Tag Archives: debut novel

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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Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land – a review

imagesI was given a copy of this via netgalley.

Good Me, Bad Me centres around a young girl called Milly. She has recently moved in with a foster family and has been given a new identity. This is because she is awaiting the trial of her Mother, a serial killer. Milly is looking forward to being able to put what has happened behind her, and start a new life. Only her foster parents and the head teacher at her school know who she really is. However her foster sister Phoebe isn’t quite so keen on having yet another foster child staying with them, and soon starts to cause trouble. Milly also begins to realise that it isn’t always that easy to stay hidden, especially if people don’t want you to.

The publishers blurb for this book states that Good Me, Bad Me is ‘set to be one of the most extraordinary, controversial and explosive debuts of 2017’. Normally I think you should take this kind of sellers advert with a pinch of salt. However this time I completely agree, this was a superb book that I read pretty much in one sitting on the train to Birmingham.

The story is completely gripping. Milly has had a truly horrific childhood, with a single mother who was clearly deranged. She then had the hardest decision to make that any child could, to give her mother up to the police, or let her continue her murderous ways. Her Mother may have been a serial killer but Milly still loved her.

This is a story that will keep you thinking about it for days afterwards. The writing in it is seamless and the pace keeps you turning the pages (or clicking the button in the case of a kindle) There are parts where you feel that you are actually inside Milly’s head which is not a particularly nice place to be. Despite the sympathy you feel for her and her life there is something about Milly that makes the reader a bit uneasy. As the story unfolds you get drawn deeper into the family and realise that secrets are clearly everywhere. One of the bits I enjoyed most was the way the novel Lord of the Flies was referenced. I remember reading this at school although unlike the children at Milly’s new school I didn’t take it as an instructional manual for how to behave. The mob mentality is clearly evident throughout the novel and you realise just how cruel children can be,

This was an excellent and very disturbing book that will stay with you long after you finish it. I would thoroughly recommend Good Me, Bad Me and think it is definitely going to be in the running for debut novel of the year before the year has even begun.

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Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard – a review

I was sent a copy of Distress Signals from the publisher. This is Catherine’s first novel, and a fantastic debut it is.

Adam’s girlfriend Sarah has supposedly been on a business trip to Barcelona, but doesn’t return to their home in Ireland. He starts to panic especially when the police are not particularly helpful. Days later he receives her passport in the post with a note on in saying ‘I’m sorry-S’. As he tries to find her he connects her to a cruise ship called the Celebrate. He then finds out that a woman named Estelle disappeared previously in similar circumstances, and she is not necessarily the first to go missing from the ship.

This was a great novel that I absolutely sped through. The disappearance of Sarah is intriguing, and throughout the story there are twists and turns that keep you guessing.

Within Distress Signal you get to hear from three different main characters all with their own stories. The character of Corinne who works on the cruise ship is clearly hiding something, and you wonder why someone of her age and health is still working. There is the young Romain who lives in Paris. Then there is Adam who is the main narrator. It’s not until the end of the novel that the stories all intertwine.

The characters are all well written. Adam is likeable and on the whole I felt sorry for him. However you can’t help but think he brings some of it on himself. He is a struggling writer, but is definitely more struggling than writing. His girlfriend has supported him for years seemingly without getting any support herself. It was interesting to follow him as it slowly dawns on him that his life wasn’t necessary as perfect as he thought it was. The writing was good and I can honestly say I now know more about maritime law than I ever realised I would do.

I would thoroughly recommend this novel, although if you are setting off on a cruise any time soon I would maybe leave Distress Signals until you come back. An excellent debut and I look forward to reading more from Catherine.

 

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The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom – a review

I was lucky enough to be contacted by the publisher and offered a free copy of The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom. It was not just an ebook freebie either, this was a proper hard backed freebie sent all the way from America. Obviously despite the huge excitement that a free hardback book brings, the proof is in the writing, and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. As people may know I’m a huge fan of Criminal Minds and have watched all nine series at least twice (series one I’ve probably seen three or four times) so a novel set within the world of criminal profiling was always going to be a winner with me.
The main protagonist is Dr Lucas Madden. The story starts with Madden as a child witnessing a traumatic family event and being powerless to stop it. Back to the present day and Madden is now a famous neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler who has discovered a gene that was common in the brains of psychopaths, nicknamed the Ripper Gene. He has gone one step further now and proposed the ‘damnation algorithm’ that could predict the way future serial killers may behave.  He is called into a case when a woman is found murdered with a letter on her forehead and an apple next to her. So begins the case the of the Snow White Killer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and once I started it I struggled to stop reading (sadly work gets in the way of being a full time reader – if only full time reader was an actual paid job!) Clearly the book is written by a scientist and there is a good balance between technical science stuff and murder mystery thriller which really appealed to me. The novel opens with a scene that I really thought was chilling, and this continued through what was a fast paced book. I thought the main characters were both endearing, and there was a good mix of back story whilst still concentrating on the Snow White Killer.
There were some bits that didn’t really ring true, such as why Madden was estranged from his family. To me it just didn’t seem to have been much of a valid reason for Madden to be the one pushed out, however we all know families are funny things. There were also some bits that were very standard for a crime thriller, the rugged handsome detective (FBI Profiler) who is single and lonely, having a relationship with his pretty female companion. Yet these are really minor criticisms, as overall I thought it was a great story.
This is Michael Ransom’s debut novel and I hope there will be plenty more.

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Addicted to death by Matthew Redford – a review

I was sent a copy of Addicted to Death to review a while ago so it’s been sat on my kindle unread. On a train recently I’d just finished a book and this was at the top of the unread books list so I clicked on it without really remembering what it was about. I had a vague recollection it was about a food related crime.
The book starts as any good crime book does with a murder. The savage beating of two eggs – yes, you read that right. Two eggs. The story tells of a world where Homo-sapiens live side by side with Food-sapiens. These are food items created by GM processes that now walk and talk. Think the Garden Gang meets adult story time.
DI Wortel (a carrot) is in charge of investigating the murder, which he has to do alongside other food related crimes including death threats that have been received by celebrity chefs, and the murder of Professor Perry Partridge (a pear) He is assisted by new recruits Oranges and Lemons (who are obsessed with owing someone five farthings)
If I’m honest had I realised this book included talking fruit and vegetables I would probably have given it a miss. However I’m very glad I didn’t, this was bizarre but excellent. I can honestly say that some bits were hilarious. There was one paragraph involving a rabbit, a bunch of grapes and some origami that actually made me laugh out loud (thereby ensuring the empty train seat next to me remained that way for the rest of the journey)
The story itself was good and kept you interested. The ending was certainly a surprise that I didn’t see coming. Yet the real appeal of this book was the humour. Surely you have to love a story that includes references to TV duo Ant and Duck (one a man, one a duck who always stands on the right so people don’t get confused) and celebrity footballer Wayne Rooster who plays for Breadenham Hotspuds.
It was a testament to the writing of the fruit and veg characters (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write on a crime blog!) that you almost forget they are not people. As much as it’s possible to care about a cookie you really start to worry about them. The different personalities of the chefs in the story worked well. Clearly based on real life TV celebrities their portrayal is very funny and give an additional element of humour to the whole novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and haven’t laughed so much at a book for ages. I think this was Matthew Redford’s debut novel and I hope it leads to more. If you fancy a light hearted crime ‘caper’ and were a Garden Gang fan as a child then this is definitely for you.

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In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – a review

I received a copy of this from netgalley earlier in the year, but for some reason it fell off my reading radar until a recent trip to Birmingham where I was lucky enough to devour it in a couple of sessions.
In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward starts off with the kidnapping of two young girls in 1978. Rachel and Sophie are both taken in broad daylight but only Rachel returns. 30 odd years later and Rachel is working as a genealogist in Derbyshire. She can’t remember what happened on the day of her kidnapping and has tried to move on with her life. Unfortunately the suicide of Sophie’s mother leads to a reopening of the case and with it the reawakening of old memories. After the suicide Detective Connie and her boss Sadler are asked to relook at the case and soon realise another recent murder may have connections with the kidnapping.
I really enjoyed this book. The character of Rachel was interesting, yet also a little annoying in places which is just how characters should be. Clearly you felt for her and what she had been through as a child but equally you do feel that she is a bit stupid and naïve at times. She spends her time researching other people’s family trees but ignores the missing parts of her own. Her concentration on only the female members of her family seems a bit at odds with someone who makes a living from researching peoples history. Equally both Connie and Sadler have good and bad characteristics. They are obviously both highly competent police officers, but still have flaws and backgrounds that make them human.
I enjoyed the occasional glimpses back into the 70’s, yet these flashbacks were not as annoying as they can sometimes be in novels. They just added to the atmosphere of the novel. It did take a little while for me to get into the story but once I did I was hooked. The novel is a good mix of family drama, police procedural, and murder mystery. All three elements were there in equal measure and all complemented the other. I especially liked the fact that the stories were told almost in a real time way – Rachel would find something out and it would be a while later before the police found out the same thing, rather than it all just coming out at once.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to seeing more from Sarah Ward in the future.

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Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan – a review

I was given a copy of this book via netgalley.

Burnt Paper Sky is Gilly MacMillan’s debut novel. Rachel’s son goes missing during a walk through a wood. Recently divorced Rachel soon starts to blame herself for focusing more on her ex-husband than on her Son. DI Jim Clamo is called into investigate and the finger soon starts to point at Rachel.

I’m in two minds about this book. There is no doubt it is an excellent story and it kept me hooked throughout. The first half was really good. You can feel the anguish that Rachel is going through, yet still you are not 100 percent certain that she hasn’t been involved somehow.

I enjoyed the way the book was written. The focus is as much on the characters as it is on the mystery of the missing child, with the two main characters telling the story from their differing viewpoints. Rachel is telling her story one year on from her son disappearing, to an unseen audience. Jim is writing a report for the counsellor he was forced to see after the case ended. The story is then interspersed with a mix of police reports, emails, and website pages. This was reminiscent of the most recent Elizabeth Haynes book I’ve read and personally I like the style. You get to feel like you are actually taking part in the investigation. Each chapter started with quotes from missing person reports or text books which helped put everything into context.

I felt the writing of the main characters was very good and their reactions were believable. The way that Rachel acts during the press briefing which leads the public to turn on her makes you want to be both sympathetic to her and angry with her stupidity in equal measure.

My only slight criticism with the story was that there seemed to be almost too many threads thrown in. It’s difficult to explain without giving away any more of the story, but there was a lot of dead bodies thrown into peoples pasts. This seemed to give the impression that the ending was a bit abrupt with a rather tentative motive, but don’t let that put you off as I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this.

This was a very good debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Gilly MacMillan

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