Wednesday, 13 December 2017

#TheMarriagePact #MichelleRichmond #Review

*My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of this book via NetGalley*

I have been hearing a lot about this book and was intrigued by its premise. Marriage is always a great topic for a thriller - particularly a newly married couple. Cults, secret societies and controlling peer groups are also perfect topics for thrillers and always fascinating to read about so to find a book that combines both is surely a recipe for a page turning read. 

Meet Alice and Jake, a picture perfect couple. Alice has put her previous life as a singer in a rock band behind her and is now a successful lawyer. Jake is therapist. They have a great future ahead of them and seem very happy together. 

On a whim, Alice invites one of her prominent clients to the wedding and he presents them with an unusual gift - a gift which once explained to them,  results in them joining a mysterious, secret and exclusive group known only as The Pact. Once they join, they are guaranteed many years of harmonious marriage and that they will never to divorce. What have they got to lose? It just sounds like a bit of a game and why would they ever end up divorcing anyway - they are soul mates! 

As the rules of the pact are revealed they seem straightforward enough. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls, exchange thoughtful gifts, plan a short trip away four times a year - sure, wouldn't any couple be doing this anyway? And as well as being part of The Pact, which they must not mention to anyone, they are invited to lots of exclusive parties and start enjoying a growing social life and social circle. 

But then the rules seem to become more complicated, more inflexible, harder to follow and those leading The Pact become more controlling, less forgiving and more threatening in their requests. Suddenly things appear more sinister.

And the worst thing about The Pact? There's no way out. 

Fidelity to the Spouse. Loyalty to the Pact. Till death do us part. 

The story is narrated by Jake who appears likeable, genuine, caring and straightforward enough. He appears to have Alice's best interests at heart. She is more vulnerable with some emotional baggage and he is the one who wants the commitment and stability offered through marriage so from the outset there is a slight imbalance or inequality between the couple. Despite this, Alice is not weak or vulnerable, she is a successful lawyer who is dedicated and hardworking. Jake is a therapist and counsels couples through their own marital problems so we consider him to be emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, generous and empathetic. But he does mention that he 'wanted Alice', that marriage would 'ensure he didn't lose her'. At first these seem almost throwaway comments but the words do lodge themselves there and begin to fester. For the more alert, this seed of suspicion is sown. 

But how bad can it get?

Bad. When Alice and Jake read the manual that they are presented with, they don't really take it seriously or pay attention to the pages and pages of listed articles. But they don't miss the part that says there are punishments for 'misdemeanours' and 'felonies'. You can almost feel the nervous laughter as they wonder whether The Pact really takes itself so seriously that it has its own justice system. As Alice and Jack begin to realise that they are in something way over their heads that they don't quite understand, the reader gets that sense of a sinking in your stomach and a chill creeping through your skin. Just what have they got themselves into and what might it mean for their marriage?

The novel quickly accelerates and becomes a dark and twisted thriller where Alice and Jake are placed in danger; trapped by the members of the Pact, unable to speak freely with anyone to get help and with their every move being watched, judged and called into explanation. Things start to take an unpleasant turn. Alice is punished for putting work above her marriage - in a way that is shocking and severe.  Jake's guilt ridden internal thoughts that the 'marriage was his idea' but she has sacrificed much more begin to become louder and the reader is unsettled by the change in Alice as a result of punishment and also of the growing imbalance between them. While Alice is stoic in her acceptance of her punishment,  Jake takes it upon himself to try and discover the truth behind the pact and what has happened to other couples that have gone before them. Even if this means risking everything.

Jake's job as a therapist is a helpful device and the author uses it to prompt conversations about cults, marriage and other observations that challenge our ideas about society. He can site examples from couples he's counselled and he can also debate topics about relationships. There are some pertinent questions included in the pages of this novel yet cleverly it never becomes moralistic or too reflective or analytical about what makes a good marriage. The writer knows this is a dark, psychologically thrilling novel and therefore uses these observations and interviews from Jack's life effectively and with good timing. 

This novel is like a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and The Adjustment Bureau. I enjoyed the first half which was full of tension and suspense and very much in the style of a thriller. I enjoyed the middle bits which felt a little more futuristic and Orwellian, and then at the end I enjoyed the revelations, self realisation and acceptance of the true motives of each character as they complete their emotional journey and the story reaches its denouement. 

It's a bold novel that will impress readers and it would certainly work really well in a book group as there is so much to unpack and explore. Alice and Jake are likeable, flawed but authentic characters, in which readers will recognise parts of themselves. The Marriage Pact is intriguing, compelling and shines a new light on how to explore issues of control, jealousy, expectation and possessiveness within the framework of a contemporary thriller. 

The Marriage Pact is published by Michael Joseph on the 14th December 2017.

Bibliomaniac's Book Club: December 2017


Wilkie Collins' novels are:

- Compulsively page turning
- Full of suspense and tension
- High class Detective Fiction
- Innovative and genre breaking
- Include multiple narratives and unreliable narrators
- Explore themes of madness, insanity, lies, deceit, manipulation and domestic issues

Sounds like some of the most popular psychological thrillers out this month! 

Yes, they may be over 150 years old, but Wilkie Collins' stories are still as relevant, as exciting and as gripping as they were when they first appeared. His novels are considered to be the first detective novels as we know them today - and maybe even a forerunner for the psychological thriller! 

I love Wilkie Collins. I have read and reread The Woman in White, seen the films, watched any TV adaptations and even seen it performed as a musical decades ago (no, I wouldn't recommend that particular interpretation!). I love The Moonstone. I have also read his other novels - No Name a particular favourite - and I think they're all compelling and complex reads. But the worst thing about Wilkie Collins is knowing he is never going to write me a new book! 

.... Anyway, although some may be put off by the density and length of Collins' novels, I do think they are worthy of a read and should be on any crime thriller fan's TBR pile.

 On the 28th December, Harper Collins are reissuing The Moonstone to mark 150 years since it was first published and as Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for ghost stories, I thought it was timely to dedicate December's book club choice to this fantastic classic. 

The Moonstone is Wilkie Collins’s spellbinding tale of romance, theft, and murder. Based on the disappearance of an enormous diamond originally stolen from an Indian shrine, the novel features the innovative Sergeant Cuff, the hilarious house steward Gabriel Betteridge, a lovesick housemaid, and a mysterious band of Indian jugglers. Curious? You should be! 

Collins gives us a story full of all the ingredients we want in a detective thriller. There's the mysterious and compelling crime that takes place in an English country house; there's a large cast of potential suspects, all of them assembled, each with plenty of motives. There's a celebrated sleuth who enacts a reconstruction of the crime and finally unveils a satisfying explanation of what has happened, cleverly slotting all the pieces of the puzzle into their rightful place. The story is told using a variety of narratives from the main characters in a variety of forms, which makes the reader keep turning the page to try and solve the mystery and discover the truth. There is plenty of tension, suspense and drama. 

‘Probably the very finest detective story ever written. Nothing human is perfection, but The Moonstone comes about as near perfection as anything of the kind ever can.’ 


The Woman in White has a much more complicated and intricate plot which is really hard to condense and summarise, but it is intensely compelling and absolutely worth persisting with. Published before The Moonstone, it is considered one of the first examples of detective fiction with the protagonist Walter Hartright using the skills to uncover the crime that we will later see private detectives employing. It is also a very gothic novel, full of ghostly settings and a spine tinglingly eerie atmosphere that lingers over every page. 

'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

Walter Hartright has a creepy and unsettling encounter on a moonlit London road in the opening pages. He is then engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairly and before long he has become embroiled in the sinister lives of Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. This is a novel which explores identity, madness and the plight of women in society within the setting of an English country house and an asylum. It's a gothic horror. It's a psychologically thriller.

So why not curl up this Christmas, set some time aside to indulge in a classic crime novel that may give you the shivers, but ultimately will deliver a very well executed and meticulously planned mystery story. Choose one of these classics for your book group and then use the questions below to start your discussion! 


How did you find reading either The Woman In White or The Moonstone? What were the challenges?   What are the key differences between this book and a detective novel in the bestseller charts at the moment?

What did you like best about the book? 

What three bits of advice would you give to someone before they read these books? (Practical, serious or literary!)

Can you identify how these stories paved the way for the detective novel as we know it today? What key features or ingredients of the genre does Collins include? 

Collins uses lots of different narrators and lots of different forms of writing to tell his stories. Were there any particular voices or forms of writing that appealed to you or were easier to identify with?

What do you think about his representation of women? 

Can you think of any contemporary novels you have read recently that might be compared with The Woman in White or The Moonstone? Can you recognise techniques, themes and ideas used by Collins in modern fiction?

What values do you think Collins had or tried to explore in his novels?

Do you need a knowledge of history or the social context to fully enjoy or appreciate these novels?

Why do you think these novels were considered groundbreaking when they were published? 

Write the blurb for one of these novels as if you are pitching them to a book buyer at a supermarket.

Katherine thinks these books are brilliant and essential reading for anyone who loves mystery novels and gothic stories. Does she have a point or should they be left to go dusty on the library shelves? Do you think these novels could still be relevant to a reader in modern day society?

Would you read another Wilkie Collins book or another classic after having read one of these titles? If yes, why and which one? If no, why not?

Monday, 11 December 2017

#AnatomyofaScandal #SarahVaughan #BlogTour

by Sarah Vaughan 

I don't often get the opportunity to read a book six months ahead of its publication day, so I am incredibly grateful to Jessica Barratt at Simon & Schuster for sending me a proof copy of Anatomy of A Scandal earlier this year. I am especially excited as I think this is going to be THE thriller of 2018 and it seems I'm not the only ....momentum and publicity around this book is building and without a doubt, this is a novel to look out for in January when it publishes!

One of the things that tells me this is a stand out novel is that even though I read it four months ago, it has really stayed with me. I still remember how I felt about the characters while I was reading it, how powerfully evocative some of the scenes were and how much I enjoyed the writer's style and accomplished execution of a narrative with multiple voices and a dual timeline. Recently, as word about this book spreads, I've really loved chatting about it and I can't wait to do this more in January when it's on general release. For me, who reads so much, the true test of a book is how I feel about it months later. I still love this book, I still think it's a five star read and I'm still excited for Vaughan and all she has achieved within these pages. The fact that it has become more topical than ever is the icing on a very delicious cake. 

So, finally.... here is my review!

This is an intelligent thriller which not only blends the genre of a court case drama with domestic thriller, but also includes many passages of exquisite writing about marriage, friendship, love and moral dilemmas. It is compelling and absorbing, thought provoking and evocative, chilling and desperately unputdownable. 

Anatomy of a Scandal is about Sophie and her husband James Whitehouse, Junior Minster and close friend of the Prime Minister, who is on trial, accused of a terrible crime. However, it feels that there is another crime being tried in the court case against James; the crime of a sense of entitlement, privilege and arrogance. In this articulate, accomplished domestic thriller Vaughan cleverly creates a trial where the perpetrator is not only being tried for his physical actions but also for his social status, past behavior and self absorption. His self assurance and wealthy background has lead him to believe he can behave recklessly without any thought for long term consequences or the effect his behavior might have on those he claims to love.  This is a fascinating novel that although driven by the drama of nail biting court room scenes, also takes time to develop complex characters whose layers are slowly pulled back revealing more hidden connections, entwined loyalties and the subsequent repercussions of shared histories, secrets and lies.

At nearly 400 pages Vaughan has allowed herself time and space to really develop and consider the roles of each character in the events leading up to the crime for which James stands trial. We slip between the past and present and hear from both Sophie, James’ wife, and Kate, the barrister. The tension is taught throughout as we sit in court one moment, join Sophie at home the next, watch Kate in her office and then delve further back to the days when all three characters were at University discovering who they were, making friends and allegiances that would bind them to their future and shape the course of who and what they then became. 

Vaughan is a skilled writer and at all the times the reader is firmly placed in the moment she is describing. The court room scenes feel authentic and convincing; the scenes from University will resonate with anyone who has been or ever lived away from home. Her writing is highly evocative; the atmosphere, dialogue, and pertinent details are all brilliant captured with polished prose. Even if you have never been to college, the description and insight shown in scenes exploring friendship groups, clichés, a sense of isolation and peer pressure will affect any reader and provoke strong emotional reactions whether it’s related to personal experience or not. The universal nature of the themes she tackles make this novel powerful and significant. The strength of engagement we feel with the characters make this novel powerful and significant.

Ultimately Anatomy Of A Scandal an exceedingly good story. It has engaging characters – some likeable, some not so much, some with little redemption at all but each one carefully crafted to drive the dramatic and emotional tension. This is a novel about choice, dilemma, commitment, loyalty and justice.  Aptly titled, this is indeed an investigation and exploration of each thread, join, link and part of a scandalous crime. 

5 stars. 

And to make things even more exciting - Sarah has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions so I am delighted to welcome her along today as part of the Blog Tour! 

A Q&A with Sarah Vaughan 

This novel is very complex and includes several different threads of story that gradually begin to collide. Lots of writers talk about their systems when planning a novel whether it’s a spreadsheet, a timeline, a wall of post it notes… Can you tell me a bit about the way you plan your stories? 

Anatomy of a Scandal was unique in that I literally dreamed the plot. I was thinking about what I should write as my next novel and in the morning I woke with the main plot points and the bare bones of the story formed. I knew from the start that I wanted to write about a barrister who would prosecute a junior minister accused of rape and I knew that I wanted a storyline involving things that had happened twenty-odd years earlier at Oxford. It didn’t take long for me to work out that I wanted the wife’s point of view to be important, as well. 

Unlike my two previous novels, where I used a massive piece of A2 card divided up into columns of chapter, point of view, what happens, timeline etc., I jotted the chapters for Anatomy down as a list, starting with the first five of them and, once I’d written these, planning through to the end. There were some changes to the plot midway through, and some playing around with where the past story would sit, but I still knew that I needed to get to the penultimate chapter. The final one made complete sense by the time I’d got to that stage.

Anatomy is my third novel and I’d had a nightmare with the structure of my second one so I was determined to plan this more carefully. I’ve just completing my fourth novel, and for this I have used coloured post-its so that I can make sure I keep to a structure of alternating first and third person narrators and that I achieve a balance between points of view. I don’t think I can plan an entire novel from the start as the characters lead me in certain directions, and I never like feeling pinned down, but I have to plot the first handful of chapters and write those in order to have the confidence to carry on.

Recently there have been some powerful TV series like The Good Wife and Apple Tree Yard which explore similar themes that you address in Anatomy Of A Scandal and focus on the drama of a court room. What do you think is it about the courtroom that appeals to the reader / viewer so much? 

Before I wrote novels I was a news reporter, for the Press Association, and then the Guardian, and because I had fast shorthand - 110 wpm at my speediest – I would be sent to cover high-profile criminal trials. I realised pretty early on quite how dramatic a court hearing can be. It’s not just because there’s an inherent drama in the way in which barristers dress and the court’s laid out but because of the adversarial system, in which witnesses are challenged and their answers can sometimes lead a trial to twist and turn unexpectedly – much like a great plotline. 

I saw this back in February 1997, when, as a very junior reporter, I attended the inquest of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence and members of the gang accused of murdering him stonewalled Michael Mansfield QC. There was an intense drama in their repeated “no comments” and in his grim, relentless questioning in the face of this. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the most serious crimes and heightened emotions are explored in a trial. A courtroom drama gives you a public gallery view of this.

This is your third novel. It seems to be a slight change in direction from your previous titles. Was this a conscious decision or was this just the story that you needed to write next? 

I actually wanted to write this as my second novel but my debut was a women’s fiction novel about motherhood and perfection, set around a baking competition, and my previous publishers thought, not unreasonably, it was too big a jump from baking to a book about consent. I wrote a second novel about love, loss and atonement, set on a remote farm in north Cornwall, but once that contract ended I jumped straight into this. 

Anatomy is my most personal novel and the one I was itching to write and that I’d been thinking about for two years before I got to it. But, though it’s darker in tone, I think there are strong elements of darkness along the same lines in both my previous books. There’s a flick of the same theme in the first novel and it’s more explicit in the second. This is a much better novel for being my third one but this was obviously something I needed to write properly about. 

Why did you decide to make your male character a member of parliament? Did this create any challenges or complications when you were writing? Did you have to research more for his character?

As a news reporter, I spent three chunks of my career working in the Houses of Parliament including over two years as a political correspondent for the Guardian. I knew from the start that James would be a junior minister in a Conservative government. He’s a person in a position of power, who is charismatic and persuasive, and so narcissistic that his reading of the truth is the only one he recognises – and the one he chooses to believe. 

I’ve certainly met charming men, and I’ve observed, and interviewed, charismatic, self-confident politicians, so this all felt quite straightforward to write. 

I was working in the lobby in March 2003, when the Iraq war was debated, and was there when the whole question of whether the dossier into weapons of mass destruction dossier had been “sexed up” so I learned how important nuance in language is in politics. How the official line isn’t the same as “off the record” or “deep background”; how “no comment” isn’t a denial. I was also there when two stories broke about senior politicians having affairs so all of this fed into the background of the book.

I read that you also studied at Oxford. How much of you is in the character in this novel? 

Nora Ephron famously said that “everything is copy”. Not everything that happens to Holly happened to me but, like her, I was an unsophisticated, provincial student who arrived at Oxford to read English Literature feeling like a complete fraud! I wasn’t from London or the Home Counties, I hadn’t attended a famous public school, and when the boy in the room opposite me announced he went to Eton, I was cowed but also so incredulous I wanted to laugh. 

I went to one of the most public school colleges – where a certain David Cameron had studied six years previously – but though, initially, I felt like an outsider, I also felt, academically, that I belonged. I had a full grant and so I was funded to read novels for three years, to write features for the university newspaper, Cherwell, to play in orchestras, to grow up in the most exquisite surroundings. It felt like an immense privilege and I wanted to capture that sense of awe, and that tentative awareness of belonging, as well as the fear of being an imposter. 

Your novel really could be a something that we see in the newspapers or see in court. Did you intend to write something so topical / Were you inspired by stories in the news? 

Yes! The day before I dreamed up the plot, back in November 2013, the footballer Ched Evans was refused leave to appeal against his rape conviction. (In 2016 it was subsequently quashed.) I’d read a column about the case by Allison Pearson, who lives in a nearby village, in which she quoted a local beautician saying that when the 19-year-old victim went to his hotel room she was “hardly going for a game of Scrabble.” It made me think about the judgments made about women in rape cases and of how exposing and damaging a rape trial must be. I also began to think about how difficult it can be to navigate sexual politics and how I hoped the situation would improve for my daughter, then eight (and son, then five). Of course the issue of consent has become even more topical but it’s long felt as if this was a story waiting to break.

Which character did you enjoy writing the most? Which character was the most challenging to write?

I absolutely loved creating Kate. It was my first time writing from a first-person viewpoint and I loved creating a clever, strong, flawed woman – someone I’d really love to be my friend. I suppose Sophie was the most problematic. I had huge sympathy for her but at times I wanted to shake her! She also has a more rarefied existence, materially than me, and though she needed to be like that, as the wife of an Old Etonian who’s always been privileged, I didn’t want readers to feel alienated. 

There are a lot of themes and issues raised in your novel. What one thing would you like the reader to take away from reading it? Or what one message were you trying to explore in the novel? 

I wanted to explore the issue of consent and I would be so moved if I felt this added to the current discussion about it. 

You have a lot of experience with writing both as a journalist and a novelist. Did this make writing and awaiting reviews for this book easier or different?

I found this my easiest novel to write because I felt so passionately about it. But because it feels the most personal, and because there’s been more excitement about it than my previous novels, I’m far more nervous about the reviews! I’m also conscious that I’m making a leap in my writing by tackling such a dark topic. All writing is exposing but I feel more exposed than ever before with this novel. But it felt too urgent, too important, an idea to ignore.

What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? 

I’m just completing my fourth novel, which should be published in January 2019 all being well, and there’ll be US and UK edits for this. Then I need to write my fifth novel and hopefully dream up a sixth!

Thanks so much Sarah for answering all my questions - I've loved reading your responses and I definitely can't wait to read your next novel! 

I wish you every success with Anatomy of a Scandal when it publishes on the 11th January with Simon and Schuster! 

You can preorder the book here.


Or watch the trailer for the book here - it's amazing!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

#TheSilentChildren #CarolWyer

by Carol Wyer 

The boy studied the bruise turning yellow at the base of his neck. With quick fingers his mother tightened his tie, and pulled his collar high above it. Her eyes alone said, We will not speak of this... 

Years later, a man is found shot dead in a local park. On his phone is a draft text: I can’t keep this secret any longer. The recipient is unnamed. 

Detective Robyn Carter knows this secret is the key to the case, but his friends and family don’t offer any clues, and all her team have to go on is a size-ten footprint. 

Then a woman is found in a pool of blood at the bottom of her staircase, and a seemingly insignificant detail in her stepdaughter’s statement makes Robyn wonder: are the two bodies are connected, and has the killer only just begun? 

When another body confirms Robyn’s worst fears, she realises she’s in a race against time to stop the killer before they strike again. But just as she thinks she’s closing in, one of her own team goes missing. 

Buried in the past is a terrible injustice. Can Robyn uncover the truth before another life is lost? 

*My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this novel via NetGalley*

As you can tell from the blurb above, this is a perfectly plotted detective novel full of tension and suspense. It's also the fourth DI Robyn Carter novel from Wyer, but as it's the first one I have read, I can say with all honesty that this didn't affect my understanding of the story at all so it works well as a stand alone for anyone else who hasn't yet discovered this great series. 

Having said that, obviously Robyn Carter has a backstory - one that sounds incredibly intriguing - but I didn't feel confused or that I couldn't follow what was going on with her in this instalment - I just had an enormous itch to go back and start at the beginning because I am desperate to know what's been going on, it sounded so dramatic and emotional. I genuinely liked Robyn's character so much that I want to know more about her and the journey she's been on before this point. I warmed to Robyn and felt she was a refreshing character - a determined Detective, an intelligent woman as well as being realistic, emotional, authentic and easy to relate to. She has a backstory of her own which adds a bit more depth to the plot but she also faces challenges and complications from her colleagues and the case which means she becomes very three dimensional as a character. I felt I got to know her well in these pages and would definitely like to read more stories in which she is the protagonist. It takes great skill to write a series where a new reader can join mid point and not be excluded and at the same time, fans that have loyally read from the beginning of the series still feel satisfied that the character is developing, remaining authentic and that they are somehow continuing on a more emotional journey with her.

I enjoyed Wyer's writing a lot - in fact I was struck by how readable it was. By that, I mean it made me feel relaxed and that I was in the hands of confident and polished author, and I settled in to the storyline from the first page. It was easy to get to grips with the characters, relate to the emotions, events and understand the dynamics between the characters quickly. I was so engaged in the action that I found I had read 20 pages when I thought I'd only read 10, that it was dark outside and dinner was burned because I thought I'd only been reading for 3 minutes but in fact 30 had passed!

The Silent Children has a skilfully executed plot. It is a difficult subject and there is plenty of shocks, emotional scenes and harrowing moments, but it is not sensationalised and although powerfully depicted it is done with care not to overwhelm the reader. The use of italics for the shorter sections help break up the text and define the different voices. Between each of these sections there is plenty of narrative focusing on the police procedural side. Within these sections, the interaction and issues between Robyn and the rest of the team ensure a finely tuned balance between the crime and the rest of the story which means that the more traumatic elements of the crime do not completely overwhelm the reader or ever become too much. 

This detective novel is full of cliffhangers, it is well paced with great dialogue and well crafted characters. It has the suspense, tension, twists, complications and revelations that every crime reader loves, set against a loud ticking clock which ramps up the sense of threat and pressure. I'm delighted to discover this great series and now I do need to go back and start at the beginning but only because I really want to get to know Robyn more! I am so glad I finally got the chance to read Wyer and now I understand why so many crime readers rave about her work. If you are looking for a good read, a page turner with the all the ingredients for you could wish for in a detective novel then look no further!

The Silent Children was published by Bookouture on 7th December 2017. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

#HisGuiltySecret #HeleneFermont #Review #BlogTour

Helene Fermont

*My thanks to the publisher and Natalie Connors at The Book Publicist for an advance copy of this novel and for inviting me to join the Blog Tour*

Firstly I have to say how much I love the cover of this book and how I have spent a long time admiring Helene Fermont's website as it is just so well designed and put together. The images for all her book covers are so original and eye catching that quite frankly, it was the front cover of His Guilty Secret that drew me to the book and enticed me to read it. Fortunately, the inside pages are just as enticing! 

The opening chapter starts with a pilot and a woman booking into a hotel together; we are not told their names but the nature of their relationship is clear. I liked the way the conflict and emotional complexity of their relationship is introduced in the second paragraph and intertwined with the glamorous description of how the characters must appear to anyone else. There was something filmic about this opening chapter and I was intrigued. From the outset, Fermont reveals her fascination in the interaction between people and the dynamics within relationships which is essentially one of the key themes in the book. This is a man and woman meeting in a hotel room for an illicit affair and their characters are revealed through their admissions of guilt, his mention of his wife and repetition of the word love. The dialogue and emotional nature of the conversation works hard to not only set up a situation of intrigue, tension and mystery but also to establish the characters in more depth through their inner conflict. By the end of the first chapter, the man is dead and the women flees in order to protect herself and to keep the affair hidden from those who it would hurt the most. 

The next chapter introduces us to Patricia who we watch as she learns of her husband's death. We are able to put names to the characters we met in chapter one and we are build a sense of how the story fits together through Patricia's narrative. Patricia is a well crafted character and it is easy to feel sympathy towards her. She very quickly realises that the death of her husband raises lots of questions and she is suspicious that he has been hiding something. From here, the novel is an exploration of marriage, secrets and grief. 

Fermont's writing is engaging and many chapters end with a bit of a cliffhanger or a concluding thought that makes the reader want to continue. Because of the nature of the story and the themes explored, this is not a page turner in the traditional sense of the word, but there is something compelling that makes this book very readable and a little unputdownable. There are a lot of a characters to engage with but they are well described and all feel like they have a role in the story and are convincing in their portrayal. I particularly enjoyed Fermont's use of dialogue. She captures some of the more toxic behaviour and speech with insightfulness. There are some conversations that are harsh or blunt and the author is not afraid to be brutal in the way the characters speak to each other but this all feeds into creating vivid characters and a dramatic storyline. 

As well as exploring the consequences of Jacques death on his wife, Fermont also looks at the the dynamics between siblings and how complicated and entangled these relationships can be. I found her examination of the interaction between siblings very interesting. 

This is a complicated, multi-layered novel which is absorbing and compelling. It looks at universal themes such as betrayal, love and deceit with more emphasis on the psychological and moral implications of the characters' decisions and choices. Fermont's writing feels accomplished and sophisticated; there is drama, emotion and tension throughout the pages. This is contemporary women's fiction and will appeal to anyone who enjoys a more multilayered plot with a cast of interesting characters. 

“A gripping work of modern women’s fiction with a distinct ‘Scandi’ feel and a psychological twist” The Book Magnet

“Fermont writes women’s fiction with a unique ‘Scandinavian noir’ tone that focuses on realistic characters, situations and dark morally complex moods” The Mirror

“Hélene Fermont goes to great lengths to create believable and relatable three- dimensional characters.” Love Reading

You can buy a copy of the book here: 


Born into an Anglo-Swedish family, Hélene Fermont grew up in Malmö in Sweden. Surrounded by an idlyllic landscape, she started writing at eight years old.
Spending a brief time in the music industry performing on Swedish TV and radio, she decided to pursue a career as a therapist, focussing on children with learning difficulties.
In the mid-90s Hélene moved away from Sweden to move to London, the city has been her home now for over 20 years. Despite her love of London, she frequently travels back to her native city of Malmö to get back to the landscape of her childhood which first inspired her writing.
Hélene’s other books include: Because of You and We Never Said Goodbye. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

#TheBoyMadeOfSnow #ChloeMayer #Review

Chloe Mayer

The Boy Made of Snow is absolutely stunning. I cannot believe that this is Mayer's first novel, the prose is so beautiful, the characters are so well crafted and the storyline is so absorbing and heart wrenching. This is such a readable novel with a gripping premise and great plot, yet, as the cover suggests, beneath the snow there is so much more waiting to be uncovered. Mayer's exquisite use of language and subtle echo of fairy tales makes this a very special novel that is unforgettable, haunting and just down right exceptional. I love it. If there is one book you treat yourself to this Christmas, it has to be this one! 

In a sleepy English village in 1944, Annabel and her nine-year-old son Daniel live in the shadow of war. With her husband away, an increasingly isolated Annabel begins to lose her grip on reality.

When mother and child befriend a German Prisoner of War consigned to a nearby farm, their lives are suddenly filled with thrilling secrets - although the PoW comes to mean very different things to each of them. To Annabel, he is an awakening from the darkness that has engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To her son, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairytales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise, one whose secret only he knows.

But Daniel often struggles to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and a lie he tells one day leads to tragedy and murder; shattering the quiet of the village and destroying the lives of several people forever – including those he loves the most. 

Will Daniel tell the truth? Or are some things better left buried deep in the woods? The distinction between deceit and storytelling can be paper thin, and Daniel is about to discover the potential for good and evil lives in everyone.

The Boy Made of Snow is inspired by the original story of The Snow Queen and each chapter of the novel starts with a quote from a well known fairy tale. I loved taking a moment at the start of each chapter to pause and think about the weight of the quote, it's significance from it's own story and also it's relevance to this novel. Although The Boy Made of Snow is set in 1944, the fairy tales are incredibly relevant to the action and characters and actually Mayer shows how relevant the quotes are to modern day life as well. Despite it's historical setting, the themes of people as monsters, complexities of forbidden love, prejudice, cruelty, illness and grief are universal. It's refreshing to consider these fairy stories that we have taken for granted or think we know so well, in a different light, and to consider their darkness, their cruelty, their threat rather than the glossy, glittery Disney versions we have become more familiar with. The Snow Queen is a powerful tale and the way Mayer has embedded it within her writing, scattered it throughout her pages and incorporated it into her characters is beyond impressive. 

Annabel is a fascinating character. Alone, solitary, left in a small village just with her son Daniel while her husband is at war, she becomes intrigued by the German Prisoners of War who she comes across in the woods where they are staying, put to work by a local villager. Hans chops firewood which Annabel then buys from him. The parallels between Red Riding Hood are evident and clear but used to create suspense, tension and fear. Through these simple, individual lines that echo the fairy tale, Mayer can convey a huge range of emotions and suggest so much more that sometimes it is startling how much depth can be conveyed through the simplicity of her prose. The woods in itself is a powerful metaphor and not only does this setting help to build atmosphere and tension, it is also a place to hide secrets and a space to escape to where the rules can be different.

For Daniel, Annabel's young son, the woods are a place to explore, a place for adventures, a place that is dangerous and a place where monsters lurk. I loved Daniel's perception of the world and how as the novel continues, the reader - and Daniel - come to understand the links between what he imagines, what he sees and how he interprets this. The cruel and harsh reality of what he witnesses in the woods has devastating consequences for all the characters and again, the woods, the reference to monsters, the blur between reality and imagination, are used to enhance Daniel's transition and awakening from a naive and innocent child. Even though Daniel and Annabel live in a sleepy village, seemingly untouched by the day to day horrors of the Second World War, actually the consequences and effects of the war and how it changes their lives is far more harrowing and life affecting. Mayer explores the more psychological effects of war and more interestingly, issues of acceptance, difference, prejudice and hatred. 

Although this is a serious novel with some very emotive passages and some traumatic scenes, the references to trolls, Hansel and Gretel, the play on names and identity does add a gentleness because of the sense of storytelling and hiding in the make believe. It does give the prose a rhythm and prevents it from becoming too overwhelmingly sad. The use of Daniel's perspective really helps as the reader can infer the reality of what he's unwittingly become part of and fit together the jigsaw from a slightly removed stand point. 

What makes this novel so successful and so memorable is the balance between a great story and great writing. The concept is accessible and appealing. The Boy Made of Snow is about a mother and her son, it's about the arrival of prisoners of war in a village in 1944. It's about a village learning to accept the prisoners and family trying to survive the austerity of war. It's about motherhood, marriage, growing up, imagination and consequence. And it is also about evil, cruelty and psychological dilemmas. But the way in which Mayer controls this story, the way in which she has used language, images, metaphor, dialogue and description to bring it to life, is exceptional. 

The Boy Made of Snow is impossible to forget. It is heartbreaking, emotive, haunting and quite simply stunning. For me, it is the perfect read. I loved that it was set in the woods, set in winter, and set in history as this immediately creates intrigue, threat and tension. The beautiful prose, the use of repetition, shadows, suggestions and fairy tales is so cleverly woven throughout the story that it is impossible to put down. I will be rereading, I will be recommending it to everyone and I will be looking out for anything Mayer writes next. 

If you love Claire Fuller, Claire King, Carol Lovekin and Carys Bray then you must read this book! 

The Boy Made of Snow is published by W&N on 2nd November and you can buy a copy here. Or if you live near Harpenden, there maybe some signed copies left in Harpenden Books so hurry hurry! 



Chloë is obsessed with facts and fiction. She gets her facts fix by working as a freelance reporter for national newspapers, and her fiction fix by either reading or writing it in her spare time. Earlier in her career, her work as a journalist on regional titles saw her shortlisted for various awards, including newcomer of the year and reporter of the year. She went on to work as a news editor overseeing several newspapers before becoming a freelance journalist.

She has lived and worked in Tokyo and Los Angeles and decided to try her hand at fiction in the US, where the first short story she ever wrote beat more than 8,000 others to win a prize and publication in an anthology. She was so surprised and delighted she immediately began work on her first novel.

After spending much of her twenties living abroad, she returned home to the UK and now lives in east London, not far from where she grew up.

#TwiceTheSpeedofDark #LuluAllison #Review

Lulu Allison 

Today I have a really interesting book to share with you. Twice the Speed of Dark is a literary novel; a mesmerising and poetic read about a mother's loss and her attempts to come to terms with the death of her daughter. 

What does it mean to care about the deaths of distant strangers? What does it take to bear the loss of a child?

In an isolated house surrounded by fields and woodland, Anna sits at her kitchen table, her cramped writing fills the notebook in front of her. Anna scans the news for reports in which the victims of war or terror are presented only as a number. It is only in this vigil, this act of love for strangers, that she allows herself an emotional connection to the world.

Her daughter Caitlin was killed on the eve of her twentieth birthday by her violent boyfriend. Since her death, Caitlin has been subject to a perplexing dark odyssey, pushed and pulled past stars and distant planets.She pieces together her story, combining what she has learnt since her death and what she knew before, until she is finally able to reclaim herself from the debilitating effects of the violence that eventually ended her life, freeing herself at last.

With the release from prison of Caitlin’s killer, Anna’s uneasy equilibrium is thrown into disarray and she falls into long-suppressed fury and mental breakdown. 

As Caitlin is able to free herself from the tyranny of violence, will Anna be able to unburden the debilitations of grief and live her life with love and happiness once more?

This is a very unusual and highly original novel. The author's artistic background is evident from the mesmerising, poetic and lyrical flow of the words which paint a vivid portrayal of grief and loss. The narrative is divided between Caitlin and her mother, between third person and first and the use of italics for Caitlin's sections enhances the dream like quality of the prose as Caitlin speaks to us from whatever unknown limbo that she finds herself inhabiting. 

'To start with, when I was first dead, I was confused, caught between memory and experience, between memories from before and those since'

It's a challenge to write from the point of view of a character who is dead without falling into cliches, becoming trite or losing conviction. The reader easily buys in to the fact that Caitlin is dead yet still speaking to us. Allison makes her voice fascinating and her initial descriptions of her life suspended in a  'kaleidoscope jangle' as she tries to 'knit my story stronger for the telling' are very powerful. I was curious to see how Allison would develop and sustain this across the entire novel, yet she does so effectively. Caitlin reveals more of her relationship with Ryan and gradually the events leading up to her death show themselves. This balance between contemplation and back story work really well, particularly alongside Anna's more meditative narration.

Anna has retired and thought the 'end to the professional performance would bring relief, but the removal of the distraction of a demanding career gave her too much time for other thoughts' and her grief overwhelms her.  

'cracks began to appear in the walls she had built within herself, the internal prison cell that held her grief'

The depiction of Anna is hugely emotive, powerful and haunting. Anna's frustration at how little death seems to mean in the world is triggered after the court case against Caitlin's boyfriend, where she struggles to accept the 'bland retelling' and  'indifference' towards Caitlin who is only referred to as 'a component', rather than her beautiful daughter who had her whole life ahead of her.  

'death it seemed was only of interest if it excited the morbid thrill of the unusual, the lavish fetishising of television crime dramas. Distant strangers were too insignificant to warrant the care of mourning'

So Anna begins a new project. She searches the newspapers for stories of death, and whenever she finds the name or photo of someone who is killed, she writes a short paragraph about them. She calls it her 'accounting' and she wants to acknowledge these people who are not even named, numbered or considered in the reporting of accidents and terrorist attacks. These short paragraphs are shared separately within the narrative and although poignant, they are like poems or literary photographs; an effective juxtaposition between the intensity of Anna's prose and Caitlin's thoughts. I think they are also hugely thought provoking and a creative way of emphasising some of the themes raised in the novel. It also shows how powerful writing can be as a form of therapy as Anna's character seeks solace in her hobby.

There is very little, if any dialogue in the novel and so this really is book for people who love language, love character and love literature. It is accessible and it is a story about a mother and daughter, a relationship and a death, but it is more reflective than vengeful. It is sad but it is curious. It is hypnotic and although desperate and dealing with grief, loss and death, it is fluent and the reader is carried along throughout the novel, immersed in the thoughts and emotional journeys of the protagonists. The imagery is rich and there are plenty of lines worthy of note and pause, for example:

'filigree ghost-patterns of love and grief crept across Anna's hollowed insides like lichen, like salt crystals blooming on the innards of a calcified cave'

Allison's writing is interesting, unique, bold and brave. I enjoyed Twice the Speed of Dark and I was intrigued by it. 

My thanks to the author for an advance copy of the novel. Twice the Speed of Dark is published by Unbound and available to buy here.


Lulu Allison studied at Central St Martin’s School of Art. She then travelled and lived abroad for a number of years, playing in bands in New Zealand, teaching scuba diving in Fiji, making spectacle hinges in a factory in Germany before settling in Brighton. She exhibited her art and worked as a community artist for Towner Gallery and Fabrica Gallery whilst raising two children.

In 2013 what began as an art project took her into writing and she unexpectedly discovered what she should have been doing all along. The art project became Twice the speed of Dark, which on completion, was taken up by Unbound and published in the autumn of 2017.

Twice the Speed of Dark is her first novel. She is currently writing a second called Wetlands