Category Archives: book review

The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

I was sent a copy of this by the publishers Melville House, and I agreed to review it having already said that historical fiction isn’t really my thing. This however sounded interesting as it was described as a historical thriller set in South Africa which is a country that has always intrigued me.

The Monster’s Daughter is the debut novel by Michelle Pretorius. The novel is a story in three parts. It’s a thriller, a historical novel and also a bit science fiction. It starts in 2010 when we are introduced to Alet, a disgraced police constable who has been reassigned to the small town of Unie. Here she discovers the body of a woman burned beyond all recognition. Her investigations soon lead her to believe there is a serial killer stalking women.  Alongside this murder mystery we are treated to a potted history of the country’s violent past, starting in 1901 at the height of the Boer war. Linking these two elements are Tessa and Benjamin who were in a British concentration camp where a doctor was conducting some grim experiments.  

This was not an easy read. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, and the jumping around of the timelines meant that it was sometimes hard to keep up with the story. However considering it included both science fiction and historical elements, two things I’m not a huge fan of in my crime novels, this was completely worth the effort.

This was a superb novel. The writing was incredibly evocative and upsetting at times. I had a very basic knowledge of South African history and found this part of the novel absolutely fascinating. The violence and hatred jumped out of the page as we travelled from the Boer War, through Apartheid to the present day. The landscape and the heat, alongside the tensions of the time were evident, all the while with the back drop of a modern day murder investigation.

The characters themselves, whilst perfectly well rounded, for me did come secondary to the historical elements. The story was interesting and I think just the modern day part on its own would have been a decent story, yet the rest of elements were really what made this an absolute stand out book.

Sometimes it is good to read something out of your usual type and The Monster’s Daughter was definitely one of those times.

 

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Broken Branches – Q and A with M Jonathan Lee BLOG TOUR

I was lucky enough to be contacted recently by Hideaway Fall, a new publisher based in Yorkshire. They  asked me to join the blog tour for an interesting novel, Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee. Broken Branches is about Ian and his wife and son who move into the family home after the death of his brother. When things start to go wrong, Ian sets out to prove that the cottage is cursed. This is a story of grief and a families reaction to tragedy that I really enjoyed. It is an intriguing read and I’m delighted to be able to welcome the author M Jonathon Lee to my blog.

Thanks for joining me Jonathon. Firstly can I ask, what was the inspiration behind Broken Branches?

A very good question. My grandfather passed away the year before last at age ninety-seven. As a family we began looking through some old documents and I realised that in each generation a child had predeceased their parents. This got me thinking about a potential ‘curse’. Further to this we found an old photograph, about a hundred years old, which simply said “George, the Dog Hanger” on the back. This became part of Broken Branches. It’s funny where inspiration suddenly appears from.

Do you have a ‘day job’? Or do you write full time?

I write full, part, time! After my third novel (A Tiny Feeling of Fear) I gave up my well paid job in this city to focus on writing. I do still spend a day or two a week working on tax and accountancy, but have far more time to write nowadays.

Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you?

I tend to get up around 7 and begin writing as soon as I’m up. Definitely in my PJs. I tend to write until 11ish and then break for a couple of hours. Maybe read or watch a film, or catch up on emails and social media. I then begin again and maybe do another three hours in the afternoon. I’m unhappy if I don’t get to 3,000 words a day.

How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?

I get a lot of pleasure from the simple things such as gardening or taking the dog out. I also really enjoy watching films. I’m fairly easily pleased to be honest. If I can have the perfect evening give me loud music at a gig any day

Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?

Yes. I tend to develop an obsession with a writer and then read everything I can get my hands on. I go through long phases of reading true crime or biography and then back to novels. Joseph Connolly never fails to excite me. I’ve just finished a marathon of everything Vincent Bugliosi ever wrote which included buying old out of print copies online.

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve just about finished my fifth novel, How Was I Supposed to Know How It Would Be? This book focuses on a man who would do anything to swap his life for the relative peace and ease of his neighbour opposite. But, how much does he actually know about what happens across the road. And when he finds out does he really want to swap?

That sounds fascinating, no one really knows what happens behind closed doors!

Thanks very much for joining me Jonathon, and I would highly recommend reading Broken Branches.

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee is out now (£8.99, Hideaway Fall)

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Don’t Say A Word by AL Bird – a review BLOG TOUR

Recently I had a week over in Finland, and was very excited to receive a bumper crop of books through the post on my return. One of said bumber crop was the latest novel by author AL Bird, Don’t Say A Word, and I’m very pleased to be taking part in this blog tour.
Jen is working as a legal secretary and devotes her life to looking after her son Josh. When she gets asked by her boss to help out on the case of Rhea Stevens she sees it as a good opportunity to further her career. However unfortunately it soon seems that the case is a little too close to home. When Jen receives cards from people in her past, she begins to fear both for herself and her son.

I very much enjoyed this novel. It’s obvious from the beginning that something has happened which makes Jen go into hiding. What this is becomes clear as the story unfolds, but there is a twist that I really didn’t see coming.  I have to say it was this bit that really made the story stand out amongst others for me.

I really liked the ending and whilst I am not one for giving spoilers away I felt it made a nice realistic end to a novel rather than just the ending that people would want. I did feel that some of the actions of the main character of Jen weren’t really in keeping for a person who had been through what she had. I also felt that there were a few too many characters that were involved in the final ‘reveal’ which did make it a bit confusing but this was a very minor irritant.

Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of Jen. We get a lot of her internal thoughts and feelings which gives us a real sense of the fear and claustrophobia that Jen is feeling.

I really enjoyed this story and would like to thank HQ publishers for my preview.

This is the second novel by AL Bird, my review of her first novel is here https://acrimereadersblog.com/2016/04/07/the-good-mother-by-al-bird-a-review-blog-tour-2/

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He Said, She Said by Erin Kelly – a review

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this via netgalley.

He Said, She Said focuses on Laura and her husband Kit. They are eclipse chasers, so basically they go round the world watching total eclipses. On one of these trips when they first meet, Laura sees what she presumes is a rape. Her and Kit are then called as witnesses, to testify against Jamie the perpetrator. He says that the sex was consensual, but Beth the victim states that it was rape. It’s his word against hers.  15 years later and Kit and Laura are in hiding. They are no longer friends with Beth, having changed their names and now live practically ‘off the grid’. However it’s clear that when Beth tracks them down, things are not going to end well.

I really enjoyed this book. It is told mainly from the viewpoint of Laura and switches between past and present easily. There were lots of descriptions of eclipses and weather but I found that interesting and felt it added to the stories atmosphere. This was not a fast paced novel but was more of a gentle story that unfolded whilst keeping the tension high. There were lots of twists and turns that kept my interest, and you were never quite sure who was telling the truth.

I did find both Kit and Laura a little annoying, clearly they were going to have secrets, all good characters in novels do. Yet you would think that for people in hiding they would be more inclined to be open with each other. However the story itself is good so I could overlook this and the ending was truly a surprise.

Erin Kelly is an author who manages to take a relatively mundane setting and turn it into something different. This isn’t a book that will necessary grab you by the throat straight away but it is one that after I finished kept me thinking. I have read a number of Erin Kelly’s books and would highly recommend them all.

 

 

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The Girl Before by JP Delaney – a review

I read this on a recent quick train trip to London.

The Girl Before is set in a house. A house unlike any other house. Everything is controlled via computers, from the lighting that is set based on the sunlight available, to the shower that only activities when you step into it. The house has a list of rules that are frankly ridiculous, but the characters in the book still seem to think it is a good idea to move in. The house even tells those living in it their weight and their current mood thanks to a series of questions that they have to answer at regular intervals. The story is told from two viewpoints. Emma moves in with her boyfriend after suffering a serious breakin that has left her scared to be at home. Unfortunately Emma doesn’t get to stay in the house too long due to an accident. A few years later and Jane moves in after a heartbreaking bereavement and soon discovers that living by the rules isn’t easy. We follow both of the women as the stories start to collide, linked together by the owner of the house the rather controlling Edward.

I thought this was a bizarre but really good read. It isn’t a particularly believable book. Surely no one would actually live somewhere they were not allowed to keep books? Yet as I’ve often said, in fiction fact doesn’t always matter. I enjoyed both the different viewpoints, and both stories were interesting without revealing any important details too soon. If I had any criticism of it however it would be that the two voices are not actually that different. This did mean that occasionally I had to go back and check which woman I was reading about. Yet this could have been done on purpose due to the fact that the two women are so similar. I did enjoy all the elements of the house though. Can you imagine having to sit down and answer some psychological profile before you are allowed hot water for a shower?

Whilst I don’t think this was necessarily the best book I have read and the mystery ending wasn’t that much of a shock it was a quick fun read. Don’t let the fact it is yet another book using the word girl in the title put you off, as it is an interesting premise of how far some people will go when life gets out of control. Apparently it is being made into a film soon which I think will be excellent and The Girl Before was a good way to pass a dull train trip.

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Here and Gone by Haylen Beck – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley, and have to admit it did kind of fall off my reading radar until very recently.

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck starts with Audra and her two children driving across Arizona, in an attempt to flee her abusive husband. When she gets stopped by the police she is clearly nervous about being caught. However she soon realises that she is in more trouble than she could possibly have dreamt of.

This was an interesting novel that certainly kept my attention. However I must admit I didn’t think it was the most original storyline. Without wishing to give away too much information the story itself was relatively predictable, the motives behind the crime will probably be obvious to most avid crime fiction fans early on. However despite that, this book was an absolute page turner.

Books are often described as ‘roller coasters’ and without wishing to sound clichéd this is a perfect description for this novel. As soon as the police stop Audra you know that bad things are going to happen, and when they do the reactions of the characters will have you on the ‘edge of your seat’.

Cliches aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The writing is superb and I really liked the way that this was a story that relied on good writing to push it along, not just throwing in twists and turns at every moment. The descriptions of the characters and the emotions they are going through are gripping. The overall premise is about a woman and her fierce desire to protect her children, no matter the danger to herself. The sheer determination of Audra will keep you turning the pages.

To me this felt different from a lot of novels written about women protecting their children. Audra was a person who teamed up with a man. Yet she didn’t expect him to rescue her or her children, she was going to do that herself.  There is violence and some disturbing details in this story, but it is all relevant to setting the atmosphere.

Haylen Beck is the pen name of Stuart Neville, yet it is only the name that has changed not the superb writing. This was a great, if disturbing read that I’m glad came back onto my radar.

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The Sally Book of Pets – a review

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this from Mr F after spotting it in a pub in Cromer.

The Sally Book of Pets was I believe the debut book by Sally, published in 1970. The book revolves around a series of chapters the majority told from the viewpoint of Sally and her take on the animals in question.

As well as having a chapter on each pet and its merits, we also get to see from the viewpoint of Winnie and her Wacky Zoo. In these chapters we learn about the consequences of introducing a new lion to the zoo which upsets Leo. Leo runs away, and straight into the middle of a bank robbery. Leo has to call on all his friends to help catch the culprits.

This was an excellent book that kept me gripped to the end. The writing was great, and the story flows well from Budgerigars, as the most popular pet in Great Britain in the 70’s through to Dolphins and Donkeys. The twists and turns keep you guessing and the ending was not one I saw coming. Whilst I always try to ensure I don’t give spoilers let’s just say it includes Kangeroos, and ‘The Stately Deer’.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this book, my only slight criticism is I do think that some of the story is a little unbelievable. For example Sally insists ‘that a young calf is a delightful animal and can make an affectionate pet’ I’m sure that cows do make great pets in the right circumstances (such as on a farm) I’m really not sure you want one in your house, curled up on the sofa. I do like the aspirational elements within the book though. For example Peacocks as pets, which are apparently only kept by those with a great deal of money. It’s nice to think that this might inspire children to give up their hamsters and rabbits and save up for a peacock.*

One of the great things with this book is the way it incorporates history into the story, with the stories of dogs such as Greyfriars Bobby and ducks that went to visit the Queen. There is even an appearance by the PG Tip chimps.

Thanks to Mr F for tracking down a copy online. The one in the pub had missing pages and I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended. The Sally Book of Pets is a superb book that I would heartily recommend to all. 

 

 

 

*Just in case there is any confusion this is sarcasm, it’s not a suggestion that people really should keep peacocks, (or indeed any wild animal) as a pet or as entertainment.

 

 

*Just in case there is any confusion this is sarcasm, its not a suggestion that people really should keep peacocks, (or indeed any wild animal) as a pet or as entertainment.

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