Saturday 25 April 2015

Book Review: LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton

Little Black Lies

Title: Little Black Lies
Author: Sharon Bolton
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read: April 2015
Expected publication: July 2nd, 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Catrin and Rachel had been best friends since childhood, growing up in a close knit community on the remote Falkland Islands. But their friendship ended horrifically, when Catrin’s sons were killed whilst in Rachel’s care.

Three years on, Catrin still struggles to rid herself of the bitter hatred that poisons her every waking hour – hatred for her own existence, and hatred for Rachel’s.

So when a child goes missing and the islanders unite in the search, the two women are forced to confront their past.

And Catrin’s torment turns even more towards thoughts of revenge . . .

My thoughts:

I am a huge fan of Sharon Bolton's books, so when Netgalley generously approved me to receive a preview copy of Little Black Lies I did a little happy dance around the kitchen – followed by an intense read-a-thon with a “do not disturb” sign on the door so everyone knew to stay well away until I had finished reading. As always, Bolton did not disappoint. Her talent of delivering a suspenseful mystery featuring complex and interesting characters in an unusual setting has once again shown why she is way up there on my “favourite authors” list.

What would motivate you to keep on living when your two young children have been killed by a thoughtless, negligent act whilst in the care of your best friend? Catrin wakes to this thought every day of her life, watching her former friend Rachel’s  children grow up when hers never had the chance to, driven only by thoughts of revenge that get her out of bed in the morning and prevent her from ending her own life. Then the three-year-old son of a visiting family goes missing from a picnic area on the beach, and the community is thrown into turmoil. He is the third young boy in as many years to disappear without a trace, stirring up panic and fear on the islands like only missing children can. Two may be an accident, but three can no longer be dismissed as anything other than a premeditated act. Is it possible that someone in this small close-knit community is a murderer? Perhaps your best friend, your next-door neighbour – suspicions are rife, and trust is destroyed. The islanders are afraid, and with fear comes unrest. “It’s our worst, most primeval fear” the town’s counsellor says as the group of locals set out to look for the missing boy, “the possibility that someone could be taking our children.” With her history of negligence that cost two children their lives and the demons which have haunted her ever since, is Rachel herself drawing suspicions? Or has Catrin finally gotten her revenge , especially since all the missing boys uncannily resemble her own dead sons? And of course there is Callum, an ex-soldier and Catrin’s ex-lover who has fought in the Falkland war and experiences PTSD flashbacks so severe that he cannot be accountable for his own actions. The locals want to find someone to blame, even if they have to take justice into their own hands .....

Little Black Lies is told from the perspective of three characters – Catrin, Callum and Rachel, each looking at the situation from their own perspective and slowly unveiling the incident which claimed Catrin’s sons’ lives three years ago. I am not always fond of changing voices, as I often bond with a character and want to keep reading their particular unique voice. However, Bolton captures the three different personalities extremely well, and it did not take long to settle into each of the character’s stories without losing the flow of the narrative. With Rachel’s story being last in line, I was fully prepared to deeply and utterly hate her. After all, she had caused the death of two innocent little boys and destroyed a happy family forever. I could not even fathom the depths of grief Catrin must be experiencing every day. However, I found much to my surprise that Rachel was my favourite character and the one I established the deepest bond with. Rachel is so open and honest with her feelings, so ready to admit her own flaws, it is impossible not to feel empathy for this woman. Out of all three characters she turned out to be the one which emotionally drew me deepest into the story and whose voice stayed with me long after I had finished the book.

The setting on the Falkland Islands in 1995 is spectacular, and Bolton’s atmospheric writing brings the place to life as she has done in all her previous novels. I feel as if I have walked the windswept coast myself, combed the remote beaches and watched the wildlife, though I have never set foot ashore there. What better place to set a suspenseful story about missing children than in a small community closed off from the world, with its own dynamics of small town politics, suspicion and grief?  Especially with the history of war and conflict not long in the past. Captured also is the isolation one can feel amongst a community of people they have known all their lives – and the front we present to the world which denies the real battle raging inside. There is a touching and bitter-sweet scene where Rachel holds a dialogue with her horse that reflects the depths of loneliness and isolation she has become trapped in, all the things she too has lost. There is so much potential for grief and sadness in this novel, it is hard not to get swept away by a whirlwind of emotions whilst reading it.

All in all, Little Black Lies has all the elements of what Bolton does best – delivering a tense, dark and atmospheric story of suspense which will draw you in, keep you captivated until the very last page and stay with you long after you finished reading. The ending still haunts me, but I am not giving away any spoilers here. Perhaps the one thing I missed was the haunting gothic element that characterises some of Bolton’s other novels and gives them a tinge of the supernatural, the unexplainable – however, this is a small quibble and the story’s emotional depth more than makes up for it.

If you have never picked up one of Sharon Bolton’s novels, what are you waiting for? I very much recommend rushing out right now and getting a copy of Little Black Lies. And then go back and read all her other books. I have. Which means that I now have to wait until she writes another one – sheer torture!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE LIE by C. L. Taylor

The Lie by C.L. Taylor

The Lie
Author: C. L. Taylor
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, Avon
Read: April 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

I know your name's not really Jane Hughes...

Jane Hughes has a loving partner, a job in an animal sanctuary and a tiny cottage in rural Wales. She's happier than she's ever been but her life is a lie. Jane Hughes does not really exist.

Five years earlier Jane and her then best friends went on holiday but what should have been the trip of a lifetime rapidly descended into a nightmare that claimed the lives of two of the women.

Jane has tried to put her past behind her but someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won't stop until they've destroyed Jane and everything she loves...

My thoughts:

The book starts with Jane Hughes, a quiet young woman who works in an animal shelter in rural Wales, but who, as the reader soon finds out, is hiding from a dark event in her past. Five years ago her name was Emma Woolfe, and she was about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to a remote mountain retreat in Nepal with her three best friends Leanne, Al and Daisy. All four woman each come with some emotional baggage which largely determines the dynamics which hold their friendship together. At first, the Ekanta Yatra Retreat looks like just the place to get away from it all – set in a quiet, remote and picturesque place in the mountains there are none of the distractions of modern society, like internet or mobile phone reception. It provides the perfect escape – for Emma from a boring job and her overbearing family, for Al from a failed relationship, for Daisy as an opportunity for adventure. But it soon becomes obvious to Emma that there are strange things going on at the retreat, and it may not be the peaceful getaway that they had hoped for. With Leanne and Daisy dismissing Emma’s fears, their friendship soon becomes strained and starts to unravel. And by the time Al has also realised that things are going wrong, the isolation they so treasured has suddenly become a trap.

The story is set in dual timelines, switching back and forth between Jane’s present life and the events which claimed the lives of two friends five years ago. Whilst Jane’s life is quite plain and she comes across as a bit too naive considering the experiences in her past, the story of the girls’ trip to Nepal is chilling and disturbing and soon drew me in. None of the characters are particularly likeable, which however does not present an obstacle to enjoying the story – quite the opposite. The author knows how to explore the dynamics behind the rather dysfunctional friendship of four young women who each bring their own baggage and agendas into the mix. I loved the way the author describes the slow unravelling of the friendship, the stripping away of pretences, the unmasking of the women’s true personalities as they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Step by step the reader gets drawn deeper into the abyss, and some aspects of the story are quite disturbing and chilling. Anyone who has ever travelled with a group of friends where things have not gone quite as planned will be able to recognise aspects of the women’s changing relationships as each tries to adapt to the situation in different ways and manipulate people and circumstances to fit their own agendas. Or allow themselves to be manipulated by someone who uses the ever widening cracks in their friendship for his own purposes, like their charismatic but dangerous host Isaac. Once Emma discovers the true nature of the Ekanta Yatra retreat, it is already too late to make a clean escape.

For me, the story was driven by the different characters and the group dynamics the author describes so well, which made the present-day part of the story a little bit slow and less interesting, even with the new threat Jane has to face. It took me a little while to get into the book, but by the time the girls had arrived in Nepal and things started to go wrong, I was hooked on the rollercoaster ride of tension, mistrust and fear the author has created. Tense and atmospheric, The Lie makes for a suspenseful and interesting read. This is my first book by C. L. Taylor and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.