Friday, 28 July 2017

#LarryAndTheDogPeople #JPaulHenderson #Review

Larry and the Dog People: From the author of Last Bus to Coffeeville

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book in return for an unbiased and honest review*

Larry MacCabe is a man who needs people more than most ... the problem for Larry is that most people have little need for him.

Larry MacCabe is a retired academic, a widower, and until a chance meeting with the administrator of a care home, also friendless. At her suggestion he adopts a Basset Hound and joins her one Saturday at Georgetown’s Volta Park. He becomes a regular visitor, and for the first time in his life the member of a gang. 

While his new companions prepare for the annual Blessing of the Animals service on the Feast Day of St Francis, Larry puts the finishing touches to a conference paper he’s due to present in Jerusalem and arranges a house-sitter. Neither the service nor his visit to Israel go to plan, and on his return Larry is charged with conspiring to blow up a church and complicity in the deaths of four people. All that stands between him and conviction is a personal injury lawyer – and things for Larry aren’t looking good...

This was a book that is quite hard to define in terms of which genre it falls in to but not a hard book to define in terms of how much I enjoyed it! There's a lovely narrative voice which captures Larry's personality effortlessly. His character is well established with the prose reflecting his endless chatter and inadvertent humour. I was very entertained by his adventures.

The opening had some likeness to A Man Called Ove or Harold Fry except there is nothing cantankerous about Larry, he loves people, he loves sharing and he loves chatting. He's unique, vividly captured through the author's gentle description which teases Larry while at the same time encouraging the reader to become very fond of him.

"Larry assimilated information as easily as blotting paper absorbs ink, and nothing, absolutely nothing, escaped his interest."

Initially I thought Larry might be a character that sought pity but he is so positive and his interpretation of events always allows him to spin things to his advantage that there is no need to do anything except sit back and enjoy the story. I'd love to share more "Larry-isms" and quotes from him as he is so knowledgeable, fascinating and inadvertently entertaining but as Larry often uses one hundred words when maybe ten would have sufficed and sometimes there are several paragraphs building up to the best line, it would be far too time consuming and take up too much space. Just read the book and discover for yourself!

But joking aside, there are serious issues with the novel and there is a crime. There is terrorism, bombs and threatening characters. Larry somehow wades right into the thick of it all and things begin to get complicated. The author handles the various different threads with ease and manages his storyline effortlessly, bringing everything together in a clever and masterful conclusion.

I found this a light, entertaining read. Although there are some undesirable characters and some dangerous events, there is a good mix of drama, crime, politics and humour which make it quite a unique read and not something I would usually pick up, but I am very glad I did!

Larry and the Dog People is published by No Exit Press on 27th July 2017.

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

#GiveMeTheChild #MelMcGrath #Review #BlogTour

Give Me the Child

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book in return for an unbiased and honest review*

An unexpected visitor.

A devastating secret.

Do we get the children we deserve?

This is quite an incredible book. It is a psychological thriller in the most psychological sense -it is a novel that investigates psychology, psychosis and mental health. It is about deception, manipulation and motivation. It is a novel that debates the concept of 'evil' and whether we get the children we deserve. 

It is also highly readable and a story of marriage, families, trust, secrets and lies. It is exciting, dramatic, well paced and leaps off the page with exquisitely timed revelations and twists. It's a psychological thriller in the commercial sense of the word as well and follows the conventions of the domestic noir genre. 

The story is told from the point of view of Cat, a child psychologist who has suffered first hand with psychosis following the birth of her first and only child. When the police turn up on the doorstep late at night with a child she neither knows or recognises, she is shocked to hear that this 'macabre' looking girl is in fact her husband's daughter. 

I loved that Cat then pre-empted the reader by saying how "worn and unoriginal" this announcement was and her almost sense of apathy to be part of a "clapped out tale of faithless husband led on by some mysterious femme fatale". She even tells us that if we saw it on TV, "we'd reach for the remote". Well, I didn't and you won't. There is nothing unoriginal about this novel and I was already too invested in Cat's character to not want to read on. McGrath had already hinted at a murkier past, an intriguing issue at work and tension within the family within the opening pages. Even before the arrival of this mysterious girl, later to be named as Ruby Winter, I knew this was going to be a complex and compelling tale. 

The main hook of the novel is that powerful 'what if' question. What if a girl turns up on your doorstep claiming to be the daughter of your faithful husband? What if your marriage is strained because you always wanted a second child and now, whatever the circumstances, you have one? What if you then become anxious about the behaviour of this girl and believe she is a threat to the family you have worked so hard to create? What if yourself and your husband had been trundling along hoping that the cracks between you were invisible but now, under these pressures, can you still ignore them? This novel will intrigue it's readers because it takes one ordinary couple and propels them into a nightmare - we watch almost vicariously, captivated by a family that shouldn't find itself in this situation or the things that come next, but does. 

McGrath is an accomplished writer and she understands tension, suspense, pace and the delight of a cliffhanger at the end of a short chapter. We have a disturbed child and we have a child psychologist left to parent her - Cat should be an expert in dealing with her, she should have an overwhelming maternal and professional instinct to protect this child. But she doesn't. She can't.

Cat is brutally honest and I think that is why I related to her so quickly and believed in her. As the events in the story begin to unfold, she takes the time out to admit that perhaps herself and Tim were being a little shortsighted about the truth of their marriage and perhaps should acknowledge that the cracks that were becoming more visible. Cat's metaphor that their marriage is no long built of bricks and mortar but like a tent with threadbare patches was very effective and an excellent image to help establish an honest and truthful picture of their relationship. The fact that McGrath takes time to describe Cat's thoughts and feelings means she establishes a very three dimensional character and prepares us for a story that is not only dramatic and captivating in terms action but also going to be one that is provokes a deeper discussion about individuals, responsibility, judgement and consequence.

Cat is also very honest about Ruby who has been rescued from a deeply traumatic situation and placed with them for safe keeping yet "my heart is full of contradictory feelings, resenting yet feeling sorry for them." Are Tim and Cat strong enough to weather the storm? I liked the dilemma Cat faces as there is a contradiction between her professional knowledge and understanding of the situation and her personal reaction to it.

The increasing hostility between Tim and Cat is painful to read and impossible not to react to. Tim is reluctant to see that Ruby's behaviour or emotional reaction to her situation is concerning. He is reluctant to find Ruby's grandmother so she can go and live with her. The pages are full of 'unsaid things' and suspicions. It's claustrophobic, it's intense, it's relentless and it captures Cat's mental and emotional turmoil incredibly effectively. I was shocked, surprised and gripped by the relationship between Cat and Tim and the observations, reflections and dialogue felt powerfully real and authentic. 

I felt sympathetic towards Cat who is in the unique position of having suffered from mental health issues, now works with others suffering from mental health issues. When her life is put under extreme pressure, she is judged because the assumption is that perhaps she is falling ill again. She can't ever escape the negative label of having suffered a breakdown before and I liked McGrath's sensitive handling of this as well as her eye for dramatic tension as it challenges the reader to consider whether we can trust Cat, whether she is ill or not. Cat's judgement is never fully trusted by others which increases the suspense and sense of threat for her and for the reader. 

"A wide, deep, irreparable chasm had opened up in the landscape of our marriage and Tome and I were teetering on the edge." 

Alongside the investigation into Ruby's past and the relationship between Cat and Tim, is the storyline of Emma and Christopher Barron's son who is a client of Cat's. This secondary storyline gradually gains momentum and purpose as it collides with the main storyline. There are also flashbacks and references to previous cases that Cat has been involved in which are used again to challenge the reader's perception of Cat and to try and usurp her as a reliable narrator and rational person. The other thread that is important is the rioting that is happening around them and the social unrest. This novel is a comment on our society now, at this very moment in time. Not only is an exploration of marriage and motherhood but it is also about truth, trust and a post truth world.

"In a world when you might, on any morning, wake up to a financial crash or to rioting ......[you'd be] nuts not to have trust issues." 

This is a really interesting question that McGrath raises again and again in her story. This novel is so contemporary, so clearly placed in our very recent history that these questions could not be more pertinent and I admired the way McGrath could tell us a great fictional tale at the same time as raising these sociological concerns. In the novel, the instability and uncertainty on the streets reflects the mental state of the characters. And in the pages of her novel, McGrath reflects, echoes and explores the questions and fears readers have about the future and about how far we can trust what we see. 

As I said already, I liked that Cat had had a mental illness but did not have one now. She is a fighter, she is brave. She is not the unreliable narrator we are expecting. I was with Cat the whole time. I was involved, invested and rooting for her and watched with horror as her world falls apart. I loved her passion for motherhood, her intuition, her determination and found her 'journey' incredibly dramatic, exciting and thought provoking. 

Give Me The Child has several very well timed revelations; it has moments of clarity and many twists. There is a mystery to solve about Ruby, there are dark secrets to uncover and there are several families to keep safe. There is a multilayering of manipulation and deceit and it is a page turner. But this novel is also an exploration of the minds of damaged, vengeful, dangerous people and why they are behaving in this way. There is a discussion of 'evil' and the sound bite that resonates through the pages that "we get the children we deserve" is very emotive and controversial. This book will satisfy any fan of mainstream thrillers and psychological thrillers but I think what makes this book stand out from the crowd, is the character of Cat and the fact that the book takes the psychological thriller to a higher level.

I thoroughly enjoyed Give Me the Child and heartily recommend! 

Give Me The Child is published on 27th July by HQ. 

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website



My first thought when the doorbell woke me was that someone had died. Most likely Michael Walsh. I turned onto my side, pulled at the outer corners of my eyes to rid them of the residue of sleep and blinked myself awake. It was impossible to tell if it was late or early, though the bedroom was as hot and muggy as it had been when Tom and I had gone to bed. Tom was no longer beside me. Now I was alone.

We’d started drinking not long after Freya had gone upstairs. The remains of a bottle of Pinot Grigio for me, a glass or two of red for Tom. (He always said white wine was for women.) Just before nine I called The Mandarin Hut. When the crispy duck arrived I laid out two trays in the living room, opened another bottle and called Tom in from the study. I hadn’t pulled the curtains and through the pink light of the London night sky a cat’s claw of moon appeared. The two of us ate, mostly in silence, in front of the TV. A ballroom dance show came on. Maybe it was just the booze but something about the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women made me feel a little sad. The cosmic dance. The grand romantic gesture. At some point even the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women would find themselves slumped together on a sofa with the remains of a takeaway and wine enough to sink their sorrows, wondering how they’d got there, wouldn’t they?

Not that Tom and I really had anything to complain about except, maybe, a little malaise, a kind of falling away. After all, weren’t we still able to laugh about stuff most of the time or, if we couldn’t laugh, at least have sex and change the mood?

‘Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you my cha-cha,’ I said, rising and holding out a hand.

Tom chuckled and pretended I was joking, then, wiping his palms along his thighs as if he were ridding them of something unpleasant, he said, ‘It’s just if I don’t crack this bloody coding thing…’

I looked out at the moon for a moment. OK, so I knew how much making a success of Labyrinth meant to Tom, and I’d got used to him shutting himself away in the two or three hours either side of midnight. But this one time, with the men and women still twirling in our minds? Just this one time?

Stupidly, I said, ‘Won’t it wait till tomorrow?’ and in an instant

I saw Tom stiffen. He paused for a beat and, slapping his hands on his thighs in a gesture of busyness, he slugged down the last of his wine, rose from the sofa and went to the door. And so we left it there with the question still hanging.

I spent the rest of the evening flipping through the case notes of patients I was due to see that week. When I turned in for the night, the light was still burning in Tom’s study. I murmured ‘goodnight’ and went upstairs to check on Freya. Our daughter was suspended somewhere between dreaming and deep sleep. All children look miraculous when they’re asleep, even the frighten- ing, otherworldly ones I encounter every day. Their bodies soften, their small fists unfurl and dreams play behind their eyelids. But Freya looked miraculous all the time to me. Because she was. A miracle made at the boundary where human desire meets science. I stood and watched her for a while, then, retrieving her beloved Pippi Longstocking book from the floor and straightening her duvet, I crept from the room and went to bed.

Sometime later I felt Tom’s chest pressing against me and his breath on the nape of my neck. He was already aroused and for a minute I wondered what else he’d been doing on screen besides coding, then shrugged off the thought. A drowsy, half-hearted bout of lovemaking followed before we drifted into our respective oblivions. Next thing I knew the doorbell was ringing and I was alone.

Under the bathroom door a beam of light blazed. I threw off the sheet and swung from the bed.


No response. My mind was scrambled with sleep and an anxious pulse was rising to the surface. I called out again.

There was a crumpling sound followed by some noisy vomiting but it was identifiably my husband. The knot in my throat loosened. I went over to the bathroom door, knocked and let myself in. Tom was hunched over the toilet and there was a violent smell in the room.

‘Someone’s at the door.’ Tom’s head swung round.

I said, ‘You think it might be about Michael?’

Tom’s father, Michael Walsh, was a coronary waiting to happen, a lifelong bon vivant in the post-sixty-five-year-old death zone, who’d taken the recent demise of his appalling wife pretty badly.

Tom stood up, wiped his hand across his mouth and moved over to the sink. ‘Nah, probably just some pisshead.’ He turned on the tap and sucked at the water in his hand and, in an oddly casual tone, he added, ‘Ignore it.’

As I retreated into the bedroom, the bell rang again. Whoever it was, they weren’t about to go away. I went over to the window and eased open the curtain. The street was still and empty of people, and the first blank glimmer was in the sky. Directly below the house a patrol car was double parked, hazard lights still on but otherwise dark. For a second my mind filled with the terrible possibility that something had happened to Sally. Then I checked myself. More likely someone had reported a burglary or a prowler in the neighbourhood. Worst case it was Michael.

‘It’s the police,’ I said.

Tom appeared and, lifting the sash, craned out of the window. ‘I’ll go, you stay here.’

I watched him throw on his robe over his boxers and noticed his hands were trembling. Was that from having been sick or was he, too, thinking about Michael now? I listened to his footsteps disappearing down the stairs and took my summer cover-up from its hook. A moment later, the front door swung open and there came the low murmur of three voices, Tom’s and those of two women. I froze on the threshold of the landing and held my breath, waiting for Tom to call me down, and when, after a few minutes, he still hadn’t, I felt myself relax a little. My parents were dead. If this was about Sally, Tom would have fetched me by now. It was bound to be Michael. Poor Michael.

I went out onto the landing and tiptoed over to Freya’s room. Tom often said I was overprotective, and maybe I was, but I’d seen enough mayhem and weirdness at work to give me pause. I pushed open the door and peered in. A breeze stirred from the open window. The hamster Freya had brought back from school for the holidays was making the rounds on his wheel but in the aura cast by the Frozen-themed nightlight I could see my tender little girl’s face closed in sleep. Freya had been too young to remember my parents and Michael had always been sweet to her in a way that his wife, who called her ‘my little brown granddaughter’, never was, but it was better this happened now, in the summer holidays, so she’d have time to recover before the pressures of school started up again. We’d tell her in the morning once we’d had time to formulate the right words.

At the top of the landing I paused, leaning over the bannister. A woman in police uniform stood in the glare of the security light. Thirties, with fierce glasses and a military bearing. Beside her was another woman in jeans and a shapeless sweater, her features hidden from me. The policewoman’s face was brisk but unsmiling; the other woman was dishevelled, as though she had been called from her bed. Between them I glimpsed the auburn top of what I presumed was a child’s head – a girl, judging from the amount of hair. I held back, unsure what to do, hoping they’d realise they were at the wrong door and go away. I could see the police officer’s mouth moving without being able to hear what was being said. The conversation went on and after a few moments Tom stood to one side and the two women and the child stepped out of the shadows of the porch and into the light of the hallway.

The girl was about the same age as Freya, taller but small-boned, legs as spindly as a deer’s and with skin so white it gave her the look of some deep sea creature. She was wearing a grey trackie too big for her frame which bagged at the knees from wear and made her seem malnourished and unkempt. From the way she held herself, stiffly and at a distance from the dishevelled woman, it was obvious they didn’t know one another. A few ideas flipped through my mind. Had something happened in the street, a house fire perhaps, or a medical emergency, and a neighbour needed us to look after her for a few hours? Or was she a school friend of Freya’s who had run away and for some reason given our address to the police? Either way, the situation obviously didn’t have anything much to do with us. My heart went out to the kid but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved. Michael was safe, Sally was safe.

I moved down the stairs and into the hallway. The adults remained engrossed in their conversation but the girl looked up and stared. I tried to place the sharp features and the searching, amber eyes from among our neighbours or the children at Freya’s school but nothing came. She showed no sign of recognising me. I could see she was tired – though not so much from too little sleep as from a lifetime of watchfulness. It was an expression familiar to me from the kids I worked with at the clinic. I’d probably had it too, at her age. An angry, cornered look. She was clasping what looked like a white rabbit’s foot in her right hand. The cut end emerged from her fist, bound crudely with electrical wire which was attached to a key. It looked home-made and this lent it – and her – an air that was both outdated and macabre, as if she’d been beamed in from some other time and had found herself stranded here, in south London, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a rabbit’s foot and a key to remind her of her origins. ‘What’s up?’ I said, more out of curiosity than alarm. I smile and waited for an answer.

The two women glanced awkwardly at Tom and from the way he was standing, stiffly with one hand slung on his hip in an attempt at relaxed cool, I understood they were waiting for him to respond and I instinctively knew that everything I’d been thinking was wrong. A dark firework burst inside my chest. The girl in the doorway was neither a neighbour’s kid nor a friend of our daughter.

She was trouble.

I took a step back. ‘Will someone tell me what’s going on?’ When no one spoke I crouched to the girl’s level and, summoning as much friendliness as I could, said, ‘What’s your name? Why are you here?’

The girl’s eyes flickered to Tom, then, giving a tiny, contemptu- ous shake of the head, as if by her presence all my questions had already been answered and I was being obstructive or just plain dumb, she said, ‘I’m Ruby Winter.’

I felt Tom’s hands on my shoulder. They were no longer trem- bling so much as hot and spasmic.

‘Cat, please go and make some tea. I’ll come in a second.’

There was turmoil in his eyes. ‘Please,’ he repeated. And so, not knowing what else to do, I turned on my heels and made for the kitchen.

While the kettle wheezed into life, I sat at the table in a kind of stupor; too shocked to gather my thoughts, I stared at the clock as the red second hand stuttered towards the upright. Tock, tock, tock. There were voices in the hallway, then I heard the living room door shut. Time trudged on. I began to feel agitated. What was taking all this time? Why hadn’t Tom come? Part of me felt I had left the room already but here I was still. Eventually, footsteps echoed in the hallway. The door moved and Tom appeared. I stood up and went over to the counter where, what now seemed like an age ago, I had laid out a tray with the teapot and some mugs.

‘Sit down, darling, we need to talk.’ Darling. When was the last time he’d called me that?

I heard myself saying, idiotically, ‘But I made tea!’ ‘It’ll wait.’ He pulled up a chair directly opposite me.

When he spoke, his voice came to me like the distant crackle of a broken radio in another room. ‘I’m so sorry, Cat, but however I say this it’s going to come as a terrible shock, so I’m just going to say what needs to be said, then we can talk. There’s no way round this. The girl, Ruby Winter, she’s my daughter.’

Thursday, 27 July 2017

#BrokenBranches #MJonathanLee #HideawayFall #Review

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book 
in return for an unbiased and honest review*

'Family curses don't exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don't think so.'

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

Excellent. This was excellent. An isolated cottage, family secrets, trauma, grief, death, a curse and poetic, mesmerising language. Who could ask for more? 

There has been a huge PR campaign surrounding this book from Hideaway Fall and so I began this book with some feeling of trepidation but literally only a few pages and in I found myself completely drawn in to Ian's world and quite captivated by the writing. 

The novel centres around a tree in the garden of the family home and the 'curse' that it seems to hold over the family who live there. I loved the description at the beginning which captures not only the atmosphere of the novel but also the sense of unease and intrigue surrounding the family and this house. 

"The tree reminded him of an upturned witch's broom. ....Thick individual branches tapered high above, threatening to sweep away the yawning sky...... There were many nights were the moon cast shadows on the wall above his bed and the tree's branches - like fingers - silently scraped and scratched the wallpaper above him..." 

The story then moves forward and backwards through time, recounting the love story of Rachel and Ian when they first met and showing how deeply they were in love and how much seems to have now changed between them. There is a continuous sense of mystery and intrigue as the portrayal of the characters is now so different, the reader wants to know what has happened to them to affect this change and what is going to happen to them in the future as they seem to be stumbling along on a path where they're drift further apart. We also learn more about Ian's childhood, the traumatic events that unfolded around him but that he was only partially exposed. This means there is a sense that both the reader and Ian are trying to link all the clues together and separate the myth from the truth, the stories from reality. 

This theme between the difference of what is seen and what is not seen but believed, what is said and what is heard, what is hinted or suggested and what really happened is central to the plot and very cleverly managed. All through the story we are trying to piece together one mystery - or one version of events - only to find that we have been completely distracted from what is actually happening. Ian is also so consumed with his researching his family history, sure that he will find some answers by searching through the paperwork in the house, reading diaries, letters and asking people about what really happened between his father, his uncle and his brother that he too can not confront the reality of the present. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the ghostly atmosphere and the chilling description of the tree. I was intrigued by the harrowing events that Ian witnessed, the threat of a curse and the unhappiness that now engulfed himself and his wife. 

I really enjoyed Lee's prose and found it full of effective imagery, full of subtle hints, half suggestions and well crafted characters. Having now read the whole book I'm tempted to go back and search out the clues I missed! The last few chapters completely pulled the rug out from beneath me and made me question all I had read before. I wasn't expected such a turn of events - I want to say twist but that feels a little bit of a disservice to the writer as I think it is something more subtle than that - more of a dawning of the truth. 

This was an incredibly satisfying read. It was emotionally raw at times, it was full of sadness and misunderstanding and it was full of ghosts and the lingering threat of something more malevolent.

A top read. One that reached out and caught me in it's thick, strong branches, not letting me go until the final line when I was released, left staring at the last words, waiting while all that I had read settled like falling leaves into place, waiting for each branch of the story to fall still.


Broken Branches is published by Hideaway Fall on 27th July 2017. 

As I mentioned earlier there was a great marketing campaign from Hideaway Fall all about finding a hideaway to read your book. Here are some of the photos I added to the twitter campaign for imaginative reading spots!

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

#AStrangerintheHouse #ShariLapena #Review

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest review*

You come home after a long day at work, ready for dinner with your wife.

But she's not there. And it looks like she left in a blind panic. Her mobile phone and her bag are still in the house.

You fear the worst. You call the police.

And they tell you that your wife's been in an accident. She lost control of her car as she sped through a street on the worst side of town. But why would she go there? Was she running towards something? Away from something?

This is a very well written, well structured and well executed novel about identity, consequence, revenge and love. Just as in her first novel, Lapena tells a story that presents one view of what has happened only to go on and challenge us to rethink everything we thought we knew about the characters and what has actually happened. 

The book is immediately compelling as it opens with a husband who cannot understand the actions of his wife and a wife that cannot remember why she behaved in the way she did. Why did Karen suddenly leave the house without her phone or wallet? What made her leave in the middle of cooking dinner? Why did she drive across to a less desirable end of town and how did she end up wrapping her car around a utility post? All these questions and only in the opening chapter! Reader, prepare yourself. This is just the beginning of the questions that you'll be wanting the answers too - and you won't be alone. Not only do Karen and Tom, the husband and wife at the centre of the story, want the answers as much as you do but also so do the police. And the neighbour Brigid. 

Tom and Karen Krupp live in a 'quiet, prosperous suburb in upstate New York' where everyone is successful and settled and 'a little bit smug'. I really enjoyed this description and I like that Lapena chooses characters who have everything going for them, characters who never expect to have police cars endlessly pulling up on their drive, being arrested for murder, challenged and their pasts raked up in front of the neighbours. It's a great hook to choose characters who thought they had everything under control and their secrets - however big or small- tidied away from each other, suddenly finding their lives upended and the truths that they and worked so hard to bury brutally exposed. 

Lapena's writing is incredibly readable and unputdownable. She has a real knack for creating characters who you feel sympathy for and take to but there is something about them that you question or feel unsure about. I really liked Brigid as she was so menacing - in what appeared a harmless way but became more threatening as the novel progressed. I felt a little sorry for Tom as he seems genuinely caught between a rock and a hard place but both he and Karen have told each other so many lies - not always big ones, but ones that make it very hard for them to face the present situation they find themselves in. 

Karen is a very well crafted and very carefully presented character. A woman with a past. A woman with the determination and intelligence that doesn't fully reveal itself until the very end but oh my word, when you work her out it will quite frankly take your breath away. Lapena shows off her skills at managing a great storyline, a great character and a fantastic denouement. 

Sadly I can't say too much without spoiling the story except that you need to watch Rasbach as he is determined to solve the mystery behind the car accident and the murder that he knows must be linked. His persistence to keep pushing Karen, Tom and Brigid ensures that the reader gets some of the answers they want and his role also adds to the layers of tension and suspicion. 

This is a clever novel full of unreliable narrators, characters with conflicting motives, secrets and dark pasts which are putting them under increasing pressure. I thought the writing was very fluent, very engaging and that there was much more to this novel than a straightforward family noir thriller. 

Highly recommend. Just like her characters in this novel, Shari Lapena is one to watch. 

A Stranger in the House is published on 27th July by Transworld. 

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

#FriendRequest #LauraMarshall #Review

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book in return for an unbiased and honest review*

When Louise Williams receives a message from someone left long in the past she feels sick.

Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.

Because Maria Weston has been missing for over twenty years. She was last seen the night of a school leavers' party, and the world believes her to be dead. Particularly Louise, who has lived her adult life knowing herself responsible for Maria's disappearance. But now Maria is back. Or is she?

This book's blurb will appeal to anyone who has a Facebook account and to anyone who has left the ghosts of secondary school far behind them. There can be nothing more unsettling than the thought of getting a friend request from someone you hoped you'd never see again - but the thought of getting a Friend Request from someone you thought was dead has got to be one of the most exciting and frightening premises for a novel! 

This book is chilling and deeply unsettling. Louise William's life is plunged into turmoil when the friend request from Maria appears. It forces her to confront the past, get in touch with people from school that she hasn't spoken to for years, fill her full of anxiety and paranoia and then it sets of a chain of events that lead to even more frightening and dangerous situations for the group of friends who thought what they had done to Maria was long forgotten about and buried deeply in the past. 

Any book that centres around school friendships has a huge appeal and Marshall writes convincingly about peer groups, pressure, cliques, nastiness, jealously and relationships in those tempestuous and turbulent teenage years. Her characters are believable, realistic and struggling with their flaws, regrets, finally facing the consequences of their actions. 

I liked that Louise was still haunted by Maria and the description that "she had been hovering at the edge of my consciousness for all my adult life....a blurred shadow in the corner of my eye..." really captures that sense of lurking memories that never really fade. The reader immediately wants to know what happened and what went on between the two girls that means Louise can't move on or get over it. 

The story line moves between 1989 where we follow the events leading up to the night Maria disappeared, and the present day where things seem to be echoing and mirroring events from the past as the characters continue to try to ignore or contain the secret that they all share. Both timelines are equally intriguing and both settings are evoked clearly with the emotional reactions of the characters well presented. The relationships between the children and then the adults is well written and feels very plausible and realistic.

There is a high level of suspense sustained throughout the entire novel. The reader is desperate to find out exactly what did happen to Maria, exactly what Louise is guilty of, what is it that she can't share with her husband who was also there on the night that Maria disappeared and should be the one person she feels she can confide in. Marshall keeps us turning the pages, guessing, grabbing on to clues and revelations, not knowing who to trust and who to believe and then we are gripped as the book hurtles to it's final dramatic scenes which are full of tension, twists and turns. 

Not only is the premise unnerving and the story very chilling, the really unsettling moments come from the observations about Facebook and just how lethal it can become in the wrong hands - or just how vulnerable and exposed we can make ourselves without realising it. This is a thriller for the modern world and although the story is about the past, it is also very much about the present. 

This is going to be a huge hit so don't miss out. I recommend Friend Request - but not before you've checked your notifications on Facebook- or shut down your account!!! 

Friend Request is published by Sphere on 27th July 2017. 

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

#YouWillKnowMe #MeganAbbott #Review

You Will Know Me

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest review*

Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate.

This is the first Megan Abbott novel I have read and she clearly has a huge following and fan base judging by the excitement over her books and the glowing reviews.

The story starts with introducing us to the Knox family and their daughter - a gymnastics prodigy. There is a lot of dialogue and interaction between the family members so that the reader understands the sacrifice, commitment and personal and emotional investment of the family in Devon's future as an Olympic gymnast. There is no doubting how involved every member of the family is and how important Devon's gymnastic training, heats, practices and anything else are to them all and how it dictates their routine and family life. The scene setting and discussion or description about the gymnastic side of things is very detailed and very well researched. It is easy for the reader to gauge the stakes, risks, fears and dreams of parents and children in this situation. This becomes more significant as the novel continues.

Katie is quite an anxious parent but then her daughter has colossal potential and to some extent she has to live her life through Devon's so it does make sense. Devon seems more grounded but dedicated. Abbott establishes the family dynamics and also the relationships between the Knox family and their peers and friendship groups well. Although fast paced from the outset, it is easy to grasp the important details and build a picture of the key characters.

Then everything changes. The sudden, dramatic and tragic death of one of the students has a huge impact on the characters and hits them all hard. From then on things begin to unravel and spiral out of control. As I said before this is a very fast paced novel that rattles along, always moving the action on and focussing on events and repercussions of the student's death. I would say this book was perhaps more plot driven than character driven.

There is plenty of tension and drama and I'm sure Abbott's fans will relish this latest read. I'm afraid for me it didn't quite hit the mark as I found the characters a bit grating and a little underdeveloped so I didn't quite engage with them but for people who like a page turner this could be the book for you!

You Will Know Me is published by Little, Brown on 26th July 2017.

#ThenSheWasGone #LisaJewell #Review

Then She Was Gone

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest review*

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone. 

It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter. And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a cafĂ© and sweeps Laurel off her feet. Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter. Poppy is precocious and pretty - and meeting her completely takes Laurel's breath away. 

Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.

And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. 

What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? 

Who still has secrets to hide?

I am enjoying Lisa Jewell's psychologically thrilling novels! She has always been able to create engaging stories and now she proves that she can successfully take this to a new darker level by creating more unnerving and more dysfunctional characters within her narratives. Her new story lines are more chilling and now full of twists and dramatic revelations. I'm sure her books will introduce new readers to the psychological thriller genre as well as satisfy those who are already firm fans.

Jewell is very accomplished at creating female character's whose mental and emotional anguish is so real and so heartfelt that the reader cannot help but become embroiled in the storyline. This novel is an excellent example of this. Laurel is a deeply traumatised woman who has never ever recovered from when her daughter disappeared. It has devastated her family and her marriage. The relationship she has with her other children is strained and often a little strange but this is a family that has been under considerable pressure. As a main character, Laurel is interesting. She is flawed and perhaps some of her choices and decisions are questionable but then this woman is devastated and operating in the only way she thinks she can.

There is a dual narrative moving between Then and Now. I enjoyed the passages from "Then" -  Ellie's point of view - and her frustration at school and within her peer group. Jewell is able to capture all her character's emotional state of minds effortlessly and explores the dynamics between the characters very effectively. They all feel very real and the reader cannot fail to become caught up in their lives. I also like how the characters deliver pertinent observations and succinct comments that resonate with any reader as well as the characters:

"....the blame game could be exhausting sometimes. The blame game could make you lose you mind.....all the infinitesimal outcomes, each path breaking up into a million other paths every time you heedlessly choose one...."

This is a page turner, a novel that is rammed with tension, suspense, threatening characters, unreliable narrators, twists and dramatic revelations. It is a psychological thriller and it is also about parenting, motherhood, families and relationships. There was an element of coincidence and perhaps some readers will work out a few of the twists but all in all, it is a readable, satisfying, enjoyable read that packs an emotional punch and will leave you feeling a little raw by the time you have turned the last page.

Then She Was Gone is published on 27th July 2017.

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website

#AnAlmondforaParrot #WrayDelaney #BlogTour #Review #Extract

An Almond for a Parrot

London, 1756: In Newgate prison, Tully Truegood awaits trial. Her fate hanging in the balance, she tells her life-story. It's a tale that takes her from skivvy in the back streets of London, to conjuror's assistant, to celebrated courtesan at her stepmother's Fairy House, the notorious house of ill-repute where decadent excess is a must...Tully was once the talk of the town. Now, with the best seats at Newgate already sold in anticipation of her execution, her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who can help her avoid the gallows. She is Tully Truegood. Orphan, whore, magician's apprentice. Murderer?

I am delighted to be on the Blog Tour for An Almond for a Parrot which is published by HQ on 27th July 2017. My huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book in return for my honest review.

An Almond for a Parrot is written by Wray Delaney which is the pen name for children's author Sally Gardner. Gardner is one of my favourite children's authors; I love her writing so I was delighted to receive an advanced copy of her new novel - her first for adults. And if that wasn't exciting enough, what a stunning and eye catching cover - this book was begging to be given some special attention!

From the very opening I relaxed and settled into the arms of Delaney's narrative, knowing from the outset that I was going to enjoy this tale. Immediately I felt a great interest for the main character Tully who narrates the tale with a bold, original and honest voice.

"I would like to make myself the heroine of this story and my character to be so noble that you could not help but be in love with me."

Well, noble or innocent victim she may not be, but I did fall in love with Tully. I fell in love with her humour, her outlook, her engaging recount of her life to the point at which we meet her (prison), her astute observations, pertinent comments on people and behaviour and, well, everything really. Delaney's writing is well paced yet full of historical detail, fluent and compelling. It is full of life, colour, intrigue, drama and well crafted characters. There is plenty of story and plenty of incident, there are plenty of characters and plenty of themes and ideas but ultimately this is a character driven novel that offers one of the most fascinating and imaginative voices I have come across in a while.

This novel has some strong female characters and I did enjoy Tully's stepmother who stated that wives and husbands who "slept in separate beds had healthier nerves and stronger spirits that those who slept together." I laughed as her "father roared like bedlam and fell to swearing, but all for naught." Delaney cleverly captures the world through Tully's eyes and presents a character who is continually observing, thinking, watching and learning from all she sees around her, reporting back with a candid, wry sense of humour. Tully's life is not without hardship and challenge but I enjoyed every moment, every twist, turn, obstacle and opportunity. This is a novel about coming of age, sexual awakening, propriety and society, women and men, love and marriage, action and consequence and it is truly compelling and captivating.

Delaney's evocation of London in the 1750s is incredibly convincing and underlines her flair, talent and accomplished skill as a writer. In an "age of deception, of wigs, paints and patches....where most of hide behind the painted visage...." Delaney relishes in Tully's "naked" account. I think she has had a lot of fun writing this novel.

Although there are moments of tragedy and sadness, unhappiness and danger, Tully's attitude that the world is a stage and life is a play without rehearsal ensures a buoyant and uplifting atmosphere throughout, alongside a witty sense of acceptance and inevitability. Tully plays a lot with the reader, often speaking directly to the audience which results in a compounding sense of intrigue, a need to turn the page faster and making Tully much more likeable. It is impossible not to feel empathetic towards her, sympathetic to her plight but also at times shocked by her. I also admired her. She is not afraid to speak up for women and defend the choices she has made.

"Women have no money in their own right and many are subjected to the tyranny and cruelty of neglected fathers and husbands. If a woman leaves this so-called protection, she finds the road to virtue closed to her by poverty and necessity. Her body is the only currency she possesses." 

The story flits backwards and forwards through Tully's life taking us back to her past and also reminding us of her bleak future as she awaits trial. We are introduced to characters who weave their way in and out of her life and I definitely had favourites who I was pleased to see returning at various stages of Tully's life. I thought each scene was well constructed and Delaney strikes the perfect balance with pace, fluency, description and dialogue. In conclusion, this book is an absolute treat. I loved it. It is a murder story, a story of grief, loss and love. It is a story of magic and faith. It is the story of Tully Truegood.

And if this review hasn't convinced you to go out and buy the book immediately then perhaps reading this extract of the opening chapter will entice you even further!! My thanks to the publisher for this extract to use alongside my review! 


Fleet Marriages
One of the most disgraceful customs observed in the Fleet Prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the performance of the marriage ceremony by disreputable and dissolute clergymen. These functionaries, mostly prisoners for debt, insulted the dignity of their holy profession by marrying in the precincts of the Fleet Prison at a minute’s notice, any persons who might present themselves for that purpose. No questions were asked, no stipulations made, except as to the amount of the fee for the service, or the quantity of liquor to be drunk on the occasion. It not unfrequently happened, indeed, that the clergyman, the clerk, the bridegroom and the bride were drunk at the very time the ceremony was performed.

Appendix VI, The Newgate Calendar

Chapter One
Newgate Prison, London
I lie on this hard bed counting the bricks in the ceiling of this miserable cell. I have been sick every morning for a week and thought I might have jail fever. If it had killed me it would at
least have saved me the inconvenience of a trial and a public hanging. Already the best seats at Newgate Prison have been sold in anticipation of my being found guilty – and I have yet to be sent to trial. Murder, attempted murder – either way the great metropolis seems to know the verdict before the judge has placed the black square on his grey wig. This whore is gallows-bound.
‘Is he dead?’ I asked.
My jailer wouldn’t say.
 I pass my days remembering recipes and reciting them to the damp walls. They don’t remind me of food; they are bookmarks from this short life of mine. They remain tasteless. I prefer them that way.
A doctor was called for. Who sent for or paid for him I don’t know, and uncharacteristically I do not care. He was very matter of fact and said the reason for my malady was simple: I was with child. I haven’t laughed for a long time but forgive me,
the thought struck me as ridiculous. In all that has happened I have never once found myself in this predicament. I can hardly believe it is true. The doctor looked relieved – he had at least found a reason for my life to be extended – pregnant women are not hanged. Even if I’m found guilty of murder, the gallows will wait until the child is born. What a comforting thought.
Hope came shortly afterwards. Dear Hope. She looked worried, thinner.
‘How is Mercy?’ I asked.
She avoided answering me and busied herself about my cell.
‘What does this mean?’ she asked, running her fingers over the words scratched on a small table, the only piece of furniture this stinking cell has to offer. I had spent some time etching them into its worm-eaten surface. An Almond for a Parrot.
‘It’s a title for a memoir, the unanswered love song of a soon to- be dead bird. Except I have no paper, no pen and without ink the thing won’t write at all.’
           Just as well, Tully.’
‘I want to tell the truth of my life.’
‘Better to leave it,’ she said.
‘It’s for Avery – not that he will ever read it.’ I felt myself on the brink of tears but I refused to give in to them. ‘I will write it for myself. Afterwards, it can be your bedtime entertainment, the novelty of my days in recipes and tittle-tattle.’
‘Oh, my sweet ninny-not. You must be brave, Tully. This is a dreadful place and…’
‘And it is not my first prison. My life has come full circle. You haven’t answered my question.’
‘Mercy is still very ill. Mofty is with her.’
‘Will she live?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘And is he alive?’
 ‘Tully, he is dead. You are to be tried for murder.’
‘My, oh my. At least my aim was true.’
I sank back on the bed, too tired to ask more. Even if Hope was in the mood for answering questions, I didn’t think I would want to know the answers.
‘You are a celebrity in London. Everyone wants to know what you do, what you wear. The papers are full of it.’
There seemed nothing to say to that. Hope sat quietly on the edge of the bed, holding my hand.
Finally, I found the courage to ask the question I’d wanted to ask since Hope arrived.
‘Is there any news of Avery?’
‘No, Tully, there’s not.’
I shook my head. Regret. I am full of it. A stone to worry one’s soul with.
‘You have done nothing wrong, Tully.’
‘Forgive me for laughing.’
‘You will have the very best solicitor.’
‘Who will pay for him?’
‘No, no. I don’t want her to. I have some jewels…’
I felt sick.
‘Concentrate on staying well,’ said Hope.

If this life was a dress rehearsal, I would now have a chance to play my part again but with a more favourable outcome. Alas, we players are unaware that the curtain goes up the minute we take our first gulps of air; the screams of rage our only hopeless comments on being born onto such a barren stage.
So here I am with ink, pen and a box of writing paper, courtesy of a well-wisher. Still I wait to know the date of my trial. What to do until then? Write, Tully, write.

With a hey ho the wind and the rain. And words are my only escape. For the rain it raineth every day.

Thanks again to the publisher, HQ, for a copy of the novel and a spot on the Blog Tour. Don't forget to look up the other bloggers on this tour!

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website