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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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Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown – a review

I went along to a few of the fringe events at this year’s festival, one of which was a writing masterclass which was fascinating. Whilst there I picked up a copy of a couple of Isabel’s novels and as Little Sister was on the top of the pile when I got home this was the first of my new books I read and I’m glad I did.

Little Sister is set on the Isle of Wight. Jess and Emily are sisters who were estranged when young, but recently reconciled. Emily is married to James and she brought up his daughter Chloe as her own. Chloe was delighted when she became an older half sister to Daisy. However now Daisy has gone missing, taken from the family home on New Year’s Eve whilst Jess was supposedly looking after her. The story follows the grief and fear within the family as they struggle to deal with their missing child. We also gradually find out more of the relationship between Emily and Jess and what happened all those years ago.

This was a great quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The cast of characters was quite small which gave the story a claustrophobic feel which is further compounded by the setting on the Island. The story itself is a little bit slow to start but I liked that as it felt the tension was being built up quite realistically. The novel is mainly told from the viewpoints of Emily and Daisy. This means that you are forever questioning who is right and who is wrong, every time you think you know what is happening another twist was thrown at you.

I would thoroughly recommend this novel. It is a great summer read, especially if like me you have ever spent a childhood holiday on the Isle of Wight.

 

 

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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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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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Need You Dead by Peter James – a review BLOG TOUR

I am a huge fan of Peter  James and have met him a couple of times. Most notably when Me and the Sister went to see A Perfect Murder at the Opera House in York and unexpectedly and rather excitingly saw him outside. With hindsight I’m pretty sure we were the only two in the audience who had a clue who he was at that point, and I suspect we were maybe borderline stalking him for the rest of the show but it certainly added to our enjoyment (And it was a really good play)

Therefore I was thrilled to be asked to take part in this blog tour for his latest novel Need You Dead.

Need You Dead is the thirteenth book in the award winning Roy Grace series and as the tenth stop on the tour I get to take a quick look at the case file for his tenth book Want You Dead.

The victim in this case file is Red Westwood. Red was a single women who decided to try her hand at internet dating. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan and her and the man in question Bryce Laurent soon split up.

Whilst at first he seems to have taken the breakup ok, soon things start to go downhill and our victim Red ends up in police protection. The main suspect is her ex Bryce, but without witnesses  Grace needs his best team on the case.

Moving forward to the new book, Roy Grace is still with his wife Cleo (who he married in Want You Dead) but there are problems on the horizon as Roy brings his ‘long lost’ ten year old son Bruno to live with them. The victim in Need You Dead is Lorna Belling. She has been having an affair in a bid to escape her violent marriage, so when she is found dead in her bathtub it looks as though it is an easy to solve case. Yet soon the evidence starts to point elsewhere.

Need You Dead is another great novel from Peter James. It is a police procedural that is told in a simple straightforward timeline which makes a nice change from a lot of the previous backwards and forwards stories I’ve been reading. It was a really fast paced novel, with some very exciting chase scenes. I have to admit though there were some annoying bits where you know Roy is going to talk to someone, but we know he really shouldn’t. In fact this is probably the first book I’ve read in a long while that practically had me shouting at the pages, which shows just how engrossing it is.

One of the things I really like about this series is the amount of research in each novel. The police procedural part of the stories are fascinating, but at no point do the descriptions overpower the story. The characters are always well drawn and right from the beginning you really care about them when bad things start to happen.

There was quite a lot of back story involving Roy Grace and his family, so there are bits that if you haven’t read the previous novels you might find yourself skipping over. However the main storyline can still work as a stand alone novel, and it is definitely one that will keep you guessing until the end.

I would thoroughly recommend reading all of the Roy Grace series and Need You Dead doesn’t disappoint. I do wonder how many variations of titles using the word ‘dead’ Peter James can keep coming up with though, I certainly hope he doesn’t run out of ideas soon!

Need You Dead, the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James, is out 18th May (Macmillan, £20.00)

For the next stop of the tour head over to https://forwinternights.wordpress.com/ who will be looking at a Person of Interest tomorrow.

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Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson – a review BLOG TOUR

I was delighted to be asked to be part of the blog tour for Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson.

BLOCK 46 COVER AW.inddBlock 46 is a novel that travels not only between cities but also time. In modern day London we meet true crime writer Alexis Castells. When her friend jewelry designer Linnea doesn’t show up for the launch of her new collection, at first it is thought she has just missed her flight back. However is not long before her body is discovered mutilated in Sweden, and links are soon made with a similar murder of a young boy in London. Alexis teams up with profiler Emily Roy to try and catch the perpetrator. Alongside this we are introduced to Erich Ebner in 1944. He has been transported to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and is trying to survive the horrors of the Holocaust as best he can.

I thought this was an incredible debut novel that was absolutely gripping yet disturbing at the same time. Block 46 has been translated from French and is written with very short chapters. This is a style I personally like, and it suited the story.. Some of the scenes within the Camp were so disturbing that actually longer chapters would have been hard to deal with. Initially I did find that the story seemed a bit slow, although I suspect this was due to the chapters set in Buchenwald being so completely intense that they made the modern tale a little flat. This didn’t stay the case for long though and once I got into it the story was utterly compelling.

The characters were interesting, and I very much liked the rather standoffish and rude but brilliant Emily Roy. Alexis I found a bit more annoying, but still very readable and I felt the pair together made a good duo. This is a book full of twists that kept me reading, although I have to say that I did guess one person would be involved right from the start. However this is no way ruined the book, as how they were involved was a complete shock.

Block 46 did take me longer to read than is normal for me, yet I think this was because actually unusually for a speed reader like me, I was compelled to read every word. It is a very dark and disturbing book, so not for the fainthearted. Yet the story has a certain flare about it that makes you think, rather than just recoil. I would highly recommend this novel and think it is definitely one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Thank you to the publishers Orenda Books and Anne Cater for my copy of the book.

 

 

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