Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar

This is such a gripping book, with characters that aren’t what you expect them to be and a story that’s genuinely quite horrifying at times.

Meg and her daughter Grace are the most beloved family in Ashford, the lynchpin that holds the community together.
So when Meg is found brutally murdered and her daughter missing, the town is rocked by the crime. Not least because Grace has been sick for years – and may only have days to live.
Who would murder a mother who sacrificed everything, and take a teenager away from the medication that could save her life? Everyone is searching for an answer, but sometimes the truth can kill you . . .

If anyone knows what real-life story this book is based on, then you’ll know roughly what to expect from this. If not, you’re in for a great read! This book is definitely not what you expect, with a brilliant hook that just builds the suspense throughout.

The characters in this are really varied, from Cara to Jon, who are determined to uncover the truth, to Grace herself, and all the others who become involved throughout. I felt like I was able to engage with all of them and that they all brought something to the story. Each person added a layer of mystery and intrigue and I loved how it all came together to add to the final story.

I think that the general pace of this was great, perhaps as I realised what was happening early on I kind of knew what to expect so was waiting for the reveal but the writing was excellent so this didn’t matter too much. It was the bit after the reveal that I was looking forward to and it was fast-paced, full of action with some really chilling moments.

This book is also a great examination of moral obligation, with feelings of guilt running the whole way throughout the story. It really looks deeply into how the other characters feel about Grace and her story and the way they feel about their own role in it. It’s fascinating at times and this is the element of the book that I really enjoyed. It’s a great book, but where the excellence really lies is in the investigation into the morals and feelings of the characters involved. I’d definitely recommend this as a chilling, character-driven book.

Grace is Gone
Emily Elgar
Sphere, 20th Feb 2020

BLOG TOUR: Conviction by Denise Mina

This is unique, chilling and fascinating thriller, with a strong and independent female lead who I absolutely loved.

It’s just a normal morning when Anna’s husband announces that he’s leaving her for her best friend and taking their two daughters with him.
With her safe, comfortable world shattered, Anna distracts herself with someone else’s story: a true-crime podcast. That is until she recognises the name of one of the victims and becomes convinced that only she knows what really happened.
With nothing left to lose, she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, Anna’s past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

The style of writing in this book is so unique, it drew me in right from the start. It’s blunt, bizarrely honest and at times feels fragmented when it follows Anna’s real-time thoughts, but I loved it. It was different, but the slightly jarring effect was actually very captivating. It was this that hooked me in to this book before the plot even got going.

What drew me to this book in the first place was the concept of the podcast being the catalyst. The way this was executed within the book was excellent, as the plot didn’t rely too heavily on the podcast but used it as very gripping starting point. Mina gave just enough of a link between the podcast and Anna to keep me curious throughout, without giving away too many of the precise details as to why they were linked. The tension just kept building, and even though the story was a little bit out there, it was just fantastic. The way it was written from Anna’s blunt and unapologetic perspective made it so believable that I never stopped to question what was happening, I just enjoyed reading it.

As we got nearer to the end I was honestly starting to wonder if we were ever going to find out the truth – Mina kept it going right up until the very end. Surprisingly it didn’t drag at all, and instead I found myself desperately turning the pages as I had to find out what happened. I was genuinely shocked, and although I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that this was one of those endings where it just crept up on me and I was left totally shocked. The way that Mina writes keeps the reader totally focused on the main thread of the story, leaving you blind-sided when she reveals something that should have been obvious.

I honestly absolutely loved this. It was deliciously creepy, twisty throughout and full of suspense with a very strong female lead character. If this isn’t on your list to read, it should be now.

Conviction
Denise Mina
Vintage, 20th February 2020

The Neighbours by Nicola Gill

This is such a cute, feel-good story, that everyone who likes strong and funny characters will enjoy. Warning – spoilers in the review below

Meet Ginny, 34, and Cassie, 55. Neighbours, and (very) unlikely friends.
Some women have it all. Others are thirty-four and rent a tiny flat alone because they recently found their long-term boyfriend in bed with their boss. Ginny Taylor is certain her life can’t get any worse. But then she meets her downstairs neighbour…
Cassie Frost was once a beloved actress, but after a recent mishap she desperately needs a new publicist. And Ginny is a publicist who desperately needs a job – but can she be persuaded to work for the prickly woman who lives below her floorboards?
Ginny and Cassie are two very different women, but they have more in common than they’d care to imagine (or admit). And when their worlds collide, they realise that bad neighbours could become good friends…

This is such an amusing, and in some ways lighthearted book, that everyone would enjoy. The two characters, Ginny and Cassie, are such an excellent pairing and they compliment each other perfectly. I found them really funny at times but other times it was very touching. The way that the two women come together at the beginning is really sweet – neither one is totally happy, and they’re both going through what could be called a rough patch. This is what bonds them and some of the things they get up to together are really hilarious and relatable. I loved seeing them progress and change together, but it was also heartbreaking at times to watch them go through difficult times.

This book really helps the reader connect with the characters, I felt really bonded them and this meant that the story held a lot more emotion than normal. I was with Ginny and Cassie through all the good and bad bits and so I was hooked throughout. This book is special because it takes issues or experiences that the reader can relate to and manages to express those emotions really well, while also injecting a little bit of comedy to lift the tone when needed. I thought it was done very tastefully and really would recommend this to anyone who wants to read something that tackles topics like mental health, love and friendship in a way that’s very easy to read and follow.

The way that Ginny dealt with Cassie’s depression later on in the book was very human and real – it wasn’t perfect by any means, but that’s what made it realistic. There were times when Ginny handled things badly, but the effort was made to point out why it was unhelpful and how she could do better. I thought this aspect of the book was great and made it really emotional at times. There are events that are difficult to read, and so perhaps for this reason I would say there’s a content warning for mental health, but I really thought it was done well, considering the genre of this book. Despite the comedic moments, there are times when this book has elements of such piercing honesty and seriousness, that it almost took me by surprise. Cassie’s good and bad days are written in such an honest and straightforward way that it definitely has an element of real-ness to it that makes it very readable.

The actual story is also excellent, it has the right amount of ups and downs, with a dash of comedy and a bit of heartbreak, but that’s why it works so well. The ending was wonderful, I finished the book feeling very satisfied and happy, which is exactly how I wanted to feel. After a rocky journey, I was left feeling genuinely delighted for both women and was really sad to finish this. This is a definite must-read for me as I loved every second.

The Neighbours
Nicola Gill
Avon, 6th Feb 2020

BLOG TOUR: The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

This is a heart-warming story that goes deep into the thoughts and lives of the characters.

Welcome to the café that never sleeps.
Day and night, Stella’s Café opens its doors to the lonely and the lost, the m
orning people and the night owls. It’s a place where everyone is always welcome, where life can wait at the door.
Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They love working at Stella’s – the different people they meet, the small kindnesses exchanged. But is it time to step outside and make their own way in life?

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café, where one day might just be enough to change your life . . .

I love character-driven novels and this book was exactly it. Both Hannah and Mona were very realistic women, driven by their dreams but starting to recognise the struggles and realities of life. It focuses on a 24-hour period in Stella’s cafe, but there are flashbacks to the past as both girls remember and reminisce about key moments, both happy and sad. It becomes quite emotional at times, but also interesting to see both sides of the same events.

The book is not totally focused just on the two women however, as there are other characters who come in to the cafe throughout the novel. The reader gets to see glimpses of their lives as well, from the poverty-stricken student, the elderly couple, or the magazine seller outside. It’s fascinating and wonderful to see the thoughts and lives of so many different kinds of people. Some are extremely touching, but throughout there is a sense of realness to the people. There are also some beautifully written sections about dreams, the future and in these sections there is some truly emotive and gorgeous writing. It evokes a sense of passion in the reader as well, making them want to achieve their own goals and dreams as well. I loved these parts of the book and they also managed to break up the heavy emotions of each person as well.

The ending is simply beautiful. It brings back some wonderful links to the characters we see throughout the book, in a genuine and touching way. Within just a few pages, the last chapter manages to highlights the ups and downs that life can bring and it’s honestly just brilliant writing. It left me feeling satisfied and happy after a book that had brought me such a range of emotions.

The stand-out for me from this novel is simply the writing itself. It’s emotive, realistic, touching and truly genuine. I loved this and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys character-focused writing.

The 24 Hour Cafe
Libby Page
Orion, 23rd January 2020

The Perfect Sister by Sheryl Browne

This was a gripping psychological thriller, with characters that were hard to predict and left the reader guessing until the end.

Claire always wished for a sister. But should you be careful what you wish for?
Claire has spent her whole marriage trying to be the perfect wife and mother – supporting her husband as he goes for promotions and always making sure she’s there to tuck her daughter into bed each night. But little does she know that almost everyone around her has been keeping secrets that could ruin the life she’s worked so hard to create.
Growing up with warring parents and an often absent father, Claire has always wanted to give her daughter Ella the dream childhood she wishes she’d had. So, when she discovers her husband Luke has been having an affair, Claire is left wondering how she can possibly keep her daughter’s world from crumbling.

Then Claire receives a text message from someone called Sophie that simply reads – ‘You don’t know me, but I’m your sister’. At first, she’s shocked. And Sophie’s appearance raises questions Claire would like to put to her elderly father before it’s too late. But as she gets to know Sophie – who is so like her in so many ways – she can’t help but be delighted to finally have the sibling she always dreamed of.
As the two women become inseparable, Claire leans on her new sister more and more, ultimately asking her to move into the family home and trusting her with Ella. But when the unthinkable happens and Claire fears for her daughter’s life, she starts to wonder whether her new sister is exactly who she says she is.
One thing Claire knows is that telling the perfect lie seems to run in the family.

I really enjoyed this – right from the start Claire was difficult to read. Despite most of the chapters being from her perspective, I constantly felt as if there was something about her being hidden. She was intriguing and it hooked me from the start. Although most of the chapters are from her perspective, we do get some from her husband Luke, her half-sister Sophie and a couple of others, which makes it absolutely fascinating as we get to see glimpses, but not too much, into the thought processes of the other characters.

There are mysteries in this book right from the beginning – everyone seems to be keeping some kind of secret, whether it’s big or small. It’s really clever as it stops the reader from guessing too much about the plot and kept me hooked throughout. Sophie is particularly fascinating and the chapters from her perspective don’t make it much clearer. She does seem suspicious throughout and I loved the way that Browne wrote her without giving too much away.

It’s a fairly fast-paced plot and the odd chapter that is from someone else’s view, such as Claire’s father or her best friend, helps to keep the pace moving even more. It breaks up in a way that builds the intrigue without disturbing the flow of the book.

Sheryl Browne’s books are always great, but if you want a really gripping psychological thriller, then this is the one for you without a doubt.

Family Secret
Sheryl Browne
Bookouture, 29th Jan 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Day That Changed Everything by Catherine Miller

This is a heart-warming and emotional story exploring the meaning of family and motherhood.

When you lose the love of your life, how do you find yourself again?For Tabitha, the day that changed everything started like any other.
She woke up, slid her feet into fluffy slippers, wrapped herself in a dressing gown and tiptoed out of her bedroom, leaving her husband Andy sleeping. Downstairs, she boiled the kettle and enjoyed a cup of tea as the sun rose.
Upstairs, Andy’s alarm sounded, and Tabitha took him a freshly brewed coffee, like every other morning. Except today, the incessant beeping rang out and her husband hadn’t stirred. She called his name, she nudged his shoulder. But Andy wouldn’t wake up.
Three years later Tabitha is trying her hardest to get by in the shadow of her grief. She may have lost the love of her life but she won’t give up on the family they dreamed of. Fostering troublesome teenage girls and a newborn baby is a chance to piece together her broken heart.
But being a mother isn’t easy, and neither is healing the heartache she carries around. After losing everything, could saving these three children help Tabitha save herself too?

I really enjoyed how this book explores the meaning and importance of family through the eyes of Tabitha and the girls she fosters. Tabitha herself is the key to this story, starting from the devastating moment she discovers her husband has died. It’s truly heartbreaking and the emotion pours out the page. The story flashes back and forward between two timelines. It focuses on the time directly after her husband’s death and a couple of years after when she starts fostering. It gives the reader a better idea of her character development and allows us to really connect with Tabitha as we see her progress.

The writing throughout is really beautiful at times, but it’s what I’d expect from Miller, who’s novel 99 Days With You I absolutely adored. It’s emotive, passionate, devastating at times and she writes everything that Tabitha feels so well. It’s a brilliant exploration into human emotions.

The two teenagers that Tabitha fosters, Syd and Max, are an excellent addition to Tabitha’s life. They are funny, stroppy, typical teenagers, but they are also genuinely struggling with their own emotions and experiences. The way that Miller manages to get this across without writing from the perspective of the twins is truly excellent.

This is a book less about a dramatic storyline and more about the characters and themes. I would highly recommend this for someone who wants to lose themselves in a character-driven, emotional and well-written book.

The Day That Changed Everything
Catherine Miller
Bookouture, 17th Jan 2020

Followers by Megan Angelo

I felt this was a really interesting concept and I was drawn to this book by the excellent marketing and cover design, but the plot was let down by a rushed ending and lack of action.

When everyone is watching you can run, but you can’t hide…
2051. Marlow and her mother, Floss, have been handpicked to live their lives on camera, in the closed community of Constellation.
Unlike her mother, who adores the spotlight, Marlow hates having her every move judged by a national audience.
But she isn’t brave enough to escape until she discovers a shattering secret about her birth.
Now she must unravel the truth around her own history in a terrifying race against time…

Okay, the first thing I’m going to say about this, is that I don’t feel the description matches the book very well. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘terrifying race against time’, but more of a deeper investigation into technology and social media as well as the human psyche. I felt a bit let down by this, as I was expecting the ending to be much more explosive than it actually was.

But if we start from the beginning, then it really did show a lot of promise. *Spoiler alert* – this book is not only set in 2051, but also has sections that go back to 2016. This was a great exploration of the vast differences between the different timelines, and the different women at the centre of each timeline. The contrasts are huge – 2016 is the world as we know it today, but 2051 is a reasonably scary place where Marlow is being watched 24/7 by her dedicated followers. It’s a great concept, like a much more extreme version of the tv show Big Brother. Phones have disappeared, to be replaced by ‘devices’ which seem to be implanted in each person and speak to them inside their brain. I liked this element of it as it felt like it could almost be our future.

Orla is the woman based in 2016, and her storyline focused much more on her life than the technology side of it, so I did like this contrast between the two. However, I felt that Orla’s story became quite predictable, and some of the twists weren’t that surprising and I’d figured them out earlier in the book. It felt a little underwhelming because of this.

I wouldn’t have minded the predictability of the book if the ending had been good, but I felt majorly let down. It was nowhere near as tense as I thought it would be – maybe that’s because I was hoping for some sort of revolution, when it was actually much more personal and centred about Marlow and Orla’s lives. Another thing I didn’t like is that the ending went on a fast-forward, and sped through what would happen to Marlow and Orla over the next few years, which felt like a weird attempt at a happy-ever-after in a book that wasn’t suited to that kind of ending at all.

I feel sad that this book wasn’t what I thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean I hated the entire thing. I liked the exploration of Marlow and Orla’s lives and personalities, and thought the technology aspect was well thought-out and described as well. I just didn’t like the ending, and felt that the pace of action was slow throughout and then sped up bizarrely at the end.

Followers
Megan Angelo
HQ, 9th January 2020

The Other Daughter by Shalini Boland

This was extremely intriguing, fast-paced, with a brilliant ending.

Nine years ago her daughter was taken.
And now she’s back. Two-and-a-half-year-old Holly is playing happily in a pink plastic playhouse, while her mother Rachel sips coffee and chats with a friend nearby. It should be an ordinary day for all of them. But, in the blink of an eye, it turns into every family’s worst nightmare.
Holly is taken by a stranger and never found.
Nine years later, Rachel is living a quiet life in Dorset. She’s tried to keep things together since the traumatic day when she lost her eldest daughter. She has a new family, a loving partner and her secrets are locked away in her painful past.
Until one afternoon when Rachel meets a new school parent Kate and her teenage daughter Bella. Rachel’s world is instantly turned upside down – she’s seen Bella before. She’d recognise that face anywhere – it’s her missing child.
And she will stop at nothing to get her back…

This was such an emotional novel which really tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. When the two-year-old Holly is kidnapped it’s chilling, but even more so because we see it happen from the perspective of the kidnapper. It’s devastating to watch and genuinely quite disturbing to see the logic of the kidnapper, but it’s unique for sure.

The book then moves on to the perspective of Rachel, who becomes obsessed with a child she sees who would be the same age her daughter would be. Again, watching her slowly unravel has quite a chilling undertone to it. For some reason there are elements which were seriously creepy, but others where I totally understood why she was doing what she was doing. Watching the development of Rachel’s character became more and more intriguing, and the ending was particularly revealing and fascinating. It’s also great to see bits of the impacts it has on the other family involved, as it really adds to the whole suspense of the novel.

I really liked the contrast between the past and the present as the differing tones made the book really fast-paced. The flashbacks into the past could be especially chilling and slowly the mystery of what happened to the child was revealed. It was quick, unnerving and the characters were brilliantly written. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a great thriller to read and Boland’s books are always enjoyable.

The Other Daughter
Shalini Boland
Bookouture, 5th November 2019

Safe House by Jo Jakeman

Full of mystery, suspense and a stormy setting, this book is intriguing throughout.

The morning after a terrible storm, a woman turns up in a remote Cornish village. She calls herself Charlie, but it’s a name she’s only had for a few days. She keeps herself to herself, reluctant to integrate with the locals. Because Charlie has a secret.
Charlie was in prison for providing a false alibi for a murderer. But Lee Fisher wasn’t a murderer to her; he was the man she loved. Convinced of his innocence, Charlie said she was with him the night a young woman was killed. This sacrifice cost her everything.
And now she has a chance to start again. But someone is watching her, waiting for her, wondering if she’s really paid the price for what she did.

This is not your normal thriller – this is a thriller with a domestic drama feel to it and it really keeps you hooked throughout. Charlie’s flashbacks and memories of the past played strongly on domestic themes and the reader was made to feel really conflicted about Charlie herself. It was clever writing at times, making the reader question how they felt about Charlie.

The plot is fast-paced and tricky to predict – with lots of new characters being introduced and the finger of suspicion being pointed at all of them, there are times when it’s hard to guess who is behind the mysterious things that keep happening to Charlie. All the characters bring something to the story, there’s not one person who seems to be involved for the sake of it. Each person helps deflect suspicion, leaving the reader confused and curious right until the last minute.

I thought the ending was built up perfectly, with a nice storm to go alongside the suspense and emotions that Charlie was feeling. It was one of those chapters you just have to finish, and left the reader feeling satisfied by the end. The whole way through Charlie’s character and choices was described brilliantly, making the reader feel a connection with her right until the end and I loved the parts that delved into her past. It made the ending mean even more and overall everything tied in together nicely.

This is the perfect book to blend the genres of thriller and domestic drama together, with great characters and a plot full of suspense. I was hooked throughout and would recommend this to anyone.

Safe House
Jo Jakeman
Vintage, 31st October 2019

Bookish Bites: Secret Service by Tom Bradby

To those who don’t really know her, Kate Henderson’s life must seem perfectly ordinary. But she is in fact a senior MI6 officer, who right now is nursing the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb. While heading up the Russia Desk of the Secret Intelligent Service, one of Kate’s undercover operations has revealed some alarming evidence. Evidence that a senior UK politician is a high level Russian informer.
Determined to find out who it is, Kate must risk everything to get to the truth. Until a young woman is brutally murdered as a consequence, which puts Kate and her team under the spotlight.
With blood on her hands, her reputation to uphold, her family hanging by a thread and a leadership election looming, Kate is quickly running out of options and out of time
.

Loved Kate, the main character in this. She was tenacious, determined and a really likeable female lead.

Disliked the fact that the beginning took a little while to get into – but after a few chapters I started to really enjoy it.

Favourite moment? The ending – it sounds like the obvious choice but it wrapped up everything plot and sub-plot happening throughout the book. It combined elements of the spy, domestic and mystery genres to create a tense ending with a big reveal.

Favourite character? Kate! It was refreshing to read an action-packed MI6 novel like this with a really strong and well-balanced female lead, especially in a genre which is dominated by male characters.

Final comments? This was a fast-paced, action-packed but unusual spy/crime novel. It had brilliant characters and a plot that really picked up the pace. This has something that would appeal to anyone, so I’d definitely recommend it.

Secret Service
Tom Bradby
Atlantic Press, 5th November 2019

BLOG TOUR: All The Wrong Places by Joy Fielding

This was fast-paced, full of suspense and with a chilling mystery character.

You always know who you’re meeting online . . . don’t you?
Four women decide to explore online dating, downloading an app that promises they will swipe their way to love and happiness.
But not everyone is who they seem online. Hidden behind a perfect smile and charming humour, one man appears to be the perfect date. But the night he has planned is unlike any other.
The clock is ticking, and for one woman, this date might just be her last . .
.

I really liked the characters in this, I felt that Paige was definitely likeable to the reader, even if she was a little bit perfect! I think she was written excellently, because it meant when she did break out of her perfect little bubble, her emotions and choices were all the more impactful because it was so different for her. Chloe’s story was again particularly emotional to read – it hit quite deep for the reader to see her going through a difficult marriage, and the ending definitely took me by surprise.

I personally loved Joan, Paige’s mother – what a brilliant and confident woman! She was funny, bold and not afraid to be herself, and I personally loved seeing her character development throughout. Heather was actually quite a tragic character, as in the struggles she faced were not so obvious on the outside, but as the book revealed more about her life I felt quite sad for her. For me, this focus on the four women blended the best bits of both thriller and women’s fiction.

The chapters written from the perspective of the killer were genuinely chilling… His thought process and his ability to switch personas and stories was definitely quite terrifying. As his plan becomes clearer throughout the book, the tensions rises and the pace quickens as well. It’s a real rollercoaster and I was hooked throughout.

The ending really does just happen so quickly there’s barely time to blink. I loved this, as there’s so much that happens that among all the action there is a sinister build up to something else. I only saw it coming at the last minute, and honestly I thought the ending was great. A very sinister ending to a book that gave chills throughout.

All The Wrong Places
Joy Fielding
Zaffre, 12 December 2019

BLOG TOUR: What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross

I read this in one day, desperate to finish it, and genuinely almost missed my train stop!

Jenny Bowen is going home. Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper, all she wants to do is forget about her upcoming divorce and relax on the ten-hour journey through the night.
In her search for her cabin, Jenny helps a panicked woman with a young girl she assumes to be her daughter. Then she finds her compartment and falls straight to sleep.
Waking in the night, Jenny discovers the woman dead in her cabin … but there’s no sign of the little girl. The train company have no record of a child being booked on the train, and CCTV shows the dead woman boarding alone.
The police don’t believe Jenny, and soon she tries to put the incident out of her head and tells herself that everyone else is right: she must have imagined the little girl.
But deep down, she knows that isn’t the truth.

What a book. I was so hooked on this! I felt that the start had just the perfect pacing – it was both slow enough to make me want to carry on but fast enough to keep my attention.

This is the kind of book where you never know what’s going to happen. Every chapter held something unexpected, and there were points where I was genuinely shocked that certain things actually happened. There are lots of twists and turns, but I liked that there are different character perspectives for the same events, so the reader gets a glimpse into both sides of the story. It’s genuinely sinister at times, sometimes scary and the writing is superb. The descriptions are so vivid that I felt really engaged throughout, I could really imagine and feel what was happening in the story, which is partly why I was so gripped by it throughout.

Jenny was a great main character. Clearly inexperienced, but ultimately super determined, I was always confident that she was going to get what she wanted eventually. It was a very rocky journey, and perhaps didn’t turn out the way I expected, but it was so so good. It wasn’t always realistic, but I find the most gripping thrillers and crime novels never are, so it worked really really well I felt. The plot was always unpredictable, helping to keep the reader engaged throughout.

After such a highly charged book, the ending was really emotionally satisfying and gave me exactly what I wanted. It’s not often a book hooks me as much as this one did, so I would highly recommend it.