Keep Him Close by Emily Koch

Experiencing the same event from two points of view, this books pulls at the heartstrings of the reader with an excellently written crime at the centre of everything.

ONE SON LIED. ONE SON DIED.
Alice’s son is dead. Indigo’s son is accused of murder.
Indigo is determined to prove her beloved Kane is innocent. Searching for evidence, she is helped by a kind stranger who takes an interest in her situation. Little does she know that her new friend has her own agenda.
Alice can’t tell Indigo who she really is. She wants to understand why her son was killed – and she needs to make sure that Indigo’s efforts to free Kane don’t put her remaining family at risk. But how long will it take for Indigo to discover her identity? And what other secrets will come out as she digs deeper?
No one knows a son like his mother. But neither Alice nor Indigo know the whole truth about their boys, and what happened between them on that fateful night.

Alice and Indigo offer different sides of the same tragedy – one’s son confesses to murdering the other. It’s devastating for both women and this story follows the impact this crime has on both of them. It combines all the best bits of the drama and crime genres, with an element of psychological investigation incorporated as well.

Alice’s uptight, unemotional reaction is hard to connect to at times, but Indigo’s out-of-touch nature is just as alien in some ways, so it’s fascinating for the reader to watch how these two unusual women cope with what’s happening around them. The plot soon turns from the tragedy of the death of one of the boys, to solving the mystery of what really happened on that night.

It’s not an overly fast-paced novel, but it works because of that. What is left is plenty of time to investigate the emotions of the two women and delve into their different personalities and characters. It’s a wonderfully written psychological investigation, with powerful and touching emotions being demonstrated throughout from both women. I felt that Koch incorporated brilliant elements of toughness, devastation, genuine sadness and a touch of female independent strength.

For a novel that has drama, intrigue, mystery and plenty of emotion, this is the book you need. It really is fascinating and the mystery is more than enough to keep the reader hooked by itself so the emotional investigation is an added bonus that made me feel more connected to the characters.

Keep Him Close
Emily Koch
Vintage, 19th March 2020

The Holdout by Graham Moore

This book had a brilliant concept, strong characters and a very engaging way of writing.

One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?
‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’
Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.
Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.
Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.
The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

What I loved about this was the way the chapters focused on Maya, but divided it up by going back ten years ago with each divide focusing on a different juror. Gradually throughout the book we got to see the thoughts of each juror and why they voted ‘Not Guilty’. It was so fascinating to see and I really liked this view into the minds of each juror.

This was a very fast-paced book, with the plot moving quickly and the writing easy to follow. I love it when a book is easy to read, it makes it easier for me to engage with the story and stayed hooked on the book. This was one of those books, it was clear and concise, descriptive when needed and really kept me gripped. The chapters are also clearly titled so I always knew who was at the centre of which chapter and which year we were in, so it was just excellently written.

The plot itself was also fantastic. It really investigated the moral roles of the jurors involved and how they had been affected by their decision to rule ‘Not Guilty’. Maya, the main character, was very self aware throughout and able to dissect her feelings so the reader can easily feel connected to her. I was with Maya the whole way through, urging her to find out the truth and discover what happened, frustrated when she struggled and elated when she uncovered more and more. It was up and down throughout and I was kept guessing right until the end.

The ending was a surprise but I think it was always going to be because of how the plot worked. The constant back and forth meant that it was easy to follow but hard to get close to any character other than Maya so I wasn’t able to guess who was at fault. The moral side of this book was excellently written, with no black and white answer available. Every person has their own moral limit and this book highlighted this very clearly.

I loved this, it was such a great book and so brilliantly written. The characters were all excellent, the plot different and unique and the pace was perfect.

The Holdout
Graham Moore
Orion, 18th Feb 2020

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