Blog Tour: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)

#BlogTour #BookReview #OrendaBooks @OrendaBooks @annecater

Hello everyone! Welcome to my stop on the Dying To Live Blog Tour – thanks Anne and Orenda Books for inviting me along for the ride.

About the book:

Front Cover Dying to Live

When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles… but where is the entry wound?

When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. But did the witch doctor take the body to use as part of a ritual? Or was it the American anthropologist who’d befriended the old Bushman? As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case seems to grow.

A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.

Author: Michael Stanley
Published by: Orenda Books
Paperback: Published 30th July 2017 

My thoughts:

Dying to Live is the sixth book in the Detective Kubu series – slight disclaimer: I haven’t actually read any of the preceding books, but I don’t think that impacted my reading experience as this worked fantastically as a solid stand-alone crime novel. From the outset, the premise of the crime is intriguing and hooks you in, as Kubu and Samantha untangle the crime the book is filled with tension, twists and turns, all of which kept me engaged throughout.

Alongside the main plot there is a parallel storyline where we get to know more about Kubu’s family and his daughter’s fight with HIV – this made his character likeable, giving him depth and compassion.

I loved the setting of the book, the African landscape added a different dimension, making it stand out from so many British crime books, which can sometimes feel a bit samey! Tales of bushmen and witchdoctors bought the book to life with snippets of history and vivid colour. I also liked how the authors created conflicting character opinions through their beliefs of the witchdoctors – it created atmosphere, as well as a sense of uncertainly. If you’re looking for a fairly light crime novel, which is a bit different, then I’d definitely recommend giving the Kubu books a go.

About the authors:

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Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA Debut Dagger. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award, and book 5, A Death in the Family, was an international bestseller.

You can catch the other blog tour posts here:

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I received an advanced copy of Dying to Live from Orenda Books in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks Karen, thanks Anne! 

Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

I’ve seen a few mid-year freak out posts, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and get involved. Here goes..

1 – The best book you’ve read so far this year?

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It’s hard to pick! I did a wrap-up of my favourite reads of the year last month, but I think Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo has got to be up there as being the best of the bunch. I felt wholly invested in the story and was so sad when the book ended – Adébáyò manages to fit so much in, in less than 300 pages!

2- Your favourite sequel this year?

TheSearch

The Search by Howard Linksey is the third crime novel in a series following investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney. No Name Lane and Behind Dead Eyes precede it. My blog tour review is here.

3- A new release that you haven’t read yet but really want to?

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The Dry by Jane Harper – I’ve heard nothing but great things and have been recommended this by a couple of people now! It was the Waterstones thriller of the month, the Simon Mayo Radio 2 book club choice and the Sunday Times crime thriller of the month, so I’m sure I’m in for a great read!

4- Most anticipated read for the second half of the year?

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman. There has been so much chatter about this on Twitter – I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. It sounds beautiful, tender and raw. I’ll get my tissues at the ready!

5- Your biggest disappointment?

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And the hippos were boiled in their tanks by William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. For me, this had so much promise, but in truth I found it clunky and static, with little to keep me interested. It took me months to read this, which is crazy as it is pretty short at a mere 214 pages. 

6- Biggest surprise of the year?

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The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown. I won a copy of the book, but am not usually keen on books centred around witches, folklore, magic etc. so didn’t know what to expect. I was so, so glad I gave this one a chance as it is one of the best books I’ve read this year!

7- Favourite new to you or debut author?

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Naomi Alderman – as part of my Bailey’s Prize read-along challenge I read The Power. It absolutely blew my mind; her writing was fantastic and stylistically very different to what I normally read. I’ll definitely check-out Alderman’s other work.

8- New favourite character

I absolutely loved Lady Dona St. Columb in Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. She was fun, mischievous and full of wild abandon. I really, really enjoyed her sense of adventure and naughtiness.

9- A book that made you cry?

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The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. She manages to pen humanity and pain on the pages so exquisitely – so much so that her writing flawed me, with the last paragraph making me cry happy tears. I loved this book!

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Also, I have to give a shout-out to Ethel and Ernest – the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs. Corr, that hit me hard.

10- A book that made you happy?

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The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon made me howl with laughter – I raced through it one afternoon, chuckling along to myself on the sofa.

11- Your favourite book to movie adaptation you’ve seen this year?

I think the only book to movie adaptation I’ve seen this year has been My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne Du Maurier. Although, shocker, I haven’t actually read the book. It was every bit as dark and suspenseful as I’d hoped it would be.

12- Favourite blog post that you’ve published this year?

I’m not sure if it’s my favourite, but I really enjoyed reading all the shortlisted books on the Bailey’s Prize and writing mini reviews – my posts can be found here.

13- The most beautiful book you’ve bought or received this year? 

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The cover of Janet Ellis’ The Butcher’s Hook is stunning – it’s an aqua colour with an embossed gold title and hand-drawn illustrations.

14- What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Where do I start? There are so many books on my to-read list. One thing I did promise myself was to read The Northern Lights trilogy, by Philip Pullman, as I never actually read them when I was younger and I’d love to be up-to-speed before The Book of Dust comes out.

I tag anyone who hasn’t yet done this post! I’d love to hear your favourite books of the year so far!

June Reads

A little bit later than usual, here is my June reading wrap-up!

Despite going on holiday in June, thinking I would have all the time in the world for reading, I actually ended up having a relatively slow month – it took me ages to get into anything and even longer to finish things. I’m amazed I managed to even read six books as the last week and a half of the month I ended up reading nothing.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (Titan Books) 4/5

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I was hooked on If We Were Villains from the first few chapters and then utterly engrossed until the final page. I definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for a solid literary thriller, which will leave you thinking about it for a long time after. My full review for the blog tour can be read here.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen (Pan MacMillan)  4/5

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The tale of Gus and Tess is light-hearted and fun; exactly what I wanted for a pool-read on holiday. Recounting their crossed paths, it is a hybrid of One Day and Sliding Doors – will they or won’t they ever find true love? Yes, it is cheesy and predictable, but it is also funny, warm and tender.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Berkley Books) 5/5

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Liane Moriarty is a fantastic storyteller, she weaves an impressive web of characters and storylines, which all merge into one big plot point by the end. I was absolutely gripped by Big Little Lies; it is an easy read but also one that makes you question whether you truly know someone and whether face value judgement can ever be right. I can’t wait to download and watch the TV adaptation of this as I’ve heard nothing but amazing things!

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) 3/5

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I picked this up as I absolutely loved Hawkins’ first novel, Girl on the Train. Sadly, I was a little disappointed; Into the Water is still an enjoyable read, but there are just too many characters which at first is particularly confusing as the narrative switches perspectives multiple times. It took me a long time to get into the actual story and by the end I wasn’t satisfied – Into the Water certainly isn’t as gripping or fast-paced as her debut. It felt like something was missing.

Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts (RedDoor) 3/5

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I read this in one sitting and for such a short book it packs so much in thanks to Crofts magical storytelling ability. It encompasses everything from what it is to endure grief to understanding, and accepting, your own morality. Political, tense, philosophical and intriguing, The Secrets of the Italian Gardener is a well-developed, thought-provoking read that will make you quetion good vs. evil. My full review for the blog tour can be read here.

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith (Doubleday / Transworld) 4/5

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Mahsuda Snaith’s writing is stunning – it draws you in from the first page and envelops you in feeling and emotion. The Things We Thought We Knew is a beautifully moving coming-of-age tale that captures life on a council estate with such clarity. It is gutsy, eye-opening and emotional, showing the reader what it is to truly find ourselves in this cruel, crazy and vivid world. My full review for the blog tour can be read here.

Did you read anything good in June? Do you have any recommendations for me?

Best of 2017 | Mid-year wrap-up

As we’re already half way through the year (say what…it seemed only yesterday I was thinking about my new year’s resolution and guzzling the last of the Christmas prosecco!) I thought I’d do a quick wrap up of my favourite reads so far.

I’ve almost read 50 books, so am pretty much on track to read 100 by the end of the year. Whilst this isn’t as many as some book bloggers, I’m really chuffed with my progress this year – to put this into perspective I only read 52 books last year. I’m intrigued to see if these five will feature in my top books of the year wrap up in December, or whether I’ll continue my streak of five-star reads and these will get knocked off the top spot (so to speak).

So, without further ado here are the five books that I’ve been raving about, recommending to friends and non-stop thinking about. Needless to say, all of these books have been five star reads for me.

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (Guardian Faber Publishing)

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Written by award-winning journalist Gary Younge, Another Day in the Death of America tells the story of the children and teens killed by gun crime in a single 24-hour period, in America. Younge randomly chooses 23 November 2013 to chronicle the deaths of these ten young men. Whilst I found it tragic in parts, it is a book I needed to read. It is so well written; insightful, intelligent and thoughtful. I find the issue of gun control and violence in the US petrifying and scary; Younge’s account further opened my eyes to the complicated issues that are faced in the States, whilst also highlighting the vulnerability of youth. Although difficult to read in places, I was engaged throughout and thoroughly recommend reading this one. This was one of the first books I read this year and since then I’ve leant it to friends to read and talked about it over and over.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown (Viking)

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Rich in history, The Witchfinder’s Sister is a compelling story based around Matthew Hopkins, the Manningtree witchfinder, in 17th century Britain. We follow his (fictionalised) sister, Alice, as she learns of the hideous things her brother is doing to local women – she battles her moral compass as she decides whether she should intervene and along the way we find out the family secrets. This is a mesmerising tale full of darkness, terror and detail, instantly transporting you to the streets of Essex and the candlelit room where Alice resides. I absolutely loved it and was stunned to hear it was a debut novel – I had a book hangover for days. If you’re interested in historical fiction and/ or witches, I’d highly recommend this. Since reading this I’ve read a few other books based on this period and they haven’t compared.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)

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This story sung to me. A tender tale about the complexities of friendship and overcoming circumstance, Gustav and Anton’s lives are at the heart of this book. Split into three parts, we journey through their friendship, their love and their lifelong commitment to one another. Set in a post WWII Switzerland, it starts in kindergarten when the two children meet, the narrative then shifts back in time to look at the relationship between Gustav’s parents. The latter part of the book is set years on, with Gustav and Anton as two grown men living their separate, but still intwined, lives. Tremain pens humanity and pain on the pages so exquisitely – so much so that her writing flawed me, with the last paragraph making me cry happy tears. This was my first foray into Tremain’s writing and I am so happy and excited that I have the rest of her books ahead of me to discover.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (Virago Modern Classics)

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Light-hearted, high-spirited and fun – this book is very different from Du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca. I raced through this in a day and was captivated by the wonderful, mischievous Lady Dona St. Columb. Full of humour and action, Du Maurier paints such a vivid, vibrant scene that I was instantly transported to Navron House and the Cornish creek. The ending managed to surprise me too, as only Du Maurier could do – she executes the twists in her stories so well. This is the best book by Daphne Du Maurier that I’ve read so far.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (Canongate Books) 

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Set in Nigeria, Stay With Me is a mouthpiece for Yejide and Akin, a married couple whose troubles push them to the brink of separation. The themes of individual identity, heritage and societal expectations of women are explored as Yejide struggles to conceive; she cannot offer Akin the family his family have always dreamt of. The plot then thickens, set against a backdrop of Nigerian politics. Stay With Me weaves a stunning and engaging story of deception and love. Featuring many twists and turns, the narrative flows effortlessly. It swiftly switches perspectives, between Yejide and Akin, making the reader challenge their assumptions of what the female or male view of marriage should be. I felt wholly invested in this book and was sad when the book ended – Adébáyò manages to fit so much in less than 300 pages! As with others on my ‘best reads of 2017’ list I was also astounded to hear that this is her debut novel. Without a doubt, I will be keeping an eye on what Adébáyò does next as I’m sure she has a bright future ahead.

Have you read any of my favourites? What did you think of them?

Blog Tour: The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

#BlogTour #BookReview @DoubledayUK @MahsudaSnaith @TransworldBooks

Welcome to the penultimate stop on The Things We Thought We Knew blog tour. Thank you Transworld Books / Doubleday for having me and letting me share my review!

About the book:  The Things We Thought We Knew - Hardback.jpg

Ravine and Marianne were best friends. They practiced handstands together, raced slugs and went into the woods to play. But now everything has changed.

Ten years later, Ravine lies in a bed plagued by chronic pain syndrome. And her best friend Marianne is gone. How did their last adventure go so wrong? Who is to blame? And where is Marianne?

Heartbreaking, bittersweet and utterly unforgettable, The Things We Thought We Knew is a powerful novel about the things we remember and the things we wish we could forget.

Author: Mahsuda Snaith
Published by: Transworld Books / Doubleday, 15th June 2017
Hardback: 304 pages

My thoughts:

Mahsuda Snaith’s writing is stunning – it draws you in from the first page and envelops you in feeling and emotion. Firstly, her descriptions of chronic pain are done in such a sensitive and complex way. The exploration of an invisible illness is heartbreaking as we see how Ravine adapts and conquers. It is a fascinating glimpse into both the physical and mental aspect of what it is to suffer an endless, chronic illness.

The Things We Thought We Knew is also full of familial relationships and friendship. I found it interesting how Snaith explores the impact memories can have on us; how they evolve over time, the way in which they can trick us and also shape us into the people we grow to be. It is interesting to see how Ravine’s perspective changes over time, between her younger and older self. The story is like an origami bird that keeps unfolding, revealing more and more hidden secrets as we delve deeper into the narrative. Snaith writes about Ravine’s multicultural surroundings and the sense of community and claustrophobia echoes through the pages. Her characters are so vivid, with humanity and life experience shining through them.

The Things We Thought We Knew is a beautifully moving coming-of-age tale that captures life on a council estate with such clarity. It is gutsy, eye-opening and emotional, showing the reader what it is to truly find ourselves in this cruel, crazy and vivid world.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Mahsuda Snaith – she’s certainly an author I’ll be keeping watch on!

About the author:

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Mahsuda Snaith is the winner of the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2014 and Bristol Short Story Prize 2014, and a finalist in the Myslexia Novel Writing Competition 201. She lives in Leicester where she leads writing workshops and teaches part-time in primary schools.

Mahsuda is a fan of reading and crochet. This is her first novel. 

You can catch the other blog tour posts here:

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I received an advanced copy of The Things We Thought We Knew from Doubleday in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks Transworld / Doubleday!

Blog Tour: Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts (RedDoor)

#BlogTour #BookReview @RedDoorBooks @AndrewCrofts #SOTIG

Welcome to my stop on The Secrets of the Italian Gardener blog tour. Thank you RedDoor for having me!

About the novella:  

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Mo, the wealthy dictator of a volatile Middle Eastern country, enlists a ghostwriter to tell his story to the world and enshrine him in history as a glorious ruler. 

Inside Mo’s besieged palace the ghost forms an unlikely friendship with a wise and seemingly innocent Italian gardener who slowly reveals that the regime isn’t all it appears to be.

As a violent rebellion threatens all their lives the ghost struggles to cope with a personal secret too painful to bear.

Author: Andrew Croft
Paperback: 160 pages
Published by: RedDoor

My thoughts…

The Secrets of the Italian Gardener follows a nameless ghostwriter as he is enlisted to write about Mo, a powerful, Middle-Eastern dictator. During his time at the palace he wanders the grounds collecting his thoughts as he struggles to garner information from Mo. Whilst in the beautiful, serene garden he stumbles upon Lou, the Italian Gardener, and as the friendship between them develops we quickly start to see that there is both pain and suffering behind beauty. Even the nicest people can have dark pasts to hide.

The novella is full of power and threat. As the violent uprising on the streets overspills into the palace, Lou continues his work to hide the atrocities that are taking place. Crofts uses the garden to show that we mustn’t always take things as they seem on first glance. He champions the restorative, healing power of nature; over time pain can be built into something beautiful. The darkness feeds the light and without one the other can’t thrive.

Whilst it made me uneasy in places, it also made me question whether I would do the same as the ghost writer – would I stand by and watch the atrocities, keeping silent, all in the name of money? Crofts weaves in a parallel storyline where the ghostwriter and his wife deal with one of the greatest personal tragedies a parent can go through. This personal pain both marries and contrasts with the tragedy that is unfolding on the global stage before him; as the uprising and revolution roars in the Middle East, his own grief becomes prevalent giving him a reason to continue with his work. Can we ever judge the reason and rationale of another person’s moral decision?

I read this in one sitting and for such a short book it packs so much in thanks to Crofts magical storytelling ability. It encompasses everything from what it is to endure grief to understanding, and accepting, your own morality. Political, tense, philosophical and intriguing, The Secrets of the Italian Gardener is a well-developed, thought-provoking read that will make you question good vs. evil.

About the author:

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers.

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He has spent much of his ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, stationed in their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in tax havens like Monaco, Geneva, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

You can check out the other posts on the blog tour here:

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I received an beautiful hardback copy of Secrets of the Italian Gardener from RedDoor Books in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks RedDoor!

Holiday Reads – Corfu 2017

At the start of June I headed off for a week’s break in Corfu – as usual, I had visions of grandeur, thinking I’d read a book a day, if not more! Alas, I only read three books during the whole week! After all, it was because I was having too much fun playing card games, completing arrow words puzzles (hello guilty pleasure!) and drinking gin fizzes in the sun.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I frequently get sent books for review, however I decided that my holiday reading would be ones that I had picked out myself and had a thirst to read – I made sure they all had no review, timeline or expectation attached. It was oddly refreshing! Given the location we were in, I probably should’ve packed The Durrells of Corfu as one of my books. I’ll be doing mini reviews of these three books in my monthly wrap up at the beginning of July, so without further a do…on holiday I read…

Miss you by Kate Eberlen (Pan MacMillan) – 4/5

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A Richard and Judy Book Club pick, a Radio 2 Book Club Choice – and the most unconventional love story you’ll read this year Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will …Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence – and, for one day, the paths of these two eighteen-year-olds will criss-cross before they each return to England. Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and chance, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly …or is there?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Penguin Books) – 5/5

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Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all …or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control. From the author of Truly Madly Guilty and The Husband’s Secret comes a novel about the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. Jane hasn’t lived anywhere for longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic coastal town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane feels as if she finally belongs. She finds friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste, two women with seemingly perfect lives – and their own secrets. But at the start of a new term, an incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground, causing a rift between them and other parents. Minor at first but escalating fast, until the whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful, and the truths blur into lies. It was always going to end in tears, but no one thought it would end in murder …

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) – 4/5

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The addictive new psychological thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train, the runaway Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and global phenomenon. In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, satisfying read that hinges on the stories we tell about our pasts and their power to destroy the lives we live now.

As a bonus for reading this far, here are some photos of our break away…

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What books will you be reading this Summer?