2017 · Bloomsbury · historical novel · literary thriller · October

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell Book Review

TheSilentCompanions

Inspired by the work of Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill and set in a crumbling country mansion, The Silent Companions is an unsettling gothic ghost story to send a shiver down the spine…

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…

This book was given to me as a gift from a friend of mine. At first glance, I loved the detail of the cover. I thought it was eye-catching and I also liked the keyhole that showed just the eye. It gave me a hint that this is possibly about unearthing secrets, but that was just an initial response to the cover. I think good covers will make a reader think before reading a book and will also package the book in a beautiful, eye-catching way to entice readers to read. The cover of this book did indeed draw me in.

I must say, it did take me a while to get into the book as I felt the beginning chapters, though they were setting the scene, seemed to drag on a bit and I was hoping for a more faster pace in plot progression. I’m glad I kept reading on as I was taken into a whole new world within the the Bridge (this is the estate whereby Elsie’s late husband lived), which is spooky as ever, filled with years and years of deep, rich, dark, history and secrets of the supernatural world.

The novel heavily focuses on Elsie in a three-part narrative structure; following her journey during her time at The Bridge and much later when she is in an asylum being asked by a doctor to recall her memories of her time there. I’ve not read many ghosts stories so I do find it difficult to compare this book to others, but I will say that the plot was well developed and was written beautifully. We get a real sense of Elsie’s character, her fears and later why she comes across as mad to the workers in the asylum. The plot allows for the 17th century history of the house and Elsie’s husband’s family to unfold at the right time when it is needed for the reader to fully understand what is going on, which I thought was also well-executed.

The house, which majority of the plot is set in, is one of the most important elements of gothic literature and I feel, Laura nailed this. It is a crumbling, old, dark and mysterious setting, which has it’s own personality and is crucial to the development of the plot. Every dark and foggy corner adds to the spooky atmosphere, which is felt throughout the narrative.

The silent companions are integral, if not the most important, characters within the book. I wouldn’t say I particularly liked any of the characters, as they all seem to have a darker side to them, which eventually becomes revealed. But with any traditional gothic tale, it’s more plot driven and readers want to know what will happen next. They’re expected to have a spooky ending, which this book definitely has and one that I was not expecting.

I liked the book but was not madly in love with it. Nevertheless, I do look forward to Laura’s second book, which will be out next year.

The Silent Companions is Laura’s debut, which was published by Raven Books in October 2017.

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2017 · commercial fiction · crime · fiction · Michael Joseph · psychological thrillers

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good me bad me

When Annie hands her mother over to the police she hopes for a new start in life – but can we ever escape our past?

‘NEW NAME. NEW FAMILY. SHINY. NEW. ME.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer. The only way Annie can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

With a new foster family and a new name – Milly – she hopes for a fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. But as her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of Milly’s past won’t let her sleep . . .

Because Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water…

15-year-old Milly is not your average teenage girl with a normal upbringing. Quite far front it. Having spent her childhood living with her abusive mother – both abusive to her and other people’s children, Milly – formerly known as Annie, is sent into foster care and awaits her mother’s trial.

This is an intensely gripping book. The starting point: Milly’s mother abducting, abusing and eventually killing innocent children from a refuge centre where she works, allows us to understand or at least get a glimpse into the psychological state of Milly and how she has internalised the abuse, which is often seen through her trauma coming back to haunt her. The plot centres around Milly, though Milly’s narrative voice is constantly addressing her imprisoned mother. The push and pull of what’s right and wrong is at the forefront as Milly fights with her thoughts and tries to do the right thing, despite being the daughter of a psychopathic killer.

When Milly is taken in by her foster parents: Mike and Saskia (until the lead up to her mother’s trial) we see Milly struggle with bullying at school, experience her self-harm herself as a way of releasing intense emotional pain, and of course, follow her throughout this mental journey to the lead up, during and after her mother’s trial. Milly longs for acceptance and a normal life and it’s easy to sympathise with her. But Milly isn’t a complete angel herself – she’s made mistakes, which become exposed as the plot unravels. But for a unreliable narrator, it is clear that she’s a deeply disturbed by her mother’s abusive behaviour and as a reader, it’s disturbing to see a teenager normalise some of these destructive behaviour traits.

The book reminded me that the roles of parents in being good role models is absolutely vital in order for children to grow up to be mentally stable members of society. I’m sure there are many children in similar situations to Milly who are suffering due to a destructive upbringing. I salute Ali Land for writing about mental health and psychological trauma in young people in such an elegant and honest manner.

Towards the closing of the novel, Milly’s actions do surprise me and also makes me fear her swell as do some of the characters but it does go to show that destruction from a very young age, where that is abuse: sexually, mentally and/ or seat, can be dangerously normalised. Milly knows what she is doing is wrong but couldn’t help herself  because that’s all she’s seen from her mother.  The opening and closing lines of the book were poignant and all that is in-between will keep you hooked as it did me. Would recommend, but not for the faint-hearted.

Good Me Bad Me was published by Michael Joseph in August 2017.

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commercial fiction · fiction · HQ Stories · new reads · romantic comedy

New York, Actually by Sarah Morgan

sarah morgan new york actually

Meet Molly

New York’s most famous agony aunt, she considers herself an expert at relationships…as long as they’re other people’s. The only love of her life is her Dalmatian, Valentine.

Meet Daniel

A cynical divorce lawyer, he’s hardwired to think relationships are a bad idea. If you don’t get involved, no-one can get hurt. But then he finds himself borrowing a dog to meet the gorgeous woman he sees running in Central Park every morning….

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy that ticks all the right boxes and proves to be a light and easy read, then there’s really no need to look any further – this is the book you need to get your hands on. 

The plot focus on Molly, a british behavioural psychologist that runs a blog under the pseudonym, Aggie, answering all of New York’s relationship issues. She has the love of life, Valentine, her cute Dalmatian. Life is just as she wants it to be until she meets Daniel,  renowned divorce-lawyer whose persistence and charm coax Molly out of her shell. When Molly takes Valentine for a walk in Central Park, Daniel can’t help but notice Molly and a strong desire to meet this woman becomes apparent. Both Valentine and borrowed dog, Bruttas help the two come together time and time again in the park, though this is not a whirlwind romance from the start.  That’s the best thing about this novel, Sarah really plays out the sexual tension as well as Daniel chasing Molly for her attention: he first buys her coffee, then coaxes her to a dinner and when things do really wrong the Valentine, he’s hands-on and ready to help Molly.

It is clear that Molly is equally attracted to Daniel though she refrains from leading with her emotions. A mysterious and painful past makes Molly conscience of getting herself and Daniel hurt. Both characters have some psychological issues linked to their childhood that become unravelled when they get to know one another. Both characters are deceitful without intentionally wanting to hurt the other person. Despite this, love pulls them together and they’re both exactly what they need from each other.

This novel is the right amount of hooks and drama to pull you all the way through to the end. I couldn’t put it down. The subplots tie in nicely to the main plot and you can’t help but fall in love with Daniel – he’s the epitome of your ideal man. This was my first read of Sarah Morgan’s novels but it won’t be my last, that’s for sure!

New York, Actually was published by HQ Stories in 2017.

commercial fiction · Hachette · Hodder and Stoughton · Hodder Fiction · Women's Fiction

The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club by Chrissie Manby

 

The-Worst-Case-Scenario-Cookery-Club-Aiysha-Reads

In the quaint seaside town of Newbay, a beginner’s cookery course is starting. And three very different students have signed up . . .

Liz’s husband has left her for a twenty-something clean-eating blogger, and she’s determined to show the world – and her daughter – she’s just as capable in the kitchen. John, newly widowed after fifty years of marriage, can’t live on sympathy lasagnes forever. To thirty-year-old workaholic Bella, the course is a welcome escape from her high-pressure job. Their only common ground: between them, they can barely boil an egg!

Enter talented chef Alex, who is determined to introduce his pupils to the comforts of cuisine. As Liz, John and Bella encounter various disasters in the kitchen, the unlikely trio soon form a fast friendship. Their culinary skills might be catastrophic – but could the cookery club have given them a recipe for happiness?

I have to admit, after reading Obsession by Amanda Prowse, I found it difficult to read a book and finish it. Call it a readers block if you wish… It was frustrating. I was lucky to have been given a chance to read this title, thanks to Hodder Fiction and I read it in two sittings! We have three very different characters: Liz, Bella and John with different sets of circumstances come together through the shared desire to learn how to cook. This of course is only possible for them by Alex opening up a cookery course.

What was so beautiful about this novel was that food bought the characters together. You have Liz who desperately tried to get in her 15-year-old daughter, Saskia’s good books by trying to live up to her ‘healthy eating’ expectations (which has been influenced by her father’s girlfriend, Brittany). Despite going through a separation with husband Ian and feeling as though she is loosing Saskia (and her dog Ted to obesity), Liz tried to take control of her life in whatever little way she can. Though Alex’s cookery class she makes three new friends and learns to appreciate the art of cooking rather than opting for Sainsbury’s ready meals.

Then you have Bella whose father had a dream of bringing the Italian cuisine to their current residency: Newbay. The little Italian cafe, known as Bella’s was Bella’s father’s pride and joy, however it didn’t last long. With the death of her father three years of the cafe going bust, Bella promised her mother she would seek a respectable, high-paying job  so she’d never have to experience the poverty her mother experienced. Things change for Bella through the cookery course. She realises she has an unwavering passion for italian cuisine and decides to take a different direction in her life. Along that self-discovery, she also finds love.

Then there’s John who lost his beloved wife, Sonia and had never cooked a day in his life. He joins the cookery course to learn a few recipes and to more importantly, become self-reliant when it came to meals. He learns his all-time favourite: beef wellington and makes friends with Bella, Liz and Alex. Despite this, we understand that John has an uneasy relationship with his son. Meeting Alex and taking part in his cookery course allows John to realise that everyone deserves second chances, including his son.

This novel has friendship at its heart. This friendship is brought together through the shared interest in learning about cooking. It is this cookery course that helps each character find their way in their own lives. The plot and subplots worked very together to create a seamless story whilst including all the intricate details of what I believe all good novels should have.

It was an absolute pleasure to read. I’d like to thank Hodder Fiction for giving me the chance to review this novel for an honest review.

The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club will be published in September 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton.

commercial fiction · fiction · HarperCollins Publishers · Women's Fiction

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

The-Cows-Dont-Follow-The-Heard-All-things-books-blog

COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

So what did I think about this most-raved-about book? Loved it. Devoured in two sittings. The story centres around three women: Tara, Cam and Stella – women who don’t know each other but become connected through shared experience of what it’s actually like being in woman in the modern world. Cam is a successful, award-winning blogger, famed for her feminism and for her outspoken honesty. She’s passionate about being childless and wants to tell all the other women out there that they too have choices.

Tara is a TV documentary maker and a single mother to her six- year old daughter, Annie. Stella is a PA to an award-winning photographer and struggles to deal with the loss of her twin sister, Alice and who she is without her twin sister. Three women, different in their own ways with three different stories, which are woven together beautifully.

The novel is set in a social media world, which highly resonates with the world we live in today, where a person can go from unknown to trending in a mere 60 seconds. Dawn explores the themes of motherhood to masturbation and everything else in between that whichever female picks this book up can relate to it in one way or another.

 

This was definitely a page turner of a read. Dawn has an art for story-telling as she seamlessly weaves three different lives together beautifully, with humour and honesty about what is actually means to be a woman in 2017. Ladies, go get you copy, and don’t follow the heard. Be you! That’s the message I got and I think it’s relevant and needed now more than ever.

The Cows was published by HarperCollins in April 2017.

 

commercial fiction · fiction · Penguin Random House UK · psychological thrillers

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The-couple-next-door-all-things-books-blog

PEOPLE ARE CAPABLE OF ALMOST ANYTHING.

‘Meticulously crafted and razor-sharp. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR lingers long after you turn the final page’ HARLAN COBEN

Fast-paced and addictive, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR announces a major new talent in thriller writing.

You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

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.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

A fast-paced, page turning psychological thriller with a unique story centred around the kidnapping of a baby. There are many psychological thrillers out there that focus on a baby or a child being in some kind of danger, and while this is the case in this novel, you would never guess who could possibly take a baby.

Six month old Cora has been taken from her crib while she slept in her nursery of her parent’s upstate New York home. She has been taken in the middle of the night while her parents were attending a dinner party next door.

Cora’s parents, Anne and Marco, had not intended to leave their baby alone when they agreed to attend their next door neighbours’ birthday dinner. A sitter had been booked but then she cancelled. The childless couple next door had clearly stated that this was an adult only event. Marco, keen to enjoy an evening out, persuades Anne that they should attend the dinner party but take the baby monitor with them and take turns to check up on sleeping Cora every thirty minutes.

When they eventually returned late at night, drunk on wine and irritated by each other’s behaviour at the party, Marco and Anne find their front door ajar and their daughter gone.

The novel allows the readers to discern each of the main characters thought processes, which is really interesting. We have the mother, heaping guilt on herself for her port partum depression, for not appreciating the perfect baby, for allowing her husband to persuade her to go out without their child when she knew it was the wrong thing to do. We have the father, schooled and numbed, fearful of the impact this will have on his already fragile wife and their relationship, fully aware that the police investigation will bring to light financial troubles that he has kept secret from Anne. We also have the lead detective, meticulously carrying out his investigation, aware that in cases like these, the parents are most often to blame.

Anne has wealthy parents and hope that by offering money to the kidnappers, she’ll be able to get her baby back. But there is so much more than just a kidnapping that unfolds within this novel. The Couple Next Door also explores the delicate relationship between husband and in laws, deception, lies, heart ache and lastly appreciation.

This is definitely a good thriller. Why? Well, because I was hooked all the way through the novel. The plot had little to no holes, and it moved at a good pace. The events and layers of other issues were woven seamlessly and I couldn’t get through this novel quick enough. I could never also anticipate the twists that had me absolutely gripped.

The Couple Next Door was publishing by Transworld, Penguin Random House in April 2017.

 

commercial fiction · fiction · HarperCollins Publishers · new reads

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor-Oliphant-Is-Completely-Fine-book-review-all-things-books-blog

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

I really enjoyed reading this novel and have been waiting for it to be available to review on NetGalley for months!

Quite a lot of commercial fiction is now exploring the issues of mental illnesses but yet I’m surprised it’s taken until now to finally explore loneliness and thank you to Gail for achieving this so beautifully and seamlessly through Eleanor Oliphant.

To me, the most striking thing about this book is the character Eleanor Oliphant – she is an extremely well developed character that I can imagine seeing her on the big screens. As the reader, you do live inside Eleanor’s head, which was particularly interesting to me, though she’s not a cool character or that likeable in the beginning. Despite her articulate judgements of other people and her throughs of her own nature, you can’t help but like her. Why? Well, because she’s different and she’s figuring out who she is throughout the novel. And besides, being different is good, we need to celebrate it more. You end up caring about her and as the plot unfolds, it’s easy to realise that her grating qualities are only a product of doing mechanism to a much wider mental issue. Eleanor is undeniably an unreliable narrator, but it didn’t seem to bother me because through reading the novel, I got to understand her, and she is the most important character.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine and the most she says it, the more she ends up believing it. Eventually, she believes it so much that she can’t seem to recognise let alone deal with how her past and her relationship with her mother is affecting her adult life.

This is a beautifully written book that takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Full of kean observations of the human condition, it has a well developed plot that moves at a good pace and even takes you on a few twists and turns. Towards the end of the book, you can’t help but fall in love for Eleanor for the changes she makes. The novel really is a journey to discovery and I was truly touched by Eleanor.

Thank you to HarperCollins for allowing me to review this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was published in May 2017.