Sunday, 28 August 2016

"Can Anybody Help Me" Sinead Crowley

Can Anybody Help Me?
It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?


I liked this thriller. It's a relatively easy read - although not light in content, the writing is fluent, effortless and not gratuitous. The main characters feel authentic with relationships, concerns and problems that will be recognisable to anyone with any experience of motherhood, marriage, extended family and social media. What is perhaps most refreshing about Crowley's novel, is the angle at which she decides to explore the risks of social media. Rather than focusing on how the misuse of social media can affect teens and younger children, she reveals how adults unwittingly expose themselves and make themselves vulnerable. How many of us have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, instagram accounts? How much information could a stranger find out about you in a matter of clicks, however careful you think you've been? And how many hundreds of people do you communicate with daily based on a minute profile of less that 100 characters that could have been penned by anyone? *puts hand up sheepishly* 

The real appeal of this book is how Yvonne, a new mother, a new wife and new to the city, ends up becoming part of a group of mums who swap parenting advice, or gather to "whinge and moan" about the endless routine of changing nappies, feeding, husbands and sleepless nights. There is nothing unusual about this - in fact, how many of us have bonded with complete strangers during those early days of motherhood when you suddenly feel almost alienated from your single friends or colleagues; your world completely redrawn by the arrival of your new child? For Yvonne, this bonding takes place via an internet forum. Again, nothing unusual or untoward about this in today's current obsession with social media sites and our craving for an online presence. And for Yvonne, and some of the other members, it offers a chance to socialise without having to negotiate leaving the house or an opportunity to hide the real you behind an online nickname. 

Then one of her "friends" disappears from the conversations and fails to post anything for a while. This is when the suspense and mystery build and alongside a police inquiry, Crowley also raises questions about just how much we are revealing of ourselves online through our supposed coded statements. I can't say much more without spoiling it for those who have not read it, but I found the role of the online community in this police inquiry and crime thriller really interesting and enjoyed the interjection of the online threads in and amongst the main narrative sequence. It reflects how many of us process our news, feelings and friendships in this day and age. 

I also like the characters. Yvonne and Claire are well crafted. Both women want to embrace and enjoy motherhood but also find it tiring, demanding and exhausting. Sergeant Claire Boyle is particularly frustrated by how her pregnancy is affecting her ability to work as she is a diligent, committed police officer with an admirable drive to do her job the best way she can. They are fallible, they are not perfect but they are real and this makes them appealing and likeable. Crowley particularly captures the effect of tiredness and sleep deprivation on the rational and emotional disposition of a woman - as well as the loss of identity that can sometimes come with the initial period of being a stay at home mother - and how this can prove to be the downfall of some of the characters in this fast paced read. 

There are several different threads to hold on to tightly as Crowley develops the story line with two main protagonists and a colourful cast of many more- all mothers -whether of young children, newborns or expectant. The chapters are also broken up with "live" forum conversations from the website "netmammy" which initially seem a little random and indicative of the sort of comments to be found on these kind of sites, but as the story progresses the reader needs to scan these excerpts more carefully as the names, clues and comments become more significant to the dramatic finale. Even through these brief snippets of advice, comment, humour and despair, the character are very much alive and vivid and it is a credit to Crowley that she can make them so viable from such succinct and deft use of dialogue. 

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a modern, fast paced page turner with realistic characters who are not afraid to share their real feelings about motherhood and partners. Sergeant Claire is a determined character who captures the dilemma of many modern career women and Yvonne is an equally relatable character who finds herself struggling to function in the haze of early motherhood. Crowley evokes an atmosphere of exhaustion, blurriness and mental haze through her protagonists which also creates tension, suspense and empathy. The main plot line of a missing person has all the ingredients of a satisfying police procedural novel with the right amount of twists, turns, revelations, shocks and suspense. It is a solid crime read. 

I guessed the ending wrong. Twice. The last paragraph left me with a shudder. 

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) 

Friday, 26 August 2016

"In Her Wake" Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake

I approached this book with slight trepidation as the back cover and first few pages are absolutely rammed with glowing reviews from all the best psychological thriller writers and bloggers. Words like "exquisite", "haunting", "mesmerising", "atmospheric" and "immersive" litter each of their quotes and I wondered how a book with such accolade would manage to match my expectations.

I had nothing to worry about!

Well, other than that it is impossible to find any new adjectives or succinct phrases to sum up my reaction to this novel!

I raced through this despite its 364 pages and small print! The chapters are very short and alternate between Bella's narrative- set in the present - and then the narrative of Henry Campbell, which jump backwards and forwards through the preceding years as the reader gradually puts together all the pieces in the jigsaw and finally sees the full heartrending and deeply chilling ending.

I enjoyed the fact that although this most defiantly is a psychological thriller, it is a little different. The main perpetrators of the crime are dead and Bella is haunted by ghosts, memories and secrets which are as threatening as any shadowy figure hiding in the dark alleyways. The characters are complicated, multi-layered, damaged and unsuspectingly terrifying.

Jennings takes her time developing the characters so that they are authentic; their motives, behaviour and emotional fragility presented with care and deliberation so that the story remains compelling rather than melodramatic. Jennings manages the complex web of threads with impressive control, revealing details, twists, conversations and feelings with a precision that ensures tension and suspense throughout the entire novel. Some of Jennings' description of Bella's memories of life in the "Old Vicarage" reminded me of Elizabeth Haynes thrillers and the sense of claustrophobia, control and duplicitous behaviour was palpable. I was desperate for Bella to see the parallels between her childhood and marriage as her new relationship with Alice and Dawn help her realise her capabilities and give her the self confidence of which she has stripped for so long.

The theme of abuse is really intriguing in this book. The reader is invited to really consider its different guises - from the obvious, to the menacingly stealthy.

The last chapters are extremely compelling. I was utterly hypnotised by Jennings' writing as I tried to keep up with the rapid revelations and final few twists. I loved the ghostly atmosphere of the book and how formidable and unnerving some of the characters were.

"In Her Wake" didn't feel like a "Grip Lit" read even though it clearly is. It felt more like a story about families, motherhood, love, and the lengths people can be driven to under extreme pressure and after suffering immense loss and trauma. There are plenty of fascinating questions to ask about the motives of some characters (can't be too specific without spoiling it for anyone who has not read it yet!) and how we decide to judge them. As one reviewer comments, Jennings' skill is in her ability to "put her character's motivations and behaviour under the microscope, magnify the darkest, most unpalatable workings of the human psyche whilst balancing a clever sympathy for the main characters."

This book reminded me a little of "The Light Between the Oceans" in terms of some of the emotional trauma, but is actually much more deeply twisted. It probably was not the right choice for an afternoon on the beach but I thoroughly enjoyed becoming lost in Bella's journey. I found myself immersed in her personal journey, fully involved in her attempts to reconcile what she knows with what she thought she knew and as afraid of the next blurred memory as she was herself.

Recommend!

For more reviews and recommendations follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

"Escape to the Riviera" Jules Wake

Escape to the Riviera




























Gentle, comfortably predictable, undemanding, brimming with romance, comedy and a happy ever after ending -this book basically delivers exactly what it promises! It is a light hearted, playful summer holiday read that would fit nicely next to your chilled glass of wine as you recline in your sun lounger and take a break from a few lazy laps in the pool!

And if you can't get to the Riviera yourself this summer, let Wake transport you there! The location of this novel sets a perfect atmosphere for a satisfying chick lit / rom com read. The backdrop of the celebrity lifestyle of parties, posh restaurants and private beaches is obviously appealing to any day-dreaming reader. The contrast between protagonist Carrie's home life with Alan and the luxurious life of Richard is clearly going to engage readers - it's a bit like finding yourself on the film set of "Pretty Woman", and who doesn't hope to be served endless champagne while outfits for a cocktail party are flown in by a PA especially! Carrie's opportunity to remind herself of the person she was and consider the person she wants to become is attractive to all of us as we inevitably take stock of our own lives, away from the monotony from our usual routine.

There is plenty of humour surrounding Carrie's niece Jade as she can't help but WhatsApp her friends and the dialogue is suitably wry, sarcastic and witty throughout the novel, reflective of their relationship. Carrie's sister, Angela, is more restrained and conservative - again, showing the contrasts within the novel as Wake explores siblings, motherhood, love, responsibility and choice.

Wake writes well. Even the more cliched lines like when Carrie first sees Richard and reels at his "perfectly chiselled jawline, which she used to tease he'd borrowed from Action Man" don't feel overly saccharine. Wake's prose washes over you like the lull of lapping waves; light, calming and pleasantly relaxing.

Carrie has two weeks to see if Richard can win her back. Does she want to join him and be part of his celebrity lifestyle? Be spontaneous? Remember who she was and the ambitions she had for herself as a young actress? Or does the fact that she knows these two weeks are merely an escape for them both to be other people for a while - who doesn't want to escape their real life for a while?- mean that she can't seriously consider his proposal? And what of Alan? Jade? Angela? Her safe life; controlled and predictable?

Carrie's fear of further disappointment and bitterness keep resurfacing and Wake poses the dilemma between being choosing to be "content" or "happy", settling for "good" over "fun", throughout the novel in a very pleasing and amiable manner as we join Carrie on her meandering journey to find answers.

If you are looking for a light hearted, easy, summer read with affable characters, touches of charm and humour, something that will soothe your weary spirit as you relax on holiday, then this is the perfect book for you. To be honest, it's not my usual read and so I have only given it a 3/5 rating but I did enjoy it and I did feel transported to the Riviera through Wake's description. I was interested in finding out what happened and it made a refreshing change to read a book full of harmless, convivial, good humoured people and not to be too terrified to switch the light off at bedtime!

"Sweet Home" Carys Bray

Sweet Home

Accomplished, moving and unnerving, Sweet Home is a small tour de force - The Independent

With psychological insight and a lightness of touch frequently found in fairy tales, Carys Bray delves under the surface of ordinary lives to explore loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret. 

Shades of Angela Carter... that deceptively light touch delivers swift, hard punches to the solar plexus.
The Guardian 


Suburbia in all its tarnished glory - Carys Bray teases at the cracks, and pulls at all the loose threads dangling, in short stories that are funny and sad and achingly true.
Robert Shearman





They say there's no place like home. It's where the heart is...

Meet the little boy who believes in miracles.

Meet the mother who loves to bring babies home from the newborn aisle of her supermarket.

Meet the husband who carves a longed-for baby out of ice as a gift for his wife.

Meet the widow who is reminded of romance whilst standing at the kitchen sink

"Bray explores parenthood, loss, childhood and belonging with razor sharp prose....never afraid to epode the darkness that exists behind suburban front doors." Jenn Ashworth 

I have shamelessly borrowed lots of other quotes (largely taken from Bray's website www.carysbray.co.uk) as other reviewers have been able to capture the impact this book has on the reader much more eloquently than I ever will.

I adored this collection of 17 short stories.

Every now and again, usually when I am thinking about having a go at writing myself, I come across a book which shames me into screwing up every sheet of scribbled plot ideas I have as I stand humbled and in awe of the utter and complete skill of a seriously talented writer, realising I should never attempt to compete and just stick to reading! This book did just that.

This collection of short stories is only 180 pages long; each story ranges from very brief -almost flash fiction style- to three or four pages long, to six or seven pages maximum, so it can very easily be picked up and enjoyed whenever you have a spare minute. It's perfect for dipping in and out of -although you will not want to, as this is a book that needs to be truly savoured.

If like me, you try to read these tales without allowing for that ten minute period of stunned reflection after the last sentence has run like cold water down your spine, then you will end up burning dinner, letting your hundredth cup of tea go cold and come back to earth to find your children have quietly destroyed the house and eaten the entire secret supply of chocolate biscuits.

These stories are intense, powerful, emotionally and at times, heartbreaking. Above all, they are very original and show Bray to be an accomplished storyteller. They explore grief, motherhood, families and "home". It is a rich collection of dark, perceptively chilling tales.

Often in a collection of stories there are those that are stronger and weaker, but I did not find that here. I could quote endlessly from all of them. From the opening paragraph of the first story I knew I had discovered a real gem of a book of which I was going to love every sentence:

"She felt like an actress who has learned the wrong lines. She has rehearsed Mary Poppins only to find herself appearing in Night Mother." 

The opening story, "Everything a parent needs to know", sees a mother battling her way through a child's swimming lesson as words from her "hard-backed, hard-faced, hard-to-follow" parenting manuals haunt and taunt her. I loved the fictitious quotes which resonated deeply, as did their inappropriateness and smugness as the mother struggles through a trying situation. "Just in Case" left me with a shudder but also a sadness and "My burglar" was equally poignant.

"Sweet Home" is a fantastic retelling of "Hansel and Gretel" and also subtly shows the reader how these short stories could also be fables and fairy tales for a contemporary audience as they echo many of the traits and lure the reader into the same kind of hypnotic, mediative state.

Short stories are a real art form and I think, deceptively hard to write. This collection gives Bray a chance to flaunt the full range of her talent and her intelligent - and brave- insight into aspects of "home" which are sometimes considered taboo or highly emotive and sensitive. She handles them expertly. This is a very dark collection of tales but I did not find it depressing or oppressive. Bray's lyrical writing is captivating and a treads a well judged balance between heartbreak, shock and humour. Bray seems to have a wealth of experience and understanding of human nature beyond her years and I am impressed with her ability to write about a range of issues and themes with such conviction, acuteness and awareness. As The Times said, "Bray writes with clarity, intelligence and authenticity."

Bray is a talented writer - read everything she's written and cross your fingers for more.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk).

Thursday, 25 August 2016

In Conversation with author GJ Minett

Lie in WaitThe Hidden Legacy

I was lucky enough to meet with Graham, author of "The Hidden Legacy" (ebook published Nov 2015, paperback Aug 2016) and the hotly anticipated "Lie in Wait" also releasing in August 2016.

I discovered "The Hidden Legacy" after reading a review by @cleo_bannister (cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com) - book guru and book blogger extraordinaire! My crippling To Be Read pile is almost wholly down to her fantastic recommendations! Since reviewing his debut novel, we have kept in touch and I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a coffee with him recently giving me a chance to meet him in person and hear more about his life as a writer.

For Graham, one of the biggest things he has discovered is that actually the life of an author is not one of tranquil isolation, where you are left undisturbed at your desk to write to your heart's content; it is actually very social and the impact of this interaction is invaluable. "I probably spend a few hours a day on Twitter," he told me, "The first thing my publisher insisted on was getting myself an account and embracing the whole world of social media, which was a bit scary but actually has been such an enjoyable eyeopener." It's not just a way to market and promote his own novel but Graham discovered "book bloggers"! "All these people who will give up their own time to read other people's books -not just one or two but hundreds and hundreds of them! And then review them! It's such a huge job, so time consuming...." But also one that actually generates sales and can have a direct influence on the success of a book - particularly a new writer. "My first review on Goodreads was a 5 star rating," - there are many many more now, in fact on Amazon, 85 out of the 129 reviews are 5 star and a further 26 are 4 stars - "Two days later, I went back to have another look, we all do obviously, despite what we say! - and there were 17 comments posted under this first post, all saying they were now or would soon also read my book following this recommendation from a trusted reviewer. And then things just flew! I've written a post all about book bloggers," he continues, "I'm just so grateful for what they do and admire their time and commitment to reading and supporting writers."

Graham still works part time but is hoping that in the next 18 months or so, he can fully "retire" from his "day job" and concentrate completely on his career as an author. "A few years ago I made the decision to really make a go of writing. It was something I wanted to do for a long time and it was too easy to make an excuse up not to get on with it. The time was right and I enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University." The course was very professional and as it took him seriously as a writer, Graham could take himself seriously as a writer. Not only was the course and the teaching paramount to honing his creative skills and helping him become more expert at characterisation, plot development and all the other things you'd expect to study, Graham actually found the structure of having to meet a deadline, submit your pieces and then have them workshopped with really constructive feedback was the most motivating and valuable element of his time there.

The MA gave him the chance to complete several short stories that were redrafted and redrafted until they could redraft no more, and he then began to submit them to competitions and win prizes! This gave him a few credentials with which to include in his letters to agents when he began to submit "The Hidden Legacy". He'd completed the opening 3 chapters of this as part of his dissertation.

"I would highly recommend an MA in Creative Writing to anyone who is serious about writing," Graham says. "I learn so much - not just about writing and how to be a critical reader but, perhaps even more importantly, how the book publishing industry worked."

So the idea for "The Hidden Legacy" had been in existence for a while? "I'd created this character, Ellen. I have completed pages and pages of character sheets with every detail of information about her from the colour of eyes, to what she had for breakfast, to the last song she'd bought. I'd sit watching the news on telly and in my head I'd be wondering what she was making of it all! I had to write about her." The tricky part was transferring all Graham knew about Ellen into the story at the right time and in the right way. Sometimes when you know someone too well you can miss out the crucial detail. "I had two sheets of paper. One with every single scene I wanted to do in the book. Another with every single thing I wanted to use about Ellen. Then I highlighted a characteristic and matched it with a specific scene so the whole novel was colour coded and minutely planned out by the time I came to pull it all together."

Graham is also an avid reader and gets through about 75 - 80 books a year. He's currently reading "The Spy of Venice" by Benet Brandreth and also highly recommends "Tall Oaks" by Chris Whittaker, "Cut to the Bone" by Alex Caan and "Without Trace" by Simon Booker. Graham often posts recommendations on Twitter and I read "The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir" by Leslie Allen following his advice and it has been one of the best books I have read this year!

It was great to meet with Graham, hear all his news and learn a little bit more about his writing life. His new book, "Lie in Wait" is out on August 25th 2015. Thank you so much Graham for making some time to catch up and giving me the opportunity to write about our conversation. I wish you all the best with the sales of the paperbacks of both your books this Autumn!

UPDATED STATS - Hidden Legacy has now received 140 reviews on Amazon, 119 are 4 or 5 stars!



For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

"The House in Quill Court" Charlotte Betts



          

‘Romantic, engaging and hugely satisfying’
Katie Fiorde on The Apothecary's Daughter
‘A highly-recommended novel of love, tragedy and the power of art’
Daily Mail on The Painter's Apprentice
‘Full of passion and drama . . . I was captivated by this moving, heart-warming and beautifully woven story - gripping, atmospheric, eloquently told and full of rich detail’
Kate Furnivall on The Chateau on the Lake

The House in Quill Court
CHARLOTTE BETTS

Published 25th August 2016
Paperback Original | £8.99

From the multi-award-winning author of The Apothecary’s Daughter, The House in Quill Court is a gorgeously evocative Regency novel bursting with historical flavour and characters you won’t forget. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.
1813. Venetia Lovell lives by the sea in Kent with her pretty, frivolous mother and idle younger brother. Venetia’s father, Theo, is an interior decorator to the rich and frequently travels away from home, leaving his sensible and artistic daughter to look after the family. Venetia designs paper hangings and she and her father often daydream about having an imaginary shop where they would display the highest quality furniture, fabrics and art to his clients.
When a handsome but antagonistic stranger, Jack Chamberlaine, arrives at the Lovell’s cottage just before Christmas bringing terrible news, Venetia’s world is turned upside-down and the family have no option but to move to London, to the House in Quill Court and begin a new life. Here, Venetia’s courage and creativity are tested to breaking point, and she discovers a love far greater than she could have ever imagined . . .

 MY REVIEW OF "THE HOUSE IN QUILL COURT"

The opening of this story reminded me of aspects of "Beauty and the Beast" - a father, travelling away with work often at the compromise of his family, and his attractive, creative daughter with whom he shares a dream of owning a shop full of gorgeous fabrics and furniture until his untimely death under tragic and suspicious circumstances.....Or perhaps, more conventionally, "Sense and Sensibility" where the beloved daughters are usurped by distant relatives due to the sexist laws regarding inheritance. Albeit slightly contrived, the Lovell's move to London establishes a pleasing start to a novel about family, money, dreams and love and gives Betts the perfect setting to show off her knowledge of the Regency era and life in London for both the wealthy classes and the underclasses.

Betts is quick to establish characters and again, in keeping with the romantic genre of the book, they are enjoyably predictable. Venetia is clearly a woman before her time; she has a good understanding of finance, business and design, with the feel of a very competent, self assured young lady who takes the responsibility of looking out for her mother and brother in her stride. Like Elinor Dashwood in "Sense and Sensibility" she is the 'sense' and copes more readily with the sudden upheaval and revelation that there is no money, no income and no more house run by several servants now her father is dead. Unlike her mother.......

"'Your late husband invested heavily in a business venture and there are no savings left for you to draw upon. .......'
'Live together? Support ourselves!' Mama clapped one hand to her breast, 'We can't, it's monstrous!'"

Major Jack Chamberlaine is a brooding character who casts a shadow on their lives and continues to challenge their attempts to settle in London. Unsupportive and derisory, the tension between him and Venetia is actually quite delicious.

Betts excels in creating handsome heroes, loveable rouges and intimidating, dastardly villains. King Midas is one such unpleasant character whose reign of power and hold over Kent and London makes him as feared as the Krays.

"Kitty stared back at the man, an ice-cold shiver running down her back, just as if she'd turned over a stone and found a poisonous snake underneath. She recognised his hooded eyes and the bullyboys at his side, and broke out into a cold sweat. The last time she'd him it had been by moonlight on a windswept beach as he watched the guineas for Napoleon being loaded into the galleys, King Midas."

Once the family move to London, the story splits into two threads. Venetia and her ambitious attempts to reclaim her father's shop and turn it into a viable business venture, and then the plight of Kitty, her maid, who leaves everything she knows behind her in Kent to stay with the Lovells, then quickly falls in love, marries and witnesses a very different kind of side of London. Both girls are strong, resilient, clever, kind and likeable. It did take me a while to warm to them but once the story picked up pace I found that I was more involved in their story lines than I realised!

I think I did enjoy Kitty's story more than Veneita's and preferred her a little more as a character too.

The characters are firmly planted in the Regency era and the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars adds more tension and excitement. Any necessary historical information is deftly explained through dialogue or imagery; the descriptions of the more slum like areas are evoked effectively creating a dark, dank, dirty atmosphere that contrasts with the more luxurious houses of the more wealthy. I liked the sense of Kitty and Nat actually living in a "rat run" in which she literally could not find her way around without a guide. I also liked the detail about the fabrics, furniture, wall paper hangings and ornaments Venetia sourced for the shop. Nat, Kitty's beau, is a very helpful source of historical detail and often fills us in with any necessary details about the Napoleonic Wars, politics or crime. Betts has clearly done her homework and adds authenticity with the use of regency slang which flows through the dialogue with fluency and conviction.

While reading Betts's novel, I was reminded of other historical fictions which probably reflects her ability to create a strong sense of historical setting and identifiable characters with set roles rather than a weakness of any sort. I felt Nat's involvement with pickpockets and young orphaned children was reminiscent of "Oliver Twist" (although an exceptionally more gentle and kind version of Fagin and Sikes!) and the burglary was very like a scene from the novel.

"'Hold up your glum,' whispered Lennie. Nat opened the lantern and held it up while Lennie forced a small window. 'Up you go, Benny,' said Nat. He slid the boy's feet through the casement, gripping him by the waist. '....the key's hanging in the larder....stand on the chair to reach the top bolt.'"

Venetia reminded me of Denise from the BBC's "The Paradise" and Kitty perhaps a more diluted version of a character from a Wilkie Collins or Sarah Waters novel. This book certainly had the feel of an ITV Sunday night drama and it would be great to see it on the screen.

The second half of the novel gathers speed and the relationships between the characters become more compelling. There is plenty of tension, romance, heartache, violence and recriminations. It is quite melodramatic but actually, I found I was rather more caught up in it all than I had realised and was quite gripped by all the different dynamics between the characters. Betts cleverly pulls all the various characters - however small or large their role has been- plot lines and themes together in a way where no detail is left unaccounted. It is dramatic, fast paced, exciting and, although perhaps just a little contrived or cliched, it certainly made for a very satisfying read.

I was quite interested in the further reading list Betts acknowledged at the end of the book and one title -"Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England" by Roy and Lesley Adkins - sounded like a good book to seek out a later stage - especially for anyone interested in this particular era.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a light, romantic, historical read, or for fans of a very watchable ITV-weekend-style costume drama. I did enjoy this book more than I thought I would as it is not necessarily my usual choice and I have already perused Betts back catalogue on Amazon with interest!

My thanks to Little, Brown Book Group for a copy of the novel in return for an honest review. The book will be released by Little, Brown on 25th August 2016.

MORE ABOUT CHARLOTTE BETTS
Charlotte Betts began her working life as a fashion designer in London. A career followed in interior design, property management and lettings. Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children grew up. 
Her debut novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter, won the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award in 2010 and the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, was shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2011 and won the coveted Romantic Novelists' Association's Historical Romantic Novel RoNA award in 2013. Her second novel, The Painter’s Apprentice was also shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2012 and the RoNA award in 2014. The Spice Merchant’s Wife won the Festival of Romance's Best Historical Read award in 2013. 
Charlotte lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.

For further information please contact Clara Diaz on 020 3122 6565 | Clara.Diaz@littlebrown.co.uk


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"The Sudden Departure of the Frasers" Louise Candlish

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

When Christy and Joe Davenport move into number 40 Lime Park Road - their perfect, dream, forever family home in a perfect, dream street -they are delighted to have managed to stretch their budget to buy something they never thought they could own. But why was the house on a such a low price? Why did the previous owners spend a year renovating then move out so suddenly? And without a trace? Why won't any of the neighbours speak to Christy and why will no one tell her the truth about Amber Fraser, the previous owner -a mythological sexy, beautiful, perfect hostess and neighbour. Christy finds herself becoming obsessed with finding out what happened and revealing the dark secret that tore the street apart......

At around 500 pages long this is a book that requires a bit more of an investment than Candlish's recent bestseller "The Swimming Pool". Candlish takes time to develop the characters in detail, establishing the setting of Lime Park Road carefully and introducing the characters fully so that actually it is less of a "thriller" and more of a character led story. I did find it a bit slow to start with but persisted as I knew Candlish would deliver - and deliver she does!

Told in alternating chapters between Christy and Amber we are taken backwards and forwards through the events leading up to the Fraser's sudden departure. Amber's narrative is told in first person and Christy's sections are told in third person, although interestingly Christy is definitely the easier character to relate to. I suspect Candlish enjoyed writing Amber's character more as she is quite unlikeable, deliciously arrogant and manipulative. She is caustic in her comments about her so called friends and neighbours:

"She had the most hectic haircut I had ever seen- it was as if it had been scribbled on her head by Quentin Blake - and make up so poorly applied I wondered if she'd handed crayons to her sons and given them free reign." 

There is a guilty pleasure in waiting to see what might happen to this dishonest, self satisfying woman! As Amber tells her story retrospectively, she peppers her narrative with clues that things will end in disaster and this creates intrigue.

"It was all so effortless, so natural. You'd think I'd been born to betray." 

"And where was I in this catastrophized tableau? Hiding in the wardrobe or under the bed, my clothes clutched to my naked body, a high heeled shoe left behind, just visible from the door?"

I also liked the perspective the neighbours threw on Amber's character. Caroline looked at a photo as if "she longed for the glory days, for that golden age when Queen Amber presided. Like a deposed aristocrat dreaming of the last days of Versailles." 

There is a level of suspense sustained throughout the novel but this is really a slow burner of a book. Both characters have significant back stories and through the two different women Candlish is able to explore different kinds of ideas about marriage, trust, friendship, hope and obsession. By about a third of the way through the book I had engaged with both narratives and I was enjoying the description, characterisation and plot development. I felt like I was a resident on Lime Park Road and a keen observer on the antics between the neighbours.

For the last third of the book I found myself settling back into the sofa and rubbing my hands with satisfying glee as the twists begin to unfurl and Candlish revealed her skill as a writer who can pull the carpet out from under your feet. I watched with horror as Amber's final actions rip through Lime Park Road, her marriage and her friendships.

This novel is full of astute observations and thoughtful characterisation. It is realistic; not far fetched or requiring any kind of suspension of belief which I really enjoyed and found quite unsettling. There is something very appealing about stories that centre on neighbours and small communities - perhaps because we all live with neighbours and all wonder what goes on behind closed doors? How well do we know anyone living alongside us? How fragile are our relationships within our street?

I suspect the ending may divide readers - those who love to be completely stunned and those who prefer a neat tying up of all the threads. Me, I loved the ending! My jaw literally dropped and I hurriedly flicked back through the pages to re-read chunks, trying to absorb what Candlish is implying with her final words. Clever....... or cruel?!

I enjoyed this book. I'm giving it a 3.5 /5 just because I found it a bit of a slow start. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy a more thorough character led suspenseful novel and for readers of Mark Edwards "The Magpies", Cass Green "The Woman Next Door" and Shari Lapena's "The Couple Next Door".

For more reviews and recommendations please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

"The Sudden Departure of the Frasers" was published in May 2015 by Penguin.