Monday 18 April 2016

Book Review: IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE SEE by Sarah Painter

In the Light of What We See

In the Light of What We See
Author: Sarah Painter
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Brighton, 1938: Grace Kemp is pushed away by the family she has shamed. Rejected and afraid, she begins a new life as a nurse. But danger stalks the hospital too, and she’ll need to be on her guard to avoid falling into familiar traps. And then there are the things she sees…Strange portents that have a way of becoming real.

Eighty years later, Mina Morgan is brought to the same hospital after a near-fatal car crash. She is in terrible pain but recalls nothing. She’s not even sure whom to trust. Mina too sees things that others cannot, but now, in hospital, her visions are clearer than ever…

Two women, separated by decades, are drawn together by a shared space and a common need to salvage their lives. 

My thoughts:

Mina Morgan knows that something bad is about to happen when a siskin appears in her room one morning, watching her with beady eyes. It has been years since she has seen one of her “ghost birds”, the harbingers of doom only she can see. Mina is not surprised – she has been unhappy with her life choices lately, living a lie and yet too mired in regret and grief to take her fate into her own hands. But before she can take action, a serious car accident leaves her fighting for her life in a hospital in Brighton, unable to remember large chunks of her life including the circumstances which brought her here.

80 years earlier, young Grace Kemp also enters the hospital doors, a decision which was as much forced upon her as Mina’s coma.  Disgraced and estranged from her family she is hoping to make a new life for herself as a nurse, and that the hard labour will wipe away the sorrow and grief she carries in her heart. Little does either woman know that the hospital will change their lives in ways they could never have imagined.

It is hard to assign a genre to this unusual book, which I would call a “coming of age” story as two young women born generations apart must overcome the hurdles of the past and take their lives into their own hands in order to stop being victims. In the Light of What We See contains elements of several genres: there is mystery and suspense, an element of the supernatural, historical detail of nursing in the 1930’s, friendship and a sprinkling of romance. Linked only by the historical building of the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton, the two women connect through a thin ghostly thread as both their lives are hanging in the balance.

I loved the way the author managed to connect these seemingly two separate stories in the most unusual way, as well as the attention to historical detail which brings Grace’s story to life. I found the characters of both women thoroughly engaging and felt a definite connection and empathy for their plight as the details of their lives stories slowly unfold and they grow more confident as they start taking their lives into their own hands. The author does a great job of connecting the two story lines and tying together all the loose ends in the final chapter. Whilst the supernatural element is often overdone in other novels, it is perfectly executed here, a thin mysterious thread, a window in time. In the Light of What We See was a mystical, engaging read which kept me thoroughly enthralled from beginning to end, despite its relatively slow pace (which suits this story perfectly). I loved it!

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

Friday 15 April 2016

Book Review: THE BALLROOM by Anna Hope

The Ballroom

The Ballroom
Author: Anna Hope
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

My thoughts:

Charles Fuller, a medical officer at Sharston mental asylum located in the Yorkshire moors in 1911, is able to follow his true passion for music by organising a weekly dance for inmates, the only time the men and women of the asylum ever get together. Having observed the positive power of music on his patients, he is hoping that the program will offer him subject matter for a research paper he is writing – all he needs now is a research subject. It is for this reason that he first notices John, an Irishman committed to the asylum after suffering a severe bout of “melancholy” following the death of his infant daughter and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage. John, who has so far refused to take part in the weekly ballroom dances which are so popular with the other inmates. Forced to attend the dance, John initially keeps to himself, only reluctantly joining in the activities. It is during one of the dances that he notices pale, quiet Ella, declared “hysterical” after smashing a window at the factory she was working in to be able to see the sky. Ella, who once tried to escape the confines of the asylum, making it as far as the fields where John and the other men were working at the time. He remembers her running across the grass, making her desperate bid for freedom, and being caught by the guards and dragged back inside. The image still haunts him, and he is strangely touched by seeing her again. Intrigued by the mysterious girl he decides to write her a letter.

Thus begins an unusual, touching and heartbreaking love story between the two young people, victims of circumstance and of their time. As their growing affection slowly blossoms, Charles Fuller slowly spirals deeper and deeper into a madness of his own when he realises that his subject cannot be controlled. A madness, which will bring him into contact with the eugenics movement at the time, and make him one of its most fervent supporters. An interest that could have terrible consequences for John and Ella .....

The Ballroom brims with interesting and complex characters from various walks of life, brought together by circumstance. Charles is a good example of a man struggling with his own demons, coping only by projecting his issues onto his helpless subjects and slowly descending into fanaticism, using his faulty rationale to justify his actions. Whilst John and Ella’s love brings hope to the novel, like the beatings of tiny butterfly wings, a dark force slowly spreads across the pages, casting a shadow of doom as Charles spirals deeper and deeper into the abyss of his own madness.

I loved the way the author evoked the atmosphere of the time – a forbidding building set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Initially, the sweeping green landscape projects hope, but later becomes a harbinger of doom as a terrible drought strikes, destroying the crops and driving farmers out of their homes. Just as the people are at the mercy of nature, so are Ella and John at the mercy of their “captors”.

I am very happy to have stumbled across this novel on Netgalley and it touched me deeply. Whilst there is a love story at its centre, it is so much more than a romance. With attention to historical detail the author brought this story to life for me, and it played out in my mind like a movie I could not tear myself away from. Highly recommended.

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

Monday 11 April 2016

Book Review: THE LAST THING I REMEMBER by Deborah Bee

The Last Thing I Remember

The Last Thing I Remember
Author: Deborah Bee
Publisher: Bonnier Publishing, Twenty7
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

For fans of Rubbernecker and Before I Go To Sleep, a tense thriller with a clever and original premise - and a devilish twist

Sarah is in a coma.

Her memory is gone - she doesn't know how she got there. And she doesn't know how she might get out.

But then she discovers that her injury wasn't an accident. And that the assailant hasn't been caught.

Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past.

And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room.

A novel that grips from the very beginning and that will live long in the memory, The Last Thing I Remember is Deborah Bee's startling debut thriller. 

My thoughts:

Late at night, a pretty young woman is brought into the hospital’s emergency department unconscious with a serious head injury. It is believed that she was assaulted and struck her head on the pavement as she fell, causing an intracranial bleed. Her husband, who was also attacked, was found dead at the scene from a blow to the head. Paramedics say that she only said two words to them before lapsing into a coma. “Thank you.” They couldn’t ask what she was thanking them for, as she never regained consciousness.

Pretty 28-year old Sarah and mousy 14-year old Kelly from a working class background in Tottenham make very unlikely friends. In fact, when Sarah moved next door, Kelly called her a “yuppie” and was fully prepared to hate her for her beauty, her expensive clothes, her fancy car, her handsome husband. Why would someone like her move into riot ridden and gang controlled Tottenham anyway? But Sarah and Kelly have things in common no one knows about, secrets so big and terrible that their friendship soon is the only thing that keeps them going, makes them stronger. They have come to rely on one another, trust each other. But now Sarah is in a coma, and Kelly can’t manage on her own. She needs Sarah to wake up. This was not supposed to happen.

The Last Thing I Remember is a dark and sinister book about the effects of abuse, bullying and domestic violence, and the terrible lengths people must go to to protect themselves. Half of the story is told in the voice of Sarah, who is locked into her lifeless body, unable to communicate, with fragmented memories of her life and the events leading up to her attack only slowly emerging. The other half is in the voice of 14-year old schoolgirl Kelly, who is desperate for her friend to wake up out of her coma. As the story slowly unfolds, terrible truths about the lives of the two unlikely friends are revealed, which led to the events cumulating in Sarah’s attack.

I loved the way the author uses her two very different characters to tell the story – Sarah’s refined voice and Kelly’s brash, emotional ramblings, as they reveal the secrets that bind them together. The writing style is unique and lively and adds credibility and emotional depth to the story. As Sarah, locked into her lifeless body, is forced to listen to the voices of her visitors, nurses and doctors, more details about her family and private life are revealed. What a terrible hell, to be “locked in” without means of communication! Tension builds as Sarah’s condition remains unchanged, and she hears the neurologist discusses the option of turning off her life support with her family. There are some really vile characters in this book, and my feelings vacillated between sympathy, horror and anger as I learned more about Sarah’s background. I especially wanted to slap her mother!

The Last Thing I Remember kept me intrigued from beginning to end and its dark undertones provoked a lot of thought about the truths behind people’s facades, the things we cannot see. It was, in many ways, a heartbreaking read with a somewhat shocking twist at the end. A very powerful book about the complexities of human relationships, very cleverly executed.

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

Saturday 9 April 2016

Book Review: FORGET ME NOT by Luana Lewis

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not
Author: Luana Lewis
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A tragic suicide?

When Rose’s daughter, Vivien, is found dead in a suspected suicide, Rose has questions nobody can answer. Wasn’t Vivien living the perfect life? A caring husband, a sweet little girl of her own.

Or the perfect murder?

But as the police investigation develops, their findings raise new questions. Did Vivien kill herself, or was she attacked? If so, who has something to hide?

As Rose struggles to piece together the secrets of her daughter’s life, the cracks in the family begin to show. But once Rose knows the answers, there’s no going back...

A gripping thriller perfect for fans of Daughter, The Book of Youand C L Taylor's The Lie. 

My thoughts:

When Rose’s daughter Vivien meets with an untimely death, leaving behind a husband and 8-year-old daughter, Rose must come to grips with a range of emotions. Guilt, for putting her work as a senior nurse before her daughter when she was a small child. Self-recrimination that she has not tried harder to repair the rift that has led to their estrangement over the last few years. Grief, that she will now never be able to make things right with her daughter. And fear, that she will not be involved in her only granddaughter’s life, as Vivien’s husband Ben still blames her for the estrangement. As the police investigation into Vivien’s death throws up doubts as to how she died, Rose also fears for the safety of her granddaughter Lexi, but Ben will not listen to her concerns. With everything on the line, Rose will stop at nothing to protect her family.

Forget Me Not is a gripping and somewhat creepy read, as Rose tries to piece together the events leading to Vivien’s death. Lewis does an excellent job of portraying her characters and their deepest, darkest secrets, which slowly emerge as the story unfolds – her background as clinical psychologist stands her in good stead as she explores the human psyche and the complexities of inter-personal relationships of her characters. I did not see the twist in the end coming, and it was brilliantly done, not over the top as so many other books which try to shock the reader with an unexpected ending.

I really liked the character of Rose, a strong, independent woman who is not afraid to admit to her shortcomings  – her regret and sorrow over failing her daughter are genuine and heartfelt, as is her despair over being shut out of her granddaughter’s life. I loved the way Lewis portrays a woman who is so confident and capable in her job, yet feeling so helpless and out of control in the outside world:

Wearing a uniform changes a person. It gives me authority and it makes me brave. When I put on my uniform, when I’m at work, I am competent and confident. My uniform holds me together; the moment I take it off, I feel myself falling apart.

I felt her pain as her life unravels and she feels her back is against the wall, in a world she feels so out of depth in. As we come closer to the truth, Rose’s true strength of character is revealed, as are the true reasons behind the choices she has made. Choices which may not only cost her her family and career, but everything she holds dear. Forget Me Not is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me reading late into the night – much recommended.

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

Thursday 7 April 2016

Book Review: AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey (Maeve Kerrigan #6)

After the Fire

Title: After the Fire
Author: Jane Casey
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

London police detective Maeve Kerrigan has spent plenty of time at Murchison House. One of the many cement high-rise towers comprising the Maudling Estate housing project, Murchison House is home to a motley mix of society. From domestic abuse victims and elderly widows with nowhere else to turn to its flourishing criminal elements, Maeve is familiar with many of its occupants by name or reputation.

But when a fire breaks out at Murchison House that consumes the top floors and leaves three dead, Maeve and her colleagues are startled to learn the identity of one of the victims. Geoff Armstrong was a wealthy, notoriously right-wing London politician—the last person they’d expect to find in a place like the Maudling Estate. And things get even murkier when evidence surfaces indicating Armstrong was murdered before the fire broke out. Was his death connected to the fire? To the other deaths at Murchison House? And what was he doing there in the first place? What Maeve begins to uncover will lead her on a terrifying journey through all levels of society, putting her very life in danger.

Jane Casey’s next riveting mystery featuring beloved detective Maeve Kerrigan will keep readers turning the pages from the opening scene to the stunning conclusion.

My thoughts:

After the Fire is the 6th book featuring DCI Maeve Kerrigan, and it reminded me why I am so in love with the series.  Apart from the character of Maeve herself, a strong and determined female character to love and admire, each book also features a complex police investigation and a fair share of mystery, suspense and action. Whilst it is not necessary to have read previous books in the series to enjoy this one, I would highly recommend doing so, as it adds depth and background to all characters.

I especially loved this instalment for several reasons: firstly, the multiple stories of victims affected by the fire made for a fascinating read and a complex web of conspiracy to solve the case – it totally had me in its grip from beginning to end. Secondly, the dynamics between Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent take on a new dimension, and I enjoyed their constant sparring but also their loyalty to each other. Again Maeve comes up against her nemesis, creepy stalker Chris Swain, which adds that extra element of danger to the book.

Casey has really come into her own with this series – experiencing a whole lot of emotions from intense suspense to laughing out loud about the things Kerrigan and Derwent say to each other, I realised how totally the book had drawn me in. I was disappointed when it ended, like saying good-bye to friends not knowing when I would see them again. A strong 5 stars from me. Can’t wait for the next installment.

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Book Review: THE GIRL IN THE ICE by Robert Bryndza

The Girl In The Ice (DCI Erika Foster, #1)

The Girl in the Ice
Author: Robert Bryndza
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one.

When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.

The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound and dumped in water around London.

What dark secrets is the girl in the ice hiding?

As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika.

The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong… resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?

A page-turning thriller packed with suspense. If you like Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Karin Slaughter, discover Rob Bryndza’s new series today – at a special launch price.

Watch out for more from DCI Erika Foster

She’s fearless. Respected. Unstoppable. Detective Erika Foster will catch a killer, whatever it takes.


My thoughts:

I am so happy I “discovered” this new series (thanks to Netgalley and the publisher), because The Girl in the Ice is a cracking read with an interesting protagonist, who I hope will feature in many more novels yet to come.

When the young socialite daughter from a rich influential family is found murdered and frozen into the ice of a popular swimming spot in South London, DCI Erika Foster is called in to investigate. With a tragic past behind her, Erika is still emotionally raw but determined to put her own feelings aside to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice, especially when she discovered that the same person may have been responsible for the brutal killings of other young women. Feeling that she has little to lose, she is not afraid to defy institutional and political restraints, which she feels jeopardise her investigation. But in the political fray which surrounds the case, she soon finds herself not only fighting for her career but also for her life as a ruthless killer will stop at nothing to silence her ....

Brynza has done an excellent job with his debut suspense novel, and has delivered true-to-life characters I want to see a lot more of. I loved DCI Foster, who makes for an interesting kick-ass protagonist – with personal demons from a tragic past and a different cultural background, she has had her own share of obstacles to overcome to be in her position. As much as she can be cold and aloof, her humanity shines through in her interactions with the people around her – Brynza has achieved exactly the right mix of vulnerability and strength which make her a character to both admire and like. I also want to read a lot more about the supportive characters, especially as we were only allowed glimpses into their lives – Moss, Marsh, Peterson and Sparks. The storyline gripped me from the very start and I found it very difficult to tear myself away. And just when I thought I was on the right track to solving this mystery, the author brought it all to a breath-taking and totally unexpected finale. Brilliant!

I love a good murder/mystery and with so many good books out there, it takes a bit to impress me. And impressed I certainly was! This definitely belongs in my favourites list for this year so far, and I want to read a lot more from this author in future. I am very happy to hear that the sequel, “The Night Stalker”, will be released later this year.

This is a must-read for fans of police procedural such as S.J, Bolton’s Lacey Flint series, or Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan novels. Very highly recommended. 

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

Image result for 4.5 stars