Latest Reads: The Body in the Ice – A J Mackenzie

Publication Date: Available Now from Bonnier

Source: Review Copy.

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796

On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared.

With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

Really enjoyed this – you know I love my modern detective stories but sometimes its nice to read a mystery set in a time when there were no mobile phones or DNA matches or anything really except legwork, good old fashioned common sense and the use of the little grey cells (Yes this is a little bit Christie)

This is my first novel in this series although I have the other one sat in the never ending pile somewhere so will definitely have to dig this out – I was particularly struck by the setting and the atmosphere in The Body in the Ice and I loved how A J Mackenzie (another spot on writing team) wove plenty of humour into the narrative. It made for a fun and compelling read, the mystery elements are spot on and the writing style is easy and immersive. Great for a Sunday afternoon (which was when I read this one pretty much in a single sitting)

The historical elements were great – letters and actual conversations and the team of Hardcastle and Chaytor worked really well, I’ll look forward to going back in time (again) and read their first adventure. This is old school storytelling at its best and whilst I’m not generally a huge fan of Historical fiction there are exceptions to the rule and this is one of them.

Villages and community (loved Amelia) family dynamic and the social strata of the day bring  this novel to life – that with the occasionally Holmes like detection elements and a gorgeously drawn cast of eclectic characters make The Body in the Ice a wonderful read.

Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Friends and Liars Kaela Coble

Publication Date: 1st June from Corvus

Source: Netgalley

It has been ten years since Ruby left her hometown behind. Since then she’s built a life away from her recovering alcoholic mother and her first love, Murphy. But when Danny, one of her estranged friends from childhood, commits suicide, guilt draws Ruby back into the tumultuous world she escaped all those years ago.

She’s dreading the funeral – and with good reason. Danny has left a series of envelopes addressed to his former friends. Inside each envelope is a secret about every person in the group. Ruby’s secret is so explosive, she will fight tooth-and-nail to keep it hidden from those she once loved so deeply, even if that means risking everything…

Friends and Liars is a  totally immersive and addictive read about a group of friends and the things that both bring them together and divide them. In the aftermath of the suicide of one of their own, all of them must face up to the truths about themselves and each other.

As we meet them both in the past and in the present, their story is authentically compelling. As a tight knit group of children, “the crew”, none the less they all have wavering loyalties and secrets that they keep – Friends and Liars is a brilliantly insightful look at the group dynamics of friendships formed, those that endure. Danny, in death, forces a kind of reckoning, it is utterly gripping and often very emotional.

The characters, all of them, are layered well, Kaela Coble unravels their lives in an intelligently woven plot that allows you to feel everything right along with them. Much of the focus is on Ruby and her one time best friend Murphy, the rest of the group rippling around them with Danny, the damaged and troubled soul right at the heart of things. The author plays on the readers sympathies, keeping you engaged, in some ways this is like a mini thriller as each secret comes to light slowly over the course of the story. Ultimately there is a kind of redemptive feel to things, sometimes the truth really does set you free…

Really I loved it, I read it in two sittings, the small town vibe, the ebb and flow of family and community, this group of friends who are genuinely tied together by those invisible threads no matter where they are in the world, it all made for quite wonderful and often unpredictable reading.

I’ll miss them all. I feel like I’ve lived it with them.

Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Mayfly by James Hazel.

Publication Date: 15th June from Bonnier Zaffre

Source: Netgalley

It’s happening again.

A mutilated body discovered in the woods.
A murderous plan conceived in the past.
A reckoning seventy years in the making . . .

Charlie Priest, ex-detective inspector turned London lawyer, is hired by influential entrepreneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. But Priest is no ordinary lawyer. Brilliant, yet flawed, this case will push him, and those closest to him, to the edge.

Priest traces the evidence back to the desperate last days of the Second World War. Buried in the ashes of the Holocaust is a secret so deadly its poison threatens to destroy the very heart of the establishment.
With more victims going missing, Priest realises that not everyone should be trusted. As he races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

Wow I loved The Mayfly. More than I expected to (always a good thing) and that is probably down to the completely compelling characters (Charlie Priest my newest book crush) and the rest (Georgie my newest girl crush) plus the brilliantly horrific plot which does get right under your skin. **slight shudder**

I won’t give anything away but the story fairly rocks along, whilst at the same time fleshing out (so to speak)  the characters, digging them into your consciousness so when bad things happen to them you are all discombobulated – and bad things do happen. Boy do they.

I like to find new crime fiction that has a different spin to put on things – what James Hazel does here is give you all the elements of a decent crime thriller with added oomph. Charlie Priest really is no ordinary lawyer – I’ll let you find out why for yourselves – but it adds a brilliantly intriguing twist on things that allows for some really meaningful moments in a plot full of layered depth. Also, his family is kind of weird – in the best reading way, I loved them. Even the one that I should probably be wary of.

I loved the past/present elements that all fused together ultimately, I really had no idea where this was going to end up, another reason for enjoying it thoroughly – I like the unpredictable not a lot get me that way these days. Even if I’d worked out every nuance though I would still have loved it – the characters are so fascinating, their relationships in our infancy of knowing them here are cleverly addictive – can’t wait for more now. Really. If the next book in the series is as good then its heading straight onto the must buy list.

Occasionally horrifically shiver inducing, never less than irresistible, The Mayfly is really top notch. Intelligently constructed, characters to die for and a truly sterling opening to what I hope will be a long running series. Charlie Priest. Remember the name.

I love this part.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Boy on the Bridge – M R Carey.

Publication Date: 2nd May from Orbit

Source: Review Copy.

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

So I’ve been waiting for this one in that way that I do, really patiently and without bugging anyone at ALL about it. Just sat here patiently waiting. No seriously!

ANYWAY The Boy on the Bridge is tagged as The Girl with all the Gifts book 2 but it is not that, it is a brilliant companion novel set in the same world, you can read this perfectly easily as a standalone book, although there are some lovely little gifts (yes I did that) for you if you have read Girl first. You should do that anyway simply because it is brilliant. I’m reading it again right now in fact…

Is “The Boy on the Bridge” as brilliant? Yes. You’ll get no argument from me, although it is brilliant in very different ways and for a whole host of new reasons. This is where I will struggle – because much like TGWATG I don’t want to give anything away. What the rather talented Mr Carey has done here is expand the entire sense of the world he built, given it form and function, with the help of some inspired characters and a kind of post apocalyptic road trip of highly charged emotional doom. Or redemption. You decide.

I was so involved all the way through this book – I felt all the feelings and clutched my hair quite a lot, growled at the actions of a few, clung onto the edge of the actions of at least one and from the moment I started it I lost my grip on this reality and lived in that one. Mr Carey has a way of writing with such totally immersive prose that you do live every moment, sinking into it and travelling along with it. By the end I was wrung out and blimey what an end I got too, first the last few cliff hanging chapters that brought everything from before to an emotive and heart wrenching finish then if that wasn’t enough there’s a beautifully placed little aftershock.

These really are the books I read for, the ones that for whatever reason, totally subjectively, grip you to the point that you know you’ll never forget them and will return to them to recapture that emotional tug they gave you the first time. The ones that will give that over and over no matter how many times you read them.

The Girl with all the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge are such books for me – whether they would be for you or not I cannot tell but what I can  do is  recommend that you at least give it a try. Really. What’s the worst that could happen?

Just a fantastic fascinating beautifully formed reading experience. All the love for this one. Both the  boy and the girl hit me right in the reading soul.

Highly Recommended. HIGHLY.

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Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

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Latest Reads: Penance Kanae Minato

Publication Date: Available Now from Mulholland

Source: Netgalley

When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emily is found murdered hours later.
Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after the Emili’s body was discovered. Asako, Emily’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.

I read Confessions from this author and loved it, a one sitting read and Penance was another one sitting read. It was strange and dark, occasionally heart breaking and beautifully done. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel I was immediately hooked in to this tale of a group of children caught up in the horrific murder of one of their friends, a sinister threat from the girls mother and how that affected them growing up..

Penance is less a murder mystery and more a character drama – the murder, and the mothers emotionally charged “threat” setting off a chain of life events for the 4 girls and indeed for the mother herself. Each girl tells her tale, about that day and about their lives after, all of them in one way or another end up paying that “Penance” that was demanded of them at a young and impressionable age. Kenae Minato really delves into personality here, taking us on a twisted, atmospheric journey through the lives of these characters, whose realities differ so much but all are tied into a seemingly unbreakable bond to that one event.

The cultural aspects are equally involving, as I read I got a real sense of both the differences and the similarities between life in Japan and life here – there are different expectations, different society rules and hierarchy, but people are people everywhere. Grief, love, trauma, those things have no borders and I was struck by how beautifully the author managed to portray the feelings, the passion, the core heart of everyone we meet within the pages.

Utterly riveting, everything in Penance hovers underneath the surface, the decisions made, the actions taken, all informed by the past  at differing levels. The plotting is taut and extraordinarily clever, its not until you come to the end of Penance and look back at it that you understand fully the complete tragedy. Because Penance is a tragedy, almost Shakespearean in nature, I devoured every word of it with a shivery intensity.

Absolutely Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: My Sister by Michelle Adams

Publication Date: 20th April from Headline

Source: Review Copy

Two Sisters:

You don’t get to choose your family.

She thought she’d never go back home.

But there’s something in her sister’s voice she just can’t refuse.

And hasn’t it always been that way?

What her sister asks, she does . .

A really stand out psychological thriller here from Michelle Adams – great depth to character and setting, beautifully done, not easily anticipated which is a huge plus and generally I’m a big fan of this one.

The two sisters are oh so very different – Irini, given away by her parents, never grasped the full reason, over the years her intermittent contact with sister Elle brings a whole world of trouble. When we meet Irini she has spent a while trying to escape Elle’s vortex, moving and hiding, again we are not sure why but a single phone call brings her back into Elle’s world and back into that destructive sphere of influence.

I loved My Sister for its eloquent descriptive sense, especially of the relationship between the sisters which is difficult to grasp and even harder to hold onto. Michelle Adams brings a sense of menace to the whole story but mostly to Elle who is  definitely a character I will never ever forget. Divisive, out and out scary occasionally, her loyalties questionable but unbending – it is no surprise that Irini cannot stay steady or react logically in her presence. Irini has been formed by that sense of abandonment, that inability to discover why she was discarded. Both Elle and Irini are fascinating, compelling and completely unpredictable, it is gripping gripping stuff.

The plotting is taut and effective – sitting at the heart of it, these two girls, but the multi layered mystery element is completely clever, the resolution when it comes is one of those you go away and think about for ages afterwards. My Sister is about family dysfunction, about parental love and security, about what you do to keep those you love safe. It is a psychological thriller with a whole heap of heart and I was agog at every page. You know how sometimes you actually talk out loud to a book while you are reading it? Ok maybe that’s just me then but “My Sister” and I had many discussions. I could not put it down.

Flipping awesome.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: How To Stop Time Matt Haig.

Publication Date: 6th July from Canongate

Source: Review copy

I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.

He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.

The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How To Stop Time is a beautiful work of fiction – you know I read a lot of books (this is actually book 120 for me of 2017) and I don’t think I have ever read an author that just grasps and conveys the vagaries of human nature quite like Matt Haig does – in a way that makes you feel like he is writing just for you. The emotional sense of his writing is enduring and never anything less than compelling no matter the story being told or the premise that starts it.

So there is that – and How To Stop Time falls firmly under page turner, with a  dash of passionate prose, a smattering of emotional trauma and a big hit of poignant insightful commentary on the human race. Pretty much what this author does in a nutshell.

Tom is one of those characters that will stay with you long after you have finished reading his story – and what a story it is. He is old, plagued (or blessed maybe that will be subjective) with a condition that means he ages at a much slower rate. Not immortal but feeling that way, he is part of history and an observer of it – we see him over time, at his best and his worst, this is a love story with a touch of mystery and is hugely gripping from the very first page until the tear inducing poignant finale.

I won’t give away much, this is one of those books that everyone will come to in their own way and will take from it different things – but Matt Haig manages to bring history alive on the page here through Tom and what he experiences, it almost feels as if you are living it with him. The characters he and we meet along the way all come with their own peculiarities and sense of self, the story weaves somewhat of a magic spell on the reader, or it did on me at least I was totally immersed into this one all the way.

The thing about stories is that they transport you to other places, make you think about other things. When you have a master storyteller at work it becomes so much less about construction and literary merit and all of those bookish things that as a reviewer I’m supposed to be perhaps commenting on –  and just becomes about you, as a reader, in those few short moments of time you are living in that other world. Matt Haig is simply, when you remove the white noise, a master storyteller.

I loved this book. Just that.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Power Naomi Alderman

Publication Date: Available Now from Penguin (Viking)

Source: Purchased Copy (based on a recommendation from Sam Eades)

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

I’m actually not sure what to say about The Power. It did knock my socks off (so to speak) and it is in the category of “Godarn hot page turner” in my head. It explores many, I suppose Feminist if you want to put a label on things, themes but you know in the end there are far more intelligent reviewers out there who can (and indeed do) dissect that for you and break it down but in the end I just enjoyed the hell out of it. On her website  the author describes it so : “It’s a piece of feminist science fiction – or speculative fiction, or fiction about a fictional thing rather than a real thing (curious concept)”  I think she’s as close as I’m going to get anyway, seeing as how it is her story.

Anyway, the point being it is blinking good. And very very clever both in concept and execution. A novel read if you like. A supposedly fictional twist on historical fact being read in order to offer feedback, ” The Power” charts the time of the Cataclysm, when suddenly women everywhere develop vast physical power which renders them almost unstoppable. Naomi Alderman then proceeds, through the stories of several characters, to turn the world we know upside down into pretty much the opposite of what we have now. She does so in a way that is not a rush to judgement but a subtle changing of the guard – and anyone that thinks a world run by the supposedly maternal side of society is likely to be all puppies and kittens should think again.

With a brilliant eye towards intelligent characterisation and a storytelling touch of genius, The Power envelops you into a world which feels entirely believable, if off kilter.  The things that our characters experience are emotionally resonant and often stop you in your tracks – some of the descriptive scenes are positively heart stopping, all this whilst at every turn the author is making you stop and think.  Also to be honest  she made me wonder if there is any actual hope for humanity. Maybe…

It is intensely absorbing and utterly utterly gripping from the opening salvo to the very last line, which let me tell you is one of the best last lines I’ve read in any novel ever – that moment where you go Oh HA very good and you just have to sit there in awe for a moment.

This one will stay with me, Allie I think especially will keep me up at night – but overall The Power is beautiful. Or I think so anyway. It had everything I want from a novel, the ability to give my brain a work out, challenging my preconceptions on things, whilst telling a very human set of stories and keeping it as real as you can within the speculative fiction genre.

Loved loved loved.

Highly Recommended to everyone.

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Latest Reads: The Lucky Ones Mark Edwards.

Publication Date: June 15th from Thomas and Mercer (one to watch)

Source: Netgalley

It was the happiest day of her life. Little did she know it was also the last.

When a woman’s body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer—a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.

A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What’s more, the bullies who have been terrorising his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky.

But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben.

Happiness…and death.

Mark Edwards gives good psychological thriller. Its been true since he started writing them but each book has been better than the last and The Lucky Ones was really excellent, with that genuine addictive quality and a clever, fast moving, considered plot that keeps things nicely unpredictable.

The Lucky Ones is kind of a hybrid serial killer/psychological thriller, as ever the author has created some memorable characters – then thrown them into untenable situations and messed with their happy place (in this case literally) It is gripping stuff, as bodies pile up and nobody can get a handle on anything – in the meantime we follow along with Ben and son Ollie as they both come to terms with a marital split, but suddenly find themselves caught up in something much worse.

I loved the setting here – so beautifully tranquil which made the odd dead body suddenly lying around all the more real – I also thought the police procedural elements were beautifully layered into the wider plot so it all read perfectly, as the story twists and turns towards its ultimate solution you’ll be hanging off every page.

Look to be honest I’m a bit numbed to this genre now reading so  widely in it as I do, but whilst there are occasional good ones and many more enjoyable ones and the very very odd incredible one, I know that with this author I’m in safe hands. I never do anything less than bang through them, completely engaged, immersed into whatever story is being told, the characters never fail to stay with me and I’m never quite sure what I’m going to get. Quality writing, quality storytelling, imaginative plotting and a damn fine read, that I know but as for the rest, well its a mystery.

Whilst I think that “The Magpies” will remain definitively my favourite novel from Mark Edwards (is that somewhat of a challenge? Absolutely!) The Lucky Ones is without doubt one of the best. So yes. Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The End of the Day Claire North.

Publication Date: Available Now from Orbit

Source: Review Copy

Charlie has a new job. He gets to travel, and he meets interesting people, some of whom are actually pleased to see him.

It’s good to have a friendly face, you see. At the end.

But the end of all things is coming. Charlie’s boss and his three associated are riding out, and it’s Charlie’s job to go before.

Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.

I loved The End of the Day. I took my time with it, a novel to be savoured for its utterly beautiful writing, gorgeous descriptive nuances and Charlie, the character at the heart of it, one I will never forget.

The world Claire North has built here is one of many levels, Charlie, who takes on a new role as the harbinger of death whilst learning about life, is so wonderfully normal that you just sink into his world feeling like it is all entirely possible. The End of the Day is melancholy, intense, a book that has something to say in the underneath of it all if you listen to its small quiet voice. The places Charlie visits, the people he meets, some of them in their last moments, just ingrain themselves into your senses, this is a book with that thing called “all the feels”

I actually find it quite difficult to describe with any actually useful thoughts at all, it just IS – Claire North writes with a peaceful complexity, she drew me  into her story without me hardly noticing until I was just living it all right alongside Charlie and the rest of the eclectic, memorable characters I met along the way. Some of the scenes are heart stopping, most of them gently contemplative but ultimately utterly gripping, a book to sink into and leave the world behind.

Overall just total total magic. Magic on the page.

Highly Recommended.

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