Review: The Fear by C.L. Taylor

Image result for the fear c l taylorWhat I Thought:

This is one of those read-in-on-sitting type books: short chapters, alternating viewpoints, past and present narratives. All the ingredients of a gripping page-turner.

Lou Wandsworth had an affair with her Karate teacher, Mike, when she was fourteen, which ended when they were arrested in France. Eighteen years later, Lou has been unable to move on properly with her life; with short-lived relationships having become her staple and a past that even her best friend doesn’t know anything about. But it’s not about to stay like that for much longer. After her Father’s death, Lou has to move back to her childhood home which exposes not only long-buried feelings but also the revelation that Mike may be up to his old tricks with 13-year-old Chloe Meadows.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Lou attempts to bring Mik to justice after all these years, but what neither of them reckons on is there being someone else in the mix who is just as out for revenge.

Verdict:

A gripping, fast-paced read that will have you questioning what is really going on and a race to the end to see if just desserts are served after all.

 

NB/ I received a copy of this book from Avon Books in return for an honest review. The book is launched in the UK on 22/03/18.

 

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Review: The Chalk Man by C J Tudor

41xo7gTk+kL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_What I Thought:

A group of school friends in the 80’s makes a gruesome discovery while following strategically placed chalk men through the woods. Now in their 40’s, the gang are reunited by the very thing that they had left firmly behind in their past.

Eddie, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky are such wonderfully depicted, fully fleshed out characters that could have been hand-picked straight from my childhood playground. Being of a similar age to the main characters, this book was a glorious trip down memory lane from wham bars to BMX’s, although I loved the fact that it was subtle (I read a book last year that was set in the 80’s and got so fed up of having shoulder pads and ra-ra skirts and the like rammed down my throat in every sentence that I ended up abandoning it).

The story flips between 1986 and 2016 as old memories are stirred and the chalk men drawings they thought they had left behind thirty years ago reappear to taunt and cajole them. This is a chilling and creepy book but yet it has such warmth and humour. I really felt that the author had a great understanding of and affection for her characters which gave them the vibrancy and dimension that I always long for in a book (I don’t need to like a character, but make me feel something about them).

Since reading this book I have seen a few reviews likening it to (or even claiming that it is a direct copy of) Stephen King’s books IT and The Body (or Stand By Me for film buffs). Having read neither, I didn’t get this while reading so I can’t comment on the similarities if indeed there are any. I have also read other reviews that claim this is “horror” but I’m afraid I can’t agree. It certainly isn’t scary – maybe creepy, but not what I would class as horror. To me, it felt like a right of passage tale of a group of friends with a chilling edge. There is a mystery to be solved (both in the past and present day) and a few unexpected revelations which kept me invested and guessing to the very end.

Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book! I raced through it not only because I wanted to know what had really happened back in 1986, but also because I wanted to be in the company of such a fabulous cast of character. It also had one of the best laugh out loud lines I’ve read for ages: “Whip me, Mildred!”

Massive thumbs up!

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Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

34466492What I Thought:

When I read this book back in the summer, it was both shocking and unsurprising (that is, the content is shocking but unfortunately I wasn’t so surprised). What I didn’t realise, however, was how closely life would mirror art (or is it the other way round?) so soon after reading it. Seldom does a book I read become so topical so suddenly and in such a huge way.

James Whitehouse, a junior minister in the British Home Office, seems to have it all. Educated at Oxford, James is privileged, handsome, well-off and a close friend of the prime minister. Married to Sophie, whom he met at Uni, and father to Emily and Toby, he appears to have the perfect life from the outside. However, one night he finds himself having to confess to Sophie that he had an affair with his assistant, Olivia. The affair is finished, he says, but he had to confess as the tabloids have got hold of the story and are about to announce it to the world. Shocked and upset, just as Sophie is coming round to this revelation,  James is arrested. Olivia has filed a charge of rape against him.

The book is narrated in turn by James, Sophie and Kate, who is prosecuting James and seems to have an agenda of her own. James claims he’s innocent, Kate is determined to bring him down and Sophie wants to believe James and stand by her husband, preferring to believe his version that Olivia consented. We, in effect, are the jury as we try to piece it all together and work out who is telling the truth.

But that’s not all: there’s another story unfolding as well. This one is set in the early 90’s when James, Sophie and Tom (the current prime minister) were at Oxford. This is integral to the plot as it helps us to gain insight and also adds a layer of mystery to the plot.

Verdict:

Topical and shocking. I predict big things for this book in 2018. Would make a great read/debate for book groups too.

Review: Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A1KeMQs1M0LWhat I thought:

This book started off great guns: I started the book one night before bed “just to see how it is…” and found myself flipping the pages furiously and unwilling to put it down. It was less than halfway through that I then noticed my interest waning and by three quarters I could happily have abandoned it and moved on… but I still liked the idea of the plot and really wanted to see how it would all resolve itself.

Set in a sliding-doors fashion, the first chapter follows Joanna on her night out with friend Laura, from her selfie with a stranger through to unwanted attention from a man that leads to them leaving the club early. Walking back along the canal side, and still upset from her earlier ordeal, Joanna hears quickening footsteps behind her and a split second decision makes her do something that will have long-term consequences for so many. The following chapters are then alternate between reveal (she confesses) and conceal (she runs away).

Such a great idea for a book and one I was looking forward to enormously to see how the consequences of our actions can affect us so utterly. It should have been great. But I got bored: bored of Joanna, whom I found it was difficult to empathise with, bored of the plot which didn’t seem to go anywhere for a huge chunk of the book and bored of waiting to find out how it would all pull together. If in fact, if it had pulled nicely together at the end (by way of a twist or something jaw-dropping) it would quite possibly have redeemed itself but I found the ending to not only be convenient in an attempt to wrap it all up but a bit of a damp squib.

I feel my main issue is that I couldn’t connect with Joanna or any other members of the cast, at all. It wasn’t simply that I didn’t like her; I couldn’t “get” her in either the reveal or conceal stories. That made it difficult to invest in the book overall as I was not engaged.

Verdict:

Not a bad book, just not a great one. I haven’t read Everything But The Truth (McAllister’s first book) yet but I do have a copy and I have heard great things so I wouldn’t be put off reading this at all.

Great concept, not so great execution.

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

35323055What I thought:

Earlier this year I read Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, and loved it! A fresh new voice in an overcrowded genre: I loved the setting, the protagonist and the plot. I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on her second book, Force of Nature, and was thrilled that it started in a way that drew me straight back in. Unfortunately, this book didn’t continue down that same route for me: the one that pulls me along with it. For a whole section in the middle, I actually grew bored. I don’t need a crime book to be high octane all the time, but I actually found myself losing interest in both the characters and plot for a large chunk.

Aaron Falk, our Detective from The Dry, is back which pleased me, as did the setting which was remote and away from the more usual urban backdrop. Falk is drawn into the mystery of a missing woman, Alice, who is on a corporate team-building hike in the bush. Four of the five women in the group return late, battered, bruised and frightened as not only did they lose their way in the bush, they also lost one of their group along the way. As a search party sets out to find Alice, the book alternates between the present time and going back a few days to allow the reader into the women’s trek and what really happened.

I think my main issue was that I never really got a feeling of how frightened or exhausted the women must have been. They were lost in the wilderness with dwindling supplies and it was raining and cold. I would have been terrified. I have done a solo hike of 120 miles in the UK and at one point I got lost on a foggy moor for an hour or so and the feeling of frustration and weariness just in that short timeframe was so hard to deal with, never mind wandering around with no food for days on end. There wasn’t enough plot to grab me in the middle section and with no real sense of terror or impending doom, I lost interest to the point that I almost gave up altogether.

I am glad I stayed with the book, however, as it did pick up again in the last quarter but even so I wasn’t blown away by the book.

Verdict:

Somewhat disappointing after having loved The Dry so much, but I will definitely read more of this series with Aaron Falk. I am still a fan of Jane Harper despite not being so enamored with Force of Nature.

 

Have you read either book? What did you think?

Review: Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

51T2Wtx1HsLWhat I thought:

I was lured in to reading this book after having read Sophie Hannah’s very early books and loving them (and then later on, not so much). This one sounded intriguing though: Cara Burrows, on holiday from England, walks into the wrong hotel room and sees the most famous murder victim in the USA, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder. Or does she?

Well, where to begin? I scratched my head for most of this book, wondering if it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or even a spoof of this very crowded genre. Having since seen other reviews, it appears I’m not alone. My reading of this book was accompanied by much eye-rolling, some jaw-dropping and a spot of guffawing at its incredulity.

Cara Burrows goes half way round the world, leaving her family with no way of contacting her and spending all the family savings, to an over-the-top, luxurious American spa for a reason, that as it becomes apparent, just seems ridiculously dramatic. There is much made of Cara giving her phone to a complete stranger of a cab driver so that her family can’t contact her, and less than 24 hours later she is setting up an Instagram account and posting shots of herself to tag in her children to show she’s “OK”. This is an example of the many times I had to suspend my disbelief at a plot which felt so contrived and clunky. Cara herself is not a character I cared about or could even empathise with, and the Americans were, in the main, such caricatures I was almost embarrassed for the author.

Verdict:

This could have been a good story – the premise certainly piqued my interest but I couldn’t see past the gaping plot holes and Hannah’s attempt to stitch them together with something – anything – however tenuous, to get us to the next part of the book. I am more bewildered than disappointed if I’m honest. If this does turn out to be a spoof, then it’s a good one, if not then I can’t recommend I’m afraid.

Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

51j-9wc-v1LWhat I thought:

I was intrigued by the blurb on this book: Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston. But Maria Weston has been dead for 25 years. Hasn’t she? Back in the early noughties, before Facebook and at the dawn of social media, there was such a thing as Friends Reunited. I remember being so excited that I could now see where my old (pre-mobile, pre-email) school friends had ended up and actually get in touch with them! Until I saw one name….. the name of someone who it was widely believed had died just after we left school. It sent chills down me. First disbelief and then anger that someone was playing a nasty joke until someone got in touch and it came out that she wasn’t dead at all, as we had all believed for the last 10 or so years. The point I’m trying to get to was that when you see the name of someone whom you think is dead, it’s a bloody shock!

Anyhoo, on to the book. I absolutely loved it. Split between present day and a school-leavers party in 1989, Louise is now in her early 40’s, newly divorced with a four-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Sam, is the only person still in her life from her school days as she has deliberately distanced herself from almost everyone and everything to do with that time. We are given enough information to know that whatever happened to Maria Weston at that party, Louise feels responsible for it. More messages, a sense of being watched and an invitation to a school reunion successful ratches up the tension and keeps the plot pacey and gripping.

Verdict:

I loved this book. In a genre that I can become rapidly bored with these days, this one stands out amongst the best I have read in some time. It’s relatable, sometimes uncomfortable and keeps you guessing throughout. Massive thumbs up from me.

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Have you read this yet? I’d love to know your thoughts.