The Other People by C.J. Tudor @cjtudor @MichaelJBooks #TheOtherPeople

Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 23 January 2020 from Michael Joseph
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-0241371282

She sleeps, a pale girl in a white room . . .

Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window.

She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’

It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy.

He never sees her again.

Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights travelling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.

Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.

Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter. She knows who is responsible. And she knows what they will do if they ever catch up with her and Alice . . .

I sincerely hope C.J. Tudor is celebrating her publication day today, because The Other People is a cracker and I think her best book yet, which is saying something, as I have loved her others.

This book swept me up in its story and carried me along with it every step of the way. It was impossible not to be consumed by Gabe’s tragic story.

Never the best of husbands, Gabe is travelling home on the M1, late yet again, when he thinks he sees his daughter in the back of a rusty car, covered in stickers, driving past him. The girl mouths one word from the back of the car – ‘Daddy’. But Gabe knows that can’t be Izzy, because five year old Izzy is safe at home with his wife, Jennifer.

He calls home to speak to his wife and that’s when he learns of their brutal murder from the police officer who answers the phone. Traumatised, knowing the police want to talk to him, he races home.

Gabe is destroyed by this event. Never really escaping the suspicion, relentlessly fuelled by media attention, that he was somehow responsible for their deaths, he finds he can’t shake that image of a girl who looked just like Izzy that he saw just before he received the news in that awful phone call.

Now, three years after, he spends his days on that same motorway, living in a camper van so that he can be close to the road, hoping to find the car he saw, or to find someone who did. He regularly stops at the same motorway service stations, giving out fliers in the hope that someone else might have seen Izzy and remember something that could help track down that little girl he saw through the window.

C’J. Tudor’s book weaves together Gabe’s story with that of an unknown girl, who lies comatose in a room somewhere; with Katie, a single mother waiting tables at a service station and with Fran and Katie, a mother constantly on the run with her daughter.

This is Gabe’s story, interwoven with those of Katie and Fran. Tudor paints a remarkable picture of a deeply lonely and distraught man broken by grief, keeping it together only because of his mission to track down that elusive car.

An encounter with a strange man who goes by the name of The Samaritan leads him to ‘The Other People’ and an injection of a chilling, dark and very creepy storyline which is horrifying in both concept and execution.

In an intricate and beautifully layered narrative, dripping with menace, Tudor shows us the lengths that people are prepared to go to when their grief is so strong that only thoughts of the impossible can drive them forward.

Is Gabe an unreliable narrator and was he really responsible for the deaths of Jennifer and Izzy? What secrets is Gabe hiding? And if he didn’t kill them, who did, and why?

Gabe’s desperate search for Izzy grasps the reader in its clutches and doesn’t let go until the terrible, heart-breaking truth is revealed.

Verdict: A powerful and illuminating portrait of loss and grief leads to an understanding of the lengths that people will go to in their search for justice and revenge. The Other People is a brilliantly conceived psychological thriller that ramps up and maintains tension as Tudor combines spooky elements with a clever twisty plot to create a fantastic, chilling story of grief and the quest for justice and revenge. Highly recommended.

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photo of C.J.Tudor

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, and has recently moved to Kent with her partner and young daughter.Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter , copywriter and now, author.

Containment by Vanda Symon @vandasymon @OrendaBooks #Containment

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th January 2020 (e-book) 5th March 2020 (paperback) from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193195

Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead. What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning…

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

I adore the Sam Shephard series and in Containment, the third book in this excellent series, I really felt that I was getting to know this brilliant, sassy protagonist, properly.

Sam is a brilliant character. She’s come from a small town, rural environment, promoted to Detective Constable in a fast track promotion she doesn’t really understand how she got. She’s enjoying being in Dunedin, even though her boss, the rather unpleasant D.I. Johns makes it clear that he doesn’t have much time for her.

She gets on well with the team though and with her police partner, Smithy and she’s really enjoying living with her best friend, Maggie. Theirs is such a well-drawn relationship, it is a joy to read. Sam and Maggie have such a bond that there is no bullshit in their interaction. Maggie tells it to Sam as she sees it and Sam values her perspective, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear what Maggie has to say.

And Maggie has quite a lot to say about Sam’s relationship with her current boyfriend, Paul. He’s everything you could want in a partner; good-looking, loving, loyal and he clearly adores Sam. And that’s the problem. Because somewhere down in the bottom of her mind, Sam’s not sure what she wants, and is never quite able to give up enough of herself to be truly open. She’s been hurt once and that has made her a wee bit insecure about her own mind when it comes to relationships.

Easily read as a stand-alone novel, Containment opens with a container accident in the beach village of Aramoana where a shipping accident sees containers washed up on the beach. Sam’s been on a weekend break, dog sitting at a friend’s holiday crib, when she sees the devastation that is the container debris strewn all over the beach, with a whole host of locals gaily beach combing and helping themselves to the spoils of salvage, with no regard for the legality of what they are doing.

As Sam pitches in to help the local police who are working hard to cordon off the salvage, she gets herself in between a couple of guys arguing over a discarded box and whilst attempting to point out that looting is illegal, ends up on the wrong end of a fierce punch and has to be taken to hospital.

When it transpires that the body of a diver has been washed up in the harbour, and that the death has not been from natural causes, Sam realises that she is the first officer on the scene and as such, she reckons she has first dibs on the case.

If only D.I. Johns didn’t have other ideas. He tells her that as she has been at the centre of a fight, she needs to recuse herself as her rescuer has been charged with serious bodily harm to the guy who was attempting to steal the box and who hit her.

Sam is assigned to what she sees as more mundane duties in tracking down the salvaged items. But it’s not long before she discovers that the rather gruesome decaying diver’s body has connections to the container accident and the missing items she is charged with recovering.

 Vanda Symon sets a brilliant scene with strong characters and I felt that I was getting to know Dunedin through the book, with its substantial student population and the great descriptions of the town and its landmarks. It made me want to visit Dunedin and I’ve enjoyed looking up images of the town and matching them to the places Sam visits.

As Sam investigates she is drawn into the world of a group of students who have got themselves deep into a mess that has them scared and in hiding and soon there’s more violence and this story takes a darker turn. Symon has a great way of creating characters that are believable and then marrying them with a menace that sometimes belies their initial introduction. This misdirection is done so well and with such skill that it comes as a surprise that the plot develops in a way that leads to more violence and more tragic death.

Verdict: Containment is a belter of a book. An excellent fast-paced police procedural with a fantastic protagonist in Sam Shephard. Nicely layered with a well-structured plot, it is leavened with excellent banter. Symon’s good humoured and sometimes intemperate protagonist has a habit of saying just what she thinks which often leads to trouble with her superiors. Coupled with Sam’s turbulent personal life, this gives us a beautifully rounded crime novel that is a delightful, twisty read and that leaves you wanting more from the pen of a terrifically entertaining and enjoyable writer.

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Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors.

The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

Tell Me Lies by Ed James (Max Carter #1) @EdJamesAuthor @bookouture @nholten40 #TellMeLies

Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 21st  January 2020 from Bookouture
PP: 364

As Senator Christopher Holliday walks through the halls of the US Federal Building in Seattle, his phone beeps with an alert. Frustrated by the interruption, he takes a quick glance and is horrified by the image on the screen – his two children, Brandon and Avery, unconscious. The message simply reads: Meet me or they die.

The race is on to find the children and leading the investigation is Special Agent Max Carter from the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team. He will stop at nothing to find children stolen from their families – after all, he was once one of those taken children, so he knows exactly what’s at stake.

Rushing to the Senator’s home in Washington State, Carter faces a wall of police cruisers and blacked-out SUVs. Megan Holliday, the senator’s wife, was ambushed by a man with a gun as she returned home from taking her kids out for ice cream. Bound and drugged, the attacker left her unconscious on the doorstep before messaging her husband.

When Senator Holliday flees the federal building, but fails to show up at home, Carter grows suspicious. The busy politician has vanished without telling anyone what he’s up to. If Carter knows one thing, it’s that Holliday has something to hide. And he just became Carter’s prime suspect.

I am delighted to be starting the blog tour for Ed James’ fantastic new character, FBI Special Agent Max Carter and Tell Me Lies.

Tell Me Lies starts off at a gallop and doesn’t slow down until this gripping and addictive storyline has ended. Our protoganist in this new series is Special Agent Max Carter of the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team (CARD). He is mobilised when Megan Holliday, wife of Senator Chris Holliday, awakes after an attack when she was out with her children – an attack in which she was drugged – to find her two young children missing.

But this is no ordinary abduction; the perpetrators want the Senator who, in turn, is doing his best to evade Max Carter and his team. The reader knows that Holliday is hiding something  but James makes sure we have our work cut out to establish not only what people are hiding , but why – and from there to discern the kidnappers motivation.

Just when you think you have a handle on it, James neatly twists your expectations to lead you down an altogether different path.

Firmly based in today’s technological world, with political overtones and deadly manoeuvres that span countries and years, this is a story that makes the political personal to great effect.

Told from multiple perspectives, and with first person narration from the perpetrators, we learn just enough about Max Carter and what drives the man to work on these cases to whet our appetite for future books.

Verdict: James cleverly creates a very twisted and nicely intricate plot which keeps the tension high and the action fast and furious. An adrenaline fuelled thriller, Tell Me Lies is a terrific opener for a new series and Max Carter a fascinating new character.

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Ed James is the author of multiple series of crime novels.
The bestselling DI Simon Fenchurch series is set in East London and published by Thomas & Mercer.The self-published Scott Cullen series of Scottish police procedurals features a young Edinburgh Detective Constable investigating crimes from the bottom rung of the career ladder he’s desperate to climb. The first book, “Ghost in the Machine”, has been downloaded over 400,000 times, hitting both the Amazon UK & US top five.The Craig Hunter books is a sister series to the Cullen novels, with a PTSD-suffering ex-squaddie now working as a cop investigating sexual abuse cases. With lots of slapstick and banter.

Ed lives in East Lothian, Scotland and writes full-time, but used to work in IT project management, where he filled his weekly commute to London by literally writing on planes, trains and automobiles.

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All the Rage by Cara Hunter (D.I. Fawley #4) @CaraHunterBooks @VikingBooksUK @EllieeHud #AlltheRage

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 January 2020 from Penguin Books
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0241985113

A girl is taken from the streets of Oxford. But it’s unlike any abduction DI Fawley’s seen before . . .

Faith Appleford was attacked, a plastic bag tied over her head, taken to an isolated location . . . and then, by some miracle, she escaped.

What’s more, when DC Erica Somer interviews Faith, she quickly becomes convinced that Faith knows who her abductor is.

Yet Faith refuses to press charges.

Without more evidence, it’s looking like the police may have to drop the case.

But what happens if Faith’s attacker strikes again?

I’ve enjoyed all of Cara Hunters D.I. Adam Fawley books and this one was no exception. Easily read as a standalone, lovers of this series will be pleased to know that there is more of Fawley’s personal story in this police procedural, allowing the reader to understand more of his character as these details are revealed.

The basic story actually was quite complex and I really got stuck into it in depth.

The cases here feel very real; a potential miscarriage of justice from an old case that Fawley was involved in and an edgy, unsettling set of crimes that touch the dark heart of what the police have to deal with.

An attack on teenage Faith, then the disappearance of one of her classmates gives Fawley and his team a nightmare case that is full of horribly similar details to the old case whose antagonist is now coming up for parole and is preparing to is appeal his conviction.

Fawley has more than one reason to be disturbed by this turn of events, as if the disappearance of the girl is not disturbing enough. Hunter takes us into some dark places as she suggests hate crime, gross moral turpitude, and serious violence in this well-plotted book.

All the Rage is a contemporary novel which, as is usual in Hunter’s books, utilises interview transcripts, excerpts of court proceedings and social media feeds throughout the police investigation, lending an extra layer of authenticity.  Told from multiple POV’S, the author manages to create an atmosphere of suspicion which casts doubt on the motives of everyone involved, keeping the reader involved and needing to know the outcome.

When it comes, it is devastating and truly shocking and I felt genuinely sad, knowing that such real life crimes do indeed take place.

Verdict: A little slow to start, Cara Hunter’s All the Rage is ultimately a strongly plotted, chilling police procedural that is a shocking and savage indictment on our society and which left my heart a little bit broken.

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Cara Hunter is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling crime novels Close to Home, In the Dark and No Way Out, all featuring DI Adam Fawley and his Oxford-based police team. Close to Home was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, was shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year in the British Book Awards 2019 and No Way Out was selected by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 best crime novels since 1945. Cara’s novels have sold more than three quarters of a million copies worldwide. Cara Hunter lives in Oxford, on a street not unlike those featured in her books.

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A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende @isabelallende @BloomsburyBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2020 from Bloomsbury
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1526615909

September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge arises, they board a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to Chile, the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.

A masterful work of historical fiction that soars from the Spanish Civil War to the rise and fall of Pinochet, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

This is an epic tale that, in Allende’s trademark fashion, sweeps across continents, telling the story of political uprising, repression and the history of dispossessed peoples through the story of one family across the decades since 1939.

I love that Allende bases this work on real events and peppers them with facts about people so that you feel as if you are reading real history as it happens and learning a great deal about the circumstances of the time and how a sense of belonging can be the most important thing a person clings to.

This is the story of Victor Dalmau a young man at the height of the Spanish Civil War. He is studying Medicine and helps look after the wounded in battle, while his younger brother, Guillem, fights for the Republic. Told in the third person, mostly from Victor’s point of view the book follows his life. We learn about his family and Roser (his brother’s girlfriend and one of the students of Victor’s father, a musician), and hear first-hand of his experiences during the war. Roser is pregnant with Guillem’s child when he is killed. Victor vows to look after his brother’s lover and so when it is clear that Franco is winning, they escape into France together, entering into a marriage of convenience.

But the French are not welcoming to Spanish Civil War refugees, placing them in concentration camps with poor sanitation and insufficient food. Victor and Rosa decide to  emigrate to Chile on the Winnipeg – the ship that Pablo Neruda organised to bring 2,000 Spanish refugees to freedom in Chile (oh the irony). Victor and Roser settle down in Chile, making a new life for themselves. Rosa pursuing her musical work and Victor becoming a cardiologist. But then, in 1973, comes Pinochet and the fascists take root in Chile, leading to a military coup and the mass murders in the football stadium where Victor Jara was murdered.  When even the artists are being murdered, it is time to uproot and flee. Victor and Rosa, long-settled and feeling at home in Chile, become refugees once again.

This time Victor and Rosa head for Venezuela. As they yet again flee, their hope of returning to Spain mutates into a longing for Chile that keeps them going. Their role is to bear witness to the battle between freedom and oppression until finally Roser and Victor find that home is closer than they knew.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a sweeping family saga about belonging which shows us the important contribution that refugees can make to society, which gives the book a contemporary message that is important and resonated loudly with me.

Verdict: An ambitious work which blends the personal and the political to depict the life of a refugee. Sometimes a little wordy, this is a story for today. An epic saga that blends fact with fiction until we no longer know what is real and what imagined but which shows us the important contribution that immigrants can make to society.

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Isabel Allende—novelist, feminist, and philanthropist—is one of the most widely-read authors in the world, having sold more than 74 million books. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel won worldwide acclaim in 1982 with the publication of her first novel, The House of the Spirits, which began as a letter to her dying grandfather. Since then, she has authored more than twenty three bestselling and critically acclaimed books, including Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna. Translated into more than forty two languages. Allende’s works entertain and educate readers by interweaving imaginative stories with significant historical events.

The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler (JoonaLinna#6) trs Neil Smith @crimebythebook @AAKnopf #RabbitHunter

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 14th January 2020 in the USA from Knopf
PP: 528
ISBN-13: 978-1524732288

Ten little rabbits, all dressed in white
Tried to get to heaven on the end of a kite.
Kite string got broken, down they all fell,
Instead of going to heaven, they all went to…

It begins with a nursery rhyme. Nineteen minutes later you die.

A masked stranger stands in the shadows. He watches his victim through the window. He will kill him slowly—make him pay.

Soon the Rabbit Hunter has claimed another three victims. This predator will stop at nothing to reap his ultimate revenge. It’s up to Joona Linna and Saga Bauer to untangle one of the most complex cases of their career, and follow the killer’s trail of destruction back to one horrific night of violence.

The Rabbit Hunter is the sixth book in the Joona Linna series and to get the most from this book, I strongly recommend that you start with the first in the series, The Hypnotist and progress from there. It is so worthwhile as although each book has a stand-alone case to be solved, Joona Linna’s own back story is so deliciously good and interesting that it makes all the books really sing.

Though this is quite a big book, it doesn’t feel that way because the chapters are short and the writing pacy, so time just flies by as you are reading.

Lars Kepler books are not for the faint-hearted. They are dark, gory and violent and The Rabbit Hunter is no exception. Following on from the difficult times that Saga Bauer and Linna went through in the fifth book, Stalker, Joona Linna is now languishing in a high security prison.

A Swedish Foreign Minister has been murdered in weird circumstances and there are no clues as to who might be responsible. Stockholm is on edge and the police are under severe pressure to solve this murder, not least because other murders follow fast behind.

The reader meets The Rabbit Hunter early on in the chapter and we are left in no doubt that this is seriously disturbed killer whose perverted mind enjoys inflicting slow, tortuous death.

The authorities, with the express blessing of the Swedish Prime Minister, come to Joona Lina with a deal. Help Superintendent Saga Bauer find the killer, and in return he will have earned his freedom.

Current thinking is that these murders are politically motivated acts of terrorism but Joona Linna, following this through, realises that there is something much deeper and more personal going on. This is a ruthless and efficient serial killer but the twisted acts of violence point him to an historic reasoning behind the serial killer’s twisted thinking.

Seeking a connection between the victims, he realises that they all hear a child chanting a nursery rhyme about rabbits and then, exactly 19 minutes later, they are brutally murdered.

Joona Linna will have to go back in time to investigate events of 30 years ago to find out why these people have died at the hands of a sadistic killer.

The book is tense and thrilling as the suspense mounts and Linna once again puts his life on the line to expose a scandal that goes back decades.

Verdict: Another taut and disturbing read from this writing duo. Light on characterisation, The Rabbit Hunter relies on the twisted and disturbing killings to keep the reader’s attention focussed. Not the best Kepler I have read, but still an enjoyable and completely engaging contribution to the series.

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LARS KEPLER is the pseudonym of the critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Their number one internationally bestselling Joona Linna series has sold more than twelve million copies in forty languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler and have each published several acclaimed novels. They live in Stockholm, Sweden.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton @Rosamundlupton @EllieeHud @VikingBooksUK #ThreeHours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th January 2020 from Viking
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-0241374498

Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds.

It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.

It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.

It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. From the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

It’s hard to do justice to this stunning novel which I urge you to read. Anyone who remembers the Dunblane shootings, not so far away from where I am now, will recall the sense of horror and devastation that the horrific school shooting brought not just to parents and relatives but to a whole country.

Three Hours is, thankfully, not set in Scotland, but in a similar, small rural community in Somerset. It is a masterclass in exceptional writing and this book only works because of the power of that writing. That’s what makes it stand above the crowd. It is a book that centres itself in the middle of your heart and refuses to leave.

A heart-breaking story of love, courage and exceptional bravery in the face of a stark, cold and horrible planned attack, Three Hours is exceptional in its prose and in the way that Lupton has created characters that immediately claim their place in your mind and your heart and take up residence.

This is storytelling that rises above the crowd. The writing is exquisite, drawing you in to a completely shocking event, allowing you to experience the horror and the chaos that ensues and finally making you confront the awful, terrible truth of what is going on.

Lupton’s chilling and deeply atmospheric narrative moves forwards and back in time, letting the reader experience the most terrible three hours we will ever know where the very definition of innocents is threatened by malice and hatred so strong that it is determined to wipe out everyone who threatens its world view.

Set against this is a completely overwhelming story of love and hope and everything that is good in our world. Immense courage and fortitude; leadership and compassion shine through this most terrible of times.

The triumph of this book though is not just in how it makes us experience these events and feel the urgency and the compassion. It is in the way that Lupton gently and without any sense of lecturing draws the path through our turbulent times to show us just how this has become a plausible reality.

She shows us, gently and without comment, how our society made this kind of behaviour possible and why kindness and love now have to battle against hatred and false reporting every day.

I can’t adequately express how good this book is, how completely it immerses you in the story, how the prose wraps itself around your heart and squeezes hard.

Verdict: Buy it; read it; you will not be sorry. A finer piece of prose writing will be hard to find.

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Photo of Rosamund Lupton

Rosamund Lupton is the author of four novels. She graduated from Cambridge University in 1986. After reviewing books for the Literary Reviews and being invited to join the Royal Court Theatre, she won a television play competition and subsequently worked as a screen writer. Her debut novel Sister, was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over thirty languages and has international sales of over 1.5 million copies. It was the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author, and was winner of the Richard and Judy Best Debut Novel of 2011 Award and the Strand Magazine Critics First Novel Award. Film rights of Sister are currently under option.

Lupton’s critically acclaimed second novel Afterwards also went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists and was the No. 2 Sunday Times fiction bestseller of 2011. The Quality of Silence her third novel was a Sunday Times best seller and a Richard & Judy bookclub pick.

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Pine by Francine Toon @FrancineElena @Doubledayuk @emma_a_paterson @annecater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 January 2020 from Doubleday
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-0857526700

They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

It is an enormous pleasure to be starting off the blog tour for this strong and contemporary novel.

Pine is a beautiful, fabulously evocative novel, set in a small village in the midst of the Highlands where all around pine trees create a world of shadows. Lauren lives in the village with her father Niall, a shadow of his former self, given to bouts of melancholia and drinking ever since Christine, his wife, Lauren’s mother disappeared.

Lauren was so young when her mother went tries to channel her through her alternative therapy books about spiritual healing through crystals and reading the cards. Christine was a free spirit, and Lauren is hoping she has inherited some of her more mystic qualities, as she practices reading the tarot through the cards. She never does get answers though as to what has happened to her mother, or why her father is so withdrawn much of the time.

Gossip about what happened to Christine is of course rife in the small village and Lauren is bullied at school for the very severe offence of being different.

As the novel opens, Lauren and her father are driving through the forest after an evening of guising with her childhood friend Billy at Hallowe’en, when a woman falls into the road in front of them. Niall drives the woman home to their cottage but in the morning when Lauren gets up, she has vanished.

Francine Toon has created a beautiful, unnerving setting where a child is in the half life not quite yet on the cusp of becoming an adult, trying to understand the maelstrom of emotions that are running through her; neither part of the younger children’s group nor yet adult enough to form a serious relationship. With no woman to guide her, Lauren is caught in that half –life between child and pre-pubescent woman.

Toon flawlessly paints a rich and unsettling canvas where the forest is a dark blanket wrapped around the village and setting it apart from the world; a gothic, eerie place at night especially. It is the character of the forest that gives the book it’s hushed, claustrophobic feel and allows Toon to play with elements of the supernatural, witchcraft and folklore in the writing.

But Pine is not just a gothic novel; rather it is a completely contemporary work which looks at the impact of small village life on a community when one of their own, a local teenager goes missing. Suspicions grow, whispers surround Lauren everywhere she goes and the tension builds as this community tries to reconcile itself to the fact that this disappearance has echoes of what happened to Christine a decade ago.

Niall’s drinking gets worse, his anger seems barely suppressed and Lauren feels that there are things she’s not being told, but which remain frustratingly out of her grasp. h It seems that someone has once again threatened a woman of the village and caused her to disappear. There are those in the village who are not prepared to see history repeat itself.

Pine has a strong sense of love and longing, a pining for lost loves. But it is also a novel about darkness and sexual violence and how women can stay strong in the midst of darkness and oppression.

Verdict: Beautifully written, powerful storytelling that sets a haunting, evocative scene and uses that to tell a story that weaves Highland folklore and mysticism into an eerie and suspenseful modern and surprisingly tender gothic story. I loved it. Highly recommended.

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Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.

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The Other You by J.S. Monroe @JSThrillers @HoZ_Books @amberachoudhary

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 9th January 2020 from Head of Zeus
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1789541670

Is he who you think he is?

Kate used to be good at recognising people. So good, she worked for the police, identifying criminals in crowds of thousands. But six months ago, a devastating car accident led to a brain injury. Now the woman who never forgot a face can barely recognise herself in the mirror.

At least she has Rob. Kate met him just after her accident, and he nursed her back to health in his high-tech modernist house on the Cornish coast. When she’s with him, the nightmares of the accident fade, and she feels safe and loved.

Until, one day, she looks at Rob anew – and knows, with absolute certainty, that he has been replaced by an impostor. Is she right? Have her old recognition skills returned? Or is it all in her damaged mind?

I wanted to read The Other You because I really enjoyed J.S. Monroe’s Forget My Name.  I wasn’t disappointed. J.S. Monroe has a strong flair for capturing a distinctive crime that you won’t easily forget and then building a novel around it that has the reader questioning and second guessing the plot all the way down the line.

Kate was a highly skilled super recogniser. Working for the police and gaining high profile results when she had a car accident. Now she is recovering, but her skills at recognising have gone. She has ditched her loser boyfriend, Jake and is now living with her handsome partner, tech mogul Rob in a beautiful Cornwall home where she feels safe and cared for. Until one day she looks at him and is convinced that he has been replaced by an imposter.

Capgras syndrome is a recognised medical condition causing an irrational belief that someone the sufferer knows or recognises has been replaced by an imposter. Has Kate’s injury caused this syndrome or is something more sinister going on?

Monroe takes the reader on a thrilling journey, constantly asking us to evaluate what we are reading and test it against our understanding. I loved the twistiness of the plot, the constant need to recalibrate our understanding and the short punchy chapters that help keep the pace fast and the prose lively.

I’m always interested when a writer takes an original concept and demonstrates just how it can be achieved and Monroe’s creepy scenario is sufficiently plausible to make his plot truly chilling and completely addictive.

Told from the perspective of three principal characters, – Kate’s former boss Wiltshire Police’s DI Silas Hart;  Kate’s ex-boyfriend, Jake, and Kate herself, Monroe builds up narrative strands which build the tension and  enable the reader to become invested in their progress, as the narrative becomes ever more compelling and propulsive.

The themes are fascinating; from the rise of technology, to the way the brain works to notions of instinct over reason.

Verdict: A fascinating premise beautifully conceived and executed makes for an original and chilling novel that is part thriller and part police procedural. Unmissable.

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J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

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The Mothers by Sarah J. Naughton @SarahJNaughton @TrapezeBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 January 2020 in e-book from Trapeze 30 April  2020 in p/back
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1409184607

Five Women.

They meet at their NCT Group. The only thing they have in common is they’re all pregnant.

Five Secrets.

Three years later, they are all good friends. Aren’t they?

One Missing Husband.

Now the police have come knocking. Someone knows something.

And the trouble with secrets is that someone always tells.

The bond between mothers and their children is strong, but there is also a strong bond between these 5 mothers who met at their NCT class and stayed with each other throughout their pregnancies. A chav; a media-twat; a hippy; a Sloane and a frump. They should have nothing in common, but their shared experience has brought them together and after their various births, they stay in contact.

Sarah Naughton’s book moves effortlessly between past and present; painting a picture of these womens’ lives with their children and where appropriate, their partners. Unlikely friends, they nevertheless bond and look out for each other at their regular Mother’s Club get-togethers.

Naughton gives us pen portraits of each of these women; their troubles, the secrets they are hiding and their relationships, warts and all.

Then Bella Upton’s husband goes missing and the police are called in to investigate. Detective Inspector Iona Chatwin is called in to investigate and soon it becomes clear that this family had a lot to hide. Has Ewan Upton done a runner, or is something darker at work here?  When one of the women, Jennifer Baptiste, who had taken on the role of child-minder to Bella, cannot be found, the police begin to see connections.

Naughton’s book tells the story from the perspective of each of the women involved, seamlessly weaving their stories from when they met through to the present day. This character driven narrative creates a well rendered picture of each of the women and the challenges they face in their roles as partners, mothers and in their working lives.

Each has a story to tell, but no-one is telling the whole story. Their fraught lives begin to fall apart as Naughton lets us into their daily struggles to stay on top of their lives. We get to know these women well enough to be able to follow the different lives without difficulty.

The unlikely friendships are explored and Naughton shows us how their bonds are tested, leading to the disappearance of Bella’s husband.

Into this scenario, Naughton introduces the possibility of not one but two crimes, leading the police to conclude that they must be related. But the women claim to know next to nothing and their friendship starts to look a lot more superficial than we knew.

Naughton cleverly layers her plot so that there is tension and real mystery surrounding these women and as the story peels back the layers, there is a very real psychological thriller at its heart.

Verdict: Clever plotting, addictive and credible characters lead to a nicely twisted mystery that grips the reader’s attention and builds to a satisfying conclusion.

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Sarah J Naughton was born in 1975 and grew up in Dorset.  She studied English Literature at UCL and has been in London ever since, spending ten years as a copywriter in an advertising agency before giving up to have children.She was shortlisted for The Costa Children’s Book Award for her novel, The Hanged Man Rises, and now writes psychological fiction for adults.She lives with her husband and two sons.

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