March Reads

Can you believe another month has been and gone? During March I read the grand total of 8 novels, although I’m also currently in the middle of reading one short story collection and one non-fiction, but as I didn’t quite manage to finish them off in time they’ll feature in next month’s wrap-up.

So, in chronological order here’s what I thought of them all:

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (Two Roads) – 3/5

Butchershook

Set in Georgian England, this is a tale of Anne Jaccob – a loveless, macabre young girl – who sets her sight on the Butcher’s apprentice, Fub. Soon, we learn that she is happy to get blood on her hands in order to get her man and the tale takes a dark turn. My full review can be read here. Whilst I really enjoyed this, I only gave it 3/5 as I’ve read other pieces of historical fiction that I’ve loved more.      

We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings (Orion Books) – 3/5

A character called The Fox, is renowned for breaking and entering into houses within Heathcote village, suddenly one of the villagers goes missing and everyone believes the mysterious Fox is responsible. The novel makes us question how well we really know our friends and neighbours and whether community spirit is really all that it seems on the surface. I found this quite a light, easy read and I thought it’d be a great companion for a poolside holiday.

I received an advanced copy of We All Begin As Strangers from the author – it will be available from 20th April 2017.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Virago) – 5/5

Having never read any Daphne Du Maurier before I was unsure what to expect heading into Rebecca – I’d heard so, so many good things that I didn’t want the hype to disappoint me. I knew some of my most trusted bookish friends loved this, so I was hoping I would too. Thankfully, from the first page I was hooked; transported into the gothic landscape of Manderley and Maxim De Winter’s world, I was engrossed until the last page. I can definitely see why this is a classic, I absolutely loved (and in Mrs. Danver’s case, hated) the characters and the plot twists.

Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith (Titan Books) – 3/5

Follow Me Down_final

Follow Me Down is a psychological thriller that follows Mia Haas as she tries to find her missing twin brother, Lucas, who is the prime suspect in a murder case. About half way through, I really thought I’d cracked the conclusion, but boy-oh-boy was I wrong. All-in-all, Follow Me Down is a thriller that really packs a punch, it is full of twists and turns, with multiple storylines woven together culminating in one epic ending. My full post from the blog tour can be read here and an extract from the book here. 

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown (Penguin / Viking) – 5/5

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 was a mesmerising tale full of darkness and terror, but I don’t want to say too much as I’m planning on doing a full review of this. 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.

The Power by Naomi Alderman (Penguin / Viking) – 4/5

Set in a contemporary – and almost dystopian – world, The Power is a feminist study into what would happen if power was in the hands of women. In this new world, with the flick of a wrist, women can emit an electrifying force and this emergence of power soon leads to corruption. I honestly didn’t know what to think once I had finished The Power – it blew my mind, as well as both fascinating and terrifying me. It was the sort of book that I immediately wanted to discuss with friends, as I think everyone will take something different from this novel. Ultimately, it questions gender, power and religion. It’s definitely worth a read, but I would advise that there are some harrowing scenes, featuring sex-trafficking, death, rape and civil war.

Love Me Not by M.J. Arlidge (Penguin) – 3.5/5

M.J. Arlidge has done it again with a cracking DI Helen Grace thriller. As usual, it is full of clever twists and turns, with a psychological edge to it. This one felt more of a stand-alone novel than the others in the series as it featured less of DI Grace’s backstory in comparison to the others. One thing I really liked about this is that the majority of the action was set over one day, so it was really fast-paced.

I received an advanced copy of Love Me Not from the publishers – it will be available from 18th May 2017.

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter (HarperCollins) – 4/5

The Cows (2)

Next week I’ll be taking part in The Cows book tour with Harper Collins, so keep your eyes peeled for a full review on 6th April. At the heart of this addictive read is three independent women, trying to work their way through modern life. Spoiler: I really enjoyed it!

As usual, I’d love to hear what you’ve read this month – have you got any recommendations for me? 

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Book Review: The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

Set in Georgian England, The Butcher’s Hook is a dark, twisted and gripping love story.

Anne Jaccob is a joyless, macabre young woman, who believes the route to her happiness is a life with the local butcher’s apprentice, after she meets him at the back door of the family home thanks to her mother’s absence.

At first Anne appears childish and naïve, but we soon learn that she isn’t afraid to get blood on her hands. Anne’s upbringing was dark, loveless and lonely, and with neither a friend or moral compass in sight, Anne sets out to get her man. Along the way she sabotages Mr. Onions, the suitor that her Father had in mind, as well as getting rid of everyone else that stood between her and Fub.

Ellis’ writing is haunting, atmospheric and almost gothic; you could taste the iron and smell the bloody meat as Anne enters the butcher’s quarters. She relishes the darkness, taking enjoyment in butchering an animal.

A mesmeric debut novel, I hope Ellis turns her hand to some more historical fiction as she certainly has a talent for it. I could imagine this being turned into a period TV drama.

I also have to give a shout-out for the cover of the hardback edition as I think it’s one of the most amazing covers I’ve seen, with stunning gold foil detailing.

Butchershook

3/5

Give it a go if you enjoyed: The North Water or The Miniaturist 

Author: Janet Ellis
Published by: Two Roads
Hardback and Paperback: 368 pages

 

Blog Tour (Pt.2): Extract of Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith

Hello and welcome back to my stop on the Follow Me Down blog tour – if you haven’t read my previous post, which will tell you a bit about this book as well as my review, you can view it here.

Now, as promised, here’s an extract of Follow Me Down – I hope you enjoy it!

Back inside, I picked up the photo and slid it back under the palm tree magnet. Opened my brother’s fridge. It was nearly empty. A carton of eggs, the usual condiments, and three cans of beer still yoked by the plastic rings, a small pile of six-pack rings next to it. I took one of the cans, opened it, took long swallows, then pressed it to my cheek and wandered down the hallway.

The bathroom light was on. The door half closed. I wanted to hear a shower running, an electric razor buzzing, but nothing. I pushed the door open. There was his toothbrush, fully pasted and ready to go, sitting on the side of the sink. It was like he was standing over the sink, looking into the mirror, about to brush his teeth when he decided, fuck it, and walked out on his life. But that didn’t make sense. Wouldn’t he at least brush his teeth before becoming a fugitive on the run? Wouldn’t he take his toothbrush with him? Or his expensive electric razor so he could maintain his neatly edged two-day beard and the look of a European soccer player? Or his hair gel or his cologne? Lucas was vain; he would still want to look good.

Even if, and I couldn’t believe he’d risk such a very public fall from grace, but even if he were to have become sexually involved with one of his students who, just through sheer bad luck, happened to be murdered, he would stay and fight the charges. He wouldn’t be able to stand that people thought he did it. His need to be known as a good guy was almost pathological. We were the approval-seeking by-products of our histrionic alcoholic mother; we just went about it differently. I cared less about being likable than being considered impressive, whereas Lucas really wanted to be liked, the guy everyone wanted around, and that was who he’d always been.

Unless. Unless he’s dead too. I wasn’t just posturing for Pruden. This was a real fear. Some yahoo, maybe the same yahoo who lit his truck on fire, went after him. The kind of red-necked guy who’d want bragging rights at every bar that he took care of that sicko teacher preying on teenage girls. I could come up with half a dozen names right now, on the spot. Guys who’d at least claim that if they were alone in a room with Haas they’d cut his dick off, but not necessarily go through with it. Guys who’d trash his truck, go after him online, but only grumble something under their breath to him in person.

I couldn’t think this. It was too hard. If some vigilante spent the last few days bragging about giving Lucas the beating of his life (that ended his life), wouldn’t Pruden have heard about it by now? I wouldn’t put it past Pruden to cover it up, but would he really keep up with a bogus hunt for Lucas? Would he have even called me here?

Fuck. Stop.

Lucas called me Friday. Pocket dial or not, he called me and that meant he was alive. I knew this was some loose reasoning, but what else could I do? Thinking my brother was dead was last-resort thinking.

I went into his bedroom. Again it was a mess, but I knew there was a method to his madness. The last time we lived together was only five years ago. Lucas came to stay with me with big plans to live in Chicago. He was dabbling in acting and modeling. It was his first attempt at something after accepting he was not going to be a professional hockey player. After the initial excitement of getting some extra work playing a firefighter on a soapy TV drama wore off, he mostly loitered around my tiny apartment between sporadic shifts as a waiter, charming my off-limits roommates, watching SportsCenter, and eating cereal from a mixing bowl. With no real direction, he claimed to be having a serious quarter-life crisis while I’d just finished my pharmacy degree and was leafing through MBA programs at different Ivy Leagues. I had dazzling visions of myself in a top hat and tails, twirling a gratuitous walking stick as I climbed the pharma corporate ladder. I’d have nicknames like Conglomerate or Powerhouse or just Moneybags.

Then, just like that, Lucas decided to move back to Wayoata and get a teaching certificate.I pressured him to stay, pointed out he had given the whole acting thing only eight months, and even if he decided to do something different with his life, there were more and better opportunities in Chicago, but I couldn’t convince him. He invoked our mother as an excuse to run home, tail firmly between legs. She’s all alone. No one goes to visit her most of the year.

There was nothing I could say to that, even if we both knew he was bullshitting. He hadn’t been that worried about Mimi before things got a little hard and aimless, so I backed off, thinking he’d quickly get bored in Wayoata anyway. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I opened drawers, came across a leather glove at the back of his sock drawer that I guessed was the one from Mimi’s car. The sight of it gave way to the skin-crawly seasickness I always got when I thought of Mimi, her “accident.” I slammed the drawer shut. Sunk down, hugged my knees. I couldn’t decide why he would have kept it all these years. I took a few nausea-battling breaths, then reminded myself it wouldn’t be the first time we were on the receiving end of the Wayoata police department’s incompetence.

We were seventeen when our mother had her car accident. Her injuries were severe (her sodden brain hit the inside of her skull like wet toilet paper on ceiling tiles, splot). But when Lucas and I were given the go-ahead to clean out her beige-gold LeSabre (Lucas insisted we do this ourselves, like it was some kind of pseudo funeral rite), he noticed that our mother’s change was still stacked in its holder, her sunglasses still clipped to the visor. The dent on the front of the bumper where she’d smacked into a tree was underwhelming. There was even a man’s leather glove. Just one. It didn’t add up. At least not in Lucas’s opinion. I knew better. I’d tried to point out Mimi’s car was a total sty and it wasn’t really that odd that we’d find a stray glove under the heap of store receipts, flattened cigarette packets, torn panty hose, stubby lipsticks. Lucas wanted to pursue it anyway. He was fixated on the glove.

Reluctantly, heart pounding in my chest, I had gone along with him to urge the police to investigate what he thought might be a staged accident, but luckily, Pruden was no Marge Gunderson. Before Lucas could even finish what he’d been referring to as his opening argument, before he could wave the black glove around, Chief Pruden cut him off. “The roads were icy. Your mother was drunk and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Let’s not pretend she didn’t ever drive in that sort of condition. Just be happy she hit a tree and didn’t kill some nice family.”

Case closed.

Except, during those months before leaving for college, if we saw Pruden around town, my brother would eye him up and down. Make menacing but harmless gestures, like rubbing his middle finger on the bridge of his nose or, once, the pow of a finger gun. He’d tell anyone who’d listen that Pruden was an incompetent asshole. He was seventeen and angry and felt he’d been ignored. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if Pruden hadn’t held a grudge and was taking pleasure in pinning something on my brother.

I stood up again, opened his closet, and looked for an empty space from which a suitcase had been taken, where he’d packed his spare toothbrush and spare razor. Nothing was missing but Lucas.

And his ATM card. The reminder was a gut-punch. He could technically just buy it all, toothbrush, T-shirt, jeans. He could empty his account in one fell swoop after crossing the Canadian border and then really disappear. He would go to Canada, wouldn’t he? I mean it’s right there. Only if he was guilty, but he wasn’t.

I sunk down into his bed. What the fuck was happening? I was reeling. I truly understood what it meant to reel now. I felt cold and feverish. The dim ceiling light pulsed. I rolled over and cried into the pillow that still smelled like my brother’s hair gel.

 

Blog Tour: Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith (Titan Books)

#BlogTour #FollowMeDown @TitanBooks @SL_Smith_

Hello and welcome to my stop on the Blog Tour for Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith, a brand new thriller from Titan Books.

Follow Me Down_final

A bit about the book…

Mia never intended to go home again, but has no choice when her twin brother goes missing. Back to the people she left behind, the person she used to be, and the secrets she thought she’d buried. Her brother Lucas, a popular teacher, has disappeared on the same day as the murdered body of one of his students was pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teenager, and unable to reconcile the media’s vicious portrayal of Lucas with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.

All the while, she wonders, if he’s innocent, why did he run?

Sherri Smith has previously written two historical fiction novels with Simon & Schuster UK. When not writing, she spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side.

Paperback: 400 pages
Published: Titan Books, 21 March 2017

My thoughts on the book…

Whilst living in Chicago and working as a pharmacist, Mia Haas gets an out of the blue phone call from the police in her hometown – her twin brother Lucas has gone missing and is the prime suspect in a gory murder case. In a flash, Mia is thrown back into small-town life and is forced to search for her brother to prove his innocence, whilst also having to confront her demons head on; tackling everything from her complex relationship with her mother, to her underlying pill addiction.

Throughout, Smith’s writing is pacy and evocative giving you a feel for how oppressive small-town life can be. Police corruption is rife in Follow Me Down; the chief sides with the richest, most powerful family in town, but on this occasion all the wealth in the world can’t buy them the verdict they believe to be true.

Follow Me Down leads the reader on a dark path through Mia’s screwed-up mind alongside the unwinding murder case; I liked how well-developed she was as a character, both gritty and flawed. Alongside Lucas’ disappearance there was a parallel storyline examining Mia’s relationship with her brain-damaged, alcoholic mother, which added another dimension to the book.

About half way through, I really thought I’d cracked the conclusion, but boy-oh-boy was I wrong. All-in-all, Follow Me Down is a thriller that really packs a punch, it is full of twists and turns, with multiple storylines woven together culminating in one epic ending.

Give this a go if you like: fast-paced thrillers full of secrets or intricate mysteries

As part of my stop on the #FollowMeDown blog tour, I’m also pleased to be able to share an extract from the book with you, which will be up later this afternoon and up until 7th April you can see more from the other bloggers on the tour. Info below:

Follow-Me-Down-blog-tour#3.jpg

Book Review: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist (translated by Henning Koch)

In In Every Moment We Are Still Alive we hear of the horrifying moment in which Tom gains a daughter but loses his soul-mate, thanks to a cruel twist of fate. In a single moment he loses hope and his story about love, loss and living with unexpected grief begins.

In every moment

“The consultant stamps down the wheel lock of Karin’s hospital bed. In a loud voice he addresses the intensive care nurses, who are cutting open her tank top and sports bra”

The book opens with Tom’s partner Karin in hospital with suspected flu. The doctors start to treat her, with it later transpiring that she has acute Leukemia; their baby is delivered healthily, but sadly Karin cannot be saved. Tom is plunged into darkness and is left to raise Livia solo.

Malmquist’s writing (and Koch’s translation) is sparse and clinical, effortlessly transporting the reader to the maze of hospital corridors that Tom must have faced during Karin’s rapid decline in health. Stylistically, his writing is very straight forward, however he still manages to pours his soul onto the page in a unique way. Using emotive language sparingly, his prose mirrors the void that Tom must have been feeling in both the lead up to, and the days that followed, Karin’s death.

As the year goes on, we start to understand how Tom’s grief imposes itself upon his familial relationships, putting pressure on his Mother during a time where his Father has his own serious health issues to deal with. He has a knack for writing about ordinary, everyday moments and simple day-to-day life with such clarity; as a reader he makes us understand that during periods of intense sadness life must continue. Over time, hope slowly starts to re-emerge, which makes the traumatic loss of his wife feel even more heart-breaking.

To me, In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is not a novel, but a factual and auto-biographical retelling of Tom’s loss and the days, weeks and months of bereavement that follow. It’s a love letter to Karin and a keepsake for his daughter’s future.

It sounds really morbid, but I find memoirs about loss, grief and mental health fascinating. This was no exception, it was heart-breaking, tender and hypnotic – rich and raw, I couldn’t put this down. At the end of the day, once I had closed the last page, it made me squeeze my loved ones just that little bit tighter.

4/5

Give it a go if you enjoyed: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Author: Tom Malmquist/ Henning Koch
Published by: Sceptre
Hardback: 288 pages – this book will be released 1st June 2017 and can be pre-ordered through my book depository link here.

Disclaimer: I was very kindly sent an advanced review copy of this book from the lovely folk at Sceptre in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

“You trusted your best friend…you shouldn’t have” – as soon as I saw this written on the front cover I knew I was going to love One Little Mistake.

This gripping, psychological novel follows Vicky and Amber’s ‘perfect’ friendship, until one day Vicky makes an irreparable mistake, which sends their lives tumbling apart. Both women start turning against each other, questioning their friendship – do they really know who their best friend is?

one little mistake

Exploring trust and honesty in female friendships, familial relationships and the responsibilities of motherhood, Emma Curtis weaves a thrilling narrative with Amber’s web of lies. The plot was action packed and full of emotion – it kept me intrigued from the first page and it was brilliantly executed with the two parallel storylines. The characters were rich and I loved Emma’s characterisation of Amber, she made my skin crawl with her toxicity and deceit.

From the outset I was absolutely hooked with this domestic thriller, so much so that I finished it off in two sittings and since finishing it I have thought about it often.

4.5/5

Give it a go if you enjoyed: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Author: Emma Curtis
Published by: Black Swan
Paperback: 416 pages

Disclaimer: I was very kindly sent an advanced review copy of this book from Rosie at Transworld Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

 

Cover Reveal: Obsession by Amanda Robson

Over the weekend Avon Books revealed the cover to one of its latest upcoming releases – Obsession by Amanda Robson (@LadySion). I absolutely love domestic, psychological thrillers, so can’t wait to read this. Don’t you think that the vibrant purple really makes this cover stand out?

Obsession

Publishing in eBook: 4th May 2017
Paperback: 1st June 2017

One evening, a wife asks her husband a question: who else would you go for, if you could?

It is a simple question – a little game – that will destroy her life.

Carly and Rob are a perfect couple. They share happy lives with their children and their close friends Craig and Jenny. They’re lucky. But beneath the surface, no relationship is simple: can another woman’s husband and another man’s wife ever just be good friends?

Little by little, Carly’s question sends her life spiralling out of control, as she begins to doubt everything she thought was true. Who can she trust? The man she has promised to stick by forever, or the best friend she has known for years? And is Carly being entirely honest with either of them?

Obsession is a dark, twisting thriller about how quickly our lives can fall apart when we act on our desires.

Perfect for fans of B A Paris and Paula Hawkins.

If you’re as intrigued as I am by this book, you can preorder Obsession through my Book Depository link here.