Sleep No More P D James – Blog Tour Review

Publication Date: Available now from Faber

Source: review copy

As  six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail

Oh I do love a good twisty tale me, of course P D James is the absolute queen of crime and all things dark and dastardly, so  I was MORE than keen to dig into these six short tales of the unexpected. I had a lovely (almost) week of one per evening with a cup of tea and possibly more than one chocolate biscuit..

Spicing things up with multi layered characters, cleverly imagined death scenario’s  and even more cleverly imagined  justice, each tale within this collection is immersive, beautifully written and often more than a little creepy. A natural storyteller, P D James messes with your perception of things and gives good book – my favourite of these was “The Girl who Loved Graveyards” with its gothic undertones and descriptive brilliance – but every story you find here is entirely excellent.

It’s always difficult to review short stories because it would be oh so easy to give things away – so I’m staying quiet and letting you discover these delights for yourselves. It is a dark delight to be sure but ever compelling and incredibly engaging.

Loved them all. For many different reasons.

Highly Recommended.

You can purchase Sleep No More HERE

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Bloods Game Angus Donald – Blog Tour Extract.

It is the winter of 1670.

Holcroft Blood has entered the employ of the Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom after the king. It is here that his education really begins. With a gift for numbers and decoding ciphers, Holcroft soon proves invaluable to the Duke, but when he’s pushed into a betrayal he risks everything for revenge.

His father, Colonel Thomas Blood, has fallen on hard times. A man used to fighting, he lives by his wits and survives by whatever means necessary. When he’s asked to commit treason by stealing the crown jewels, he puts himself and his family in a dangerous situation – one that may end at the gallows. 

As the machinations of powerful men plot to secure the country’s future, both father and son must learn what it is to survive in a more dangerous battlefield than war – the court of King Charles II. 

One missed step could prove fatal . . .

One of the raggedy boys, the smallest one, ran ahead of Holcroft, and crossed the road barring his path. The two behind him were closing in. Holcroft heard the litany of familiar taunts about his stupidity: ‘Tom-noddy . . . buffle-head . . . ninnyhammer . . . nump-son . . .’

He could see a pair of squat, red-faced women, standing outside their front doors, strong arms folded, looking on with amusement as the predatory boys closed in around Holcroft. He did not like this. These boys were going to spoil his errand. His mother had given him strict instructions: go to the Wheatsheaf, buy the rum and come straight home. And he had tried his best to do just that. But these three were going to ruin everything. He felt sick and dizzy. By the side of the street he saw a mounting block, a waist-high cube of stone, with three steps cut into one side. He walked over to it and carefully placed the pewter pot of rum on the top step.

Then he turned to face his tormentors.

The leader was clearly the biggest one – as tall as Holcroft, but thicker in the chest, and he moved with the rangy grace of a street cat. He had a shock of ginger hair, a wide grin and a black gap where his two front teeth should have been. The little blond one to Holcroft’s left, the one who’d run ahead to cut him off, was of no account. He was a follower, and younger than the others by some years. The redhead’s other companion, dark, bull-necked and vicious-looking, might be even more dangerous than the red.

Holcroft was no stranger to bullies. All his life people had objected to him in one way or another. And he had taken beatings with regularity until his older brother Tom, at his mother’s tearful pleading, had reluctantly taken him aside and taught him the rudiments of pugilism and Cornish wrestling. Tom had then taken pleasure in knocking him down again and again, day after day, while he lectured his brother in the finer points of the fighting arts.

Holcroft did not think there was any point in saying anything to these three, so he merely jumped forward and pumped a straight left into the redhead’s nose, smashing his head back. Then he dipped a shoulder and buried his right fist into his enemy’s now-open belly. He hit him a third time, again with his left, and with all his weight behind it, smack on the right cheekbone. The boy went down. Holcroft whirled, saw the dark boy nearly on him, fist raised. He blocked the punch and seized the boy by the lapels of his coat, pulled him in and crashed his forehead hard into the bridge of his opponent’s nose. He felt the crunch of cartilage, and the boy’s weight as he staggered, but Holcroft kept hold of him, shifting his position slightly as he brought his knee up smartly into the fellow’s groin. Holcroft released him and the boy slid bonelessly to the ground.

The tall redhead was gasping and spitting blood, back up on his feet but tottering. Holcroft took his time and clubbed him on the join of the jaw with his right fist, hard as he could, then followed in with a left uppercut to the chin that cracked his teeth together and hurled him on his back into the mud.

He looked at the third one: the blond child. Both Holcroft’s hands were hurting now, and he felt as if he were about to burst into tears, as he always did after a bout. He screamed, ‘Haaaaa!’ pushing his face right forward and scowling like a gargoyle, and the urchin gave a squeak and took to his heels. Holcroft looked at his two foes, now both curled in the mud, coughing, spewing, writhing feebly. He had nothing to say to them. He turned his back and went over to the stone mounting block to collect the pewter pot of rum. He looked, looked again and saw that the pot had disappeared.

The burly women spectators had vanished, too.

Holcroft’s heart sank into his shoes. No rum for Mother now. He felt cold and tearful. He would never hear the end of this.

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Snow Sisters Carol Lovekin Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Honno

Source: Review Copy

Two sisters, their grandmother’s old house and Angharad… the girl who cannot leave.

Meredith discovers a dusty sewing box in a disused attic. Once open the box releases the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman with a horrific secret she must share. Angharad slowly reveals her story to Meredith who fails to convince her more pragmatic sister of the visitations until Verity sees Angharad for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm.

Forced by her flighty mother to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles to settle, still haunted by Angharad and her little red flannel hearts. This time, Verity is not sure she will be able to save her…

Two parallel coming of age stories – one tragic, the other holding out the hope of salvation. 

Snow Sisters is absolutely beautifully written, a ghostly ethereal tale with themes of family running through the heart of it, a little bit of a literary delight.

Verity and Meredith are drawn wonderfully, the strength of this novel for me came through their relationship and their finding of themselves – Snow Sisters has only a few characters, all of whom come to life on the page through the author’s lyrical and descriptive writing. If you like non genre specific books where the characters are the story then Snow Sisters will definitely be for you.

It is kind of melancholy, highly absorbing, as winter approaches this is just the sort of book I like to curl up with in a warm corner – it is transporting and imaginative, the differing timelines all play into one another, thought provoking and engaging you’ll be captured by it utterly.

It is a difficult one to place when it comes to recommending it – with Snow Sisters the quality of the writing is the key – I simply cannot imagine any reader not finding something within its pages to love – so I guess the easiest thing to say is if you are looking for something a bit different, with a deft feminine touch and plenty of both style and substance then this one will be for you.

Recommended.

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The Blackbird Season: Interview with Kate Moretti

Today I am VERY happy to welcome Kate Moretti, author of the brilliant “The Blackbird Season” to talk a little about the book as part of the blog tour.

This was originally supposed to be a full review also, however I am currently dealing with some real life  and am officially On Hiatus – so there will be a separate post with a full review upon my return. But what I will say right now is you do NOT want to miss this one – it was entirely emotionally brilliant.

First of all, I want to say The Blackbird Season was a wonderful read for me, so compelling I read it almost without stopping. I know you probably get the inspiration question too much but I am intrigued to know where the Blackbirds came from – an underlying theme in the story and an event within it that drives it.

Thank you so much! I love when a reviewer really gets what I tried to do — it’s like a writer’s dream come true. I’ve always been fascinated by natural phenomenon: birds falling, a mass fish death, I once read a story about a river in China that turned completely red overnight and it took them forever to figure out why. Something about the iron content of an opened dam. Either way, it was all fascinating. Most of my inspiration comes from news articles. I’m a junkie! I read a story about a teacher who followed all his students on social media and I thought about how polarizing it must be now. How easy it would be to cross those lines, with good intentions! But then how easy would it become for someone to subconsciously use their students to fill a hole in their own lives. How accessible everyone is. That’s my favorite part of writing stories: exploring those morally gray areas that can ensnare even the most well- intentioned people.

You take a pretty relentlessly emotive look at the underlying soul of small towns everywhere, where everyone knows everyone and all have an opinion to share – is this a theme that particularly interests you generally when writing a novel?

Yes. I love setting. I grew up in a very small town. While we never had a booming local economy in my lifetime, I am interested in what the exodus of manufacturing from the US has done to areas like the rust belt. While Blackbird takes place in PA, not in the geographical midwest, the economics was similar. A dwindling population, deindustrialization, rural decay, rampant heroin use. In northern Pennsylvania, there are thick, dense woods that even an avid hiker could get turned around it. The combination of these two settings felt so interesting to me. The book I wrote before and after Blackbird are different urban settings: NYC and Philadelphia, so it was fun to write the special kind of hell that can be country life.

It is quite difficult these day, I imagine, to stand out in this genre – call it what you will, psychological thriller, domestic noir, or to my mind just taking human nature and spinning it in different ways – what authors have inspired you to write and how do you go about plotting a book and trying to make it unique?

THANK YOU. It’s just human nature, spun different ways, with a murder mixed in. I have no idea what my technical genre is. I like the ultimate stakes: life or death. I like families and the myriad of ways we can ruin each other and ourselves. This is where my fascination lies. No idea if this is psychological suspense or mystery or noir or whatever you want to call it!

I plot a book somewhat haphazardly. Generally, the opening chapter comes to me immediately. Sometimes I can get to the ending. The middle is always murky and sometimes I loosely outline and say

“Make something interesting and clever happen here.” My outline changes as I write. Then the book changes again when I rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite.

It’s so hard to stand out! I think it’s likely that all of us suspense writers fret about this kind of thing. For me, it’s such a driving force. How can I take something that interests me, make it universally appealing, and still write something that sets it apart? I have a zillion authors that inspire me constantly! Megan Abbott has been a huge influence: I love how she can really drill down to the nuts and bolts of family life and make it so incredibly fraught with tension. I read Elizabeth Haynes and I swear to God, I don’t breathe. Her plots are hairpin! Tana French can build a world and a set of characters that I cannot believe don’t really exist. Peter Swanson gave the word “twist” new meaning in THE KIND WORTH KILLING. Liane Moriarty’s characters are so accessible — she brings the reader right into their head. Whenever I need to understand how to do this or that better, I turn to these masters. I’m always learning.

I was highly intrigued by Nate Winters – a character who could just as easily be hero or villain during the reading – he has a kind of passive aggressive likability that makes you want to trust him – also the layer of storytelling that deals with the teacher/student relationship and where the line needs to be drawn is utterly thought provoking – where do you see that line and how did you ultimately view Nate?

This is my FAVORITE QUESTION. I’ve known a lot of guys like Nate Winters. Self-described “nice guys”, the heroes of their own story. They are likable, sometimes. They’re also, as a group (I’m generalizing), incredibly narcissistic. Nate, like everyone else, felt complicated to me. He wanted his life to be easy. He wanted everyone to like him. He could handle his son’s disability just fine by pretending it didn’t really exist. He wanted Alecia to let him off the hook, to let him have his free and happy life, half checked out. Then again, he genuinely wanted to help his troubled student. Or was it another way to play the hero? I’ve never trusted a man who tells me he’s a “nice guy”. Who are they trying to convince? I loved exploring this and I can’t say I like Nate much, but I don’t think he’s a villain per se. I think he crossed the line a long time ago by following his students on social media. There’s definitely a savior complex there.

Finally a question I ask everyone – is there one novel you have read this year that you would like to recommend to everyone?

Do I have to pick just one? THE PERFECT STRANGER by Megan Miranda, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng, THE FIFTH OF JULY by Kelly Simmons, ALL THE BEST PEOPLE by Sonja Yoerg. It’s a 4-way tie.

Thank you so much!

About the Book:

“Where did they come from? Why did they fall? The question would be asked a thousand times…

Until, of course, more important question arose, at which time everyone promptly forgot that a thousand birds fell on the town of Mount Oanoke at all.”

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alicia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alicia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

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A Patient Fury Sarah Ward. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Faber

Source: Review Copy

When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death.

Three bodies discovered – a family obliterated – their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: One mother, one murderer.

But D.C. Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery at Cross Farm Lane.

What Connie Childs fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health – this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career. 

A Patient Fury, the third book to feature Connie Childs is, as its predecessors, a right old page turner with an intriguing multi-layered plot, the usual character suspects plus some others and a tense and atmospheric tale of families gone wrong.

What I love about these books is the way Sarah Ward twists her plots and those living out the drama within the pages in subtle and undefined ways so it is not until you are heading towards the end that you finally start to see the truth. Her strength is dysfunctional family units, showing us the underneath of things, those hidden parts of marriage, wider ties and parenthood that can explode in the most violent ways. It is fascinating to “watch” things unfold, see the connections and the hidden meanings, this is character led crime fiction at its finest.

Connie is a very good anchor to all of this – she is determined and not always sensible – I’ll admit as a reader that she often irritates me but in the best reading way. In A Patient Fury she see’s beyond the obvious and takes us, the reader, down a different track  – it is clever and unpredictable.

Overall a fine addition to the series. Beautifully readable and one of those books that makes you think back on it later to see the nuances.

Highly Recommended.

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Maria In the Moon Louise Beech. Blog Tour Review

Publication Date: Available Now from Orenda

Source: Review Copy

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’ 

Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

Maria in the Moon had everything I have come to expect from this author – beautiful, stunningly impacting prose, a dark and engaging story, characters of substance and that emotional edge that only ever comes along every so often within all the books that I read.

Louise Beech always writes from the heart, her own life experiences are layered in there which gives it that strong authentic edge – never easy to describe or fit into genre boxes, Maria in the Moon encompasses many things – family drama, dark underlying social relevance, hints of psychological thriller but mostly just getting into your head, into those quiet between moments where you live and making you consider things differently.

Catherine is an intriguing and gorgeously knowable character, her mystery is our mystery and this is less a puzzle than it is an awakening – for her, for us as we read and come to understand her past and how it impacts her present. Memory and the truths we obfuscate to survive is a strong theme here, striking a chord within the reader as the story unfolds. It is clever, intense and ultimately uplifting in a lot of ways.

The author uses real events to imbue that authenticity, she takes you to the heart of all the themes she is exploring and makes you sit up and take notice. At the same time it is a wonderfully emotive piece of storytelling as always, entertaining and addictive – also deeply deeply moving and extremely thought provoking.

Maria in the Moon is a literary delight,  Louise’s novels are like a bookish box of chocolates, a sweet and bitter mix of different tastes and textures –  I loved every moment of Maria in the Moon and cannot wait to see what flavour I get next. Each novel has seen the quality grow, putting this author firmly on my must read list with the gorgeous sense of anticipation that goes with knowing there is a lot more to come.

Highly Recommended.

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The Spell of the Horse. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: 18th Sept from Blackbird Digital

The ability of the horse to sense emotion, energy and spirit is way beyond what most of the human world realises. A must-read for those wishing to understand the spiritual connection between horses and humans.

When Pam’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she began to notice the way her horse responded to her emotional turmoil. Thus began an exploration into the spiritual relationship between horses and humans and their infinite capacity to help us heal. Building on her remarkable discoveries, Pam began her pioneering work as a horse-led coach and therapist. By sharing her own path to redemption through personal tragedy, and other stories of healing inspired by the incredible interactions she has observed between horse and human, Pam puts forward her uplifting insights about the true nature of the horse, setting out some simple principles to help the reader transcend life’s challenges. 

So a little bit of a departure for me today – I’ve been trying to read more non fiction, so I was pleased to be part of the blog tour for The Spell of the Horse  – It is a well written memoir which has a lot of elements of  self help, focusing on the emotional relationship between Horses and Humans – how they sense our turmoil and how we can learn a lot about how to handle our emotional state. How the author came to discover this during a horrible time and built on that to help others.

Now I used to be around horses a lot when I was younger but fell out of that as I grew up – so it was an interesting read for me as someone who would not really have any insight. Pam Billinge writes with a wonderful beauty, I found myself entirely fascinated at the way her feelings impacted on the behaviour of her horse – her descriptive sense of her own emotions during a time of grief and loss created a palpable sense of melancholy – with ultimately uplifting resonance.

I think for anyone who is suffering emotional turmoil this would be a useful read, it is said that taking care of an animal is good for sufferers of anxiety, this kind of ties into that but with a lot more depth and of course focusing on horses as the spiritual healers. Overall a very very interesting read.

Recommended if you are a fan of self help memoirs and stories about overcoming life’s curveballs, especially if you are already a lover of horses.

 

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Glass Houses Louise Penny : Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Sphere

Source: Review Copy

One cold November day, a mysterious figure appears on the village green in Three Pines, causing unease, alarm and confusion among everyone who sees it. Chief Superintendent, Armand Gamache knows something is seriously wrong, but all he can do is watch and wait, hoping his worst fears are not realised. But when the figure disappears and a dead body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to investigate.

In the early days of the murder inquiry, and months later, as the trial for the accused begins, Gamache must face the consequences of his decisions, and his actions, from which there is no going back . . .

Gripping, surprising and powerful, Glass Houses is the new ingenious and illuminating novel from number one bestseller, Louise Penny, which will leave you spellbound until the final page. 

This is actually my first read of Louise Penny (won’t be my last, my book halo is slipping) and I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly for the scene setting and the absolutely gorgeous descriptive prose. I will say I feel I may have been even more engaged with it had I read previous novels in the series – that is not to say you can’t read this in isolation you can – however I am now going to go back and read a selection of the others.

This book opens with high intrigue as Gamache is on the stand answering questions about a previous murder. This really set the scene beautifully and made me immediately want to know what had happened. The setting of “Three Pines” has obviously been embedded in during earlier stories, but I loved the sense that the author brought to the surroundings and the small town quirky vibe. Jumping between there and Montreal the drama unfolds in a very powerful way, this was a book I read fast and got completely immersed in.

I’m actually glad in a way that I have only just come to these – the mystery elements are clever, the writing is intuitively captivating, I can see why there is a huge fanbase for the Gamache series and I think I will shortly be joining it – and we all know that little jump of joy inside when we discover a new series and realise we have a whole lot to look forward to. Sometimes it is good to be late to the party…

Highly Recommended (But maybe start at the start?)

 

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House Of Spines Michael J Malone. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now: Kindle 15th September Paperback from Orenda

Source: Review Copy

Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word—the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror . . . the reflection of a woman.

House Of Spines is a brilliantly creepy and extraordinarily readable (translation: I had another late night) psychological gothic thriller, strongly character driven and with added shiver.

Definitely with added shiver!

The tension in this book is palpable – an inheritance, a seemingly easy task, but something is not quite right and soon our main protagonist is caught up in his very own ghost story. He is not exactly mentally stable, for the reader the house comes alive on the page and as we head further into the tale you’ll be glancing over your shoulder, jumping at shadows and randomly shrieking when you catch sight of your reflection in the window. Just me? Well ok then but still..fair warning. The odd off kilter feelings build and build from first page to last, it is incredibly immersive.

House of Spines is like a gothic “ghost” story of old, beautifully written, beautifully plotted, intensely creepy practically straight from the start – themes of mental health and personality  with a gorgeous hit of modern unreliable narrator, all wrapped up in a bow and delivered to the reader with class and style. Michael J Malone is going through a bit of a literary awakening with both this, and his previous novel A Suitable Lie, I must say I’m loving that very much and can’t wait to see what comes next.

Although you’ll have to give me time to get over this one first. I really engaged with Ran, and with the house and with the whole thing. Utterly absorbing, never less than eerily fascinating, House Of Spines hits the sweet spot in terms of both storytelling and emotional resonance – and with the added bookish theme, it really is a perfect storm.

Highly Recommended.

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If You Knew Her Emily Elgar – Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Sphere

Source: Review Copy

The perfect life?
Or the perfect lie . . .

When Cassie Jensen arrives on the intensive care ward in St Catherine’s hospital, Alice Marlowe the chief nurse, is fascinated by this young, beautiful woman who strikes her as familiar and yet she doesn’t know why. But then Alice is astonished to discover something about Cassie that she has been keeping secret from everyone, including her devoted husband and family; a secret that changes everything.

Frank is a patient on the same ward who has locked-in-syndrome, so can hear and see everything around him but cannot communicate. Soon he comes to understand that Cassie’s life is still in danger and as the police continue to investigate what really happened to Cassie, only Frank holds the truth, which no one can know and he cannot tell . . .

If You Knew Her is a tense and addictive psychological thriller with 3 separate, unique and absorbing voices.

We see Cassie, in a coma, her life in retrospect as we lead to the moment of disaster, Frank, a patient who is more aware than the medical team believe and Alice, chief nurse who has an emotional connection to Cassie and is concerned for her occasionally to the point of obsession.

Emily Elgar cleverly weaves and interlocks the three separate strands of this story often in an emotionally resonant way – especially in regards to Alice – the mystery elements are intriguing and several unexpected things happened during the course of the read which is a big plus for me. What I really liked about it was the lack of police points of view – the police are seen rarely and “off camera” so to speak – this is all about these three lives that have intersected at a difficult time for all of them.

Frank was probably the character I related to the most. I’ve read a couple of books this year that involve “coma” patients and I find that incredibly fascinating – Frank’s voice is, to my mind, the strongest of the three and he in a lot of ways is our external narrator.

I would say this is more character drama than psychological thriller – whilst there is that element, was Cassie’s accident actually a deliberate act, is she still in danger – there are not that many resolutions available to that question therefore the focus is very much on the thoughts and feelings of those caught up in the wake. The ending is beautifully done and leaves a strong sense of melancholy with the reader ensuring that this one will stay with you.

Overall a really compelling read.

Recommended.

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