Book Review

Blogmas Day 13: It Started With A Kiss By Miranda Dickinson Review

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Okay so how cold has it gone in the past couple of days?! The days are chilly but the evenings are sub zero, which is why I’m currently spending the majority of them snuggled up with a good book and a cup of tea (it is a crazy life I lead, I know). Although when it’s this cold do you really want to be doing anything else?

 I’ve just finished reading ‘It Started With A Kiss’ by Miranda Dickinson, which has a lovely Christmas theme throughout, so I thought it would be perfect to review just before the big day!

 

As the singer in a wedding band, Romily Parker has seen her fair share of happy endings, even though her own love life isn’t quite as simple.

On the last Saturday before Christmas, (shortly after disastrously declaring her love for best friend Charlie), Romily has a brief encounter with a handsome stranger whose heart-stopping kiss changes everything.

Determined to find him again, Romily embarks on a yearlong quest, helped (and sometimes hindered) by enthusiastic Uncle Dudley, cake-making Auntie Mags and flamboyant Wren. Will she find the man of her dreams? Or could true love be closer than she thinks?

‘It Started With A Kiss’ revolves around the character Romily Parker, a wedding singer in a band named ‘The Pinstripes’ formed of her friends. Romily has been harbouring feelings for her best friend Charlie for years, and decides that just before Christmas is the perfect time to tell him, however she soon realises this was a massive mistake. With Charlie less than thrilled, Romily makes a dash to hide her embarrassment and tumbles straight into a market stall of stuffed toys. An action which changes Romily’s life as she knows it, after being offered help from an attractive stranger, who leaves her with a kiss after being called back into the crowd. From that day Romily vows to find the handsome stranger who kissed her within a year, but gets more than she bargained for along the way.

This was the first book I had read by Miranda Dickinson and I have to say I was really impressed, so much so that I have read it again! It has a really unique story line, which does focus on Romily’s quest to find the handsome stranger, but my favourite aspect was how you see the character of Romily evolve and become so happy and confident within herself. This made it more than just a tale of romance for me, there is a real element of girl power within this book which will have you rooting, cringing, and laughing with Romily and her friends throughout.

Another thing that made me want to read this book again was the characters. Romily is a great main character, but her friends/bandmates (Tom, Charlie, Jack, Sophie and Wren) add a great deal to the story too. If you think ‘It Started With A Kiss’ is purely based around love, you’d be right, it focuses on all types of love –friendship, family, true love, and above all else, self-love. Miranda writes about friendship in such a lovely way, and the characters are well thought out.  I wanted to join The Pinstripes myself after reading this! A really fun element to this story is reading about the wedding gigs the band play, everything from having to wear bunny ears to mustard coloured tights are just some of the things The Pinstripes have to endure!

It is not just Romily’s friends who decide to help her with her quest, but her loveable Uncle Dudley and Auntie Magsie, I dare you not to fall in love with these two characters! I really loved how Romily’s aunt was constantly baking, and knew exactly what cake was needed for what mood, it was a simple addition to the character, but one that made her one of my favourites! If you’re a bit of a foodie like me, Miranda has included what cakes suit what mood, on Auntie Maggie’s behalf of course. All of the characters are heart-warming and likeable, if I had to pick characters I didn’t warm to, it would have to be Romily’s mum and dad!

When I first read ‘It Started With A Kiss’ I was convinced I had predicted the ending, but Miranda pulls a fantastic twist which will leave you smiling!  There are many twists and turns in Romily’s quest and you feel like you’re right there with her throughout, especially when she is encouraged to start a blog to help with her search. If you’re looking for a read to snuggle up with on these baltic evenings, It Started With A Kiss is sure to make you feel warm and festive! I’m patiently waiting for sequels revolving around the other characters now (Uncle Dudley and Auntie Maggie).

Have you read ‘It Started With A Kiss’? What did you think? Let me know below!

 

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Book Review

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena Review

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      Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

      Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

   Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

     You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

The Couple Next Door focuses on a young couple, Anne and Marco Conti, who are new parents to a baby girl. Anne and Marco are invited to a dinner party next door, there’s just one catch, they have been told not to bring their baby. Under the reassurance of her a husband, a reluctant Anne goes along with this on the condition they will check on their daughter every half an hour. However, what starts off as a fun evening turns into every parent’s worst nightmare, as once home, they discover their front door ajar and their daughter missing from her crib.

Cue the arrival of the police, and Anne and Marco find themselves at the centre of a Child Abduction Investigation. Detective Rasbach is determined to look at every detail of the case – Did the parents cause her harm whilst intoxicated? Did they assist the kidnapper? Did the kidnapper know the child was home alone? Are the parents hiding something? Detective Rasbach thinks so.

Lapena sets the scene superbly at the beginning, making both Anne and Marco unreliable narrators, due to the fact that they were intoxicated the night of their daughter’s abduction. The Couple Next Door will make you doubt everyone’s version of events and question their motives and reactions. Lapena executes this well through the deterioration of Anne and Marco’s relationship throughout their prolonged wait for news of their daughter. Of course blame is the main theme in this story – If they hadn’t gone to the party, their daughter would still be here, wouldn’t she?

The characters within this tale have skeletons pouring out of their closets, ones they are desperate for no one to find. Anne is trying to keep the past in the past; the couple next door are not all what they appear and Marco is tangled in a web of lies, and Anne’s parents, too wealthy for their own good, but prove that money cannot buy happiness. Moreover, Detective Rasbach is more than happy to bring their skeletons out into the spotlight.

It was difficult to warm to any character in this novel, as anyone and everyone is a suspect. However, I did like the reminiscent scenes of Anne and Marco before their daughter, and how despite their recklessness, it is clear that both love their daughter.

Laced with heartbreak, lies and deceit The Couple Next Door makes for an intriguing psychological thriller, with Lapena throwing in twists that will keep you wanting more. I did find the plot to be a little rushed at times and the ending quite random, but that did not stop me reading and enjoying the book overall. The plot is well thought out and will show you how you can never really know someone, or what they are capable of.

Have you read The Couple Next Door? What did you think?

Book Review

He Said She Said by Erin Kelly Review

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In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack. She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever. Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear, and while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something, and someone, is always in the dark.

He Said She Said begins in London March 2015, where we meet a young married couple, Laura and Kit Mcall. Kit is what is known as an Eclipse Chaser, meaning he travels the world in search of where one is going to take place, analyses the weather conditions in the hope of seeing totality – the moment where the moon completely blocks the sun from view. Since meeting, he has introduced Laura to the eclipse chasing world. However, Laura is now six months pregnant after IVF and suffering heavily from anxiety, triggered by past events. Kit is leaving her for another Eclipse Festival, which only feeds Laura’s paranoia of the past catching up with them. Laura and Kit have worked so hard to keep themselves untraceable, no social media accounts, no photographs, and even changing their names, but will it be enough to stop their demons reappearing?

Cornwall 1999, Laura stumbles upon a purse at an Eclipse Festival; however her endeavour to find the owner is just the beginning of the sinister events which follow. Laura locks eyes with a woman who is being sexually assaulted by a man, she is sure of it –  the expression on the man’s (Jamie’s) face, his snarl and his narrowed eyes, the woman, motionless and unable to speak. Laura ignores Jamie’s pleas of the act being consensual and calls the police, triggering a series of sinister events that no one could have ever imagined.

The chapters in He Said She Said alternate between London 2015 and Cornwall 1999, and also between the characters of Kit and Laura. This can get a little confusing at times but I found that this was integral to the layering of the story, to make you feel torn and confused with the versions of events, and more importantly, who is telling the truth? One thing I really loved about He Said She Said was the focus on eclipses, everything from the chapter headings, to the book being split into parts titled by the stages of an eclipse – which illustrate the progression of the story and the build up towards something big.

The subject at the heart of this story means it’s not always a comfortable read, particularly the courtroom scenes. The issue of consent is centre forward in this tale, with Jamie’s defence implying that if Beth herself did not explicitly say she had been raped, then it was concocted up by Laura’s imagination. Kelly’s attention to detail allows us to see how the assaults affect goes way beyond Beth and Jamie, but also what impact it has on everyone else and how events can be spun and words can be twisted.

In addition to attention to detail, Kelly writes beautifully about the relationship between Kit and Laura. A particular favourite quote of mine is from Beth to Laura “He’d told me the night before what eclipses meant to him, and how it was still and effort for him to take his eyes off you to look at the sky”. I found their relationship to be undoubtedly love and the acceptance that things do not always remain the same after years together. I really liked both of these characters, the love they had for one another, the way Laura shared in Kit’s eclipse chasing passion, there is something extraordinary about them.

This is a dark tale which will make you uncomfortable but unable to keep yourself from turning the page. Kelly has cleverly intertwined a sensitive and gut wrenching topic throughout a gripping thriller plot, which I imagine was no easy feat, but it reads  as if done with such ease in He Said She Said. The paranoia lurking within the pages will creep into you as you become suspicious of everyone, and as the truth is purely based on perception it becomes subjective. The only problem is most of the characters do not want to tell the truth at all. Truth means judgement and destruction for some, as do lies to another.

I cannot recommend this book enough; it is definitely going in my top favourite books! It stayed with me for days afterwards, and I had that lost feeling where you’ve finished something brilliant only to not know what to do with yourself. By the end I had to know what was real and what wasn’t, and the outcome left me shocked. Not for one second throughout He Said She Said did I anticipate what was to come. The plot is extremely clever, and the characters are well rounded and thought out. My view changed so much throughout, especially on Beth, my heart ached for her most of the time, and at other times I disliked her. Kelly really knows her craft and shows that perception and someone else’s words could be much further from the truth than we realise.

Book Review

The Adventures of Alan Shaw Volume 1 by Craig Hallam Review

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For Alan Shaw, escaping the workhouse was only the beginning of the adventure.

For an orphan growing up alone on the streets of Victorian London, staying alive is a daily battle, filled with choices a child should never have to make. This is Alan’s lot in life, until he is offered more money than he can imagine; enough to take him to the new world to begin a new life. He only has to complete one task; something that could bring the British Empire to its knees.

In a series of adventures that take him from sea to sky, from Brighton to Bombay, Alan grows up in a steam-driven era where Automatons walk the streets of London and dirigibles master the air. Pitted against mad alchemists, tentacled submersibles, bomb-wielding saboteurs and the apocalyptic army of the Ordo Fenris, Alan has his work cut out for him.

With a past as dark as his, who knows what Alan might grow up to be?

Set in the mid nineteenth century, The Adventures of Alan Shaw follows a young orphan as he is dragged up on the streets of Victorian London.  Alan, like any other street urchin, fights for survival and earns his pennies doing odd jobs for the locals and working in a pub for a violent landlord. Dreaming of a life in America, Alan is willing to do anything to escape his lack of life in London.  When the opportunity offers itself in exchange for one simple delivery, Alan cannot believe his luck, but it comes at the cost of much destruction.

From the first tale ‘Alan Shaw and the Fate of the Automatons’ we are spring-boarded into Alan’s adventures which fulfil his dream of leaving London.  The novel is told in a third person narrative over the course of five stories, each separated by a few years as we see Alan grow from a child to a young adult. At the end of each story is a newspaper article which celebrates Alan’s bravery or reports a crime that has occurred, setting the reader up with a cliff-hanger and leading into the next tale. In addition the illustrations which appear before each story, that depict Alan and the characters who will support him during each adventure. I liked that Hallam included images before each tale, as it helped you put a name to the face of the characters.

In terms of the characters, I found all of the main characters to be likeable, but my favourite would have to be Alan, if not only for his sense of humour. Alan has not had an easy time of it to say the least; his experiences are raw and significant to the growth of his character throughout the novel. Despite all life has thrown at him, Alan never loses his charm and fearlessness, and you become invested in his character and him seeing his adventures through to the very end. Initially, I could not warm to Alan’s character, but as he matures I found him to be more endearing.

Another character I took a liking to was Sarah, wife of Callas who owns Harkers, the pub Alan works at as a child. Sarah acts as a mother figure for Alan during the early chapters, chatting to him in the kitchen, tickling him, and helping him to evade Callas when he’s angry. I really liked the relationship between these two, it showed a more sensitive side to Alan’s character when often he can appear quite hardened by his experiences.

The Adventures of Alan Shaw stays true to its sci-fi/steam punk genre with its recurring theme of machinery. The machines described in the novel are very creative and I really liked how even then society relied heavily on machinery to do everyday tasks, such as the Automatons sweeping the streets, thus taking jobs away from the young street dwellers. Throughout the novel the use of machinery becomes of greater use to the villains in the tales – including a giant tentacled ship intent on destruction and brass monkeys out for whatever they can get their hands on! Hallam describes the machines in such detail it is not difficult to conjure up images of what they would look like. It is clear Hallam has done his research when it comes to locations Alan ventures of too. The descriptions do a wonderful job of helping you put the scene together.

Initially I was unsure whether this novel would be for me, but I am pleased to say I was wrong. The Adventures of Alan Shaw is fun and fast-paced, filled with warm characters, humour and extremely interesting escapades. The cliff-hangers make it pretty impossible to leave for long, and I often found myself staying up to finish a story just so it could be put down for the night. This was a different read for me, but one I came to thoroughly enjoy. One thing I know for sure is that I will be joining Alan on his next bout of adventures!

Last but certainly not least, thank you to Craig Hallam who sent me a copy of The Adventures of Alan Shaw Volume One to review, it is much appreciated. However, this has in no way influenced my thoughts or opinions on the book, as always my reviews are honest, filled with my own thoughts and contain no spoilers!

Let me know what you think if you have read or do read The Adventures of Alan Shaw Volume One!

 

Book Review

The Sisters by Claire Douglas Review

IMG_0497 (1)One lied. One died.

When one sister dies, the other must go to desperate lengths to survive. Haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi is making a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets twins Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle.

When one sister lies, she must protect her secret at all costs. As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen – precious letters go missing and threatening messages are left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention? When the truth outs, will either sister survive?

 

The Sisters revolves around the character of Abi, who lost her twin sister Lucy in a tragic accident which she feels she could have prevented. Abi feels completely lost, until she meets Beatrice, a free spirited artist, with the added bonus of resembling Lucy. Grieving Abi is enchanted by Beatrice and her twin brother Ben, and once asked to move in; she sees the twins and the house as the perfect fresh start. Abi has craved company since the loss of her sister, and the regular parties, meals, and borrowing of Bea’s clothes provides the inclusivity she needs. However as Abi is drawn further into Beatrice and Ben’s world, cracks begin to emerge in the relationships, dark secrets are bubbling just under the surface, and sanity is slipping away.

The novel jumps between the narratives of protagonists Abi and Beatrice, both of which are unreliable narrators. I really liked this aspect of The Sisters as it left me questioning almost everything, particularly the sanity of the characters. I found myself trusting one character and then flitting to the other, but as always with one of Douglas’ novels, I was suspicious of everyone. This narrative works perfectly for the genre of this novel, Douglas builds up suspense and tension perfectly, and making you question everything you believe about these characters and what menacing events are to come.

I have to say I was fascinated by all of the characters, particularly the relationship between Beatrice and Ben. The twins are inseparable, possessive of each other and share a bond like no other, which makes for some uncomfortable reading. However, all of the characters in The Sisters are heavily flawed in their own way, but much like Abi with Beatrice, I was captivated by them all and their personalities, despite not all of them being particularly likeable.

My favourite character was Abi, who I felt was the only person I could trust and who I sympathised with throughout. The constant battle between her and Bea made for a gripping read, as both were out to make the other appear insane, yet at times appeared as though they needed each other. As with Local Girl Missing, Douglas’ evocative writing style left me yearning for the truth, not only about whom is behind all the strange happenings in the house, but about the characters themselves.

The plot works superbly for a psychological thriller as it is filled with clever twists, the eerie setting of the townhouse, and suspicious characters whose lives are dominated by lies and deceit. I could not predict what was going to happen from chapter to chapter, and was surprised by every twist thrown my way, which was a massive plus.

Overall, I would highly recommend The Sisters, if not for its fascinating characters alone, it certainly fits the bill. I finished the novel a couple of days ago and find still myself thinking about it now. The ending was rather abrupt; it left me wanting more and if I’m being completely honest, frantically googling for other theories on it. I hope it was written this way to set up a sequel in the future, if not it lets the reader conjure up their own idea of what happened next. I strongly suggest freeing up some days for this book as it won’t be leaving your hands. Douglas you have done it again, another fantastic read.

Book Review

One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

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You trusted your best friend… you shouldn’t have.

Vicky Seagrave is blessed: three beautiful children, a successful, doting husband, great friends and a job she loves.  She should be perfectly happy.

But what she is about to learn is that one mistake is all it takes; that if you’re careless with those you love, you don’t deserve to keep them.

When Vicky risks everything she holds dear on a whim, there’s only one person she trusts enough to turn to, her best friend Amber.

One little lie.  One little secret.  One little mistake could destroy her world.

 

One Little Mistake focuses on Vicky Seagreave, a woman who seemingly has it all, a caring husband, three healthy children and a beautiful home. However, all of this is thrown into jeopardy when Vicky makes a rash decision, a decision she is said to have repeated in the past, only this time it brings grave consequences with it. Feeling like she’s set to lose everything Vicky leans on her best friend Amber for support and advice, but does Amber really have Vicky’s best interests at heart?

The very core of this novel focuses on the act of making mistakes. Whilst many will be shocked at what Vicky does, I feel like what follows is far greater than any of the mistakes she’s made. This is a novel that makes you think if you were in the same situation, what would you do? As Vicky tries to bury her mistakes, she is drawn deeper into more lies and deception that threaten everything she has.

I did sympathise with all of the characters in one way, they have all been let down in some way, lied to, or hurt. One Little Mistake, shows the pressure and psychological toll family life, marriage, friendships, and feeling neglected can have. This is shown through the split narrative of the novel, as it flits effortlessly between the past, set eighteen years earlier, and present.

My favourite aspect of this novel was how Curtis presents the relationship between Amber and Vicky. The two have been best friends for years, they care for each other’s children, and they are constantly around each other’s families, they are seemingly inseparable. However, it is very clear that Amber is envious of Vicky’s life. Amber see’s Vicky as someone who has not had to work for everything she has, everything just comes easy for her, and Vicky takes all of it for granted. On the other hand, Amber feels as though she has had to fight to get to where she is in life, and is still unhappy with what she has. It is in Amber’s point of views that we get to really understand how she feels about her ‘best friend’, it is clear she jealous and wants to use Vicky for self-gain.

My favourite character in One Little Mistake is Vicky. I find her endearing and truly believe she is a good mum. However, I did sometimes want to shout at her for being so naive and hiding Amber’s alarming behaviour from her husband Tom, although I know this is because she was scared of tales of her own rash behaviour being revealed.

I would like to have read more of Amber’s point of view in the novel. Whilst we do get a good glimpse into her life, I found myself wanting to read her POV more so when we started to see her darker side, and would have liked more of an insight into her present day family life.

Overall this book had me gripped, not just with fraught friendships/relationships but with the second story that follows all the way through the novel.  The ending was to be expected, but there are some clever twists thrown in to make it a dramatic and a novel that will stay with you. There were some loose ends that I felt like I needed the answers to, but I can promise you won’t be disappointed with this novel. It’s claustrophobic, intense, and most importantly, it will shock you.

Book Review

I See You By Clare Mackintosh

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You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you’re going.

You’re not alone.

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.

Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .

I couldn’t wait to read this novel after reading its predecessor I Let You Go. If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly suggest you grab a cup of tea and settle down with it as it will keep you reading for hours. Now, with second novels I always try to keep an open mind, as living up to their predecessor can prove to be very difficult. After trawling through some reviews, I noticed most singing its praises whilst others declared it wasn’t as good as the first. To me, they are both completely different stories and should be treated as such. So I started reading I See You with a fresh pair of eyes, and devoured it within a matter of days. It’s gripping, it’ll have you feeling on edge, and most importantly it’ll keep you captivated with each chapter that passes.

As with all of my other book reviews there won’t be any spoilers, as it would completely take away the thrill this book brings to the table. In the opening chapters we meet our two female leads, Zoe Walker and Kelly Swift. Zoe is your everyday woman, a creature of habit; she dotes on her family, commutes to work, and finds her picture amongst the classified ads in a local newspaper … wait what? From this moment the story is filled with tension and an extremely chilling reality that all is not what it seems. Kelly works as a police officer working for the British Transport service, but over time crosses paths with Zoe as things turn sinister. The chapters alternate between the two women, and I found myself feeling on edge whilst reading Kelly’s chapters as I immediately wanted to know what was happening to Zoe, and vice versa.

Without giving too much away, one of my favourite things about I See You is the third narrative which addresses the reader directly, intricately laced between every other chapter or so. It is chilling and hauntingly realistic, more so because it all seems so easily done.  One thing is for sure, it’ll have you looking over your shoulder, questioning the glances people throw your way, and clutching your bag to your chest on the train!

Much like I Let You Go, Mackintosh creates a variety of characters, each one integral to the story, and will have you questioning their motives throughout. I think I had been suspicious of every character by the time I had reached the end of the book. I like how Mackintosh has the ability to cleverly take you down one path, only to lead you down a side street and you feel like you’re back to square one again with your suspicions.

On the other hand, I would really have liked more exploration of Kelly’s character. There are numerous references to issues she has, yet I feel there wasn’t enough detail to tie up the loose ends. However, I understand why this may not have been done as it could possibly have taken away from the main plot.

I See You could also be seen as a cautionary tale, as in we are always being watched. We live in a society where everyone likes to know what everyone’s doing, and it’s as easy as typing their name into Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We also live in a society where there are cameras almost everywhere, for crime prevention purposes, but nonetheless, everyone is being observed. Mackintosh’s book takes these seemingly innocent notions and pushes them to their extremities; it’s a psychopathic 2017 Big Brother that is coming specifically for you.

Overall I did enjoy this book, partly down to its individual plot and its ability to turn the unfathomable into a chilling reality. Mackintosh has produced another winner in my opinion and I cannot wait for her next. If you’re looking for a read which will keep you wanting to go back to it, leave you open-mouthed, and cursing every time you think you’ve guessed who’s behind it, this one’s for you.

Routine makes you feel safe. Routine will kill you.