Tag Archives: thriller

Book review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

17 Mar

last act Hattie

No one keeps more secrets. No one is better at hiding them.

Eighteen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. When she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Sheriff Del Goodman, a close friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers: it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives, Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the Hattie behind the masks, and what happened in that final year of her life…

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity; about the line between innocence and culpability; about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.

I don’t normally read and review crime books – it’s not a genre I have a huge love for,  but something about the cover of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman drew me in and when I read the synopsis, I couldn’t resist. I do love an American High School story and the title and synopsis had echos of an old favourite of mine, Twin Peaks and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. 

There are three very strong character voices in this story; Hattie, Sheriff Del Goodman and Peter, Hattie’s school English Teacher. The chapters move between the murder investigation in the present, set in 2008 and the months leading up to Hattie’s death starting back in August 2007. The moves between characters and backwards and forwards in time give the story good pace and set up many questions, intrigues and mysteries as the novel progresses – I was certainly hooked!

Hattie is a wonderfully complex and well-written character. She’s an amateur actress and has plans to move to New York as soon as she’s finished high school. But for Hattie, acting isn’t just something she does on stage; she sees her whole life as a series of different roles and ‘acts’ accordingly. It’s a clever premise and the psychology of Hattie is one of the most gripping parts of the story-line, throwing up many questions about how we see ourselves and how others see us (or want to see us).

Sheriff Del was my personal favourite character in the book. In many ways he comes across as the ‘typical’ Midwestern small town Sherrif but I liked his shrewdness and his dry humour and I liked that we get to see underneath the tough exterior as we move through the book, particularly through his relationship with Hattie’s parents. His interactions with his young deputy, Jake, are brilliant and their competitiveness made me smile.

Finally, Peter – a city boy transplanted to his wife’s farm as she cares for her dying mother. Peter was the character that I liked least – possibly because he came across to me as very selfish but also because he seemed to think himself above most things! The three different narrative voices make for great reading though as we get different perspectives on events and I enjoyed piecing the time line together and trying to work out who had killed Hattie.

As well as reading this book, I listened to parts of it via the Audible version and I have to say that it is one of the best narrations I’ve listened to this year. Each character has a separate narrator and whilst they jump off the page, hearing them tell their story really increased the impact of it. If you’re a fan of audiobooks I’d certainly recommend giving the audio version a try.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is a clever and compelling thriller that will keep you guessing to the final pages!

4/5

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is out now in Hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

Find out more about Mindy Mejia and her writing at: http://mindymejia.com/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Exclusive extract! The Devil in the Snow by Sarah Armstrong

16 Feb

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sarah Armstrong’s new supernatural thriller, The Devil in the Snow. Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children.  Her short stories have been published in Mslexia, Litro and other magazines and anthologies.  Sarah teaches creative writing for the Open University. Her debut novel, The Insect Rosary, was published by Sandstone Press in 2015.

DevilInTheSnow_FRONT‘It was only girls who had to worry about the devil…’

All Shona wants is a simple life with her young son, and to get free of Maynard, the ex who’s still living in the house. When her teenage daughter goes missing, she’s certain Maynard is the culprit. Her mother, Greta, is no help as she’s too obsessed with the devil. Her Uncle Jimmy is fresh out of prison and has never been entirely straight with her. Then there’s the shaman living in her shed. Shona soon discovers that the secrets she buried are as dangerous as the family curse haunting her mother.

Extract

She collected Jude from the school office, thirty-five minutes late on the second day of his first full week. He looked quite happy, swinging himself around in the head teacher’s chair. The head wasn’t quite so contented and made it clear that she was only postponing a pep talk about time management or consistency for five-year-olds because she wanted to go home today. Jude was smiling and pleased to see her and Shona was happy to leave.

Shona carried Jude home on her back for a treat to celebrate not getting told off. She clasped her hands under his bum as a seat but he still held on a little too tightly. By the time they got back her windpipe felt bruised.

She opened the back door and remembered. Dominic was still asleep.

Jude sat by him, as Shona had done, watching him.

‘Who is he?’

‘I’m not sure. He’s called Dominic.’

‘Are we going to keep him?’

‘He’s just going to stay for a little while.’

Jude raised his eyebrows. ‘In our room?’

‘No.’

Jude frowned. ‘Cerys’ room?’

‘No, He’s just here for a couple of hours. We haven’t got any room, have we?’

Cerys had one bedroom while Shona and Jude shared the other and the walk-in office attached to it. The locked, little-used front room downstairs belonged to her husband, Maynard. The attic had a pull down ladder and a lot of dusty rubbish.

‘He’ll go soon,’ she said. She thought again that she should phone someone, but he’d said Meghan. She needed to hear the rest of that and, when he left, that would be her chance lost. She played it back in her mind, trying to convince herself that he had said something else, but it was always Meghan.

She heard the front door close as Cerys let herself in. Dominic stretched and sat up. Shona froze. What convinced Jude wasn’t going to work on her.

‘Mr Cartwright wants to see you last at Parents’ Evening,’ she shouted from the hall. ‘I wasn’t going to bother, but he asked. I wrote it on the sheet.’ Shona could hear the school bag drop to the floor. Cerys stopped in the doorway and stared.

She’d taken off her school tie, untucked the blouse and shaken her long brown hair free. Her skirt was rolled up at the waist, revealing thin legs with thick fist-like knees. Her nose, which seemed to have been growing out of sync with the rest of her face, was settling now, straight and pretty. Cerys still hated it.

‘Hi,’ she said. She wasn’t talking to Shona or Jude.

Shona looked at her. She hadn’t seen Cerys smile like that for years, open and happy. Dominic smiled back and Shona watched Cerys blush deep on her cheeks.

She hadn’t thought this through. She hadn’t thought what a boy like this would do to a fourteen-year-old. He was beautiful in a girlish boy band way, with large eyes and longish hair. How had she not noticed?

‘Dominic, I think I should call your parents now.’

‘There’s no need.’

‘They’ll be wondering where you are.’ Shona could sense Cerys fidgeting behind her.

‘I’m eighteen. I told them I’d be away for a while.’

‘Of course he should stay, Mum,’ said Cerys. ‘We’ve got room.’

‘Do we?’ Any minute now Dominic would start talking about instructions and Meghan, and then Cerys – what would Cerys do? Shona looked at her again. Cerys wouldn’t say a word. She was ready to jump whenever he told her.

Dominic stood and stretched again. ‘I slept on it. I’m going to stay in the shed.’

Shona thought about it, although it wasn’t a question. ‘And your parents?’

‘I’ll let them know.’

Cerys, still blushing, turned and went upstairs. Shona knew she’d be calling her friends, spreading the word. Shona knew this couldn’t really happen; she couldn’t let this boy sleep in the shed. But, to be honest, she didn’t need another fight with Cerys. She would be the one who would cause trouble over it and if it was fine with her… And Jude?

She didn’t think it would be more than a day or two, just long enough for him to tell her about Meghan. And, please God, he’d be gone before Maynard turned up.

——————————————————–

The Devil in the Snow is released today in paperback and ebook formats by Sandstone Press.

Find out more about Sarah and her books at: http://sandstonepress.com/authors/sarah-armstrong

Book review: The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

5 Aug

9780356506852Jack Sparks died while writing this book.

It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed.

Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a book that leaps out, grabs you, petrifies you and doesn’t let go until the end! Based on a brilliant premise; that author Jack Sparks died whilst writing the book which has now been released by his brother in tribute to him, the story is in turns funny, outrageous and downright scary. I’m not so good with scary stories and this one was too much for me in places (I had to read it in daylight with people around me!) but neither could I walk away from it – I had to know what happened to Jack.

The book opens with an introduction from Jack’s brother, Alistair. As Alistair introduces Jack and his reasons for releasing Jack’s last book posthumously, the reader begins to form a picture of Jack ,who has found fame first as a journalist but latterly as an author of books that look into aspects of the society that we live in. Jack’s previous literary forays include the brilliantly titled Jack Sparks on Drugs – the ‘research’ for which ended with him entering rehab! This introductory potted biography of Jack is of course just his brother’s telling of Jack’s life and we soon get to know the real Jack Sparks as we begin to read his last book.

I loved that this story is a book inside a book – Jack’s final work is presented in its ‘unedited’ format and is fascinating but what adds an extra layer is the inclusion of emails, social media and reports of conversations with others in Jack’s life. Emails to his editor, comments on his Youtube channel and other social media outlets give a wonderful insight into Jack’s persona and keep the reader guessing about the ‘real’ Jack. Initially at least, I didn’t think Jack was a very likeable character – he’s arrogant, self-obsessed and confrontational – as you can imagine, this goes down a storm on his networks.

With no punches pulled, the story proper starts with a recount by Jack of his witnessing an exorcism in Italy. It’s a pretty gory scene but Jack very much sees it as a piece of theatre and that’s where the trouble starts. Jack’s actions that day trigger a chain of events that ultimately lead to his death. As a frightening video appears on his YouTube channel that he knows he didn’t post, the story steps up a gear and takes turns that I could never have imagined.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a very modern take on our fascination with ghosts and the supernatural, amplified through the use of social media. Fans of films like The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project will love this book – it truly is frightening and Jason Arnopp skillfully keeps the shocks and surprises coming wrapping them all up in an enticing mystery. I’m already looking forward to his next book!

4/5

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Jack Sparks at: http://www.jacksparks.co.uk/

Guest post: Best Friends Forever or Just for Now? By Alison Rattle

19 May

Today I’m delighted to welcome Alison Rattle to One More Page on the latest stop of her V for Violet blog tour. Alison grew up in Liverpool, and now lives in a medieval house in Somerset with her three children, her husband – a carpenter – an extremely naughty Jack Russell and a ghost cat.  She has worked as a fashion designer, a production controller, a painter and decorator, a barmaid, and now owns and runs a travelling vintage tea room. Alison has also published three previous YA books about young Victorian women with Hot Key Books – The Quietness, The Beloved and The Madness. Welcome Alison! 

Alison Rattle photoRemember your best friend from school? Did you promise each other to be friends for always? Is she still your best friend now? Or did you lose touch the minute you walked out of the school gates forever?

Female friendships can be among the most intense relationships of our lives, especially those formed during our school years. Friendships can be made accidentally when you are thrown together by circumstances. I remember Raj who I sat next to in biology classes. We had nothing in common outside of those classes, but for those few hours every week we were the best of mates. She was the clever, good girl of the class and I was the slightly naughty one. But our friendship developed to such a stage that I once persuaded her to let off a stink bomb in the classroom, as we knew for a fact that she would be the one student no teacher would suspect. The plan worked. But to this day I have no idea what Raj did with her life. I don’t even remember her surname. And she probably doesn’t remember the stink bomb.

And then there was Amanda. We moved up to big school at the same time and only lived around the corner from each other. We spent almost every night at each other’s houses and went through puberty together. We compared the sizes of our growing boobs, practised kissing our reflections in a mirror and raided our mum’s supplies of sanitary towels and tampons, fascinated by these objects of womanhood that we didn’t need yet. We started our periods at around the same time and I had never felt closer to anyone. But then Amanda moved schools, her parents choosing to send her to a private school in another town. I never saw her again.

Then along came Pamela. We had seen each other from a distance, across the playground. She was always hanging around with a group of cool girls. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to wear my tie in a tiny knot and roll my skirt up to above my knees. They all had boyfriends too. Older boys who would meet them after school on their motorbikes. They were popular and thrilling and I wanted to be part of their group. When we moved up a year I found myself sitting next to Pamela in our English class. We hit it off immediately. We spent lessons giggling and messing about and thinking of ways to wind up our teachers and skip school. Our cross country runs consisted of Pamela’s boyfriend meeting us around the corner in his car and driving us around the course. He would drop us off twenty minutes later and we would run back into school pretending to be out of breath and always scoring the best times. Outside of school, we rebelled in the only ways we could in our small town. We tried our first illicit drink of alcohol together, snuck into pubs, went to parties, shared clothes and lost our virginities in the same week. We shared all the terrible, dangerous, wonderful things about growing up.

At the heart of my latest book, V for Violet, there is an intense friendship between the main character Violet and her best friend Jackie. All the v for violetway through school they have done everything together. Violet has a photograph album of memories in her head with pictures of all the special times they have shared. From their very first day at school when Violet accidentally wets herself and Jackie gives her her own dry knickers, to the rainy day when they both carve their names under a park slide and promise to be friends forever, Violet experiences the same intense feelings that first love brings. She can’t imagine her life without Jackie. But then school ends and suddenly Jackie has a new life and new friends and Violet is tossed aside, her heart broken.

 I’m happy to say that Pamela never broke my heart. We still keep in touch after all these years and when we do manage to see each other (we live at opposite ends of the country) it’s like no time has passed. We don’t even notice each other’s wrinkles. But I know that’s a rare thing and that I’m very lucky to still have that connection to my youth. Most teenage friendships are, like first love, so intense and all-consuming that they burn themselves out.

Of course, I grew up in the time before Facebook and all those other social media sites, so when you lost touch with someone, you really lost touch. I wonder now if that all makes a difference? Because even if your friendships fade after leaving school you can still keep in touch to a degree by simply finding someone on Facebook. If only I could remember Raj’s surname. I would definitely look her up, if only to reassure myself that the stink bomb incident didn’t completely ruin her life!           

 V for Violet by Alison Rattle is out now in paperback and ebook formats published by Hot Key Books.

Follow Alison at www.alisonrattle.com or on Twitter:@alisonrattle

 

Book review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

18 Apr

the obsessionNaomi Carson is a survivor. As a child, her family was torn apart by a shocking crime. It could have destroyed her, but Naomi has grown up strong, with a passion for photography that has taken her all around the world.

Now, at last, she has decided to put down roots. The beautiful old house on Point Bluff needs work, but Naomi has new friends in town who are willing to help, including Xander Keaton – gorgeous, infuriating and determined to win her heart.

But as Naomi plans for the future, her past is catching up with her. Someone in town knows her terrifying secret – and won’t let her forget it. As her new home is rocked by violence, Naomi must discover her persecutor’s identity, before it’s too late.

There was much excitement in my little corner of the World when a proof copy of Nora Roberts’ latest novel was delivered. I’m such a big fan of Nora’s books now so I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for The Obsession which starts today.

The Obsession is described as ‘romantic suspense’ and it is just that. I think the word ‘gripping’ is often overused but that’s just what this novel is. The story held my attention from the shocking opening to the very final pages and I sped through this book in just a couple of days because I had to know the outcome of the story. Nora’s writing is impressive – the more I read her books, the more impressed I am by her ability to weave a story that is easily readable, yet not predictable, be it a paranormal/fantasy set on a sunny island (Nora’s last novel) or, as in this case, a harrowing story of the daughter of a family with a dark secret.

The book opens with twelve year old Naomi discovering the shocking truth about a member of her family. It’s an opening that will stay with me for a long time and had me holding my breath as I read. As the extent and horror of the crimes are revealed, she escapes and tries to begin a new life far away. I enjoyed how Nora focused in on Naomi and the effects of her discovery on her life, taking me as a reader with her as she grew up. The portrayal felt very believable, particularly the media interest in the case and the family and The Obsession made me think about what it could be like to be the subject of such scrutiny.

As grown up Naomi, who is now a photographer buys a run down house in a small town and starts to consider settling, the story takes on a very different tone and I enjoyed this part of the book a lot. I loved the descriptions and details of Naomi’s house renovation and how she reluctantly became part of the community. This is also the part of the novel that introduces the romantic element to the story as Naomi meets Xander, the local garage owner. I loved Xander as a male lead – book lovers take note; you will want to meet him!

I liked the way that The Obsession kept me guessing (and suspecting!) and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t sure where the story was going in terms of an obsession or how it would play out. This kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could. I don’t want to give anything away but will say that I found the ending very satisfying and I’m already looking forward to reading Nora’s next book! Thankfully I don’t have long to wait, Bay of Sighs is out in June!

5/5

The Obsession is out now in hardback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Nora and her novels at:

Guest post: Enjoy Being Published by Annemarie Neary

22 Mar

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut author Annemarie Neary to One More Page. Annemarie was born in Northern Ireland and educated in Dublin — at Trinity College, where she studied literature, and King’s Inns, where she qualified as a barrister. She has a Masters in Venetian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Insitute, and Venice is something of an obsession.  

Most of her career has been spent working as a lawyer in London. She has lived on Clapham Common for more than 20 years with her husband and three sons. Her novel Siren will be published on 24th March by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK) with another novel to follow. Welcome Annemarie!

AN_1808_1266 B&WWhen you sign a book deal, plenty of things can give you angst if you let them. Don’t let them. Something to remember  — while it is still your book, it also belongs to other people too now. These people are on your side – their interests (mostly!) coincide with yours.  Have a strong idea of your own book and what matters to you most about it, but be flexible as well.

Editing

Your editor is not trying to ‘ruin your book’. S/he is trying to help you tell your story in the most cogent way possible. S/he loves your book — and wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. So relax. No good editor will try to rewrite you in their own image, so don’t be too defensive. Stand up for the things you feel strongly about, but do take advice on matters that affect narrative tension and flow.  A lot of people within the company will probably have read the ms by the time it reaches the editing stage, so if there is consensus on a plot glitch, for example, or if they feel a certain section drags, they’re probably right.

Jacket design

The publisher’s perspective is partly dictated by the ‘box’ into which your book has been placed. You were hoping for hearts and flowers, but you’re getting ‘retreating figure on dark street’ and big jagged lettering. What’s happening?  Maybe there’s a mismatch between you and the publisher when it comes to the key characteristics of the book? Not very likely, if you’ve come this far together. Perhaps they are attempting to align your book with that of Author X. Maybe they’re being innovative, going for crossover appeal, taking advice from Retailer Y…  Whatever it is, you need to discuss this. If you hate your cover, it’s worth saying so. You’ll have to live with it for a long time. Your contract will give you room for manoeuvre here, but you also need to take into account the reaction of retailers and key influencers, and recognize that to some extent the jacket design will be dictated by the zeitgeist.

Reviews

Scary. Some people will love your book and others really won’t.  You may choose to read reviews or ignore them. Personally, I think that if someone could be bothered to read your book and give it a considered review then you should be bothered to read it. But don’t obsess. And, whatever you do, don’t reply to a bad review. Ever.

Envy and Upping the Ante

To finish a novel is a big achievement. To get it published is nothing short of miraculous. Don’t beat yourself up that your novel isn’t on the front table at your local Waterstones or that its ranking is a six figure number on Amazon (or that Whatsername, on the other hand….). That way madness lies. Get on with the only thing that really matters — writing the next one.

 A small window

Your book is new for a very short time, so do what you can to help it along during those first few weeks. If book clubs get in touch, try to make time to connect with those readers, whether in person, through an emailed Q&A, or via Skype. Support the reviewers who are reading your book and posting about it by spreading the word about their sites, and retweeting reviews (and not just your own!). With interviews and Q&As, try to give sensible answers that don’t come back to haunt you down the line…  If you’re not already on Twitter, I’d advise you to join. It is a wonderful way of making connections with other writers and linking in to the book world generally.  People are generally very supportive, and it can be a great comfort. Just try not to spend all day on there. Use internet blocking software like Freedom or Self Control if you really start to develop a serious Twitter habit.   After all, the only thing that really matters is that you are writing that next book.

Thanks Annemarie!
SIREN COVER FINALAnnemarie Neary’s psychological thriller, Siren, will be published by Hutchinson on 24th March 2016

HE STOLE HER LIFE. AND NOW SHE WANTS IT BACK.
Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies.
A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth.
Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down.
But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

 

Book review: Vigilante by Shelley Harris

8 Mar

vigilanteFor Jenny Pepper, housewife, charity bookshop worker and mum to a stroppy teen, life has become a little boring. She was once an actress, but now spends every day tidying up after other people.

Then, on her way to a party one night, Jenny bravely steps in to save a woman in trouble. Suddenly her world is exciting again – and she’s a hero. As she starts patrolling the streets of her small town, she feels more alive than she has in years. But when a real villain appears, Jenny’s daughter is in danger. Will she tell the police what she knows or go it alone and risk losing everything?

VIGILANTE is about an ordinary woman stuck in a rut – and the extraordinary lengths she’ll go to recapture her life.

What better book to review on International Women’s Day than a novel about a woman and her desire to take back the feeling of power in her life? Jenny is a forty-something housewife with a teenage daughter, a job in a charity bookshop and a comfortable husband and home. What struck me immediately about Jenny was the familiarity of her home life. I don’t have teenage children (yet!) but as she described the sorting, tidying and ‘managing’ of home, school and work I immediately felt an empathy and solidarity with her.

I was surprised by the arc that the book quickly took as Jenny makes an uncomfortable discovery whilst on one of her tidying drives and compounded by feeling that her life is stuck in a rut is spurred to create a new persona for herself. Although a bit of fun at first, Jenny’s ‘costume’ really does give her a different perspective on the world and when she steps in to help a woman who is being attacked one night, she finds a rush that she’d thought long gone.

Vigilante also surprised me by being a much darker book than I expected when I first opened the pages and what starts as an examination of one woman and her desire to feel that she matters, soon moves to become a tense and frightening thriller as an attacker begins to prey on the girls at Jenny’s daughter’s school. I’ll admit to being shocked by some of the events that happen in this book and they are made all the more stark against the familiarity of Jenny’s home life.

The book begs the question ‘How far would you go to protect the people you love?’ and as I went on this journey with Jenny I couldn’t help but put myself in her place, knowing that if an attacker was on the loose I’d do anything to protect my own family and hoping that I’d be as brave as Jenny.

The book sheds a stark spotlight on the issue of women’s safety and how women are depicted and taught to deal with potentially dangerous situations and it shocked me into realising that we are conditioned to be aware and ‘avoid’ certain situations; to defend ourselves, escape and get away; rarely to stand ground and never to fight back.  As you can see I found Vigilante incredibly thought provoking and I’d recommend this as an excellent book for book groups as there are so many aspects of it that could spark really interesting discussions (the book also has excellent reading group notes at the back).

Vigilante takes the accepted definition of ‘hero’ and turns it on it’s head. I loved that Jenny is a woman just like me or you. She’s not super fit, she’s not skinny and she’s not happy with the way she sees herself and other women and girls depicted and treated – so she decides to do something about it and I loved reading about it as she did.

4/5

Vigilante is out now in ebook and paperback formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Shelley and her writing at: http://shelleyharris.co.uk/

 

 

Book review: 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

21 Feb

13 minutesI was dead for 13 minutes.

I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart. My friends love me, I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to kill me. Does it?

13 Minutes is Sarah Pinborough’s first foray into writing for a young adult market but the book shouldn’t be dismissed by those not in that age bracket – I’m an old(er) adult an I couldn’t put it down! This is a chilling look at schools, the pressures faced by teenagers today, social media and the cult of the queen bee.

It’s an age old story; every school has that girl and group of girls that everyone either wants to be, or wants to be friends with; even those who don’t, know who they are and what they are up to. In this novel, Jenny, Hayley and Natasha are The Barbies; all blonde, beautiful and confident – they rule the school.

Becca used to be friends with two of the Barbies and is now on the outside. She was best friends with Natasha  and 13 minutes is as much an examination of the dynamics of female friendships as it is a chilling psychological thriller. The dark and twisted characteristics of Sarah’s other novels are firmly present in this book as she sets up a complex web of friendship and deception seen through the eyes of several narrators. By the end of the novel I was questioning everything and feeling distinctly shaken – this is a story that you will not put down easily and will linger with you when you do.

The novel opens with Natasha’s near death experience. Technically, she was dead for thirteen minutes, pulled from a frozen river in the early hours of the morning. As Natasha awakens in hospital she has no memory of the events leading to her being found in the river.  The narration of the book from different points of view adds to its complexity. Short narrative chapters are interspersed with extracts from newspapers, text messages, diary extracts and police reports. My mind was working overtime as I tried to work out what was really going on and one of the reasons’s I enjoyed this book so much is that every time I thought I’d worked it out, Sarah turned the tables!

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing for a while now but this is my favourite of her books that I’ve read so far. 13 Minutes is a gripping and tense psychological thriller that will keep you up turning the pages long into the night and then have you sleepless as you try to get to grips with the frightening premise!

5/5

13 Minutes is out now in hardback and ebook formats from Gollancz.

Find out more about Sarah and her writing at: http://www.gollancz.co.uk/sarah-pinborough/

Review round up 2015

20 Dec

As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been trying to catch up on books I read but didn’t get round to reviewing. Here are some mini reviews of the ones that got away earlier in the year!

dandelion yearsThe Dandelion Years by Erica James

The Dandelion Years is the first of Erica James’ books that I’ve read. I was drawn to this book initially by the references to Bletchly Park. The code breakers of World War Two have always held a fascination for me. Coupled with the fact that this is a book where the lead character is a book restorer, I had to know more!

This is a lovely story of family, history and love and I found it a gently compelling read. Starting in the present we meet Saskia and her unconventional housemates. This is three men and a little lady grown up as Saskia lives with her dad and two grandfathers which is a set up that I’ve never come across before but made for a refreshingly different family group in the book.

Saskia is given a book to restore and finds a manuscript hidden inside. Titled The Dandelion Years, the handwritten pages tell a tale of wartime love and Saskia is soon hooked. While I enjoyed the main story it was the chapters that took me back in time that I enjoyed most and caught my imagination and curiosity.

James sets a number of mysteries out for the reader and as the story progressed I enjoyed beginning to piece the picture together but I still couldn’t predict what had happened to the Katsura that the historical element of the book focussed icon. With romance, history and an intriguing mystery, this is a lovely novel about seizing the moment and moving forward despite heartbreak loss and uncertainty.

the sistersThe Sisters by Claire Douglas

The story focuses on Abi – a grieving twin whose identical sister has recently died. The questions and cliffhangers come thick and fast starting with a high impact opening chapter and its soon clear that Abi has a lot to deal with. I loved the way that Claire drip fed details about what happened to Abi’s twin Lucy to us and I thought she struck a tantalisingly perfect balance between moving the story forward and deepening the mysteries in it.

Just about everyone in the story feels unreliable as narrators and this was one of the key reasons I enjoyed this book so much – just when I thought I’d worked out who was manipulating who a new detail or event would make me question everything again.

Abi is a complex character and her thought processes and motivations equally complex against a background of grief, self blame and concerns for her mental health. Seemingly minor and plausible events like the misplacement of a letter or medication escalate into more sinister occurrences and throughout as a reader I was as unsure as Abi as to who was responsible. This lent an uncertain quality to the story and made it all the more gripping.

Abi moves in with Bea And her brother Ben and this is where the story really takes off. The relationships between the siblings is intriguing and adds further to the drama and mystery of the book. A fab psychological thriller –  I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Douglas’s gripping debut.

The New Woman by Charity Norman the new woman

Charity Norman has written some of my favourite books of recent years and I was delighted to be chosen to give out one of her books for World Book Night earlier in the year.  I can always rely on Charity to provide a thought-provoking read that will make me look at an issue from many different angles and The New Woman is no exception.

Luke Livingstone is a highly respected solicitor; a family man with a lovely home, wife, children and grandchildren. But Luke has been living with a huge secret; a secret that defines the very core of who he is and as the novel opens, it is a secret that has driven him to take a heartbreaking decision. I have little experience of transgender issues personally but with her characteristic sensitivity, Charity shines a light on what it’s like to feel you have to hide your true identity from those you love.

Charity captures the nuances and intricacies of family life so well. Seeing Kate, Elish and Luke’s perspectives was fascinating and made me think about my own parents and what they really think about my choices as opposed to what they’d like me to think they think! Norman cleverly illustrates the point that as much as we may think we know what our nearest and dearest are thinking only that person can ever really know what’s going on in their heads. For Luke this is a huge identity issue but I could see echoes of the theme throughout the book as key characters were forced in turn to address their own hidden secrets.

I hope that transgender children today would find more acceptance than Luke did when he was young; the story made me concerned and sad as I read but ultimately was a tale of strength and transformation for all.

the ice twinsThe Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

I read more psychological thrillers in 2015 than I ever had before and The Ice Twins is one that stands out as being particularly and chillingly memorable. Angus and Sarah Moorcraft are trying to piece their lives back together following the tragic death of their daughter Lydia. What is already a devastating subject is made more intense by the fact that Lydia has an identical twin, Kirstie. Everything Kirstie does is a reminder of Lydia and when Kirstie begins to act strangely, Sarah and Angus don’t know how to react.

This is a novel of complex psychology, isolation, the unique relationship between twins and the effects of devastating grief on a family. As Angus, Sarah and Kirstie decide to move to a remote and tiny Scottish Island to a house that Angus inherited from his grandmother, they add an extra dimension to their problems.

But it is Kirstie’s insistence that a mistake has been made and that she is actually Lydia that gives this book such a chilling and memorable edge. I was on the edge of my seat as I read The Ice Twins and the imagery of the isolating Scottish landscape added wonderfully to the otherworldly and spooky events of the novel. With the mystery of what really happened to the twins tantalisingly waiting to be revealed, this is a gripping page turner and will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

 

 

Book news: My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

11 Jul

I love the cover and intriguing premise for Tracy Buchanan’s next novel, My Sister’s Secret and am really looking forward to reading it. The ebook is released on 21st July with the paperback following on 13th August!

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Willow’s memories of her parents are sun-drenched and full of smiles, love and laughter. But a mysterious invitation to a photographic exhibition exposes a secret that’s been buried since a tragic accident years ago.

Willow is forced to question everything she knew about Charity, her late mother, and Hope, the aunt she’s lived with since she was a child.

How was the enigmatic photographer connected to Willow’s parents? Why will Hope not break her silence?

Willow cannot move forward in her life without answers. But who can she really trust? Because no one has been telling the truth for a very long time.

 

my sisters secret

Find out more about Tracy and her writing at: http://www.tracybuchanan.co.uk