“The Girl in Black” by Kathy Lauren Miller is a hauntingly taut murder mystery as well as an awesome page-turner! The mystery begins with high school senior, Kate Mckenna who happens to live in an old Victorian manor that is also the Mckenna Memorial Funeral Home. Her father, Dr. Brendan Mckenna, happens to be the county’s Chief Medical Examiner. Shy Kate, whose social life as always been nearly non-existent until she is thrust into the limelight when the promiscuous prom queen, Ashley is found tortured and murdered.
Accusations run rampant in Kate’s High School concerning several male students that were involved with Ashley. To make matters worse, Ashley’s remains now reside at the funeral home where Kate lives. Kate and her best friend Cooper, a computer nerd, and Kate’s unattainable heartthrob, handsome Shane, all become involved in Ashley’s murder. Suddenly, Kate finds herself in the cross hairs of the sadistic…
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The Girl at the End of the Road
by K A Hitchins
Disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to be given this book by The Book Club on Facebook in exchange for a fair and honest review
Vincent has found himself in a situation that any self-respecting “City” boy would balk at. He has lost his job, his rented home, possibly his high maintenance girlfriend and perhaps most humiliating of all, he is on his way home to his parents’ house in Suffolk. Rural Suffolk. At this point in his life, a decade or so after leaving school, he did not expect to find himself becoming reacquainted with his childhood bedroom or learning how to live with his loving, but in his eyes, staid middle aged parents.
But he is clear in his own mind that this is just a temporary glitch. The downturn in the economy and his huge personal debts will not hold him back. However adjusting to life in the rural village of Elmsford proves hard for Vincent, who assumes himself to be a city hotshot. There is no immediate access to internet, the job offers that he expected to flood in are nowhere in sight and his social life is virtually non-existent – unless you count dog walks with his parents’ elderly dog. A trip to the local library brings him face to face with a memory from the past in the shape of librarian Sarah Penny. Having run into this old school friend once, he finds himself encountering her on dog walks and then actively seeking her out.
So begins what initially seems to be the most unlikely of friendships. Sarah is the antithesis of friends who have featured in Vincent’s life as she is serious, quiet, slightly dowdy and happy to be in Suffolk. She is certainly unlike the city girls who dress and make up to the nines, expecting champagne fuelled dates and expensive accessories. Sarah, in her almost simplistic view of the world, makes Vincent accept some unpleasant truths about himself and his attitudes to life.
The story could be very clichéd, and at first Vincent is a pretty unlikeable character. But it was with real interest that I watched his character evolve from spoilt young man to something altogether different. Maybe there is an element of fairy tale to this, but as Vincent grows so does Sarah and the reader begins to have a glimpse into a simple world of an exceptional young lady. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I believe that there is enough already written about Sarah’s autism not to be giving anything away. I am not autistic so do not pretend to have any inside knowledge about this complex condition. But I do belong to a community of chronic illness sufferers, some of whom are on the autistic spectrum and I have recently read articles by author Laura James, who has autism and my own condition, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I feel that Sarah’s autism, which included her extraordinary intelligence, has been handled sensitively and with relevance to real life. For instance, her coping mechanisms at dealing with life following her mother’s death and her growing relationship with Vincent.
This book made me think, made me sad and in parts made me laugh out loud. Perhaps most importantly it made me examine my own attitudes to those we consider to be different to ourselves and also those closest to us. In my disability chronic illness community we call ourselves “spoonies”, in the book Sarah and her friends call themselves “The Specials” – a fantastic name. Of course there is a moral to the story for Vincent regarding what in life really makes you happy…..and sometimes you are unable to see it for trying too hard.
For me a great read, with a long review, but 5 stars all the way!
I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of this novel by the author Donna Alward and Justine Sha at St Martin’s Press, New York in exchange for a fair and honest review – to be featured as part of the “Somebody Like You” blog tour!
Laurel Stone has returned to her small home town of Darling at a time in her life when she had expected to be spreading her wings and making a new “grown up” life. She has done everything just as she had planned…studied hard, with uni and a degree, moved to the city, taken the sensible options and achieved a good job, home and relationship. But by her mid twenties it has gone wrong, she has had her heart broken and followed the only route that seems open to her – home.
But what awaits her in a small town where everyone knows each other, and each other’s business? Laurel Stone doesn’t want to rock the boat. She wants to please her parents, her best friend, the town’s business community, even her ex. But there is another ex from her high school days who is still living in Darling and he was the first boy to break her heart. With a small crime wave sweeping through the community, how will Laurel cope with coming face to face with said ex, now police officer Aiden Gallagher, when her new garden centre is vandalised? He was the first boy she had kissed and the whole town knows this as the photographic proof is hung in the town hall. A 5 year old page boy and bridesmaid kissing on the town’s infamous “Kissing Bridge” and adorning the tourist information ever since.
This is “Chic Lit” at its best and a really lovely read for a winter weekend in February. In Laurel we have a heroine who puts the feelings of everyone else before herself, burying her own feelings rather than face them. She loves her new business, the Ladybug gardening centre, and is even inspired to give a homeless man a job, but she seems intent on ruining her own personal happiness. She could be a bit too saccharine, but the whole way through the book the character of Laurel is written with something feisty bubbling just beneath the surface. What will it take to push it to the fore?
At first Aiden is depicted as a twenty something version of his high school self, the popular boy with good looks and a swagger to match. But he is constantly drawn back to Laurel, even persuading her to a holiday celebration at his large family’s home, although he can’t seem to do right for doing wrong where Laurel is concerned. I think that Aiden grows up and opens up through the course of the book, and we learn about a different side to him as we meet his family.
There are some great back stories and lovely characters. I particularly like Laurel’s best friend Willow, the yoga loving, hippy, wholefood café owner who provides the delicious sounding chocolate brownies that have a star role! The homeless man George who both Aiden & Laurel take under their wings – his observation that “when you’re invisible you notice a lot” was so touching – and Oaklee the young very enthusiastic campaign manager for the town’s tourism. She is determined to recreate “that” photo on the Kissing Bridge now that Laurel is home again.
This is a feel good story about relationships exploring family, sexuality, friendship and romance. It doesn’t pretend to be a classic piece of literature – but it is a really enjoyable, easy read contemporary romance. Great for spoonies!
Now I’m off to spend this wet, dark February evening starting the next in the Darling series, “Somebody’s Baby”……review to come!
My Husband’s Son by Deborah O’Connor
I was given a copy of this book through the Book Club on Facebook in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions & thoughts are my own.
Heidi and Jason, a couple who are flung together in the most heart breaking of circumstances. They have both experienced the nightmare of any parent – a child abduction – and the emotional & physical roller-coaster that accompanies it. This is a book that depicts a psychological drama, with suspense & investigation, whilst also being sensitive to the human relationships of all the characters.
Heidi, a single mother, and Jason, a divorced father, met at a child safety conference to which they had both been invited because their children had been stolen from them. They found that here was someone else who not only understood but shared a need to talk over memories to the point of obsession; someone who had a love hate relationship with sleep; someone who understood the need to keep looking back when others wanted you to look forward. Within six months Heidi had packed up her life in Rochester to move north and in with Jason, and later they married.
Their individual stories unfurl within their joint story after Heidi spots a young boy in an off licence. She is convinced that this youngster could be Jason’s son, Barney, who has never been found – but when she takes Jason to the shop he is certain that it is not his son. “No matter how many years have passed……I’ll know him and he’ll know me.” But Heidi is unable to put the boy from her mind and begins her own crusade to find out more about him. As she goes “undercover” to investigate, she discovers secrets kept by people she trusts, relationships that are not all that they seem and that maybe a single life event does not have to define a person. She is also forced to ask whether a parent will always instinctively know their own child.
I really appreciated Deborah O’Connor’s character development throughout the course of the book. Heidi and Jason share a complex & often dysfunctional relationship which at times seems destined to fail. At times it is difficult to see whether they have any connection beyond their children, Barney & Lauren, and there is always the elephant in the room – Heidi knows what happened to Lauren (no spoilers!) Jason does not recognize that Heidi is in turmoil – as she works her way deeper into the lives around the boy, her job suffers, relationship with family & friends break down and she finds herself empathizing and developing relationships in the most unlikely places.
The impact upon everyone touched by the cases of Lauren & Barney is enormous – from the parents, extended families & friends to the police officers investigating the cases. It really is a heart breaking story with psychological twists & turns that I believe will see you in a very different mind set by the time you reach the staggering conclusion. Is there always such a thing as the right course of action? Five stars!
Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett
I was given a copy of this book from Netgalley via The Book Club on Facebook in exchange for a fair & honest review. All views are my own.
I challenge you, whether Bowie fan or not, to read this book without constantly having Space Oddity going round your head! Thomas Major is a lowly scientist working at the British Space Agency when he finds himself in a position to be the first man to visit Mars. The only thing is that it is a one way mission, but Thomas has his own reasons for wishing to leave his life behind & entering a self imposed solitude. Back on earth the Ormerod family are struggling to survive – teenager Ellie & younger brother James living with grandmother Gladys whilst their father is in jail. Ellie should be having the time of her life shopping & partying with her friends, but instead her mother has died, she is working 3 jobs, caring for her brother & worrying that social services will split them if they realise that Gladys has dementia.
It was difficult to see how these two very separate story lines could interlink and work, but they dovetail together beautifully from the day that major Tom tries to call his ex-wife from space and Gladys answers the telephone. Their lives are linked through the most unusual series of events which see Thomas Major helping the Ormerod family overcome financial and social issues…and even come to terms with a few of his own demons.
I loved this book – it made me laugh and cry. The view from the space ship window is described so vividly that I could see it, and the personalities of the individual main characters brim with life. The comedy that the writer incorporated into the character of Gladys turns a sensitive situation into a human one. She made me laugh out loud. The back story for Thomas Major unfolds and he is surprised to find himself changing as his relationship with the family on Earth develops and makes him re evaluate. These people were very easy to identify with and I wanted to know what life had in store for them. Mr Barnett makes the reader care.
A feel good story showing the best in human nature without over sentimentality, and how communities can come together. An uplifting read that I give 5 stars.
Noodle Trails by Eileen Kay
I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Noodle Trails from The Book Club on facebook in exchange for a fair and honest review – all opinions are my own and not sponsored.
Eileen sets off for her regular annual travels with Thailand firmly in her sights, only this year the circumstances feel different. In the past she has visited foreign parts under her business guise of Eileen’s Imports indulging in her passion to work with small producers of Fair Trade goods. These trips took her to Nepal, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Africa and always her favourite, Thailand. However this trip came as a long term relationship was ended suddenly and out of the blue by her partner, and also as Eileen was having to accept that her once thriving business was no longer profitable. The change in the economy meant that the goods that she imported from small groups of, often, women working on the poverty line, were no longer in demand from the struggling shops & traders of the UK. But the trip has already been booked, and maybe it will provide a time of both grieving and healing for these two great losses in her life, before she can move on to a new life in Scotland.
As a blogger, I was keen to read this journal and experience blog posts brought together in a book. The disclaimer at the beginning does state that whilst the book is based upon real events, many have been dramatized and some is fiction. I have never been to Thailand, or in fact any of the countries that Eileen describes, but she transported me there with wonderful descriptions of the scenery, the people and the infrastructure. But my favourite descriptions were of the food! Every place that she stayed in was rated by the local food – not the food served up to the tourists, but that served in a local lady’s front room or café where the residents would eat. The aromas and tastes conjured up by Eileen’s writing made me salivate for noodles and ginger and chilli!
I learnt so much about Fair Trade – and Eileen’s guilt at letting down her contacts in villages in the middle of nowhere when she was unable to place an order this year. Small orders from western businesses could keep a whole village in work and food for months at a time. But I also laughed out loud at the descriptions of the family from whom she rented her final bungalow – the mixture of Italians and Thais was lovely, and I really hope that these lovely people were real and not fictional! I enjoyed this so much that I have found Eileen’s blog and her facebook page (www.facebook.com/Noodle-Trails-Eileen-Kay) and continue to follow her as she writes another book, learns Thai and I believe continues to wander Thailand.
I rate this book 4 stars.
Book review of the new novel by Conrad Jones
I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of Brick through The Book Club on facebook in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.
The murky underworld of gangland Liverpool is the setting for this gritty, fast paced thriller. With a prologue that leaves us with no illusions about the darker, violent sides of the story that are to come, the different threads and characters are introduced quickly. From the thugs of the prologue & burnt corpses of the first chapter, to a 14 year old boy and his family, to the new Detective Inspector with the police department, each character has their individual tale to bring, but these all feed one larger tangled web.
14 year old Bryn is the teenager who, out walking his dog one day, happens to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and finds himself the victim of an unprovoked attack. But this leads to a death, and the investigating police squad soon find that the teenager and his family are now unwittingly on the radar of a dangerous gangland criminal wanting vengeance. Stolen drugs, misplaced loyalties and the lengths that these gangs will go to, in order to protect their turf and their stock, make this a dangerous world for an ordinary family to find themselves in. Even DI Braddick who is investigating both the case of young Bryn and the case of the charred corpses, has some personal reason from his time in London to want to catch the Russians at the top of the chain. His investigations converge with an ongoing drugs squad investigation, and there also appears to be a mole within the police team. How else is the gang boss managing to find out the confidential whereabouts of witnesses & stay one step ahead? Even Bryn’s brother and the expensive lawyer that he hires appear to have something to hide.
This is not a novel for the faint hearted or squeamish as Conrad Jones paints a very vivid picture of the violence inflicted and the cheapness of life in the drugs underworld. This extends to the psychopathic tendencies of certain characters who are depicted as lacking in any empathy or morals, and unable to distinguish an innocent family for the sake of revenge & warped loyalties. I appreciated the way in which the police officers were depicted – they were not the usual upstanding pillars of the community who were whiter than white, but rather were humans with a range of personalities & emotions that they each brought to the job in hand. There were parts of the book that made me want to shout at the characters or hide behind my own hands as I couldn’t bare what might be coming next – how could Bryn’s family possibly think this action might be a good move, or why were the police not investigating that? For me this is great writing! I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what would happen next and yet almost didn’t want to know, as things couldn’t possibly work out “happily ever after” – Conrad Jones has not written a fairy tale but rather about real life.
I would love to see a follow up to this as the characters of several of the police officers have developed sufficiently to move into another investigation, and there are loose ends from this plot that could be investigated in a sequel – no spoilers! In my opinion a gritty page turner that I could not put down – this gets 5 stars from me. Please Mr Jones, bring DI Braddick back for more!
Some Enchanted Evening
It really was “Some Enchanted Evening” on Friday in Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square. The music of Richard Rodgers was celebrated within the wonderful acoustics of this beautiful concert hall, with songs from My Funny Valentine to musicals South Pacific & Oklahoma, to the Julie Andrews TV version of Cinderella. Lesley Garrett led us through the evening as both narrator and singer, joined by the beautiful Ruthie Henshall, suave Michael Xavier and amazing Gary Wilmott. I had no idea that Gary Wilmott had such a wonderful voice (he led the audience singing Edelweiss) and I believe that Miss Garrett may just have a little crush on a certain Mr Xavier!
The musical accompaniment was provided by an equally enchanting Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, but for me the stars of the show were the young men and women from The Arts Educational School, London, who provided the chorus. I must praise their professional performance as they both sang and danced, and performed several of their own numbers from both Oklahoma! and the iconic Doe a Deer. They may not have graduated yet, but will surely all have bright futures ahead of them in the West End.
Of course no evening celebrating Richard Rodgers would be complete without Miss Garrett singing her heart out with 2 iconic hits from the musicals world – “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, and the finale “You’ll never walk Alone” from Carousel. The Cadogan Hall audience sounded very different from the many football stadium fans who usually belt this out, but were no less enthusiastic!
Quite truly “Some Enchanted Evening”!
This short review was first published on our Intimate Audio facebook page, along with “proper” reviews from Musical Review, the Stage and others!
Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
I was fortunate enough to be given ARC by the author and publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you
When I started this book, although I knew that it was a teenage novel, I really wasn’t sure that I’d be able to read it all. The initial storyline seemed lightweight and the speech between the main characters, a group of 17 & 18 year old girls, insincere and extremely adolescent. But of course this is exactly how the author must have intended it to be, as she was depicting the egocentric & vacuous world of so many of today’s teenagers. The main character Emma comes from an ordinary family in a small town in Ireland. She desperately wants to fit in, to be accepted as a player in the “in” crowd, to be popular and most of all to be the most attractive. Whilst she wants for nothing, she is envious of her friends who came from homes with more monetary wealth than her own, never giving a thought to what else makes a happy home.
The youngsters, girls & boys, live in a world dominated by social media, parties, alcohol and sex. As the mum of teenagers it was a worrying read – nothing to do with being prudish, but more to worry about the priorities and pressures that adolescents live by today. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but it is at a social gathering that life changes for young Emma forever. She is bright girl, just finishing school, with a future ahead of her – even though she pretends not to be studious at school in order to fit in. She is unable to remember what has happened, but truths and lies along with video recordings circulate, and the lives of so many village inhabitants, including all of Emma’s family, are changed.
Relationships are the focus of this book – those between the adolescents, social media and also how they relate to their parents and the other adults about them. The book is disturbing, not just for the actual story line but the trial by social media and the human reactions to it. The writing is clever and makes the reader uncomfortable – there were so many times when I wanted to shake one of the girls, but I also wanted to weep for the culture that these young people find themselves in. My daughter tells me that there is a culture on social media called “slut shaming” – this book must be the epitome of this.
An uncomfortable read that all older adolescents should read, I give this book 4 stars.
Puppy Mind Review by Andrew Jordan Nance
I was fortunate to be sent a copy of this book through netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. The views expressed are my own.
I was keen to review this new children’s book as I am a mum to adolescents and a school governor with a special interest in early years. The story is told by a child who is comparing his mind to a puppy dog – that is to say that he struggles with concentrating on one thing because something else is always cropping up to distract him. When the boy is bored his mind is pulled off just like a puppy dog on a leash – he remembers things that have happened to him, or at school he imagines he is somewhere else as his mind runs away. But then he tells his puppy mind off and works out that if he makes his puppy mind come to heel and take deep breaths, he can slow it down and concentrate again. The book finishes with the boy explaining that if he practises his slow breathing every day, he will have more fun with his puppy mind!
I read this book with my nephew who is 5 years 8 months and goes into year 1 in September. The actual written words were probably a little too hard for him – he was able to read some and to use phonics to decode, but a slightly more advanced reader would manage most of it – but he could really relate to the “puppy mind”. He is a very active little boy with a short attention span so this was perfect for him and we refer to his puppy mind now. He really enjoyed the sections in the story where he could describe what was happening and also recount stories when he doesn’t concentrate at school – a regular occurrence. This gave me the opportunity to see that he was understanding what we were reading about, and for the child who is a new independent reader this is really important. The deep breathing remains a work in progress!
An enjoyable read and plenty of educational opportunity to ensure that the child is comprehending what the story is about and not just decoding words – 4 stars.
Audible Sessions – Authors on their favourite authors
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
The book starts with chapters alternating between the 2 female lead characters – Zoe, a mother of two young adults who speaks in the first person, and Kelly, a police officer working on London transport who is detailed in the third person. They both have very different stories evolving and have complicated back stories to add an extra dimension.
Zoe is a London commuter who spots her own photograph in the classified section of the free daily paper, whilst Kelly is an officer who is investigating a theft of keys from a handbag on the tube. There would appear to be no connection until Zoe, who has become increasingly disturbed by the series of daily changing women’s photographs in the classifieds, recognises the owner of the stolen keys on the news as one of the women from said classified photographs. When it then emerges that a recent murder victim was also amongst the photo gallery, Kelly begins to investigate and uncovers a website with no content, a phone number with no connection and a nameless customer placing a string of classified advertisements. As Zoe becomes more anxious and concerned for her own safety, we meet her son & daughter, her ex, her doting older partner, her neighbours and her actress daughter’s new boyfriend. Kelly’s own involvement in the case increases, but on a personal as well as professional basis. What is it from her past that is driving her to solve this case involving women?
I was hooked really quickly and found it difficult to put the book down. Clare Mackintosh was going to have to come up with something very special to match “I let You Go” in my opinion, but she has certainly done just that with “I See You”. She builds incredible suspense throughout the novel and is very clever in her writing to drop numerous clues, but never quite enough to give anything away. I was kept guessing throughout as I suspected different characters in turn of being perpetrators of different deeds – a sign of a true thriller. The female leads are strong characters who each develop through the course of the tense story and I really enjoyed learning more about each of them.
The day after I finished the book I visited London with my mother and we travelled on the underground. Mum could not understand what I was constantly looking around for and suffice to say, without giving any spoilers, that I will never be able to take the tube in the same way again!
Riveting read that I give 5 stars *****
The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley
I was given a copy of this book through The Book Club on Facebook in return for an honest review.
A 17 year old rather inconspicuous Deborah one day finds herself the object of older, handsome Larry’s attentions. The book charts their relationship through courtship, marriage, children and Larry’s career as a trainee optician. He gives Deborah – Dee as he calls her – the encouragement and confidence to grow into a very different woman to the young girl whom we first meet. Or is she? She has told us from the word go that she has always known that she was different, but not in what way.
The tale that unfolds within a seemingly everyday world of Cambridge suburbia, is a tense psychological drama that really does prove that appearances can be deceptive. This deception is probably accentuated by the majority of the text being written in the first person by Dee, but interspersed by short chapters written in the third person by person un known. There are some unsavoury happenings (avoiding spoilers here!) afoot in Cambridge alongside the matrimonial life of Dee, optician Larry, her young offspring and extended families. Or are they merely alongside? Who knows what goes on behind closed doors?
Just as the plot seems to unravel to expose the true nature of various relationships and events, so something happens and the whole storyline appears to shift. Ms Reavley does a fantastic job, in my opinion, of keeping us on our toes, ensuring that we are never entirely sure just who is the manipulator and who is the manipulated. Her use of descriptive language is graphic and at times gruesome. The tension and toying with our emotions and psyche endures to the very end of the novel, as the innocent become the guilty, the guilty the innocent, and the reader is no longer able to trust their own intuition.
I really enjoyed this book. There is no great, fantastical storyline, but rather a very tense, psychological tale that becomes a thriller by nature of its twists and turns within a seemingly ordinary family story. Never judge a book by its cover for there is no such thing as ordinary!
This gets 5 stars from me! *****
The Irish Inheritance: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery by M.J.Lee
I was given a copy of this book through The Book Club on Facebook in return for an honest review.
This is my first review since joining TBC and I have to admit is not the genre that I would normally gravitate to. The idea of a genealogical investigation was an attraction particularly with a historical theme that I had little prior knowledge of, the Irish Easter risings.
The story opens in 1922 in Ireland with the killing of a British army officer by a small group of IRA fighters. We then meet our heroine in modern day, an ex detective who is searching for a new career and has found herself putting her investigative skills to work in tracing clients’ ancestry. She takes on the task of seeking the parentage of an elderly, sick man who was adopted as a toddler and so the plot weaves between the current day and the years before the man’s birth. The modern plot moves rapidly as the writer uses each chapter is used to depict a new day, and this in turn highlights the limited time that the genealogist has been given by her client to complete her task. As we would expect from any good investigative novel, various subplots emerge and intertwine, along with a variety of characters from both the heroine’s personal life and those encountered as a result of her research.
The historical flashbacks give some great descriptive scenes, which maybe are slightly lacking in the current day chapters, and serve well in moving the story forward in the modern day as the investigation unfurls. The young Irish seem like rather naive young men who are fighting for their country but it is actually these characters that grow and teach us the most. Relationships within the modern story do develop and some are left in a suitable place to carry over and expand further in a second novel. The climax, whilst action packed, felt slightly rushed and lacking in complete answers – but maybe there are always questions left unanswered in genealogy investigations!
This is an enjoyable introductory novel to our principle character Jayne, and her new career as a genealogist which I rate as 3 stars. ***