Tuesday, 29 November 2016

"Girl Unknown" Karen Perry

Girl Unknown

This is a great premise for a thriller - a tried and tested idea but one that never fails to appeal to readers. I also loved the cover - it's so eye-catching. Admittedly it does rather follow the form of popular psychological thrillers these days but its a form that works - I saw it and knew I wanted to read it! And the strap line for the book is just so inciting.....

A deadly cuckoo in the nest....

Professor David Connolly's life changes the day that Zoe Barry walks into his office claiming to be his daughter. David welcomes her into their home but it his wife Caroline and his children, Robbie and Holly, who find this new girl, who says she is their sister, more difficult to accept and deal with.

Can we trust Zoe? Is she who she says she is? Why has she turned up now and what exactly is she after? Can David and Caroline's marriage survive their secrets from the past that Zoe's arrival is forcing them to confront?

"Girl Unknown" is a beautifully written, tense and taut thriller. The emotional depth of the characters is expressed with polished prose and in words that sit heavy on the page, weighing down the paper with the enormity and complexity of this family's situation; their choices, their decision and their actions. The author conveys their concerns, thoughts and reactions through comments, revelations and observations, striking a perfect balance between an intelligent character driven novel and a tense, page turning thriller.

It is an absorbing novel told through the voices of David and Caroline which alternate in each chapter.  From the outset there are smatterings of clues indicating something more sinister or destructive is coming. David begins by reminiscing of a past relationship, before he met Caroline yet despite it ending nearly two decades ago, his emotional commitment to this woman, Linda, is very obvious.

"....this love affair - I had no idea how much it meant to me - it, too, would be laid to rest. We both knew it...."

From the beginning of Caroline's narrative there is also lots of darker comments that also increase the suspense and tension for what is about to happen:

"....conscious that I was about to be swept up by something more powerful than I understood, something dangerous and beyond my control." 

"I didn't know she existed. But that was when I first felt her shadow fall over me. The first time I felt the ripples of a new presence within my home, like a dye entering water, already changing its chemistry." 

Perry's imagery and metaphors are quite stunning and the beauty of the prose often caught me by surprise. It's almost as if the story line and Zoe's arrival become secondary. For me, it was the interaction between David and Caroline which was compelling and what gripped me. For me, I was most engrossed in the empathetic exploration of this married couple and I loved so many of the passages where Perry's writing was bewitching. For example there is a great passage about being in a long term relationship and how "rot can set it" and a "stone becomes dislodged". Then again when Caroline muses on a marriage repairing itself after a crisis:

"[it] resolved itself slowly, seeping away, like water finding a drain. I have learned that there are several steps- significant markers - along the path to reconciliation. ....At times you're just playing at being married to each other. At other times the pieces fit naturally into place, giving you hope." 

Perry's writing can by lyrical and full of poetic images but then it can also be more threatening and blunt:

"She was a thief, come to steal from me all that I loved. I knew it then: I would have to guard myself against her." 

I seemed to relate to Caroline more, feeling more sympathy towards her as it is she who is more affected and threatened by the arrival of Zoe and what it reveals about David's past. I marked more quotes from her sections as she had a more mesmerising reflective voice which again allowed me to relish in Perry's prose.

"I thought of these strands of DNA and imagined them to be threads escaping their spools. She was a thread that ran through the fabric of our family.....woven into a complex tapestry. Love, trust, fidelity: these were the strands that bound us together."

"Families don't come apart because a thread has loosened. The break, when it comes, is sharp, brutal. It takes ripping and hacking to tear the tapestry apart." 

But what I also liked about Caroline is that she too is fallible, at fault and with her own mistakes she has tried to bury in the past. She is not a victim, nor is she a villain. Perhaps the success of this story is that it is about relatable, believable people. The plot is not far fetched but it is as terrifying as any of the crime thrillers on the market at the moment.

Not that David isn't reflective, considered and thoughtful. Not that he doesn't begin to feel the ripples from Zoe's presence and the way she behaves once welcomed into their family. He too comes to realise some profound changes that are affecting them all and also his role as a father. He realises that for Holly, he is "becoming a different father from the one she had known and relied upon until then." Most interesting was his response when asked what History meant and he recalls a famous quote:

"History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves and soldiers, mostly fools."

For the discerning reader this could almost capture the main theme of the book. This story is about the history of each character, how they have decided to deal with it, remember it, inform the way they behave today. It's about whether their histories are real, true, significant.

Zoe herself remains quite elusive and "unknown". Cleverly revealed largely through the way other people perceive her and rarely given a chance to tell the reader her version of events, she remains distanced from the reader. However, there are enough clues to ensure we are not sympathetic towards her. As she says about herself when describing the attributes of a Pisces:

"Pisces are the Chameleons of the Zodiac......very adaptable. And our inner lies are important to us. Our secrets and dreams." 

There is something deliciously dark about her. The reader watches as she appears to silently, secretly, invisibly inflict unhappiness, confusion and distress upon David's family. And there is always that question of whether she is trustworthy, whether she can be believed or whether she is scapegoated by Caroline, Robbie and Holly. How do we know who to trust and who to believe?

But as the story continues there are more and more things that don't stack up. Things that can be explained away but linger with a heavy scent of doubt. Things that concern the reader. Ultimately, this is someone who David knows so little about, someone he has welcomed back due to a nostalgic yearning for a first love. And all of these characters have secrets, have made mistakes, have shown themselves to be distrustful, jealous and prepared to seek revenge. Are these characters strong enough to listen to each other? To trust each other? To really see what is in front of them?

I thought the last line of the story was epic. It holds the absolute weight of consequence, responsibility, love, knowledge and guilt in its twelve short words.

"Girl Unknown" reminded me of "An Inspector Calls" and "A  Casual Vacancy". It will appeal to anyone who enjoys a thriller about families, marriages, lost children and where the consequences of one decision have the most devastating and chilling results. This is a fascinating exploration of a dysfunctional family - it's not just about Zoe and who or what she is, but as much about what she triggers and how she affects each member in the Connolly's family.

My only little quibble would be that I felt the title almost detracts from the high quality prose and well written, accomplished characterisation and storyline. Although still a fitting title, I just think it might be slightly underselling itself and perhaps missing out on reaching some of its potential audience.

This is the second book I have read by Karen Perry and it will not be the last. I am a fan.

"Girl Unknown" will be published by Penguin Random House on 1st December 2016.

Karen Perry is the pen name of crime writing duo Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. They both live in Dublin, Ireland. You can follow them on @KarenPerryBooks. They have also written Sunday Times bestselling titles "The Boy That Never Was" and "Only We Know".

If you enjoyed my review then please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Monday, 28 November 2016

"Penhaligon's Attic" Terri Nixon

Penhaligon's Attic (Penhaligon Saga)
1910. Anna Garvey arrives in Caernoweth, Cornwall with her daughter and a secret. Having come from Ireland to take up an inheritance of the local pub, she and her eighteen year-old daughter Mairead are initially viewed with suspicion by the close-knit community.

Anna soon becomes acquainted with Freya Penhaligon, a vulnerable girl struggling to keep her family business afloat in the wake of her grandmother's death, and starts to gain the trust of the locals. As their friendship deepens, and Freya is brought out of her shell by the clever and lively Mairead, even Freya's protective father Matthew begins to thaw.

But when a part of Anna's past she'd long tried to escape turns up in the town, she is forced to confront the life she left behind - for her sake and her daughter's too . . .

Cornwall is always such an excellent place to set a story. We are all so in love with "Poldark" that conjuring up an image of rugged coastline, mystery, romance and drama is easy. Cornwall lends itself beautifully to such storytelling and has been chosen as the location by many many authors including on of my favourites, Daphne Du Maurier. The mystical sounding place names like Caernoweth and the traditional first names and family names of the characters all contribute to the mythological atmosphere, perfect for a good yarn.

The sea is used effectively by Nixon to create tension and excitement. I particularly enjoyed one of the very early scenes with Freya when she is shown how powerful it can be and Nixon establishes the relationship the characters have with their coastline:

"....she had loved the seas all her life. She had admired it, been in awe of its raw power, spoken to it like a friend even, and thanked it for the treasures it had given her. In return it had almost stolen her life. It smashed itself against the rocks behind her, and against the breakwater, expressing its own anger at losing her."

The book is very easy to read, it is very plot driven and sweeps along with as many undulations as it's rolling countryside and with as much drama as its precarious cliffs. There are quite a few characters to keep track of but not too many to make it confusing or over complicated. Nixon has very clearly evoked a strong sense of time and place. Her use of historical detail is subtle enough not to draw attention to itself and thorough enough to leave the reader firmly rooted in the period. The language spoken by the characters is very easy to follow. Again, Nixon has struck a good balance between using enough dialect to remind us where we are and enough informal or historical language to remind us when we are without alienating the reader in any way. It feels authentic.

The prose flows well and the chapters are clearly marked in to different sections with headings that mean the reader is never lost or unsure as to where they are in the plot.

Reading this book is like indulging in your favourite Sunday night costume drama. It is like comfort food for these winter evenings. There are good characters and plenty of familiar themes to satisfy anyone looking for an enjoyable historical drama or anyone who enjoys a good saga.

"Penhaligon's Attic" is published by Piatkus Little, Brown on 1st December 2016.

Terri Nixon
Terri Nixon was born in Plymouth in 1965. At the age of 9 she moved with her family to Cornwall to the village featured in Daphne Du Maurier's Jamica Inn - North Hill - where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. Her first commercially published novel was "Maid of Oaklands Manor" published by Piatkus in 2013. She has since published two more novels in the Oaklands Manor Trilogy: "A Rose in Flanders Fields" and "Daughter of Dark River Farm".

For more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Sunday, 27 November 2016

"What Alice Knew" T A Cotterell

What Alice Knew

I think all I can say is 'Wow'.

This has given me the biggest book hangover in a while. I was literally stunned when I finished reading the last page and in some sort of trance for the following hours. Don't you just love it when a book like that falls into your life?! Bibliomaniac heaven.

In some ways it's not like a conventional best-selling, page-turning psychological thriller yet it is page turning and it so deserves to be a best seller!

I'd say "What Alice Knew" is more character driven than plot driven, with Cotterell not only successfully immersing us in the complexity of the protagonist's dilemma, but also getting us to consider wider issues about human nature, knowledge and truth. It has a gripping plot line but it is really a discussion of human behaviour. This book is exceptional in its ability to engage, thrill, intrigue and entertain as well as provoke philosophical questions and reflection. It's an accomplished, accessible, well paced novel that rivals all its contemporary popular "Grip Lit" titles with relatable characters and a compelling writing style. It's absorbing, arresting and addictive.

If you haven't read it then I highly recommend that you put everything else aside, find a spot (it doesn't have to even be quite because you'll lose yourself in this story) and get reading!

It's going to be a tricky book to review as I am torn between being absolutely desperate to talk about it and wary of giving anything away. The succinct blurb on the back cover is perfect in only telling the reader what they need to know and really I don't want to say more than that - other than, trust me, this is not just a clever marketing campaign - this book really will live up to the hype and you need to find out just what Alice knew.......!

So in case you haven't read the blurb, this is the story of Alice. Alice who has a perfect life, a dream job, a wonderful, loving husband and great kids. She is happy. She is secure. She is with her life partner and there is nothing that she doesn't know about him or about their relationship. She's confident, rational, logical and content. Nothing is going to ruffle her feathers.

And yet....suddenly a few things just don't add up. And as Alice reflects, what do you do when a slow dawning realisation begins to creep up on you and you are forced to look at your life with fresh eyes?

"Do you come straight out with it, a blurted question loaded with tears and ultimatums?" 

Because once you start something, is there ever any way to go back? Once you know something, can you ever 'unknown' it again? Is it ever better to not know something?

At the beginning I liked Alice. She seems quiet but thoughtful. Calm. She is not weak, not a victim, she hasn't done anything wrong; she's committed to her marriage and family, she's reflective, insightful and good at her job. She is a portrait painter and I loved the insight this allowed her to have about people and truth. It is such an effective plot device and so intriguing. Through this Cotterell immediately adds multiple layers to his writing.

The book opens with Alice painting Julie, the young second wife of the rich Ray.

"I had painted a faux-girly voice and a belief in the redistributive power of of shopping......I had also painted subterfuge. ......I had painted the fragile interplay of power and trust, money and fear, love and mobility. I had painted the portrait of a second marriage." 

I love the sentences like "Uneasy lies the head that wears that crown," that are gently slipped into the prose and seemingly about something obvious, yet imply so much more and come to mean so much more as the story continues.

The references to painters, art and mythology give this thriller a fresh angle from its friends on the bookshop shelves and add a delicious depth to the characters and their situation. However it is never overly intellectualising, pretentious or distracting. It's subtly thought provoking, used to enhance characters and provide metaphors in a story that is fast paced made up largely from dialogue and internal monologue.

I think what makes this book resonate, what makes it unsettling, is that this is a normal couple - a normal family. Neither husband nor wife is apparently unhappy, vindictive, frustrated. There is no reason for anything to rumble the status quo. But it does. And from that point everything unravels. It resonates because it is relatable, believable and probably captures our deepest fears of what could happen to any of us. Cotterell constantly says to the reader, "What would you do?" "Could you?" and that classic, "What if....."

"Life doesn't just 'go on' as the cliche has it. The clocks are reset, relationships recalibrated."

I really liked the recurring concept of an "infinite lie" and how "lies compound like a debt until you can no longer pay the interest." Cotterell really conveys the domino effect of the situation Alice and Ed find themselves in. He cleverly builds plenty of tension and suspense as the reader holds their breath in anticipation while watching it all play out.

Despite how this review might make the book appear, it is not a heavy read. I flew through it in record time, totally engrossed. Although Alice is prone to reflection and artistic musings, she is also capable of shrewd, sharp and humorous description, particularly when talking about her school mum acquaintance Bea:

"Bea is part of the school-run-have-coffee-play-tennis-back-to-yours-for-a-gossip-and-a-salad-and-a-glass-of-wine-oh-go-on-then-I'm-not-driving-OMG-it's-time-to-pick-up-the-kids-brigade." 

And there is lots of very down to earth, blunt observations on contemporary society too:

"I had never realised how the Internet throbs 24/7 on subjects that make the national news. Trolls, conspiracy theorists, single issue maniacs, swivel-eyed obsessives, anyone with dodgy spelling and an iron cast opinion have a new home."

This creates a good balance against the deeper reflections about art and portraits - although the concept of faces, what we see, what we are and what is the truth, are intrinsic to the novel. I really enjoyed Alice's comments about portraits and how at times they also conveyed a kind of naivety in what she was missing, what she was not seeing, not able to grasp.

"Always start with the eyes. They tell you how strong someone is, what reserves they have, how far they would go. They reveal the structure. The rest is cladding." 

"A portrait is a painted answer; I only had a canvas of questions." 

"What is a portrait if not the opening up of a character, the physical manifestation of the story of a life." 

There are plenty of universal themes in this novel. There are the obvious ones about truth, honesty, loyalty, marriage, friendship and parenting. Then there is almost a second layer of more underlying, implied themes like the difference between right and wrong and how that can change depending on circumstances and responsibilities, what does it mean to do the right thing, how much is class still an issue in our society, what does it really mean or take to say sorry. There is a lot about perception and expectation too. As I have said already, Cotterell does a magnificent job of exploring all of these concepts through a very captivating story line which will appeal to a very wide audience and appeal to people on a number of layers. Whether you are looking for a chilling read that is ultimately enthralling and full of twists or whether you are looking for something more fascinating, entrancing and unputdownable, this is the book for you!

I found the ending very emotional. The last three pages actually had quite a profound affect on me, a bit like an epiphany even. I'd half guessed a few things along the way but really needed to join the dots and then I finished reading with a whole host of new questions! I really want people to read this book so I can talk about it some more!

My final point would be to congratulate Cotterell on writing from a female point of view with such conviction and authenticity. And for the lasting impression this book has made on me as I continue to think about the lines you often have to consider crossing or not crossing in life, and what it really means to protect those we love.

"Life isn't only what you see in front of you. It takes place in the margins, in the lines between the squares." 

If you enjoyed "The Widow" by Fiona Barton, "In Her Wake" by Amanda Jennings, "Lying in Wait" by Liz Nugent or "My Husband's Son" by Deborah O'Connor, then you will definitely enjoy this.

Without a doubt 5* from me. Absolutely loved it.

Thanks so much to Becky Hunter at Penguin Random House for the advance copy of the book.

If you want to see what else I have enjoyed reading then you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Thursday, 24 November 2016

"All I Ever Wanted" Lucy Dillon

All I Ever Wanted
Lucy Dillon is one of my 'go to' books for when I need a 'comfort read'. So this week on a wet, dark, cold morning when I was not feeling my brightest or my best, this book really was 'all I ever wanted' and actually 'all I ever needed' to unwind with. I was happy to settle into a story where I knew, despite the ups and downs that would inevitably test the characters, Dillon would deliver a satisfying read in which to escape for a few hours.

This novel has two story lines centred around one family. Caitlin and Patrick, parents of Nancy and Joel, find their marriage has come to an end. Patrick moves away to Newcastle. Caitlin tries to hold the family together. Nancy, a bubbly four year old, suddenly stops speaking. Joel, more extroverted, struggles as he tries to help Nancy survive without her own voice. The second story line is about Patrick's sister Eva who is recently widowed. Eva's house is to become the neutral space where the children can see their father. But Eva has never had children and even though they are her niece and nephew, she is inexperienced in looking after them, particularly as they are all trying to come to terms with such huge life changing situations. Dillon then explores both women's journey's as they come to terms with their relationships, needs, wishes and pasts, interweaving their narratives as they each start to realise what parenting, marriage, love and families means to them.

I liked both the chapters about Caitlin and the chapters about Eva. I liked that I was involved in two quite different stories about women at very different points in their marriages, yet they were linked - through themes as well as more physically through the children and Patrick. I found it really interesting and engaging how Dillon knitted them all together.

Caitlin was easy to like. She has a very honest and blunt voice and her comment in the opening pages that it was "the little things you fall in love with that make you want to stab your partner to death with a fork in the end" felt very well observed! The way Patrick opened his "notebook of issues to raise in mediation" were incredibly visual and immediately created an image of his practical, focussed, workaholic character.

Their story is sad. Patrick has always put work first; to him, this is the best way to be a father by earning money to allow Caitlin to be at home with the children everyday. He knows he misses the "magical stuff" but he does so because he is working. He has a very clear, perhaps inflexible, outlook which is largely based on a misinformed image of his own parents. His view of them is based on photos and selective memories rather than the truth. Through the daily pressure of having a young family and working hard, Caitlin and Patrick have simply fallen out of love with each other.

Initially I was more sympathetic towards Caitlin and found her reflections about parenting very moving and real:

"the types of pain she most wanted to protect them from were invisible, out of her control, and these are the things that kept her awake at night."

But then, as the novel progress there are moments when I felt more sympathy towards Patrick. His explanations about why he thought he was doing the right thing and why he has put work first reveal his naivety and there was also something that made me feel pity for this man who was so desperately trying to do the right thing but in fact getting it so wrong. I like that we roll from one character to the other, realigning our feelings as we watch how they behave and react to various situations. Dillon never quite lets us side with only one character, she wants us to feel sympathy for them all in different ways.

Of course, this is how it is in life, particularly any kind of close relationship. Dillon's characters are real, fallible, guilty and not without fault but they are also trying to be the best wife, husband, mother and father they can. They've just got a bit lost along the way. It's not until towards the end of the book when they actually start to be properly honest with each other that their relationship can begin to move forward. This was very believable and relatable. I liked Caitlin's frank comments that life was "never quite as wonderful as people hope." But once she starts to accept that life is better when you do your best rather than what you think you should be doing, or what you think others expect from you, then she is able to see her life differently and begin to right the wrongs.

In contrast we meet Eva, third wife of celebrity Michael Quinn, who has just died.  Michael leaves behind him some personal diaries which Eva begins to read. Dillon uses the diaries initially as a lovely metaphor to reflect the turning point Eva is now facing in her life and as a way of her coming to terms with her past and her future. I also really enjoyed the passages where Eva recounted the events from her point of view and then we read them through Mickey's eyes. There were some entertaining recollections about his second wife Cheryl and her fashion sense - "billionaire Magpie"- and how much he revelled in taking the "glittery tat, all unworn, that flashed at me every time I opened the wardrobe" down to the charity shop.

Eva is very thoughtful and reflective. She feels quite isolated, her grief is palpable and reflects something deeper; a grief for a life that could have been or should have been and that enormous burden of wondering what to do next. Reading Mickey's diaries has a huge impact on her in so many ways and I really enjoyed how Dillon did this:

"'I often wonder what kind of kids Eva and I would have had.' There: one small, tender, pitiless sentence that cut her heart to shreds."

Eva has two pug dogs and it is the dogs that take the staring role when the children come to visit. In fact is is the dogs that show Eva how to build a relationship with the children - particularly the mute Nancy.

"Without thinking, she held out her hand [to Nancy]. Almost the same way the dog trainer had told her to let a strange dog sniff her out......Nancy responded."

There is a good balance and contrast between the two story lines; just the right number of characters to invest in, believe in and care about. Eva and Patrick's relationship as siblings also adds another layer and it is interesting to watch the different dynamics play out.

I really liked the themes that Dillon explores in this novel. There are the obvious ones about parenting, love, relationships, families and marriage; then the more emotional ones like guilt, fear, possession, grief and honesty. Then there are the more subtle concepts about expectations, choices and accepting reality. There is a lot to discuss with regards to dilemmas and choices. The idea of failure - or fear of failure - as well as rescuing people. As Dillon writes, we have editorial control of our own lives.

Some of the final passages actually contain quite profound messages. Isn't it worth being the "best version of ourselves rather than something they weren't?"

I adored the use of bubble mixture to blow secret wishes into. If you choose to do this novel with your book group, you would have to give everyone some bubble mixture to play with. It was an inspired moment and a truly beautiful and magical image.

And finally, Lucy Dillon thank you for the happy ending. I'm sorry if that's a huge spoiler but do you know, that is what I needed, and all I ever wanted when I started reading this book! If you are looking for something that tackles relevant issues, complex family dynamics with a few emotional revelations in a gentle, easy, well paced style, then this is the book for you! It's a pleasing and satisfying read with likeable characters and a plausible plot line that strikes a good balance between sadness, happiness, seriousness and humour.

"All I Ever Wanted" publishes on 1st December 2016.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniac)

**Q&A** "Losing Juliet" June Taylor

Losing Juliet

June Taylor is the author of Losing Juliet, a twisty psychological page turner about a friendship gone bad.  Published by HarperCollins Killer Reads.  Available on eBook (November 25th) and Paperback (January 12th 2017)

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome June to my blog today to chat about her novel and her writing. Thank you so much June for coming along and giving so much time to answer my questions!

Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a published author?

I’ve been writing for years.  I’m from a scriptwriting background originally, creating short plays, radio, and I had a full-length play produced.  Then in 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with a YA novel I’d always been meaning to write.  Three agents and several near misses later, I finally found my niche writing Adult psychological thrillers, and eventually the deal came through with Killer Reads for Losing Juliet.  So it’s been a long apprenticeship but worth it in the end.  And even the best writers at the top of their game will tell you it’s always tough and that you can never stop learning.

What was the main inspiration for "Losing Juliet"?

A road trip I made in the late eighties.  It was full of ‘What if?’ moments, and writers love those!

Which character did you enjoy writing most - Juliet, Chrissy or Eloise? Why? 

Actually I think all three of them because they have such an individual identity and voice.  In the earliest drafts I concentrated on Eloise as she is the one who is driving the narrative, both in the past and in the present.  It was important to get her right.  I also liked the contrast between Chrissy and Juliet, the way their relationship evolves, and I loved writing some of the really tense scenes between them.

I think this book would make a perfect book group read as there are lots of difficult decisions, choices and promises made by most of the characters at some point in the book. If you could set a book group one question, what would it be? 

The truth is “never that simple” ... So are there some secrets which should go to the grave, for everyone’s sake?

The novel has quite a complicated plot in the sense that there are two timelines in play, three characters who all have issues to work through and several different dilemmas / choices faced by characters along the way. How did you go about planning and structuring of the novel? 

That’s a good question! The plot came to me over a period of time. When I say ‘period of time’, I do mean years! I had the basic story with the two female characters then gradually, as their characters formed, the other elements of the plot came together.  The daughter arrived a bit later on.  Once all the strands began to link I did some loose chapter outlines.  I like to have the story in place before I start writing.  That said, it’s always a good feeling when your characters surprise you and start to take control.  You have to cut them some slack sometimes.

As for the timelines, once I began to write I found it pretty tricky to make the past coincide at precisely the right moment with the present.  Because I did many, many drafts I inevitably had to do a lot of unravelling.  In that sense it was like knitting a massive jumper.  So if I suddenly decided to change something it meant an awful lot of unravelling.  This happened over and over.  (I make myself sound like a knitter, but I’m not.  My mum is though!) 

Can you tell me a bit about your writing routine?

In spite of my insomnia, often forcing me to get up early, I’m so not a morning person! I’m very envious of people who start writing at the crack of dawn, finish at two and then have the rest of the day to do other things.  Mornings for me are for admin, social media, any other work I have to do, chores.  I begin writing after lunch and sometimes into the evening if I’ve nothing else on.  When a deadline looms, however, I suddenly become a morning person because then I am driven by fear. 

Which authors do you admire or have been inspired by?

Patricia Highsmith, Daphne du Maurier in particular.  But I studied French so I’ve been greatly influenced by writers like Zola, Marguerite Duras, also Sartre and Camus.  (That might make me sound cleverer than I am).  Reading in another language gives you an entirely different experience.  I like to think the French style has rubbed off on me a bit, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking ... 

When I was in my early teens I read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Zola’s Thérèse Raquin and was instantly hooked on all that psychological tension.  The cat and mouse relationship in Crime and Punishment is just brilliant, and in Thérèse Raquin the tension is almost unbearable because it’s so claustrophobic.  The characters are paralysed in so many ways.  (Don’t want to give any spoilers away).  I love books where not much necessarily happens, but actually so much is going on.

Do you have another book in the pipeline? Is it in same genre?

Yes, I do.  It is in the same genre because I just love a good ‘gets-under-your-skin’ psychological suspense novel.  It’s what I like to read and also love to write.

Well I can't wait to read it when it's published! But in the mean time I wish you every success with Losing Juliet and it's release on 25th November 2016. 

Thanks again for coming along and answering my questions in such detail! Hope to catch up with you again soon! 

For my review of Losing Juliet please click here: http://bibliomaniacuk.blogspot.com/2016/11/losing-juliet-june-taylor.html

More about June Taylor

June Taylor

June Taylor is from Leeds and very proud of her Yorkshire roots.  For many years she was a TV promotions writer and producer before turning to writing plays and fiction. She was runner-up in the 2011 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition with her YA novel Lovely me, Lovely You. Losing Juliet is her debut novel for Adults. June is active in the Yorkshire writing scene, including serving on the board of Script Yorkshire and taking part in Leeds Big bookend.

You can find out more about June from her website: http://www.junetaylor.co.uk/
or follow on Twitter: @joonLT

For more from me, you can follow me on @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) on Twitter

"Losing Juliet" June Taylor

Losing Juliet

Chrissy and Juliet meet at University. Chrissy was sensible, shy and hardworking. Juliet was extrovert, confident and a risk taker. She was bold and a bit reckless. Initially seeking Chrissy out as someone who can help her with her essays, the two then become friends. Chrissy is swept away in the new world of parties, boys and alcohol. The girls take a last minute holiday to France but when they return, they go their separate ways.

Why has Chrissy spent the last twenty years trying to stay away from Juliet? Why has Chrissy not told her daughter about Juliet? Why does she react so badly when Juliet makes contact out of the blue? Why is so frightened of her daughter taking risks?

It's easy to relate to a friendship which forms itself a little too quickly, which is perhaps a little one-sided or where one person has more influence than the other; where two very different people bring out different qualities in each other and then sadly, when someone suddenly calls time on a friendship and cuts that person out of their life. I think this is what will stir any readers' interest in June Taylor's story. That alongside the idea of someone turning up from your past - the one person who knows the one thing you have been trying to hide all these years. It's a great premise.

The reader finds themselves asking questions all the way through the novel, trying to work out which of the women they can trust or rely on for the truth. Are either of them reliable? Are either of them likeable? Who do we feel sympathy for?

Both the characters are fallible and both are flawed. Although we are led to feel more sympathy towards Chrissy, this is sometimes tricky to maintain. It is hard to understand her motivation and behaviour, her fears and obsessions -and it's not until right at the end of the story that the reader can fully understand her character.

As well as Chrissy and Juliet, we have the character of Eloise, Chrissy's daughter. She is perplexed by her mother's reaction towards Juliet. Juliet is exotic, attractive, generous and there seems to be no reason for her mum to refuse to have anything to do with her. But then there are clues sprinkled across the pages that indicate perhaps Juliet isn't as up front as she claims. She knows a little too much about them as they live now, about Eloise, about their routine. She seems to undermine Chrissy and the fact that Eloise begins to lie to her mother in order to meet Juliet immediately increases the tension and suspense.

However I also liked that Eloise feels quite burdened by her mother. At the age of 11 her father made her promise that she would always look after her and never leave her on her own. This is a lot of responsibility for her and does affect the relationship between the women as the novel - and Chrissy's past- unravels.

I really liked the way the story was revealed. Although you can begin to guess what might have happened in France twenty years ago there are a few red herrings along the way and a few further twists in the very last chapters to keep you on your toes. I like it when an author makes you think they have told you everything and then catch you out with a last minute twist. Even when I had kind of guessed what might be coming, I was still keen to read on and still took a sharp intake of breath at the final revelation.

Taylor's writing is well paced and some of the scenes are very well captured. She creates an atmosphere of fear and tension very effectively and when we learn more of Juliet and Chrissy's past, there is a real sense of panic.

Taylor also uses the idea of questions effectively. One character says you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions, but then, what happens when you do? When do the questions stop and what are the answers that you then have to hear?

There is a lot about promises, responsibility, motivations and friendship in this novel. I enjoyed the themes explored by Taylor. I enjoyed the questions she asks about what it means to put someone first, what it means to promise to look after someone always and what it means when you say you would have done the same for them as they did for you. Are these promises just words? Would they really have done the same for each other? Any how do you forgive yourself for those decisions you made in your past?

Secrets also play a large part. Juliet has secrets, and she is secretive about why she has reappeared. She keeps secrets from Chrissy and Eloise even once they have begun to spend time together again. Eloise keeps secrets from her mother. She keeps her visits to Juliet secret. And Chrissy has the biggest secrets of all. Secrets that threaten to destroy the one thing she has been trying to protect for nearly twenty years.

I thought Taylor explored the dynamics between the main characters with conviction and there was certainly enough intrigue, drama and human interest to keep me reading. This is a story that will resonate with many women. Writing a story which is based around friendships, misjudged decisions, finding yourself out of depth, a desperate need to forget and run away from the past are always going to be appealing. Taylor's story has believable characters, a relatable storyline and a good sense of pace, drama and suspense. A satisfying read with some slightly predictable but still enjoyably shocking twists!

Losing Juliet is published on November 25th 2016.

For more reviews and recommendations please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"How to be Brave" Louise Beech

How to Be Brave

This book has staggering ratings on Goodreads and Amazon and the reviews are so full of praise it is impossible not to want to read this book! Bloggers frequently site this book as a novel that had a huge impact on them and I was intrigued to find out why.

The book is about Rose who is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she is nine. Her mother, Natalie, struggles to help Rose come to terms with this life long condition, as well as accepting it herself. Then they both start to receive visits from a hauntingly familiar figure, a man in a brown suit. They discover a book from 1943 which tells an extraordinary tale and in time, gives them the strength to come to terms with the challenges life has thrown at them and what it means to be brave.

My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 10 years old so this story had quite an effect on me as being 15, I remember very clearly the impact his new medical condition had on the whole family, both emotionally and also practically. To begin with there was a lot of fear, worry, panic and upset. Then it affected our food shopping, our diets, our routine. At times it has given us some scary moments and a few panicked trips to the doctors, the chemists and A&E. Diabetes is a condition that doesn't stop someone having a 'normal' life- advances in medicine are constantly improving the way a diabetic can manage their insulin and diet - but initially, particularly with children, it is a difficult thing to accept and all the emotions Beech explores in her novel, from sadness, fear, anxiety and frustration to hope and bravery, were things that I have seen my brother (and the rest of us) go through.

But this novel is about more than a child becoming ill. Although there is a lot about Natalie and her guilt as a parent, the strain on her marriage and the fact she is having to handle such a frightening diagnosis on her own is explored in detail with sensitivity and empathy. Any parent will relate to her helplessness and heartache. Any parent will recognise Rose's frustration, lack of understanding and fear about what is happening to her. The repetition of constantly testing blood sugar and injecting insulin create a real sense of urgency which Beech uses to build an oppressive and intense atmosphere. The relentlessness of the treatment is well conveyed.

"My life was a series of circles, spinning faster and faster. Prick, pain, blood. Harvest the crimson flow onto the strip. Read the black numerical digits...."

As Natalie says, repetition can often be a comfort but here it is something that she will never enjoy nor ever feel any sense of comfort from.

I also liked it when Natalie says Rose is not just any child, and the persons she's telling acknowledges that of course not, "She is your child." I thought that captured how every parent feels about their child. There are times when suddenly no other child matters. Whatever might do for another child, will not do for yours. You do not want your child to be a statistic, a name on the appointment book, an example. You want them acknowledged as precious, important, treasured. This is the power and strength and enormity of a mother's love for their child.

Beech interjects these passages about Natalie and Rose coming to terms with the diabetes with a haunting figure of man in a brown suit. His presence does not upset the girls, or disturb them. He seems familiar in some way. Beech also starts to refer to finding a book, searching for a book, needing a book which builds a sense of suspense and mystery as well as a hint of the supernatural.

I liked the description of the leather bound book Natalie discovers.

"I just had to untie the ribbons and free the words."
"the handwriting was in neat sentences of someone over the worst, someone looking back."

There were some lovely descriptions of the weight of books and stories and the power of stories to heal. It was really interesting to see the effect the story of Grandad Colin stranded in the Atlantic Ocean in 1943 had on both Natalie and Rose.

The novel is nearly 370 pages long and this gives Beech plenty of time to allow the reader to become completely immersed in both story lines. It's very clever how she interweaves together two quite different settings and situations in two different eras and in two very different worlds. She really allows her readers to explore and consider the relationships and dynamics between the characters and the challenges they face. It is a thoughtful book yet it moves at a good pace, ensuring the reader is always engaged and wanting to read on.

Beech writes very well. There were lots of passages that had particularly good descriptions, images and that were almost lyrical. It is easy to feel as if you are with the characters, wherever they are and whatever they are involved in whether this is something you have any experience of or not. There are also lots of passages that are full of emotion and heartache. The reader identifies with Colin, Natalie and Rose and is prepared to invest in their story until the last sentence.

This is also a tale of hope and of bravery. There is a message of positivity, of being saved and of learning to be brave. It is not a depressing read. There are many quotes that would inspire and reflect a sense of optimism and hope. There is enough about the magical power of story telling to keep any bibliomaniac satisfied.

If you enjoyed Love Anthony, any Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, you will enjoy this novel. It really does seem as though the acclaim is well deserved and it is a book that you will enjoy, learn from, be inspired by and want to read again. A great combination of family drama and history, the anxiety of the present and the message of the past.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Monday, 21 November 2016

*Christmas Crime Evening at Harpenden Books*

Harpenden Books and No Exit Press present:
Christmas Crime Evening
Thursday 24th November 2016

An evening of Murder, Mystery and Mince Pies......

Perfume River

Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert’s own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. Robert and Jimmy’s father, a veteran of WWII, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father’s bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.

My Review:
The very topic of the Vietnam War and the dysfunctional relationships within the protagonist's family mean that it is not without intensity, emotion or gravitas but Butler's writing is very readable and very engaging. It is a relativity short book at around 250 pages so the story is actually very contained and focussed. Although there are quite a range of issues and relationships explored in the story, it was not overwhelming or overly complicated. I became immersed in Robert's world very quickly, I felt very much part of his journey and I found the alternate sections where the narrative switched to one of the few other main characters did not interrupt the flow of the story or the connection between the reader and Robert.

This is an eloquent and mesmerising tale. The issues raised are profound and moving but the prose feels understated, simple and subtle. It is a book exploring the apathy of a long term marriage, mortality, ageing, family, love, estrangement and war. It is about damage, physically and emotionally. There are many lines which linger with you and many moments where it feels as if you need some time to absorb what Butler might be implying, suggesting or alluding to. It is intellectual and broaches many quite philosophical questions but overall, I found it did this effortlessly and was highly readable. (full review: http://bibliomaniacuk.blogspot.com/2016/11/perfume-river-by-robert-olen-butler.html)

Murder Ring (DI Geraldine Steel, #8)

Hearing footsteps pounding along the street behind him he glanced back, fleetingly worried, then laughed because the street was deserted. All the same, he felt uneasy. Everything looked different in the dark. Then he heard more footsteps approaching, and a hoarse voice called out. Turning his head, he made out a figure hovering in the shadows and as it raised one arm, the barrel of a gun glinted in the moonlight… The dead body of unassuming David Lester is discovered in a dark side-street, and DI Geraldine Steel is plunged into another murder investigation. The clues mount up along with the suspects, but with the death of another man in inexplicable circumstances, the case becomes increasingly complex. As Geraldine investigates the seemingly unrelated crimes, she makes a shocking discovery about her birth mother. 

My Review: This has all the key aspects of a great detective novel. It has multiple characters who are all authentic and convincing. There is good dialogue, plenty of action, a great pace and the plot is well structured. There are complications and revelations which ensure the reader is kept guessing. It is very readable and written in a very fluent style.
For the full review click here: http://bibliomaniacuk.blogspot.com/2016/05/murder-ring-leigh-russell.html

The Dead (David Blake, #3)

David Blake is back in Newcastle, running three cities. Life is sweet until his bent accountant is arrested for murder. The money man is nailed on for a life sentence until he puts five million pounds out of Blake's reach. Now Blake faces an agonising choice; fix the acquittal of a child killer or run out of the cash he needs to bankroll his empire. Meanwhile, Serbian gangsters are taking over his territory and a crazed Russian oligarch wants to use Blake's drug supply line for his own ends. Back at home, the Police are closing in and his girlfriend is asking awkward questions.

The Heirs of Owain Glyndŵr (Ben Schroeder, #4)

1 July 1969. The Investiture of the new Prince of Wales. When Arianwen Hughes is arrested driving with a homemade bomb near Caernarfon Castle, her case seems hopeless. Her brother Caradog, her husband Trevor, and their friend Dafydd are implicated in the plot, the evidence against them damning. Ben Schroeder's reputation as a barrister is riding high after the cases of Billy Cottage (A Matter for the Jury) and Sir James Digby (And is There Honey Still for Tea?). But defending Arianwen will be his greatest challenge yet. Trevor may hold the only key to her defense, but he is nowhere to be found.

Brit Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of the British Isles (A Pocket Essentials Guide)

Informative, interesting, accessible and enjoyable' - Times on Euro Noir Barry Forshaw is acknowledged as a leading expert on European crime fiction, but his principal area of expertise is in the crime arena of the British Isles. Continuing the earlier success of the series with Nordic Noir and Euro Noir, he now returns home to produce the definitive reader's guide to modern British crime fiction. Every major living writer of the British Isles is considered, often through a concentration on one or two key books, and exciting new talents are highlighted for the reader. And as the genre is as much about films and TV as it is about books, Brit Noir celebrates crime on the screen as well as on the page. Barry Forshaw’s personal acquaintance with writers, editors and publishers is unparalleled, and the book contains a host of new first-hand insights into the genre and its practitioners.

Tickets are free but reserve your space either by calling in to Harpenden Books or on 01582 471375

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Book Prescription: Books dealing with Cancer

Everyone knows that reading books can have many benefits; from helping you sleep better, reduce stress, provide escapism from a busy day, enhance empathy, improve mood, improve intelligence and also perhaps even ward of debilitating illnesses like Alzheimer's.

It can also encourage you to interact with other people, either through reading with your family, your pets, a reading groups, library visits or even chatting to a bookseller, books can bring a lot of pleasure whether you read alone or read with others.

While helping Nicola Bourne with the development of her book, "The Fabulous Woman's Guide Through Cancer", she asked me to put a list of books together that might appeal to anyone receiving treatment for cancer. Here are some of the titles I recommended.

Out Of Darkness Comes The Sun: Books/Projects Inspired by the Battle Against Illness

Tea & Chemo: Fighting Cancer, Living LifeOne Million Lovely Letters: When Life is Looking Hopeless, One Inspirational Letter Can Change Your Life ForeverWhen Breath Becomes Air

"Tea and Chemo" Jackie Buxton 
A collection of blog posts developed by Buxton into a novel about her battle with Breast Cancer. Upbeat, readable, friendly and honest.
·      One Million Lovely Letters” Jodi Ann Bickley 
All good Bibliomaniac’s know that words have the power to heal. After recovering from a life threatening brain infection and having to relearn many of life’s basic skills, Bickey decided to write letters to people who were stuck in a dark place and need to hear that they were fabulous. This book records her inspirational project to cheer up suffering and hurt people around the world. 
·      “Knickers Model’s Own: A Year of Frugal Fashion” Caroline Jones 
When Jones’ mother died from cancer, she wanted to start a campaign to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Jones decided to wear clothes bought from her local Cancer Research shop every day for a whole year, posting a photo of her outfit on Facebook every morning. This book is the story of that year. With a photograph of every outfit, top tips for shopping in a charity shop, style advice and articles from celebrities, this is a beautiful book to dip in and out of which will challenge people’s perception of charity shops. Jones shows us that pre-loved clothes can be worn anytime, anywhere, anyhow; not only allowing you to constantly update your wardrobe on a budget , but also raise essential funds for an important cause. Available direct from Cancer Research UK with 100% of the cover price going to the charity. 
·      “When Breathe Becomes Air” Paul Kalanithi 
Neurosurgeon Kalanithi became diagnosed with stage 4 Lung Cancer when he was 36 years old. This book of his memoirs charts his experience as a doctor and a patient; he seeks to explore the difficult questions about how to live life in the face of death and has written an affirming, deeply moving read about facing death and experiencing cancer both from both sides of the Doctor’s desk. Tragically he lost his battle but his book is an amazing legacy.

 Books For When You Want To Let Someone Else Take Centre Stage: Protagonists with Cancer

Before I DieWays to Live Forever My Sister's KeeperA Monster Calls

   “Ways to Live Forever” Sally Nicholls
11 year old Sam collects facts and the answers to difficult questions. He also has leukaemia. This is his quest to collect facts about death and cancer. Powerful, uplifting, funny and honest.
·      “My Sister’s Keeper” Jodi Picoult 
The heart-breaking story of Anna; conceived to provide her terminally ill sister with healthy bone marrow and her attempts to convince her parents that she should no longer merely be defined by this lifesaving role. Devastating family drama raising plenty of thought provoking and ethical questions.
·      “A Monster Calls” Patrick Ness
Conor struggles to cope with his mother’s battle with cancer and his nights become filled with terrifying visits from a monster who will not stop until he has the truth. 
·      “Before I die” Jenny Downham 
Terminally ill Tessa has a “Things to do before I die” list which starts with “sex”. Time is running out for Tessa and she is desperate to be like a “normal” teenager. This novel shares her emotional journey as she grapples with relationships, siblings, parents and trying to be normal. 
·      “The Fault In Our Stars” John Green
Hazel and Augustus meet at the Cancer Kid Support Group. Both terminally ill, this books explores the funny and tragic business of being alive and being in love. 

Books For When You Want To Hear About Someone Else’s Fight: Protagonists with a Terminal Illness or Depression 

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)OneStill AliceAll the Bright PlacesThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

·      “Me Before You” Jojo Moyes
The main character Will is paraplegic. He has lost all interest in life and has made plans accordingly. Vivacious and fun loving Lou has lost her job. She’s about to erupt into Will’s life and neither of them is prepared for the profound change they are going to have on each other.  
·      “One” Sarah Crossan 
A novel written in free verse where the main characters are conjoined twins faced with the most difficult of all decisions. Moving and equisite. 
·      “Still Alice” Lisa Genova
An incredible piece of work about Alice’s descent into the confusing world of Alzheimers. An intellectual academic and working mother, Alice is shocked at her diagnosis. Genova writes with immense skill as she captures Alice’s fast changing world of Alice through her eyes.  
·      “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” Stephen Chbosky 
Famous coming of age novel following introvert and socially awkward Charlie’s final years at high school as he rides the teenager rollercoaster of study, friendships and relationships. 
·      “The Bell Jar” Sylvia Plath
American classic and world famous book about Esther Greenwood’s descent into insanity. Extraordinary, harrowing and completely palpable. 
·      “All The Bright Places” Jennifer Niven 
All Theodore thinks about is how to kill himself. All Violet thinks about is how to get away from this small town, her family and the shadow of her sister’s tragic death. They meet on the ledge of a bell tower and their paths suddenly seem to become entwined, unable to escape each other and unable to see how each is saving the other. 

For When You Need A Bit Of Extra Calm: Books about Anxiety and Stress

Sane New World: Taming The MindReasons to Stay AliveThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunHandbag Meditations: Chill Out on the Run

·      “Reasons to Stay Alive” Matt Haig
Haig is an established fiction writer who openly struggles with severe depression. This book is a mixture of personal anecdotes, statistics, lists but most importantly, a book about how to love life again from someone who will not patronise or judge you.
·      “Sane New World” Ruby Wax
Comedian, writer, academic student, mental health campaigner and manic depressive Ruby Wax has written this accessible “manual” to try and explain how your brain is wired and how we can learn to control this and reroute it to calm ourselves and cope with a fast paced, high pressured, modern lifestyle. 
·      “Handbag Meditations” Alice Nancye 
Mindfulness is the new buzz word and this very slim, short volume can be easily stowed away in a coat pocket or handbag. It provides you with easy to use mindfulness exercises for beginners that you can do in the shower, on the way to the shops or while cooking a meal. It aims to reduce stress and induce calmness. 
·      “Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind” Jonathan Bate
This is a lovely collection of a wide variety of famous classic poems. Each section is organised in to different themes depending on your particular mood / need with a very readable introduction about how to approach poetry and how to use it to create a calm space, to empty your mind and rebalance your focus. 
·      “The Happiness Project” Gretchen Ruben
This book is separated into 12 different sections; one for each month of the year. Within each section are ideas for how to focus on one small aspect of your life and how by making tiny adjustments you will actually generate more happiness for yourself. Ruben is realistic, entertaining and relatable. Lots of simple ideas! 
·      “Staying Alive” / “Being Alive” ed Neil Astley 
A collection of poems selected on these themes.

I hope there is something helpful in these suggestions. For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Don't forget to look out for Nicola's fabulous guide for fabulous women. It really is an excellent reference book written with kindness, honesty and with a very supportive voice.

Nicola Bourne's "The Fabulous Woman's Guide Through Cancer" publishes today 18th November 2016. Available via Amazon.