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Welsh Annie (Wetherby)

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I Let You Go
I Let You Go
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly excellent thriller, 14 April 2015
This review is from: I Let You Go (Kindle Edition)
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh has been available as a Kindle download since November, but is due for publication as a paperback (published by Sphere) on 7th May. People have been talking about it so much online that I really thought it really was time I read it - I enjoy a good thriller, and it looked like this one would fit the bill.

I went out for lunch on Sunday with friends who love their reading as much as I do. Before going, I'd just got to the much mentioned "twist" at the halfway point. I'd honestly been a tad disappointed - it wasn't as much of an OMG moment for me as it seemed to have been for some other readers, and I'd decided that the whole thing had been (I'll be honest) a little overhyped. That's what I told my lunch friends - and we moved on to chat about books we had enjoyed, and ordered our lunch.

OK, so why, on Monday, did I fail to tackle anything on my "to do" list and walk around with red tinged eyes? Because the twist to this book wasn't really that OMG moment at all - the twist was really that from that point on this became a totally different book, one that I had to get to the last page of just to see how it all turned out.

It was 2.15(am) when I finished - and then I couldn't sleep because all my emotions were so churned up by what I'd just read. It was truly excellent - gripping, dark and terrifying. I totally forgive Clare Mackintosh that rather slow, gentle first half - in fact I understand entirely why it had to be. If you love your thrillers... well, just make sure you don't miss this one!

There was one aspect of the book that really did hooked me from the start. The story of the associated police investigation is told in real time in a narrative thread that runs right through the book, and it's very well done. And of course, it's not just an account of the police investigation, it's all about the people involved in it. DI Ray Stevens is so lovely: he tries to do the right thing by everyone, so uncomfortable with his attraction to Katie (his young constable), his excellent relationship with wife Mags (who is a wonderful character in her own right, however peripheral to the action), and all his family problems, as well as his struggles with the politics that seem to plague police operations.

I think I've been a bit disparaging about the first half of the book, and I really shouldn't have been. The incident itself is really well handled - I experienced the moment, and really felt the pain of Jacob's mother. When Jenna moves to Wales, I loved the characters and the settings - as a Welsh person myself Iestyn the landlord leapt off the page, Bethan was equally wonderful, and I loved her relationship with Patrick the vet (if she ever throws him aside, I'd like his contact details please...). I also loved the original idea through which Jenna makes her living - if someone isn't doing this already I'm ready to pick up my camera and stay in one of Bethan's caravans.

Ok, so let's draw this to a conclusion. If you like your thrillers, you must read this - otherwise you'll have missed out on quite an experience. Forget that twist thing - it's not that important, but what comes after it is. Enjoy Ray - I adored him. And try not to read this book until 2.15am - you won't sleep (I know these things).

Well done Clare - this is a truly excellent thriller. And when you consider it's a debut, it's thoroughly amazing. I wish you every success.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Death in the Rainy Season
Death in the Rainy Season
by Anna Jaquiery
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly paced, beautiful writing, 12 April 2015
While I was momentarily slightly disappointed that we weren't visiting Paris again, I found Cambodia the perfect setting for this wonderful read: it is a country I've visited and loved (and, like Morel, sat in silence at Ta Prohm ahead of the tourist hordes), and it was interesting to see him separated from his support network, seeking reconnection with his family, and working with the Cambodian police where very different political considerations come into play.

I loved the book's sense of place, but equally loved the characterisation - I enjoyed the links with what was going on in France, and was so glad that Lila continued to feature because I find her almost as fascinating as Morel himself (almost... but not quite). Morel himself is mesmerising, but there is a wonderful supporting cast too - a cast of complex and multi-layered characters we get to know at a level of great detail as Morel digs beneath the surface to resolve the mystery. The whole book is perfectly paced - totally impossible to put down - and the writing is quite beautiful.

I'm an unashamed fan of Anna Jaquiery and her writing - this book is even better than her first, and I'm looking forward already to whatever comes next.

Inside the O'Briens
Inside the O'Briens
Price: £7.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking but inspirational, 11 April 2015
Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which I read back in 2010, had an immense impact on me. It's one of those books that I've recommended repeatedly to others - it's exceptionally well researched and written, and an incredibly moving experience. Do try it if you haven't already - or for those of you who like that kind of thing (I tend to prefer keeping my books and films separate) it's also now a film starring Julianne Moore. There have been two other books from Lisa Genova before this one - Love Anthony and Left Neglected - neither of which I've read. I guess autism and traumatic brain injury just didn't attract me the way Alzheimer's did.

Lisa Genova's Inside The O'Briens was published on 7th April by Simon & Schuster, and deals with Huntington's disease. I was ready not to enjoy this book - isn't that silly? But I've never heard of Huntington's disease, never known anyone affected. I remained in that frame of mind through the first 20% - the book was all about a Boston cop (nothing particularly familiar there) and he kept going to baseball games/matches (forgive my inability to find the word - I have zero interest or understanding!) with a lot of detail about the play and scores.

I was seriously wondering about setting the book aside when I realised how much I was actually enjoying it. Because this isn't actually a book where you need to understand or identify with the setting or the detail of the illness - its messages are truly universal. This is a book about love and understanding, about families, frustration and disappointment, hope and love, and it's absolutely wonderful.

There are scenes and moments in this book which will stay with me forever. Joe's physical deterioration is so well handled, with the chorea (the involuntary movements) increasingly visible to everyone. My heart broke for him as he directed traffic in the Boston winter, ice crystals forming on his moustache, the wind penetrating his several layers of clothing, only to find himself relieved of duty when complaints were received of him being drunk on duty.

Joe is a truly heroic character - flawed in all the usual human ways, unable to understand why it's happening to him but making the difficult decision to be strong for his family, drinking from his non-spill beaker and sometimes exploding in absolute frustration and anger. His wife Rosie is quite perfectly drawn too - immensely caring, continuing to cook her inedible family meals which all must sit down and eat, finally removing all the tatty religious statues that litter their home in the belief that God must have abandoned them.

I liked the way the author separated the key facts about Huntington's from the narrative - being straightly factual about the physical effects, the outward manifestations, the 50/50 chance of passing it on through genetic transmission and the prognosis for the sufferers. It allows you to focus on the family, and much of that focus is on Katie, one of Joe's four children, as she decides whether to find out if she has inherited the gene. She is so lovely - wrestling with her relationship with her successful dancer sister, agonising about introducing her black non-Catholic boyfriend to her parents, decorating her bedroom walls with inspirational quotes written in Sharpie, introducing her father to yoga as his bodily control deteriorates, needing to make some difficult personal decisions.

This book is wonderful - heartbreaking but inspirational, filled with love. I adored it - Huntington's is a cruel and dreadful disease, and Lisa Genova does a wonderful job of raising people's awareness through the medium of a story that moved me immeasurably.

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me
The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me
Price: £4.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer enjoyment..., 6 April 2015
I'm coming to it a little late, but I really loved this book. Sally was my best friend within the first few pages - I felt her fear and uncertainty, and wanted to be there in the wardrobe with her. The structure is really clever - broken up into acts and scenes, to-ing and fro-ing between Sally's childhood, the traumatic time in New York and the present day. It's a wonderful sweeping love story that has you on the edge of your seat, just hoping that things will work out as you want them to.

But the love story isn't all of it - the book has a hard and realistic edge, dealing with some major and traumatic issues. Again though, the author has that wonderful humour that runs through the whole book - a scene that has you in tears, will be followed by one that has you laughing out loud. And as for the characters - they're wonderful. I loved the exuberant Jan Borsos, as I expect most people did - but I also adored Sally's flatmate from Barry Island, and grew particularly fond of Julian's mother and (unexpectedly) of Sally's own family. And, while I'm no keener on opera really than I am on horses (I read this after The Day We Disappeared), the research really brought the whole world of opera to life.

So, my verdict on Lucy Robinson's books? If you enjoy a good story that takes you somewhere you really don't expect to go, characters you'll believe in and love, writing that makes you laugh but sometimes changes into something that tears your heart apart, then please try her books. I haven't enjoyed a weekend this much in ages.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin for my copies of both books.

The Day We Disappeared
The Day We Disappeared
Price: £2.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful stuff, 6 April 2015
When the twist in this story is what makes this book so dramatically different, it's also the thing that makes it really, really difficult to review. If I ruined this book for anyone, I'd be mortified - so I'm not even going to try to tell the story, just tell you how I felt about the book. And this really is a quite superb read, and really unexpected. It starts as a pretty conventional romantic read - well drawn characters, a few secrets to be revealed as it progresses - but it's only lulling you into a false sense of comfort and security, because the book soon changes into something quite different.

There's a superb cast of characters - Lucy Robinson really is so good at drawing real people in a few deft strokes. Kate and Annie are excellent well-rounded characters, both hiding secrets and problems that we know are going to be part of the story. The settings are fascinating too. Kate works at a stables, full of the most wonderful individuals: Stumpy is magnificent (and I'm really not a horsey person at all), but Becca also won a place in my heart. Annie takes her massage business into a new corporate setting, unable to believe the change in her fortune. Her support network, the wonderful Le Cloob, can't believe it either - another wonderful group of characters.

Lucy Robinson does something so clever with this book - the gentle humour is there throughout, but that just throws the dark moments (and some moments are very dark indeed) into sharper relief. The ability to do that is a real gift - this book is so much more than the fluffy romance it looks like being at the start. I never really expected to be saying that there were issues raised in this book that will stay with me for some time, but I'm still thinking about it. Wonderful stuff.

Price: £1.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did I like it? Emphatically yes..., 2 April 2015
This review is from: Normal (Kindle Edition)
There's been an immense buzz around this book. So - is it any good? And did I like it? Emphatically yes - really original, very readable and extremely funny, but that uncomfortable kind of funny that you get when you're sharing the thoughts of a very endearing and likeable serial killer. The start of the book is excellent, and hooked me immediately - we meet Sarah, learn every little detail about her life on the eve of her birthday, just before our serial killer clears up the blood spatter from an artery he accidentally nicked while killing her, and describes the advantages of a range of bin bags to dispose of her body which he's dismembered using a fourteen inch hacksaw. We never learn the killer's name, and we never read a description of him, but it's amazing how his take on life and his twisted logic and view of things becomes... well, normal. There's nothing to redeem the killer in his choice of victims: they're not people who "deserve to die" in any way, but it's so difficult not to side entirely with the killer and want him to get away with whatever he does.

As well as the killer, the author creates some wonderful characters. Everyone will love Annie, Erica is complex and mesmerising, and the love story with Rachel is beautifully handled - and I particularly liked the police characters that the killer interacts with in some of my favourite exchanges.

Most people who've read this book will now go on to say how much they laughed hysterically at the last third of the book while looking on in horror as things unfolded. I'm not going to do that - this was a weird, wonderful and quite brilliant book, but I did start to tire a little towards the end, and there's such a thing as being just a little too weird. But the whole book is so wonderfully written with a dark comedic edge that it would be difficult for anyone not to like - and while the book's last quarter might not have quite done it for me, the rest of it most definitely did, and I can't wait to see what this excellent and original author does next.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Harlequin/MIRA for my advance reading e-copy.

You Belong To Me
You Belong To Me
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful..., 1 April 2015
This review is from: You Belong To Me (Kindle Edition)
I've written before about how difficult it is to stand out in the crowded psychological thriller market, but this one really does. And now I have the challenge of telling you why without telling you anything about the story, in case I ruin it for you... and that would be such a shame, as this is a book that shakes you with every unexpected twist and turn. In essence, there are two story lines - maybe related, maybe not. Isabel has run away and is working in a hotel in India: she gets some shocking news, and very reluctantly returns to the UK. Then there's the story of DI Lorraine Fisher - a series of unsolved murders have really got to her, she's on the very edge, but can't make herself take the holiday she so badly needs.

And that's where I have to stop. The author really does write quite brilliantly - the tension she creates with Isabel's story is almost painful, and just when you think things might be settling down she cranks the story up again and takes it in a direction you'd never imagine in your wildest dreams. The characters who feature in this story are quite wonderfully drawn - incredibly complex, some pure evil, but wholly and disturbingly believable. And as for Lorraine Fisher - her disintegration is superbly done, and she's a fascinating counterbalance to Isabel's story. If I have a criticism, it's a very tiny one. To begin with, it was just a little bit difficult to distinguish between the different voices who narrated the chapters - but that soon stopped being a problem.

Don't be in the least put off by the fact that this is third in a series - although it's been interesting getting to know Adam and Lorraine, it won't spoil your enjoyment in the least if you've never met them before. I'm so glad I came back to Samantha Hayes' writing - this is one of the best psychological thrillers I've read in a very long time.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

The Faerie Tree
The Faerie Tree
Price: £3.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, perfectly paced - I loved it, 31 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Faerie Tree (Kindle Edition)
I absolutely loved this book! I was immediately engaged by the story of Robin and Izzie, two people who were falling achingly and beautifully in love when tragedy struck. They come back together twenty years later, much changed and damaged people, try to put the pieces back together, make sense of what happened and see if the love is still there.

The story is quite beautifully written and perfectly paced - where The Cheesemaker's House was perhaps identifiable as a first novel, the author's style has matured tremendously. This is a book that you feel and experience rather than read - the whole emotional content is quite perfectly handled, and there were times when I physically ached for the two central characters. The author really takes the reader under their skin - you might not understand what happened any more than they do, but you feel their hurt and loss with the same intensity.

The characters are wonderfully handled, but so is the setting. The faerie tree of the title is a quite perfect central focus to the story - much of the key action in the story takes place around it, near it or focused on it. It's vividly described - with its decoration and trinkets left by people hoping for a little magic - and I love the box where children leave personal messages for the faeries. No-one should be put off by the mention of pagan themes - none of us can be averse to a little magic at times, and the story itself is very much of the modern world.

This is essentially a story about two people - two people that you grow to deeply care about - and how they deal and cope with trauma and loss, its impact on memory, and the possibility of second chances when hope seems to be gone.

I really loved it...and my thanks to Jane, the publishers and netgalley for the privilege of being one of the first to read and review it.

Price: £5.69

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply affecting, 31 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Hausfrau (Kindle Edition)
My first reaction to this book was "didn't like it at all" - I recorded my three stars on Goodreads, decided to review later, moved on to my next book. But what I hadn't bargained for was the way in which this book stayed with me. After finishing it, it was in my thoughts even more than when I was reading it - rarely has a book refused to let me go the way this one did. So I went back to Goodreads and gave it five stars... I'd still say I didn't really enjoy it, but I'm happy now to concede that it was really quite a read.

I'm not sure how to describe this book in a way that will make you want to try it. Anna has to be one of the least likeable women ever on whom to pin a story: her passiveness is massively frustrating to read about, you want to shake her and shout at her to do something - anything - about her situation. Although her life is outwardly comfortable, Anna just seems unable to feel anything - we follow her through the meetings with her therapist, the German classes she attends to help her communicate, through engagement with friends and family. In her attempts to "feel", we have graphic descriptions of the sexual affairs she engages in - but there's nothing erotic about the descriptions, just something rather sad, empty and emotionless. Overall, it's a very uncomfortable portrayal of depression - this is so much more than dissatisfaction with a life of privilege or the difficulties of living in a country where language is only one of many barriers to communication. At one level, there is a simple message here that the bad woman Anna is must be made to suffer for what she does - and she really does suffer. But that seems over simplistic - why doesn't anyone, at any stage, try to help her?

The author is a poet - and, whatever you think of the book, you'd have to admit that it's quite beautifully written. I loved the exchanges with Anna's therapist, but what I liked most of all was the way in which lessons learned at the German language classes - all around tenses, moods, the active and passive - are translated to apply equally to Anna's life.

I've rarely struggled like this with a review. I've read a few on-line ones by other people, just to see what others were saying - and I've rarely seen a book that's divided readers to such a degree. If you do try it, I'll be very surprised if you'll reach the end and say you enjoyed it - you might not even like it. But, if it affects you as deeply as it affected me, I guarantee you won't forget it.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Secrets of the Tower: The great mystery and passionate romance behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Secrets of the Tower: The great mystery and passionate romance behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Price: £1.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it..., 23 Mar. 2015
I'll readily admit that I'm not the most passionate reader of historical fiction, particularly when that history is 12th century. But I visited Pisa some years ago and was intrigued by the premise of this book, and always enjoy a dual time narrative - and I'm excited by the output of this exciting publisher, Bookouture, who currently seem to have a touch of gold with the books they're choosing to publish. Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix was published on 20th March in paperback and for kindle - and I must say that I absolutely loved it.

A strong woman is a strong woman whatever the historical setting, and the author has created some wonderful ones within the pages of this lovely book. Throughout the historical story, Berta is thoroughly mesmerising - I really couldn't take my eyes off her as she tangled with a man's world to achieve her dream. She's a wonderfully complex character - passionate and driven by love, but also cool and calculating in achieving what she wants. Aurelia I warmed to rather less - less sophisticated, she was sometimes too much of the petulant child to like, although I did warm to her considerably as the book progressed, and felt for her over her love for Gerardo. I also liked very much Aurelia's mother Violetta, a wonderfully caring character, with her apothecary skills central to the twists and turns of the story.

The modern story is every bit as good as the historical, and I really liked Sam - and enjoyed her growing realisation that she had buried herself as an individual, both talented and capable. Her husband Michael seemed a weakling unworthy of her - I'd have skipped away into the sunset with Dario like a flash, but I guess we wouldn't then have had much of a book.

The book is beautifully written in a highly readable way, and the Italian setting is perfectly drawn in both modern and historical settings, with sufficient detail to bring Pisa vividly to life, clearly by someone who loves it and knows it well. The dialogue flows quite perfectly - the historical exchanges are well done, with nothing jarring in a 12th century setting. The extensive research behind this book is clear, but used well - enough detail used to breathe life into the story and create the setting, never a turn-off. And above everything, this is a wonderful story - the author's note and chronology make it clear what is fact and what is fiction, but I don't think I'll ever see pictures of Pisa again without thinking of Berta and the passions that drove her.

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