They Call Me The Cat Lady by Amy Miller

This adorable, personal and moving story of Nancy Jones, her five cats, and her past, was honestly lovely to read.

You’ve seen me on the street. You’ve walked past my house, and pointed, and wondered. The cat lady. All on my own, with only my five cats to keep me company. Did no-one ever tell you that you can’t judge a book by its cover?
Everyone in town knows Nancy Jones. She loves her cats. She loves her tumbledown house by the sea. She loves her job in the local school where she tries to help the children who need help the most. Nancy tries hard not to think about her past loves and where those led her…
Nancy never shares her secrets – because some doors are better kept locked. But one day she accepts a cat-sitting request from a local woman, and at the woman’s house, Nancy sees a photograph, in a bright-red frame. A photograph that opens the door to her painful past…
Soon Nancy doesn’t know what frightens her the most: letting her story out, or letting the rest of the world in. It’s impossible to find companionship without the risk of losing it. But can Nancy take that risk again?

Nancy is such an uplifting yet sensitive character – I really love novels that are character-centric. Her relationship with her cats was so cute, the way she spoke to them was so genuine and their personalities seemed to really shine through. The moments with Nancy and her cats were some of my favourite scenes in the whole novel, as she was at her most comfortable and relaxed, and the reader got to see another side to her than during her interactions with other people.

Nancy’s story was honestly so heart-breaking. Her cautiousness and safety-conscious attitude were an intrinsic part of her, and it was devastating that the one time she relaxed a bit something tragic happened. I won’t give too much away, but seeing her genuine pain and guilt affect her present-day relationships and decisions was very emotional. Her relationship with her ex-husband was clearly problematic in various ways, with overwhelming feelings of guilt and blame hanging over both of them. Their reunion towards the end was super sweet, and it was satisfying for the reader to see some of their issues being resolved.

I felt like Nancy’s journey throughout the novel was so beautiful, and it was explored in a really in-depth way. She started as a really lonely and fragile woman who slowly became more confident and happy throughout. Her friendships and relationships improved dramatically as the story went on, and I loved how the improvement of her house mirrored this. Her house started as a ruined and dusty dumping ground, with an overrun garden and unused rooms. By the end it was transformed, reflecting Nancy’s personal growth and increased happiness, and I loved how this connection between the two worked.

I would definitely recommend this, it was different to a lot of my recent reads, but it was fun, inspiring and a very sweet story.

They Call Me The Cat Lady
Amy Miller
Bookouture, 26th April 2019

Closer Than You Think

This was a compelling thriller, with some interesting insights into the mind of the killer themselves, while tending to focus on Claire, the only surviving victim.

He’s watching. She’s waiting.
Having barely escaped the clutches of a serial killer, Claire Moore has struggled to rebuild her life. After her terrifying encounter with the man the media dubbed The Black-Out Killer, she became an overnight celebrity: a symbol of hope and survival in the face of pure evil. And then the killings stopped.
Now ten years have passed, and Claire remains traumatised by her brush with death. Though she has a loving and supportive family around her, what happened that night continues to haunt her still.
Just when things are starting to improve, there is a power cut; a house fire; another victim found killed in the same way as before.
The Black-Out Killer is back. And he’s coming for Claire…

I thought the main character, Claire, was very well written. Her vulnerability was so clear, but it was inspiring to see her go from strength to strength throughout the novel. Her fear and constant anxiety was so intense I even started feeling on edge myself, clearly showing the high quality writing in these scenes. Claire’s relationship with her mum was really heart-warming, and her mum was so supportive. It was a wonderful dynamic to read, with unspoken actions between them meaning more than words a lot of the time. Claire’s stepdad was another strong presence, offering her support from a distance, and recognising the long-lasting psychological effects that Claire’s past has had on her. The family unit was really strong, perhaps stronger than it would be in reality, but it was still believable due to the great writing.

Claire’s new boyfriend, Paul, was a really intriguing addition to Claire’s life, and I think it really worked that we didn’t get to see his perspective of their relationship, and instead we only saw hers. He seemed to be the perfect man – perhaps too perfect in some ways, so as to make him seem suspicious, but I do have to say that I didn’t feel this really worked. He simply seemed like a generous and patient man, and I didn’t believe he was the culprit behind the Black Out Killings. The segments that were written from the perspective of the Black Out Killer had a couple of details in that didn’t seem to match Paul as the suspect, so it wasn’t believable enough for me.

In terms of Claire’s personal development and trust issues, making Paul a suspect did work, as it highlighted her improvement and confidence, but other than that I didn’t feel it served too much purpose.

I won’t give away who actually did it, but I did suspect it was them. There were a couple of details I picked up on that made me suspect this character, so I was really satisfied to know that I guessed right. However, the ending left me feeling really frustrated. The relationship between Claire and the killer wasn’t explored enough, and I would have liked more insight into their relationship and history. It was quite an abrupt ending, although I do understand that it was meant to suggest at character growth from Claire herself.

Overall, this was an intriguing mystery, with an unusual motive behind them and some fascinating insights into the mind of the criminal. The ending left me feeling unsatisfied, which was a shame.

Closer Than You Think
Darren O’Sullivan
HQ Digital, 15th March 2019

Monthly Wrap Up: April

Welcome to my first Monthly Wrap Up post!

This month I’ve read a lot of Lee Child, as the promise of his new paperback Past Tense arriving really got me in a nostalgic mood and made me want to re-read some of the early Jack Reacher novels. I’ve always really enjoyed re-reading novels, it’s never been a problem for me. I believe that I always notice something new when I re-read a book, and although it’s not as surprising or exciting the second time round, there’s instead a real fondness for the book and the knowledge that I know I’ll definitely like this book! When I’m really busy, I like to re-read, as it requires less focus and is more relaxing I think. So yes, I read some of Lee Child’s books for the second time and loved them.

I’ve done quite a few blog tours this month which have been fun! It’s nice being a part of a small group, even community, that are all reading, thinking and writing about the same book, even if we don’t necessarily interact directly with each other. I love reading the other reviews on the same blog tour, seeing opinions that differ or match mine, and reading their reasons for this. It’s always so interesting seeing how the same book provokes different reactions in people.

Some of my favourite books this month have been Past Tense, Dead Inside, The Girl in the Painting, My Best Friend’s Secret and If Only I Could Tell You. Looking back at these, I’m surprised that only half are crime/thrillers. This has always been my favourite genre, and I’m sure it always will be, but I’ve really loved getting out my comfort zone a bit more and appreciating other genres.

Check out all my posts from April, and find out which one I picked out as my Book of the Month!:

I kicked off April on the 6th with a Bookouture Blog Tour for My Best Friend’s Secret by Anna Mansell! I thought this was was a fascinating and in-depth look into the lives of 4 different women, showing how they interacted with each other, the complexity of their characters and their lives but it also had a great story linking them all together.

I then did my own review of Past Tense by Lee Child on the 13th, and I mean, I always love the Jack Reacher books, but this was a brilliant, fast-paced and yet slightly unusual story from Child. I really enjoyed this, and would probably read it again!

On the 14th I took part in the Bookouture Blog Tour for The Girl in the Painting by Renita D’Silva. and oh my gosh this was beautiful. It was truly emotive, and I loved the way it linked the past with the present and used the setting to compliment the feelings of the characters.

Next, on the 15th (wow I had a busy week…) I took part in the damppebbles Blog Tour for I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite book of the month – although the story was brilliantly creepy, and it moved pretty quickly, there were moments were it felt a bit far-fetched, but for a slightly different read I would recommend this!

I did yet another Blog Tour for Catch Your Death by Kierney Scott with Bookouture on the 20th! This book has convinced me I want to read the rest of the series – the main character was so stubborn and determined that she almost makes things more difficult for herself, but she’s also incredibly quick-thinking and intelligent, making this book a brilliant read!

I then reviewed Dead Inside by Noelle Holten on the 24th, which I honestly loved. With brilliantly written characters, a real sensitivity and emotion throughout the story, and a satisfying ending, this had it all. I’ll definitely be reading future books in this series.

On the 28th I reviewed If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, which was a really poignant and moving story. The writing is truly beautiful, seriously emotional, and I thought that Beckerman added in just the right amount of suspense and intrigue without taking away from the story.

Finally, I finished off the month with another damppebbles Blog Tour for Fatal Fortune by Miranda Rijks, which I thought was a nicely written, fast-paced mystery with really interesting characters.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

I’ve loved a lot of the books I’ve read this month, which has been great! Although I’m tempted to pick either Past Tense or If Only I Could Tell You as my favourite book of the month I’m actually going to go for The Girl in the Painting! I honestly can’t express how much I loved this, and out of all the books I’ve read this month, it’s the one I’m still thinking about, despite reading it nearer the start of April.

The Swap by Fiona Mitchell

This was a powerful and poignant tale about discovering the real meaning of family, parenthood and love.

Two women. Two children. One swap.
Tess and Annie both went for IVF at the same clinic, at the same time. They both went home with a child, but that child isn’t theirs. Their embryos were mixed up, and they went home with the wrong child.
Three years later they discover the devastating error. Tess wants to swap the children back while Annie doesn’t, so they embark on a hard journey of discovery about themselves, motherhood and family.

*warning: minor spoilers*

I loved this. I thought it was really inspiring and gave a lot of food for thought about what family really means. It makes you consider what it takes to create and build a family, about nature vs nurture and the love a parent has for their child.

Tess was such a painful and heartbreaking character. She had pain and grief etched over her throughout the novel, but it wasn’t clear why until quite far through, and it was emotional to see how much the events of her past have affected her relationship with her children in the present. Her sheer desperation to have a relationship with her daughter who was born to Annie was really intense. It made her so frustrating to read at times, as she made some potentially destructive choices throughout. This, however, is what made her such a ‘real’ character, it’s what made her story so heartbreaking to read and it really intensified her story, gripping the reader even more.

Annie, the other mother affected in this story, seemed to balance on that thin line between judgmental and concerned. At times she was annoying, because she seemed to be assuming things about Tess’ relationship with her son that weren’t completely true – although Mitchell did offer a rather intense and revealing insight into the way that the assumptions Annie made can easily happen. Annie starts to questions the relationship she sees between Tess and Freddie, convincing herself that something isn’t right – yet Mitchell really digs deeps into this to show the various layers and emotions that are involved between Tess and Freddie. Families are incredibly complex, and this book really highlights this in such an effective and emotive way. Apart from this, Annie’s relationship with her daughter Willow was really sweet, yet it was clear that she was being torn apart by the discovery that she actually had a son. In some ways she seemed more vulnerable that Tess, but she turned this into a strength, and coped with the discovery admirably.

The two children themselves were adorable – they seemed unaware of what was happening in their lives and the massive potential changes that were happening, but they also weren’t oblivious. Willow’s obvious distress at times around Tess was sad to see, but completely understandable. Freddie’s anger and frustration really heightened the emotions in various situations, but the times in the book when he was quiet and subdued were even more upsetting to read. They were written so well, especially considering they were in some ways the focus of the novel, despite it being written from the perspective of the mothers.

The journey that the two mothers went on was really insightful. It was such an interesting look at family and motherhood, and I felt the ending was exactly as it should have been. It provided a sense of calm after a truly rocky journey, but at the same time, it hinted at irrevocable change and acceptance that would benefit both mothers and children.

I loved this book, it’s stayed with me long after I read it and would definitely recommend it!

The Swap
Fiona Mitchell
Hodder & Stoughton, 18th April

Dead Inside by Noelle Holten

This was a really emotional and hard-hitting read, with a focus on domestic abuse and the pain it causes while also incorporating elements of a traditional detective mystery.

One by one they’re being killed off. Who’s behind it…?
DC Maggie Jamieson has just joined a new team. Confronted with getting to know her colleagues and trying to solve a brutal murder, she soon finds herself suspecting those she works with and knows well. As the body count rises and links between the victims appear, it’s clear this case is personal.
Soon, Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood’s husband is found dead. Maggie struggles to believe that Lucy could be capable of this, but no other suspects seem to be forthcoming.
Can Maggie solve this and find the truth in time?

This novel really built up the suspense, and despite there being lots of characters to keep track of, they were all written brilliantly. From the genuinely creepy Mick O’Dowd, to the strong-minded Shell Baker, and the trustworthy DC Maggie Jamieson, they were all perfectly written and interacted with each other wonderfully.

There were a lot of different types of relationships to include in this book, which Holten has written with nuance and emotion. Lucy and her husband Patrick were a fascinating but heartbreaking pair, and seeing Lucy’s pain was really hard to read in places. In places it was genuinely upsetting to read, but this is credit to the brilliant and emotive writing. Lucy’s reasoning with herself regarding Patrick’s behaviour and why she stayed was equally hard to read considering her job as Probation Officer, and the logic and determination she showed in that role. She was a perfect main character, with just enough focus on her to show the struggle she was going through, but still with enough focus on the crimes themselves.

The police officers themselves were great. PC Kat Everett was hilarious at times with her swearing, and offered a few light-hearted moments in an otherwise hard-to-read book. Her wild emotions and intense anger were also relatable, as was her colleague Mark’s disgust with the domestic abuse offenders they came across. It was interesting seeing how the officers balanced their personal feelings with their professional duties, and I felt their emotions were portrayed really believably.

Moving on to the actual crimes themselves, it was one of those mysteries that genuinely had me stumped as to who was committing them. I had some theories throughout the book, but it was so cleverly written that I almost didn’t have time to spend being too suspicious of anyone or working it out. There was so much going on, and it was nicely fast-paced, that I honestly didn’t think about who was responsible for the murders at all. Although I wouldn’t say I was totally shocked by who did it, I didn’t feel that this was a negative at all, as it felt like it was more about why they did it, the long-lasting effects that abuse has on people, and the person’s relationship with their past.

I also liked that the ending was sort of split in two (I’m trying not to give too much away…), and it wasn’t a clear wrapping up of all the deaths in one go. Lucy’s fragile state towards the end was devastating, but there was a real sense that her inner strength was still there, and she was definitely a survivor.

This book was brilliantly nuanced and emotive, the crimes themselves were fascinating, but the real depth is in the characters themselves. The writing is so clever, so emotional and just genuinely touching. I loved this, it’s a 5 star read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

BLOG TOUR: Catch Your Death by Kierney Scott

This was fast-paced, electrifying and super intense, and I thought the crime was a brilliantly written mystery.

There were five of them once. Now the others are all dead. And he’s next.
When FBI Agent Jess Bishop gets an urgent and scared phone call in the middle of the night, she sets off to Gracemount Academy, an extremely prestigious school. When she gets there, she finds the body of a young student, who has apparently taken his own life.
But she soon discovers that he’s not the only one. Five students have died within months of each other, all of them good friends.
Fighting her own inner demons from her past, Jess will stop at nothing to uncover the person behind these deaths, putting her own life on the line in the process. How far will she go to save more lives being taken?

Before I start my review, I just want to note that this is part of a series, but I read this as a standalone. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the rest of the series, as there were clearly some intense backstories, but these were more or less explained throughout this novel.

The actual crime itself was truly sinister, and it soon became clear that there were some properly disturbing activities occurring both at the school and beyond it. The whole ‘undercover/secret society’ element of the mystery worked really well, and it just added to the chilling nature of the story. I’ve always loved stuff like this, and I thought that Scott played it perfectly, making it clear what this secret society was, but keeping whether or not it was involved questionable. It made for a really interesting read, as I was desperate to know the link between the deaths, and Scott added in a couple of clever side characters to add in extra layers of suspicion without it becoming ridiculous.

Jess was a fascinating main character. Her determination to succeed goes almost too far, and she’s actually quite frustrating at times for the reader, as she’s extremely stubborn. This, however, is exactly what makes her a brilliant agent, quick on her feet and an intelligent thinker, and her partnership with Jamison was really interesting. Again, there are clearly problems stemming from events in previous novels which would help the reader’s understanding of their relationship, but they’re still a great team. Jamison was a brilliantly stable character, contrasting Jess’s chaotic stubbornness really well, and at times their level of communication between each other was outstanding.

This was a brilliant novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a standalone, but will definitely be going back to read the full series.

The Girl in the Painting by Renita D’Silva

This was such a beautiful and emotive story, and I loved that it reached back into the past while linking with the present.

*spoilers*

India, 1926: English Margaret arrives with her new husband Suraj at his family home, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, the air filled with the soft scent of spices and hibiscus flowers. Margaret is unwelcome, homesick and lonely, but her maid Archana, a young woman from an impoverished family, reminds her of her long-lost sister, a tiny glimpse of home in a faraway place.

England, 2000: Emma is at a crossroads. She has discovered the lie at the heart of her relationship, and she worries over the right choice to make for herself and her beloved daughter. When her grandmother gives her a mysterious painting, and asks her to take a message of forgiveness to an old friend in India, Emma is relieved to have some time and space to make a decision about her future. But as she fulfils her grandmother’s wish, a secret kept for over seventy years is finally revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever…

The characters of Margaret and Archana were so beautifully written and I really enjoyed that their relationship was a slow build rather than immediately jumping in to it. Seeing them as children was really interesting, especially their different fears and secrets growing up. I also liked their different relationships with their siblings – seeing Margaret’s grief over losing her sister and how this plays into her friendship with Archana was truly emotive.

Margaret as a child was a brilliant, inquisitive and headstrong character, and it was fascinating seeing the war and its effects from the perspective of a child. Her development as a person, and D’Silva’s in-depth investigating into her understanding of the world around her was brilliantly written. Contrasting this with Archana’s childhood, her heartbreak over losing her sister and her fear of sati further highlighted the stark differences between the two girls.

The descriptions of England and India were fascinating, and the juxtaposition between the two worked really well, and helped further define the difference between Margaret and Archana. Their lives and cultures were so different and it was fascinating watching Margaret project her own pain onto Archana while failing to understand her at the same time.

The ending of their story was genuinely quite heartbreaking to read. Archana’s desperation to fulfil her duty, even if it meant giving her life, was really touching. Margaret’s twisted version of heroism was understandable but simultaneously frustrating to watch the way she went about it. I loved that the focus of the story was on the relationship between the two women rather than Margaret and her husband Suraj – although it was interesting to read the reactions to their unusual marriage.

The chapters that focused on Emma were a great way to link the past with the present. The difference between her relationship with David and Margaret’s with Suraj highlighted the difference between eras, and I loved seeing the bond between Emma and her grandmother. There was a slight twist at the end which made total sense but I wasn’t expecting, and it really worked well.

I loved this story, and would 100% recommend this to anyone wanting to read something a bit different and really emotive!

Credits:
The Girl in the Painting
Renita D’Silva
Bookouture, 11 April 2019