a chance! The settings were delightful, the characterisation believable and the plot was warming. This is a perfect summer read and one that truly allows you to escape your own surroundings.

It’s no Walter White

‘Breaking Dad’ – James Lubbock

4-star-rating

Breaking

Would you take crystal meth if it was offered by someone you knew and trusted? Like your dad?

‘In December 2009 the national newspapers reported the arrest of a “drug baron” with the biggest haul of crystal meth yet seen in this country. The accompanying photo was a mugshot of a scrawny, seedy looking bloke the archetypal lowlife, a career crook, no doubt. And yet behind the headlines was a story the newspapers never discovered, a story more sensational than they could have wished for. This lowlife, this drug baron was in fact, just a few years before, a meek law-abiding suburban family man… He was my dad.’

James is just a normal student – insecure, smelly, geeky and a virgin to boot.
His father is a middle class, middle-aged and very well respected Jewish coin dealer.
Their life is as good as it gets.

Until one day James’ father ditches Handel for Hard House and unexpectedly hits the gay club scene of London – trading in coin-dealing for drug-dealing.

As James gets to grips with his new reality, will he save his broken dad or be dragged down with him? 

This is the incredible true story of how one well-to-do family man became Britain’s most wanted meth dealer. For the first time, James, his son, tells the true story of their epic highs and crushing comedowns.

I must admit, I walked into this book expecting a reincarnation of the television series, expecting characters like Walter White and Jesse. Nah, this is definitely not the re-writing of the smash-hit television series. Instead, Breaking Dad is an emotional, touching and frank account of a son’s experience as his dad completely changes everything about himself.

Lubbock is unashamedly frank during his narrative and it is this raw honesty that had me grabbed from the beginning. The title of the book had me captured and Lubbock’s account of his parents is so open and funny at the same time, that you cannot help but feel sorry for him during the more emotional times. Indeed, there was a moment during the book that I started welling up, it hit me so deeply. And, without giving anything away, the episode made me connect with Lubbock even further.

This is a well-written autobiography of Lubbock’s father. However, it is definitely shocking in places! Some may argue this as crude yet, the world that Lubbock’s father enters is one that does not have any filters and where dishonesty is dangerous. It is this effect that Lubbock transfers to his narrative. Simultaneously funny and poignant, I found myself wondering what I would do if I was in Lubbock’s situation?

This was a quick read and I wish that there had been even more detail to this fascinating story. At times I wondered if the narrative had been “rushed” and I yearned for more detail about Lubbock’s father. Indeed, transferring the narrative to the father’s perspective would have definitely added the detail. I was left wanting to know even more about what happened behind the closed doors of his father’s flat and, whilst I wasn’t too fussed about the relationships, wanted to read more about the drug-dealing world.

Lubbock felt like a well-known friend by the closing of the story. It read like a film and I was amazed at how far Lubbock’s father was able to go before being caught by the police. Again, it would have been very interesting to see the other side of the arrest – to understand how Lubbock came known to the police and the steps leading up to his capture. Perhaps it is down to legalities that so much was absent from the story however, I do think these elements would have extended the plot and made this an easy 5-star rating.

A touching story that explores the effects that Lubbock’s father’s actions had on those around them. The narrative is funny but so poignant and, whilst there is a satisfying ending, you wonder what the future holds for both father and son. Indeed, after reading this book, I just had to reach for my phone and start Googling a little bit more…

With thanks to Mirror Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Hello, Pet!

‘The Seagull’ – Ann Cleeves

seagull

A visit to her local prison brings DI Vera Stanhope face to face with an old enemy: former detective superintendent, and now inmate, John Brace. Brace was convicted of corruption and involvement in the death of a gamekeeper – and Vera played a part in his downfall.

Brace promises Vera information about the disappearance of Robbie Marshall, a notorious wheeler-dealer, if she will look out for his daughter and grandchildren. He tells her that Marshall is dead, his body buried close to St Mary’s Island in Whitley Bay. However, when a search team investigates, officers find not one skeleton, but two.

This cold case takes Vera back in time, and very close to home, as Brace and Marshall, along with a mysterious stranger known only as ‘the Prof’, were close friends of Hector, her father. Together, they were ‘the Gang of Four’, and Hector had been one of the last people to see Marshall alive. Vera must confront her prejudices and unwanted memories to dig out the truth, as the past begins to collide dangerously with the present . . .

Aaah, another new author discovery! I had such high hopes; the cover and blurb reminded me of David Baldacci… and I was similarly underwhelmed when reading my first Cleeves book.

Having heard so much about this author and seen so many of her books whilst out on my reading discoveries, I was full of anticipation when this book fell into my hands. I have also seen the television series, Vera, advertised (although never watched it). Yet, unbeknownst to me at the time of picking this up, I’ve launched myself into a book that is eighth, yes, eighth (!), in the series. Woeful! However, I am confident to report that I don’t really think the previous seven instalments are that important. I’m guessing here, but think you are just missing out on Vera’s backstory and more detail on her fellow officers. Like I said, it’s no deal breaker, even if it does break my OCD-heart that my first read is so far into a series.

Please don’t think that this is the reason for my rating because it certainly isn’t. I just didn’t find this book very thrilling or interesting. I was bored in places and often found my mind wandering whilst reading. The narrative focuses on a discovered dead body, which subsequently leads to a murder investigation which happened about twenty years previous. However, the suspects involved force the narrative into investigating men who were a group of criminals, money laundering and even taxidermy! Whilst there is a missing girl and an unidentified body also thrown into the mix, I found the topic just not suiting my own tastes. I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters and felt that the narrative lacked excitement and pace.

The most enjoyable element about this novel was the main character, Vera. I loved Cleeves’ characterisation, particularly Vera’s Yorkshire ways. She refers to many people as “Pet” and I could really picture her character in my head. She breaks all stereotypes of an investigating officer and I enjoyed this uniqueness. I would even go so far as to say that this would be a woman I’d love to meet in real life. Warm, friendly, yet determined – Vera comes across as someone to rely on in a crisis.

I am so disappointed that this book did not deliver. I was really looking forward to reading my first Ann Cleeves and I feel like this has really fallen flat. I am determined to try again with her works but will either look beyond this series, or start at the beginning!

Absorbing

‘The Rules of Seeing’ – Joe Heap

5-star-rating

seeing

The Rules of Seeing follows the lives of two women whose paths cross at a time when they need each other most. Nova, an interpreter for the Metropolitan police, has been blind from birth. When she undergoes surgery to restore her sight her journey is just beginning – she now has to face a world in full colour for the first time. Kate, a successful architect and wife to Tony, is in hospital after a blow to the head. There, she meets Nova and what starts as a beautiful friendship soon turns into something more.

I did not know what to expect when I picked up this book, but it absorbed me from the beginning. Such an unusual premise, I could not predict how this drama would unfold. It touches upon many issues that consequently made this a read that I could not leave alone.

I think it’s safe to say that this book will haunt me for a while after completion. That is definitely a sign of a good book! Immediately drawn to Nova’s obvious vulnerability and Kate’s contrasting stability, I found it difficult to predict how these characters would come together. I enjoyed the complexity of these women and how Heap shows there is more to them than meets the eye (pun totally intended!). Whilst Nova, born blind, has the opportunity to undergo a life-changing operation, it left me reeling. Heap encourages the reader to consider how much they take sight for granted and that learning to see is another life lesson entirely. On the other hand, Kate appears to have everything she needs and the bump on her head turns her life into disarray; she becomes a stranger to everything that she once felt familiar.

The plot’s progression was enchanting. Wonderfully written, I loved how Heap develops the friendship between Kate and Nova. Scattered throughout the book are some of Nova’s “rules” for seeing and I found this alternate perspective adding another dimension to the novel. It forced me to consider how I would feel, being Nova, where suddenly my eyes are working after thirty-plus years of darkness. Her experiences are unique and the child-like innocence she has towards her learning is endearing. Indeed, I had never ever considered what it would be like for an adult to suddenly regain their sight; everything you have ever known is challenged with this extra sense and it is like starting all over again.

Not only do readers explore this concept of learning to see and interpreting the world around them, Heap adds in domestic abuse and drugs. Friendship needs to overcome the emotional challenges that Kate and Nova experience, meaning this complex novel has more shades than what I initially anticipated. Each chapter has a new “theme”, linking to Nova’s learning and I could not predict how the plot would conclude. The small line drawings at the start of each chapter were brilliant as I loved trying to link them to the content of what I was reading!

I feel that this absorbing novel is under-appreciated and that it deserves more attention! As a debut novel from Joe Heap, this is an extraordinary piece of writing and I cannot wait to see what he produces next. To not read this book would be a massive loss to your reading!

Who has the biggest grudge?

‘The Scribe’ – A.A. Chaudhuri

4-star-rating 

Scribe

Making it as a lawyer has always been a cutthroat business. 

But now that a sadistic serial killer is on the loose the consequences could prove deadly… A killer is targeting former students of The Bloomsbury Academy of Law. The victims – all female – are gruesomely butchered according to a pattern corresponding with the legal syllabus. Even more disconcerting are riddles sent by the killer to investigating officer, Chief Inspector Jake Carver, offering clues as to who is next and where they will die. 

Up-and-coming lawyer Madeline Kramer, a former classmate of a number of the slain, soon finds her life turned upside down by the savagery. And when she decides to help Carver track down the killer, she places herself in mortal danger. Can Maddy unscramble the complex riddles, and save her own life and those of others destined to die? 

A pacey crime story, I completed this book in 24 hours! Desperate to know if the killer known as ‘The Scribe’ would be caught once and for all, I was engaged with the plot’s twists and turns. The ending threw me off completely and I wasn’t disappointed at how quickly I had consumed this read. It deserved my undivided attention and I felt like I was experiencing the same countdown as Kramer and Carver.

This is obviously the beginning of a series. I say ‘obviously’, without being patronising! Yes, it is listed as the start of a series in its title, but, as an opening, it did not feel like it was trying too hard. The characters were well-established and there was enough excitement that it did not read as if the writer was trying to lay the foundations for future novels in the series, rather than the current one I had my hands on. The ending is clearly left open for further investigations involving Carver and Kramer; there is no indication how their professional relationship will develop (will there be more than this?!) and the conclusion was appropriate without it dragging on and on.

Plot wise, I found this interesting and intriguing. At times, I found the description of the murders a little graphic but, Chaudhuri handles this expertly without it being too gruesome. Afterall, you need a little bloodshed when its a crime book following a murderer, right? I liked the uncertainty about who would be the next victim of ‘The Scribe’. Chaudhuri makes it clear that there is a character being framed yet, it remains ambiguous for most of the novel who is the real perpetrator. The idea of a cheating, scumbag university lecturer, being framed for the murder of previous, female students, is cleverly explored, as it soon becomes clear that the Professor has many enemies. Chaudhuri switches between present day and the past as readers learn about the Professor’s many relationships. It leaves the plot open to guessing who is the enemy with the biggest grudge?

One thing I found difficult to handle was how inept the police force are portrayed in this novel. They immediately run to Kramer’s assistance, simply because they do not seem to be able to decode the legal clues that are being provided about ‘The Scribe’s’ next victim. I found this element a little unbelievable because it felt like Kramer was doing all the work – yet she is not part of the police force! Her career as a lawyer was put to the back of my mind as I read this book; I would have found it more believable if she was a police officer in training and this detail of Kramer’s was something quite forgettable and ineffective. Furthermore, Detective Carver was a well-used stereotype of the alcoholic with the broken family: separated from his wife, drinking, living poorly and rarely seeing his son. Whilst characterisation was generally pretty good in this novel, I feel that the author could have created a more interesting backstory for Carver; something that isn’t so obvious in these detective reads.

I enjoyed this entertaining novel and would be keen to read the next in the series. At this stage, I found the book refreshing and gripping. The red-herrings added to the entertainment and the immersive element of the story and I would be interested to see if Chaudhuri can maintain this later down the line.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Sensitive issues

‘What You Did’ – Claire McGowan

5-star-rating

McGowan

A vicious assault. A devastating accusation. Who should she trust, her husband or her best friend?

It was supposed to be the perfect reunion: six university friends together again after twenty years. Host Ali finally has the life she always wanted, a career she can be proud of and a wonderful family with her college boyfriend, now husband. But that night her best friend makes an accusation so shocking that nothing will ever be the same again.

When Karen staggers in from the garden, bleeding and traumatised, she claims that she has been assaulted—by Ali’s husband, Mike. Ali must make a split-second decision: who should she believe? Her horrified husband, or her best friend? With Mike offering a very different version of events, Ali knows one of them is lying—but which? And why?

When the ensuing chaos forces her to re-examine the golden era the group shared at university, Ali realises there are darker memories too. Memories that have lain dormant for decades. Memories someone would kill to protect.

Rape. Affairs. Domestic abuse. This novel covers a range of sensitive issues but does so in a manner that does not make the reader feel uncomfortable. Instead, McGowan creates a thrilling, pulsating read that establishes a world that is becoming increasingly claustrophobic for the protagonist, Ali.

I was immediately hooked by this book. The writer cleverly creates a non-linear narrative that means we, as readers, do not follow the chronological sequence of events on that fateful night that Ali’s best friend, Karen, accuses Ali’s husband, Mike, of rape. It’s a nightmare for Ali and this is the catalyst of her seemingly perfect life beginning to fall apart. McGowan provides different perspectives on that night in question and this enriched the narrative as it felt like I was part of the police, and Ali’s, investigations. Ali is determined to find the truth about her husband and is torn apart by loyalty to her husband and loyalty to her friend. Indeed, as the plot progresses, readers discover that there is more to this reunion of university friends on that disastrous evening; “friends” are not what they seem and there are hidden secrets, including one pivotal moment back from university. Accordingly, McGowan treats readers to not only the mystery of Karen’s attack, but also the events leading up the murder of a student at university, during the Summer Ball – the night that Ali and all of her friends attended.

Providing so many angles and different ideas thoroughly added to my enjoyment of this narrative. Whilst there are many sensitive topics at play here running through the story, McGowan’s treatment of them is careful and does not make uncomfortable reading. The moral dilemma that Ali faces with regards to supporting her husband or friend over the accusations is particularly interesting because Ali works with victims of attacks with the police force. With the threat of career implications, Ali suddenly finds herself in a situation not too dissimilar to her clients. It also reminded me of the #MeToo campaign and the power of women’s voices; not being afraid to stand up and be counted.

Throughout the story, I really felt Ali’s world closing in on her. The confusing emotions that she experiences are passed on to the reader and I felt like I also shared her panic and claustrophobia. As the fallout continues from Karen’s accusations, Ali’s family is also impacted in areas that she did not consider. McGowan carefully adds ambiguities to the narrative to keep the reader guessing and for me, I was definitely hooked right until the ending.

Finishing the novel was exciting and surprising. I was not expecting the contents of the Epilogue and this reflects the plot in its entirety. The twists and turns added to the mystery that we are all trying to find answers to, and the further questions about the Summer Ball, also meant that I was constantly trying to read further into the motives of different characters.

This was an excellent read and thoroughly enjoyable. Pacey and intriguing, McGowan does not prolong the narrative. For me, it did not finish too suddenly but instead, the plot reaches its natural conclusion. A fantastic piece of writing that was brilliant from start to finish.