all the missing girls – megan miranda

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All The Missing Girls – Megan Miranda

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nicolette Farrell has returned to her rural hometown to help her brother to tie up things on their father’s house now that his dementia has forced him to be put into a home.

It’s been ten years since she left, she now has a huge rock on her finger from her hot-shot city lawyer fiance, her brother’s wife is heavily pregnant and everything about her life feels so much more grown up.

So, it feels rather perverse when her ex-boyfriend’s young girlfriend suddenly goes missing in circumstances very similar to the disappearance of her best friend ten years ago, with an intrusive investigation that centred on her circle of friends.

We follow Nic until the day of the second girl’s disappearance, and then skip two weeks ahead when the story is told backwards day by day.

Life in a rural town is really explored well in this book, and the heat and oppression of a stifling summer mirrors the suffocation felt in a small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

The drip-feed of information and knowledge kept the tension high, and towards the end of the book it became a real page-turner.

However, even though I really enjoyed the story, I’m not altogether sure that the backward storytelling actually added much to it. I occasionally found it a bit distracting as I was always trying to think “Well, wouldn’t somebody have mentioned that fact the following day again?” So, an interesting concept to explore, but I’m almost tempted to read each day in the right order to make sure it makes sense 🙂

I definitely enjoyed it though – tense and well-paced.

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda will be published on 28th June.

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the girls – emma cline

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The Girls – Emma Cline

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It is the summer of 1969 in California and Evie Boyd is about to turn 15. With her parents divorced, her best friend distant and the long warm days stretching ahead of her with nothing to fill them except transferring between her mother’s indifference and her father’s young girlfriend’s cool sexiness, Evie becomes entranced with a girl that she meets in town.

This chance meeting leads to Evie spending her summer becoming involved with a strange group of reckless and carefree misfits that will later be referred to in whispers as a cult. A summer that will end in horror and infamy, haunting Evie for the rest of her life.

I was absolutely blown away by this book – especially as it’s Emma Cline’s debut novel. The writing captured what I imagine to be the essence of the 60s, and what was going on at the end of the decade.

No doubt inspired by the Charles Manson and Sharon Tate story, it invokes a Polaroid photo story of coming-of-age and the passions and drive of teenagers.

It is easy to see why Evie chose the path that she did, and how easily she was influenced due to her experiences at that time.

Haunting, evocative and reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides, it is probably my favourite read of the year so far.

The Girls by Emma Cline will be published on 14th June.

my name is leon – kit de waal

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My Name Is Leon – Kit De Waal

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s London, 1980 and nine year old Leon is proud of his little baby bother Jake. Although their mum has problems, Jake doesn’t cry much and anyway Leon always knows what to do to make him laugh and smile.

However, Leon’s dad left when his mum was pregnant with Jake, and Jake’s dad is already married – and now his mum is blaming Leon for Jake’s dad not wanting to be around.

When their mum finally has a breakdown, Leon & Jake are taken away to live with Maureen. At first, Leon is worried, but Maureen is cheerful and Jake likes her. Eventually though, a nice family come and take Jake away, and foster-carer Maureen has to explain to Leon that Jake will be living with them forever – without him.

Because Jake is a baby, and white, and Leon, nine years old, dark-skinned and troubled isn’t likely to be wanted by anyone else any time soon.

This is a poignant sympathetically written account of the difficulty of growing up when you’re unwanted and different. It tells the story of so many kids whose early years can shape the rest of their lives – no matter what direction they would have trodden their own path given the chance.

It is realistic and unapologetic for being so. However, at times it is also uplifting that there are unsung heroes out there who are making a difference to individual lives every day.

A well-written snapshot of a society we may occasionally bury our heads in the sand about.

My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal will be published on 6th June.

shtum – jem lester

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Shtum – Jem Lester

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ben Jewell is a 30-something husband and father of one. His ten year old son Jonah is profoundly autistic and him and his wife Emma have reached breaking point with him.

As they embark on a war with the local authority to gain the care they feel is best for Jonah, Emma & Ben agree to fake a separation to put them in a better position. So, Ben & Jonah move in with Ben’s elderly Hungarian Jewish father.

This brings its own problems, as Ben and his father have never really seen eye-to-eye (especially since Ben has been running his father’s business – mainly into the ground), but his affection and influence on Jonah is indisputable.

As the tribunal approaches, Ben prepares for it whilst dealing with his own domestic and work issues, and worries that everything is slowly slipping out of his control.

I have spent the last few days totally immersed in Ben’s life with the constant worry of both Jonah and his father, his fake separation, his countless visits and assessments leading up to the tribunal. The hoops he has had to jump through,  the humiliations he has to endure, the inadequacies he feels, his misguided coping method and eventually the story that brought him to where he is now.

It has been an emotional roller-coaster that I can only be grateful to have no first-hand experience of…and this book is a perfect example of why I read – I want to know more about these experiences.

I laughed, I cried, I cried some more, and I got angry. Heartfelt, heart-warming, heart-breaking – a must-read, although not an easy read.

Shtum by Jem Lester will be published on 7th April.

black widow – christopher brookmyre

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Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Diane Jager is a successful surgeon – but her words can cut as deep as her scalpel, as many found when she wrote an anonymous blog about sexism in the NHS.

With her anonymity outed rather dramatically, she has been living with the moniker ‘Bitchblade’ but now she is in real trouble. After a whirlwind affair, her husband of a few months is missing, presumed dead and everything is indicating that it is at Diana’s hand.

When her sister-in-law brings in Jack Parlabane to investigate, the nails can be heard firmly being hammered into her coffin – but is she really a murderer?

Whenever people ask me my favourite authors, Christopher Brookmyre is at the top of my list, and Jack Parlabane is definitely one of THE best crime novel characters. Although we’re seeing him at his most vulnerable in this book – disgraced, out of work and newly divorced to his beloved Sarah.

Parlabane is actually a secondary narrator to Diana in the story – her past narrative interspersed with his present investigations until close to the end, really twisting your perceptions of the truth one way and then another, leaving you guessing.

Tightly written, it is exciting, full of action, believable characters and a fantastic movie-esque plot.

Thank you Mr Brookmyre for never letting me down. I felt smug every time there was a hat tip to a previous book that I recognised.

13 minutes – sarah pinborough

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13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

I received an ARC copy of this book in return for an honest review.

I have never read any of Sarah Pinborough’s books before, but picked this one as it sounded like something that both myself and my 16 year old daughter could read and discuss – I read a lot of YA due to this 🙂

Teenage ‘Mean Girl’ and Queen Bee Natasha is found in the water by a dog-walker one early morning. She is revived but was dead for 13 minutes.

She can’t remember how she met her icy ‘death’, but is starting to mistrust her two closest friends who have been acting strangely around her since her ‘accident’, making her more dependent on her old geeky friend Becca. Could her friends have been attempting to kill her? Might they try again? Is she safe?

The story is told in a number of ways, mainly first hand by Becca, but also through transcripts of diary entries, counselling sessions and police interviews with Tasha. This gives the story a chance to give a multi-narrator view.

Having been one, I swear that teenage girls are one of the nastiest and hurtful groups of humans on the planet, and this book really encapsulates the underlying tensions that go on, in contrast to the veneer that they tend to show to the world.

I realised that there was going to be a twist when I got to about 80% and everything seemed to be wrapped up nicely – and it was a good one. Although I’d really enjoyed the story up to that point, it added another dimension and took it from good to great.

Well crafted characters – although almost all were completely unlikable and flawed, you really WANTED to know what happened, and what the outcome was going to be. A great skill for an author to have, and something that works really well in psychological thrillers such as this.

Beautiful cover too 😉

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough will be published on 18th February 2016.

boo – neil smith

Boo – Neil Smith

“The sky used to be bluer in my day,” says the old man. “But it is your day,” I reply. “You aren’t dead yet.”

I received a review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Thirteen year old Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple got his nickname at school due to the ghostly colour of his pale skin, and his white-blond sticky-up hair. He is now having an opportunity to live up to his name as he is quite suddenly dead.

“I died in front of my locker at Keller Junior High on September 7, 1979,” he tells us.

Boo wakes up in Town. Town isn’t much of a heaven. Only thirteen year olds that have died in America inhabit his particular Town, but some of the thirteen year old inhabitants have been thirteen for decades – apparently you rebirth after 50 years.

Boo has always been a little ‘different’. He never made friends easily, his social skills were never the greatest, he has a habit of voicing the inappropriate, but his IQ is superior for his age. Town is both a disappointment (it’s much like America but with less stuff) and a wonder (people and buildings can ‘fix’ themselves when they are broken).  So, Boo spends time getting to know his fellow Townies, conducting his own experiments, and trying to work out how he died, which he believes is due to his heart defect.

However, when he discovers a fellow student from his school, Johnny,  who tells him that they were actually both murdered – and that their murderer, the mysterious Gunboy who he only sees in his nightmares, killed himself too, so is probably in Town somewhere.

Boo and Johnny decide to track down Gunboy and demand answers – but are either of them ready for the truth and its own consequences?

I loved the idea behind this book, although some of the details were a bit odd. A Town full of just thirteen year olds? All I kept thinking was that they were actually growing old and well into middle-age and probably falling in love – and then, well, wouldn’t they be wanting to have sex? And that would just be totally weird!

Surprisingly, even though the book starts off with a dead kid, it took me ages to get into it. Boo isn’t exactly the easiest character to like, and Town just seemed so
normal.  There was a lot of description about how things were, but there was so little that was fantastical (and perhaps that was just the point) that I kind of switched off through a lot of the text.

But after a slow start, the middle to end was far more interesting and it became quite a page turner for a while.  I loved the ideas more than the actual book, but it was an easy, unusual story that I’m glad that I read.

are you watching me? – sinĂ©ad crowley

Are You Watching Me – Sinead Crowley

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Liz Cafferky has her own past, but she is pushing through this to promote the work of the drop-in centre for men where she has been working for a while, to try and pay her dues to founder Tom, who rescued her from her own demons.  However, when men start being murdered, and their only connection is the centre where she works, Liz starts questioning everything – even whether she could be the next to die.  Can Liz escape her past – and the killer?

I hadn’t read ‘Can Anybody Help Me?’ which was the dĂ©but novel from SinĂ©ad Crowley, and apparently her first featuring Sergeant Claire Boyle of the Irish Garda in Dublin. And having read this second in the series, I don’t really feel that it is necessary, as the book definitely stands alone. However, I understand that there may be some who have read the first and may have a vested interest in this novel as they may have already bonded with Claire, especially as she has returned to her role after a few months maternity leave – and all that brings for her and her family.

Coming to this book as a Crowley virgin however, I almost felt that there was too much emotional and personal content about Boyle, and I didn’t buy into it. I understand that all those that HAVE read the first book may already feel that they have a history with her, and may have got more from those parts of the story.

The actual thriller was OK, no great shakes, but cruised along as a fair enough page-turner. I DID actually want to know what happened, I was invested enough to care, but didn’t feel that there was enough excitement to make it stand out amongst others that I have read.

The parts with Boyle and her baby and her husband kind of slowed the pace down, and that may have been on purpose, to add to the next in the series, but as a brand new reader to the Boyle series, it was just an irritation. Perhaps you actually NEED to read ALL the books in this series!

Are You Watching Me? by Sinéad Crowley will be published on 2nd July 2015.

the house we grew up in – lisa jewell

The House We Grew Up In

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I managed to get ARC copies of Lisa Jewell books very close together, and read them just one book apart. However, this is very different from The Third Wife, which I reviewed here

Megan has brought her teenage daughter to the pretty Cotswold house where she grew up, as her mum has died, and being the pragmatic, organised one of her siblings, she has taken control of clearing the house.

Over the years Megan’s mum, Lorelei, has made the house completely uninhabitable for anyone other than herself – a victim of her incessant hoarding. 

Gradually, she is joined by her father and siblings, and they delve into their past, trying to pinpoint why Lorelei turned into this person. The layers of their family story are peeled back, one by one, through Lorelei’s long-term relationship with the woman next door that ended her marriage and split their ‘happy’ family, through Megan’s sister’s betrayal, one brother’s inability to grow up and take any responsibilities, her other brother’s tragic secret and what she views as her father’s irresponsible actions.

Can the family be brought back together by facing up to each other and finally dealing with their shared past? Could Lorelei’s sad end actually signal a new beginning for them?

After reading them so close together, obviously I will compare Jewell’s two books, and I have to say that this one comes out head and shoulders above The Third Wife.

Although there is still a large familial cast, the characters all feel a little more realistic. I think it may be because we go right back to their past and see why they all act in certain ways.

I am a hoarder myself, and the thought of reading about it scared me – I may hoard tonnes of stuff, but I don’t see myself as ending up like one of those old people you see on documentaries where they have to climb over stacks of newspapers to get into a tiny space to sleep in the rags they walk around in and then have to poo in carrier bags because they can no longer get upstairs to the bathroom.

The subject was really carefully handled, with some wonderful insights into what may happen to somebody to make them act in such an extreme way – how the family noticed it starting to happen, but were so wrapped up in their own lives that they kept making excuses to not tackle it at the time, and then…it was too late.

A sad, poignant tale that took a bright, vibrant family and showed how over the years, the colour and life just drained from them, accompanied by a bit of a thriller as the events leading up to the sunny afternoon that changed everything are slowly unravelled.

If you’re only going to read one of the two recent Jewell books, make it this one!

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