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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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My Sister by Michelle Adams – a review

I was given a free copy of this at the festival last year, and it has only just reached the top of my rather teetering ‘to be read’ pile.

My Sister is the debut novel by Michelle Adams. It tells the story of Irini who was given away by her parents at the age of three. They chose to keep her sister Elle rather than her,  a decision which she has never understood. Over the years Irini has had sporadic contact with her sister, but every time it has ended badly with her sister seemingly always getting her trouble. Now a grown up living with her boyfriend, Irini hasn’t had any contact with her family for years. However when she finds out that her mother has died she heads back to the family home for the funeral. It becomes clear that there are secrets around every corner and Irini becomes determined to find out the truth about why she was given away.

This was a good read, and I enjoyed it. The story was interesting and the intrigue behind why parent’s would chose one sister over the other kept the pages turning. Yet there was just something that didn’t really work for me. I have read quite a few books around Sisters over the past, being one of a pair of sisters myself this premise always intrigues me. Yet these two just left me a bit cold. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself was a good drama. The writing had a nice easy flow about it, and it was a fast read. Yet for me, I just felt that there were a few too many incidents that were a little implausible. I also thought personally that the ending was rather abrupt and slightly out of left field. Although on the other hand it may have been that I missed some of the hints as I did get a little bored in the middle and maybe didn’t concentrate as I should.

What I did like was the sense that this was a novel that could have been set in any era. Ignoring the obvious mobile phone references, it had quite an eerie feel to the story which was quite unusual. Most of the action takes place in a big Gothic style old house with dusty unused rooms. The house is in a village full of local people who love a gossip but won’t interact with strangers. Overall the story itself was good, and I wanted to find out the truth as much as Irini but it unfortunately just didn’t blow me away. However it is a debut novel and I would certainly look out for Michelle Adams’ next one.

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Close to me by Amanda Reynolds – a review BLOG TOUR

I was lucky enough to be invited onto the blog tour for Close to Me.

Close to Me is the debut novel by Amanda Reynolds. The story focuses on Jo who fell down the stairs in her house. This fall caused her to lose any memory of the last year. As Jo starts trying to piece together what happened in this missing year, she begins to think people are hiding things from her. She slowly begins to get her memories back as she tries to work out whether she fell or was pushed?

This was an interesting book that I found quite compelling. The story is told from the viewpoint of Jo with chapters alternating between the past and present day. The writing within this novel was good and it was a fast easy read.

I enjoyed the premise of the story. The idea of having a whole year of your life missing was fascinating. A lot can happen in a year. Knowing that everyone around you knows what happened but you don’t, must be quite disturbing.

The majority of the story focuses on the dynamics within the family rather than just the mystery. The characters are interesting although on the whole I found them all difficult to warm to. Her husband is rather controlling, her daughter acts like a spoilt brat, and her son barely speaks. Jo was seemingly the only caring one as shown with her volunteer work. It was during this work she met Rosie and the relationship between them is probably one of the nicest within the story.

It was a different take on the domestic setting to have a long term relationship at the centre of the story, rather than a young ‘married too fast’ type. I also enjoyed the way the story goes backwards and forwards until the two collide.

I don’t think there was a huge amount of mystery involved as the story line was relatively straightforward and to me it seemed rather obvious. However that doesn’t distract from a very enjoyable read. This was a great debut novel and I’ll definitely be reading more from Amanda Reynolds.

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Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent – a review

I have seen some good reviews of this early last year so decided to treat myself to a copy to pass the time of a train trip over to Manchester.

The book opens with Alice in a coma after her husband Oliver has savagely beaten her.  It’s an act that has shocked everyone as from the outside it seemed they had the perfect life. Oliver was a very successful children’s book author and Alice was the illustrator that brought the books to life. It is from this point after the brutal attack that we begin to go back through Oliver’s life and find out about his childhood and the people he has met along the way. We are also introduced to the other characters in the novel all of whom have their own personal views of Oliver which we are gradually privy to.

I thought this was a great story that I sped through. It does seem at the moment that I’m reading a lot of ‘behind the scenes of a marriage’ styles of book, which this clearly follows. However this was a different take on the theme, focusing as it does on Oliver and his past. Whilst I can’t bring myself to say I actually felt sympathy for him, there were moments when you do feel empathy as he had clearly had a terrible life.

The other characters within the book were interesting although I must confess to being impatient to get back to Oliver a lot of the time. The dynamics of the different characters seemed to work well, and as the stories began to emerge you become more drawn in. It was very well written and I thought the title was very apt. It really did show the unravelling of a person’s personality and how the different strands all interweave to make a whole. Again it brings up the idea of nature versus nurture, was Oliver born bad or was he made that way?

This was a really good novel that is an excellent debut from a clearly talented author. I look forward to reading more from Liz Nugent.

 

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