If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

This was such a powerfully moving story, really emotional and with such beautifully written characters.

*warning, spoilers*

Every family has their secrets. But none so heartbreaking, or emotional, than Audrey’s family.
Audrey’s daughters, Jess and Lily, haven’t spoken to each other in decades. Her teenage granddaughters aren’t allowed to meet. But Audrey is running out of time, and she’s determined to solve the rift between them.
As they each delve into their past, secrets will come out, and the choice that one of them made years ago is about to come out. Can they find happiness as a family again?

This is one of those books that’s going to stay with me long after I read it. It starts with one of those chapters where you know there is a lot being unsaid or left until later, and although it hooks you in, it’s not necessarily the plot itself. The writing is simply beautiful – ‘She does not know it yet, but by the time she gets home this afternoon, the fabric of her family will have been altered irrevocably, and the morning’s events will repeat in her mind like a record stuck under the groove of a needle for the next thirty years’.

How is this not one of the most beautiful sentences? It’s one of those pieces of writing that sticks in your mind, you know exactly the feeling or event behind described, and it will affect anyone who reads it. The rest of the story continues to be written like this, with momentous parts of the book marked by gorgeous similes and metaphors that make complete sense. It’s honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

I really enjoyed how the story flicks between the present and various moments of the past. Audrey, the mother, is a fascinating character, who clearly has stuff from her past that’s holding her back. Her decision not to have chemotherapy to treat her cancer was a difficult part of the novel to read, but I really felt like Beckerman wrote it incredibly sensitively and well. Because Audrey was balancing this with her desire to reunite her daughters, there was a real sense of urgency throughout the novel to uncover the reason for Jess and Lily’s estrangement. This didn’t take away from the story however, and instead played to it perfectly, by highlighting and enhancing the emotions of the characters.

Jess was a very defensive but caring character, protective in her own way but it was clear to the reader that she had some serious trust issues and unresolved feelings holding her back. Her relationship with her daughter was also frustrating because the reader could see how Jess was trying to push her own dreams on her daughter. Jess’ secrecy and unwillingness to trust anyone however, made her a very vulnerable character, with her pain clear to anyone whether she meant it to be or not. Beckerman wrote this character outstandingly, bringing to attention the power of childhood memories and experiences.

Lily was, in some ways, harder to read than Jess as it was clear that her marriage was breaking down and she was in denial about it and that was really hard to watch. She was also a really strong woman, as becomes clearer nearer the end, and was perhaps able to keep her emotions in check better than Jess (not that either way of coping is better or worse). Her ability to maintain patience in the face of hatred and unfriendliness was honestly astonishing, but she was also extremely vulnerable and open to pain.

The mysterious events from the past weren’t revealed until the very end, and I think this worked really well. It allowed the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters rather than focusing too much on the story itself and have it overshadow the characters.

Overall, I truly loved this. It was so poignant, beautifully and deeply moving, with really human and relatable characters. I would recommend this to anyone, it’s a 5 star read.

If Only I Could Tell You
Hannah Beckerman
Orion, 21st Feb 2019

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 Foyles Bookshop Girls by Elaine Roberts

This was a heart-warming yet emotional story about three girls who lives are touched by the war, and demonstrates real depth in representing their reactions to it.

London, 1914: one ordinary day, three girls arrive for work at London’s renowned Foyles bookshop. But when war with Germany is declared their lives will never be the same again…
Alice has always been the ‘sensible’ one in her family – especially in comparison with her suffrage-supporting sister! But decidedly against her father’s wishes, she accepts a job at Foyles Bookshop; and for bookworm Alice it’s a dream come true.
But with the country at war, Alice’s happy world is shattered in an instant. Determined to do what she can, Alice works in the bookshop by day, and risks her own life driving an ambulance around bomb-ravaged London by night. But however busy she keeps herself, she can’t help but think of the constant danger those she loves are facing on the frontline…

I really enjoyed how these three women were represented. It was great to see them as strong independent women but it didn’t go too far and still stayed in context of the time it was set. All of them had jobs and their own struggles to deal with, and they were written so well.

Alice was definitely my favourite character – she was stronger than she realised and I really warmed to her as she had such a kind heart, but her tendency to overly worry definitely resonated with me! She was quietly insistent that she work at Foyles and as an ambulance driver, and I enjoyed this quiet rebellion against her father more than her sister Lily’s outright anger. Lily was still a brilliant character, providing the perfect counterpart to Alice’s more sensible persona, and her confidence at standing up to her father and doing whatever she wanted was great to read. The two girls represent perfectly that time when the suffragette movement was taking off, and the ways in which different women dealt with it. Despite Alice not being so outspoken about it and not attending the same rallies that Lily did, her whole being generally radiated a confidence and belief in change, and parts of the book, such as her discussion with Freddie, cement this further.

Alice’s relationship with Freddie was simply lovely. They were the couple that everyone wants to be but without being too sickly sweet. They were super cute, and his love for her was so obvious. Her struggle while he was away at war, and watching her deal with highs and lows by herself for fear of worrying him was really emotional, and I spent most of the book wishing for him to return and surprise her.

Luke, Alice’s father, was a fascinating character. His bitterness and unhappiness was so evident, but the cause of it was fairly unclear for ages into the book. His sudden shock into reality was emotional to follow, but also interesting to see his reaction to the realities of war. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to understand or care about the reactions of his family to his actions and comments but gradually throughout the book he is more and more understood and changed.

The other two girls, Victoria and Molly, were a great balance to Alice. Victoria’s grief at losing her parents and her struggle to maintain the house and a good life for her siblings was very hard to imagine, but Roberts wrote the situation beautifully. It was also interesting to read how Alice tried to help Victoria, and it was easy to see how the two girls clashed – it’s a hard situation to navigate, and it was understandable why Victoria didn’t want Alice’s help, so I thought that Roberts wrote this in a really realistic way. Molly was so much fun, her relationship with Tony was again a very realistic situation to be in, but it was interesting watching her inner conflict when it came to him.

I honestly loved this book so much, I felt it was realistic and heart-warming and I always enjoy books that are set during a war period but not directly about war. I love seeing the effect it has on people trying to live their normal lives, and overall it was a beautifully written book.

Credits:
The Foyle Bookshop Girls
Elaine Roberts
Aria, 1st June 2018

No-one Ever Has Sex at a Wedding by Tracy Bloom

I have FINALLY read a book that isn’t crime or thriller and oh boy it was fun! I loved this book, with a brilliant, heart-warming story and characters that work really well together.

In Katy’s opinion, weddings should follow some basic rules:
1) No-one should ever have sex. Of course. The married couple has the rest of their lives for that, and the guests should be too busy partying.
2) If you are heavily pregnant (as Katy is) you should obviously not be invited to three weddings in the space of one summer. Your husband’s accident-prone best friend, your attention-seeking colleague, your 73-year-old mother’s marriage to her Spanish toy boy – all without even an alcoholic drink to make them bearable.
3) During the speeches, it should not be revealed that you had a secret one-night-stand with one of the other guests.
4) Instead of laying bets on the length of the best man’s speech, guests should not be laying bets on whether a marriage will be in ruins before the end of the meal…
But this summer, Katy is lucky enough to be the special guest at the weddings that break ALL of the rules. What could possibly go wrong?

This funny, heart-warming story was a really enjoyable read, and a great exploration into relationships and the different ways to navigate love and marriage.

I liked that it didn’t purely focus on one main character – although Katy is the focus, there was enough time spent on Matthew and Ben to make the story really interesting. It was fast-paced, which I enjoyed and didn’t necessarily expect in a humorous romantic novel!

The novel starts with the marriage of Braindead (Craig) and Abby, and although at first I was a bit unsure about one of the characters having such a random nickname, it soon all made sense as he proved himself to be a brilliantly hilarious yet emotional character. His seriousness about his marriage being valid, while completely illogical, was genuinely quite sweet, and it was a great setting to start the novel off with. His ridiculous speech, which lets slip the revelation that Katy and Matthew have slept together years previously, sets off a chain of events that has elements of real anguish and heartbreak but also shows the funny side of navigating marriages.

Katy and Ben’s relationship is a sweet examination of how one couple doesn’t let a mistake years previous ruin their relationship, and in one speech by Ben he articulates this very well. It’s interesting, and sometimes awkwardly hilarious, watching the two of them navigate the fact that no one will let Katy’s one-night stand go. Katy herself is a great character, finding herself put into awkward situations, and having an element of ‘real-ness’ about her. Her jealousy about the friendship between her best friend Daniel and gorgeous model Erica is very relatable, and her humorous asides and inside thoughts are really witty.

Watching Matthew and Alison’s relationship is a more realistic look into the highs and lows of a marriage, and Matthew’s slow realisation as to the extent of the situation is really quite sad. However, because the book is very fast-paced, there wasn’t too much dwelling on this, and Daniel really livens up the situation. His flamboyant and bold personality contrasts really well with Matthew. Daniel’s grand gesture at the end of the novel represents development for both Matthew and Daniel and it’s really sweet to watch.

I really enjoyed this novel, and would 100% recommend this to anyone looking for a quick, fun and amusing read!

Credits:
No-one Ever Has Sex at a Wedding
Tracy Bloom
Bookouture, 29th March 2019

Keep Her Close by M. J. Ford

This was a brilliant, compulsive thriller, that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

When a young girl goes missing from an Oxford College, DI Josie Masters is on a race against time to find her. However, when more kidnappers happen, unforeseen connections begin to appear…

I loved this novel – it was a great detective mystery, and I was genuinely clueless at the beginning as to who it could be. The links between the kidnappings were so unclear at first, and there were a lot of dead ends and red herrings, which made for very suspenseful reading.

Towards the end, I started to get suspicious of one particular character, and although I guessed right (so pleased with myself), I could NOT have predicted the reason for their actions!! It was so shocking, and although it was hinted at, it was subtle enough to not be remembered and to come as a complete surprise. It was a truly great twist. I loved the connections with the past and the present, and there were real depths of cunning and true human heartbreak required to carry through with this crime.

I loved the characters in this novel – Josie Masters was brilliantly written, her battle with her past and her demons delicately interwoven into the story to make a really complex case. DS Jack Pryce was a great addition, and their relationship as both colleagues and friends was super interesting to watch.

I loved the style of writing, it was both detailed and fast paced, and it really kept me on tenterhooks to find out what happened. Truly brilliant, and I seriously can’t emphasise how much I loved the ending!

Credits:
Keep Her Close
M. J. Ford
Avon Books UK, 07 March 2019

Where No Shadows Fall by Peter Ritchie

If I’m honest, I found this quite difficult to get through. The story was quite bitty and disjointed, and required serious concentration to understand all the nuances.

The beginning of the story was quite slow, focusing on the death of a young man and the fate of the man that goes down for it – there was just a lot of establishing various relationships, and I just wanted the story to get going a bit quicker than it was.

At the same time, the fact that it was quite complicated did mean that getting to the end and the reveal was rewarding, and gave a real sense of satisfaction, but it wasn’t for me.

I’m not a fan of only using surnames in a novel, as it depersonalises the characters for me and I find it hard to connect – it also didn’t help that a lot of the surnames were similar, so the fact that Ritchie chose to use these was slightly confusing at times.

There were a LOT of characters in this – in some ways this was brilliant, as it kept the reader on their toes, and it was difficult to guess at who did what. However, what I found was that this led to an anticlimax at the end – so much time had been spent on all the characters, that the mystery of the crime itself became less important.

There was also an odd side story that never really found its feet, and its only real purpose seemed to be to build up to an unexpected death – I do understand that it gave the reader quite a shock for a few pages, but I was expecting something really shocking to happen, which never really took off.

This could have been really great, as it was an intriguing gang-related mystery but it never really found its feet for me. I have seen some brilliant reviews of this novel however, so if you’re prepared to fully invest yourself in this I think it would really pay off.

Credits:
Where No Shadows Fall
Peter Ritchie
Black & White Publishing, 07th Feb 2019