Friday, 29 April 2016

Tall Oaks - Chris Whitaker

"Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

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."

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.

I raced through this debut novel, unable to put it down. Set in small-town America and filled with some of the most exciting characters I have seen in fiction for ages, this is a intriguingly twisty story that will net Chris Whitaker a TON of fans. 

The main focus of the story is a missing child, but the townspeople of Tall Oaks all have their own secrets to keep. The author manages to weave these stories tightly together flawlessly, leaving the reader wondering exactly what their secrets are and what really did happen to Harry Monroe, before tying things up in an OH-MY-GOD climax. There are SO MANY wonderful characters that pop up throughout this novel - Manny being my favourite. (Manny is marvellous, so marvellous that I think I could read a book just about Manny BY HIMSELF.) 

Darkly funny, reminiscent of Jamie Kornegay's Soil, this is like Fargo, but better. Bravo, Chris Whitaker, you've made my top ten of the year already. 

Tall Oaks is out in Ebook now, paperback coming September 2016. You can get your copy here:

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Abigale Hall - Lauren A. Forry

"Amidst the terror of the Second World War, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca have had their share of tragedy, losing their mother to the Blitz and their father to suicide. But when they are forced to leave London to work for the mysterious Mr Brownawell at Abigale Hall, they find that the worst is yet to come...There are tales that the ghost of Mr Brownawell's bride-to-be haunts the desolate mansion, and in the village there are shocking rumours of maidservants meeting a terrible fate within its walls. But is it superstition that Eliza should be afraid of or is there something real and deadly lurking in the dark, dusty rooms of Abigale Hall? Yet vicious, cold-hearted housekeeper Mrs Pollard will stop at nothing to keep the mansion's terrible secrets, and she exerts a twisted hold over Rebecca. To save herself and her sister descending into madness, Eliza must wage a desperate battle to escape back to London and uncover the horrifying truth before Abigale Hall claims two more victims."

This is a SERIOUSLY good read - far exceeding my expectations from the blurb. Despite being set during the Second World War there is a deliciously gothic feel to the entire novel. With an air of the creepy ghost story about it, Abigale Hall has a sense of intrigue and mystery running throughout which meant I kept turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed. 
Combine all of this with some excellent characters - Eliza is very likeable, Rebecca is shrouded in mystery exacerbated by her mental illness, and the delightfully wicked Mrs Pollard and a setting that lends itself to the eerie plot line wonderfully, Lauren Forry has created a brilliant debut novel, one that creeped me out, kept me hooked and will have me recommending Abigail Hall to everyone. 

Abigale Hall is out on 29th February and you can get it here:

*My thanks to Black & White Publishing for my ARC*

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Lindsey Davis - VENI, VIDI, VICI - Characterisation

In a week-long blitz of lovely Linsdey Davis bookish posts, I am hosting an article by Lindsey on characterisation, with an introduction to Marcus Didio Falco....

Marcus Didius Falco was the beloved main character that you started with, and he saw you through many of the books. Flavia Albia took over from Falco – and the new one is the fourth in the series. Was it difficult to say goodbye to Falco as a main character? Why did you make the change? How was Flavia greeted by fans? How is Flavia developing as a character – has her life changed much in the four books so far?

Falco was wonderful and I don’t feel I’ve said goodbye to him. I am now just showing him not through his own, deeply biased, eyes, but as other people see him, specifically his children, Albia and also (in The Spook Who Spoke Again) the strange little lad Postumus. It gives Falco and Helena another dimension. Other old friends are also in the Albia series, 12 years older and grizzlier, and so are well-loved places such as Fountain Court, which Falco owns and is now trying to pass off as a good investment to the future Emperor Trajan.
I made the change to refresh everyone – me, readers, and the characters themselves. (I also had a film company interested, who wanted ‘spin-off’ rights – and I was damn well not going to let them choose what any spin-off would be.)
Fans were at first resistant, which does sadden me because I would have hoped they would trust me by now! However, they seem to have settled down and to their own amazement they like Albia as much as Falco.
As I did with Falco in The Silver Pigs, the first Albia Story, The Ides of April, turned out to occur at what would be a turning point in her personal life; she meets a man who scrubs up rather nicely and who is not in awe of her. We surely know where that is heading (well, I think we do, though readers can be oddly uncertain) By the second book his utter decency becomes apparent, and so on… In the fourth story the sub-plot concerns their wedding (many stories are about marriage but I hadn’t shown an actual wedding since the spectacular deb√Ęcle of Lenia and Smaractus in Time to Depart, where the bridal bed ends up on fire) There will be a blip or two at Albia’s wedding, which I shall not give away here, but ultimately as they set up home together (hampered by their hopeless slave Dromo) I am now going to explore the idea of the Roman family business. Albia will be informing yet also helping Tiberius set himself up as a building contractor. They will talk about things together, but he will leave her to it. I want to show that whatever the textbooks say, for most Romans the couple worked together for their own prosperity.

The Graveyard of the Hesperides is out now and you can get it here:

**Thanks to the author and publisher**

Saturday, 16 April 2016

A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found In A Skip - Alexander Masters

"Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. Written with his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap.
A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.
A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as ‘I’, is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful. Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers’ obsessions: of ‘I’s need to record every second of life and of Masters’ pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist."

I enjoyed this book SO MUCH - a weirdly compelling read, it was almost like peeping through a window into someone else's life, watching their thoughts and emotions come to life into front of you. Added to this intimate, intricate story through diary entries, we follow the author on his quest to find the writer of the diaries. I found this emotional, addictive and the ending was just perfect. If you looking for something a little bit different, I highly recommend this. 

A Life Discarded is out on 5th May and you can get it here:

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Silent Twin - Caroline Mitchell

"Nine-year-old twins Abigail and Olivia vow never to be parted. But when Abigail goes missing from Blackwater Farm, DC Jennifer Knight must find her before it’s too late. 

Twin sister Olivia has been mute since Abigail’s disappearance. But when she whispers in Jennifer’s ear, Jennifer realises it is Abigail’s voice pleading to be found. 

A damp and decaying house set in acres of desolate scrubland, the farm is a place of secrets, old and new – and Jennifer must unravel them all in order to find the lost girl. But could Olivia’s bond with her twin hold the key to finding Abigail? And can Jennifer break through her silence in time to save her sister’s life? "

Blimey. Just when you thought things couldn't get any better in a series, THIS comes along. While I have been a fan of Caroline's paranormal detective series from the word go, this third instalment honestly blew me away. Twisty and turny from the get- go I found myself tangled up in knots as I tried frantically to figure exactly what was going to be the outcome of this intricate web of deceit. Needless to say, nothing I dreamt up came even close to what ACTUALLY happened - and it's so rare now for me to have NO clue at all as to what the twist will be in  a book, that the fact that I was kept in the dark until the very end meant that I was hooked.

Book three sees the return of Jennifer and Will - and several other familiar characters - battling to solve the mystery of a missing child. As ever, Caroline's characters are believable and relatable, even the ones that you don't take a shine to. The writing is clear and crisp and the plot is cleverly woven together to come to a brilliant denouement. 

Whilst I'm sad that we've reached the end of the Jennifer Knight series, I am even more excited by Caroline's Ruby Preston series, which if it's even half as good as this, it's sure to be a cracker.

The Silent Twin is out today and you can get it here:

**My thanks to Bookouture for my ARC**

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Vintage Springtime Club - Beatrice Meier

"Newly retired Philip returns home to Cologne and is thrown into emotional turmoil upon bumping into his long-lost sweetheart. In the midst of a domestic crisis, Ricarda confides in Philip that she is looking for somewhere to live. And there and then, Philip suggests that she move in with him - he is setting up a flatshare. Will she join him with his mischievous dachshund named Ralf?
To his surprise, Ricarda agrees, leaving Philip to scramble together a crew of retires in time for spring, for the most unlikely of social experiments. There's grumpy cigarette-smoking grandfather Harry; quiet and discreet Eckart, curiously carting around his late wife's headstone; Uschi, brimming with life, harbouring a passion for leotards and aerobics, along with sausages and outrageous knitting patterns; and then, ever-practical and warm-hearted Ricarda, towards whom Phillip is developing real feelings. 
Despite their differences, the flatmates thrive and embark on a series of new adventures. But when Uschi falls unwell, familiar cracks begin to show and this uniquely spirited club of friends must work together in order to survive - and truly blossom."

A delightful read, similar in style to A Man Called Ove, (although that may be down to the translation style) I really enjoyed The Vintage Springtime Club. Beatrice Meier has created some wonderful characters, with a surprisingly fresh plot; which combine together to make this a really wonderful story. The characters are very real – I cried along with Ricarda at Uschi’s fate, and cheered on the burgeoning love story that unfolded throughout. While this is a little unusual compared to my normal reads, I am so pleased that I agreed to review it – a wonderful tale of life, friendship and love that kept me hooked until the very end. 

The Vintage Springtime Club is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**