The Breakdown – B. A. Paris

9781848454996

7.5/10 – I really like the cover, but I think there was a more suitable image that could have been used!

Reminiscent of The Girl on the Train, The Breakdown is a satisfying, gripping crime thriller that keeps readers guessing til the very last page – it was one of the best books that I read on my travels.

When a woman is murdered near the isolated house that Cass and her husband Matthew share, it sends Cass into a tailspin of guilt: not least because she realises she drove past the woman on her way home the previous night. At the time, she’d thought something might be wrong, but the weather conditions were too bad to stop – and the lane she passed her in was dark and dangerous. Fearful of a mugging attempt, Cass had kept on driving, planning to report the car when she got home – but she forgot. The next thing she hears, the woman is dead. Cass’ guilt intensifies when she realises that she knew the victim, Jane; she’d met her only recently and they had had dinner together. She’d thought it was the start of a close friendship. 

Jane’s murder sparks a chain of events that Cass can’t keep ahead of. Too scared to admit that she took the same route as Jane home – treacherous in bad weather, she promised both her husband and her best friend, Rachel, that she wouldn’t – Cass works hard to cover up the lie. Prone to forgetfulness, her memory lapses get worse and worse – and phantom phone calls, threatening and repetitive, continue, until she’s forced to turn to medication to deal with what she thinks is going on: that she’s being stalked by the murderer, convinced he saw her that night and hellbent on silencing her before she tells.

Matthew, patient at first, begins to get frustrated with her – and Rachel also deals well with the forgotten lunches and appointments that Cass misses, but things start to come to a head when Cass receives a letter saying she might have early on-set dementia. It’s the same horrible fate her mother suffered in her mid-forties and what Cass has been terrified of. Aware that her marriage is becoming increasingly fractious and worried that her friendship with Rachel is at breaking point, Cass suddenly makes a shock discovery that throws everything – even Jane’s murder – into question. 

As the tension increases, page by page, so does the reader’s – I read this book on a train and started in a relaxed position, then moved to being upright and alert as I raced through the story, unable to put it down. Truly a fine mastery of the unreliable protagonist genre and perhaps the best book I’ve read this year so far! 

Advertisements

His Kidnapper’s Shoes – Maggie James

30848592

9/10. Evocative and communicates the book’s themes perfectly.

Daniel Covey has spent his life thinking something isn’t quite right with his mother. He’s also spent his life hating his stepfather – who has stopped him attending art school to study his passion. He’s also spent his life drinking away a secret pain and finding solace in taking strangers to bed. And now, he’s about to uncover the biggest secret of his life – one that will bring him a whole new world of pain…

As Daniel pulls at the threads of the lies that make up his life, is all hope of redemption – and the semblance of a normal life – lost? Or can he find his way to forgiveness and understanding to craft a new path for himself?

There’s not much that can be said about this book without revealing major spoiler alerts, but His Kidnapper’s Shoes delivers plot twist after plot twist, keeping readers intrigued and on their toes. A few of the events seem slightly disconnected from the main narrative – the fate of a character’s husband, for example – but otherwise James sketches a shocking series of events that eventually fall neatly into one very messed-up jigsaw. A compelling, if somewhat unbelievable, read!

KCARAB is back…

Hello fellow book lovers! 

Sorry for the silence recently, but I’ve been away travelling across Europe. Although I had to pack light, I of course carried my trusty Kindle with me and downloaded plenty of books to keep me occupied during all of our long train journeys.

FullSizeRender

I’ve been reviewing along the way, and I’m now going to share all my reviews with you! Most of the books have been fairly light-hearted and easy-to-read, but there’s a few thrillers and murder mysteries thrown in for good measure. I re-read quite a few books, as I LOVE re-reading books, but I’ve not re-reviewed them.

There’s also a couple of DNFs that simply didn’t grab my attention:

Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein – I just didn’t enjoy the premise, sorry!
All I Left Behind by Sarah J Palmer – the spelling/punctuation errors put me off. I may have persevered had it had a final polish.
The Corner Shop of Whispers by Debbie Viggiano – I just found this too predictable and exclamatory, with everything happening all at once and everyone playing the pronoun game.
Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse – it seems like this would have been my cup of tea, but sadly it just didn’t hook my attention.

Still to finish:

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami – another re-read and the book I’m currently on, 25% through.
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – I actually spotted and downloaded this on my travels. I’m 9% through. It didn’t grab me enough at the time so I turned over to IQ84, but I will return to it.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – Atwood is one of my all-time favourite authors so it broke my heart when I just wasn’t in the mood for it (hence only being at 6%) but I WILL finish and review it.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – we watched the TV series whilst we were away and I loved it so much that I decided to buy the book so that I could do a feature on the site. However it’s not quite as well-written as I was expecting, so I’m only at 33%. I’ll do my best to finish so I can do my feature!
The Cosy Teashop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts – I’m only at 4% with this as I wasn’t in the mood for the genre at the time. I think I’ll return to it, but it may end up a DNF.

Still to start:

Lie Still by Julia Heaberlin – I LOVED Black Eyed Susans (remember?) so I was sort of ‘saving’ this and then our travels finished before I had time to start it. I will read and review it!
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – I got an odd urge to re-read this; I will do at some point.
Mad Love by Nick Spalding – can’t really remember much about this one, but I’ll give it a go at some point.
The Girl Who Lied by Sue Fortin – again, one I downloaded pre-travel after liking the description. Read and review to come…
Scoundrels: Volume One by Major Victor Cornwall and Major St. John Trevelyan (from new start-up, Black Door Press) – I’ve heard about this one a lot on the grapevine. I’ve pre-ordered a copy, but I’m going to try and get hold of an ARC so that I can review it before it comes out next month…

FullSizeRender-2

The Circle – Dave Eggers

thecirc

6/10. Not my favourite – the design is a little too cluttered.

“When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public…”

The Circle is 1984 for the millennial generation. It’s set in a futuristic – but realistic – world, where use of social media has grown to the extent that it’s completely entwined with everyone’s personal, professional and offline identity. The novel’s eponymous Silicon Valley tech company, strongly reminiscent of our world’s most famous tech brand, is where new employee Mae Holland arrives at the beginning of the story, excited to start her new job. She’s landed it with the help of her friend Annie, who works within the upper echelons of the Circle.

Mae’s job is to assist with customer enquiries, but it quickly becomes apparent that there’s much more to the job than she initially thought. Constantly pushed to score high approval ratings whilst maintaining active social media accounts and a thriving social life, she’s initially overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in improving her status at the Circle. She has to ask every customer for a good rating, work to boost it if she can, reply to hundreds of e-invites a day, and continually post, share and comment within the social stratosphere. No one is hidden – minus a mysterious gentleman called Kalden who she occasionally comes into contact with. Intense, mysterious and intriguing, she experiences a strong instant sexual chemistry with him – but has no idea who he is, where he works or where he goes when they’re not together.

Meanwhile, a huge development at the company sees the world start to go ‘transparent’ – meaning that politicians, businesspeople and influential figures live stream every second of their day, hiding no aspect of their life – the deals they clinch, the decisions they make, the words that they say. The idea is to hold everyone accountable for their actions – especially the actions that impact upon the general public. The only break that transparent people get is for toilet breaks (audio breaks only) and sleep; the rest of the time, the world is watching their every move, commenting, questioning and judging. What starts off as a well-intentioned idea breeds suspicion of anyone who hasn’t made the decision to broadcast their daily life.

Mae, who by this time is becoming an influential player at the company, goes live herself, throwing every aspect of her job and social life open. But as her stock at the Circle begins to rise, a social media scandal sees her mentor’s start to plummet. The Circle is a dangerous place to be a failure – but Mae can only see its benefits. As the company makes further moves to keep tabs on everyone and bring a whole new meaning to the concept of transparency, Mae is exposed to its sinister roots. Will she bring the Circle to its knees, or is she too far gone to realise that what it’s doing is wrong..?

The Circle is a searing and original satirical commentary on today’s social media-obsessed world. It isn’t without its flaws – I experienced an odd disconnect with it, perhaps due to the fact that I couldn’t quite connect to Mae’s character and the decision that she makes in the end – but it’s an intelligent, well-written and insightful – and hopefully not prophetic. Logging out of Facebook and Twitter now…

Faithful – Alice Hoffman

faithful-9781476799209_hr.jpg

7/10. Lovely cover but the detail is lost at thumbnail size – and we don’t need ‘a novel’!

“Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion – from dark suffering to true happiness – a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls – including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.”

The blurb for Faithful goes on to describe Shelby, the protagonist of Alice Hoffman’s tender novel, as ‘a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last’. And the blurb wasn’t lying. It’s Shelby who is at the heart of and who makes this gorgeous novel.

I’ve never read any of Alice Hoffman’s books before, but as soon as I opened Faithful I found my new favourite book. It’s a bildungsroman of sorts, featuring Shelby, a girl who is barely living. Out driving with her best friend one day – her belt buckled, her best friend’s not – she crashes in the snowy weather. Shelby walks away unscathed, but her best friend Helene is left permanently brain damaged. Mired in guilt, Shelby refuses to enjoy her life in any way. Food, entertainment, clothes, fun, friends – she eschews them all, shaves her head and shuts herself away from everyone, suffering from anxiety, depression and survivor’s guilt. Surviving is all she’s doing, and she doesn’t even feel worthy of that.

Her unlikely escape from the claustrophobic town she’s grown up in comes in two forms: first, an anonymous postcard, encouraging her to ‘Say Something’; second, Ben Mink, the local drug dealer and a loner who’s always admired Shelby from afar. Despite Shelby’s attempts to resist his friendship – and then courtship – they move to New York together, where Shelby tries to keep living without living. But bit by bit, a existence of sorts starts to fall into pieces. Shelby finally finds some food she enjoys – her and Ben practically subsist on Chinese takeaways – and she becomes a sort of dog vigilante, adopting or appropriating dogs that she sees being mistreated as her own. A job at a pet store leads to bigger career opportunities – a well as an unexpected batch of new friends – and her relationship with Ben takes her on to better places too.

As the jigsaw pieces of Shelby’s higgeldy-piggeldy life fall into place, the mysterious postcards keep turning up. They’re always very simple, but entirely apt for her current place in life, urging her on to the next level of living – ‘Do Something’, ‘Be Something’, ‘Feel Something’ – and not only putting her back together again but also allowing her to gradually find redemption.

Faithful has its ups and downs, just like real life – family problems, money problems, breakups, broken hearts – making this read utterly relatable and realistic. Through it all, Shelby heals and grows, learning to rely on herself, her beloved pets, those around her and the succinct, encouraging words that are delivered to her sporadically over the years; rather than religious beliefs, it’s the postcards that Shelby chooses to follow, whether subconsciously or not. Will Shelby ever meet the author of the poignant notes – and if she does, will that person match up to what she’s built them up to be?

A beautiful, tender, exquisite, fragile, bittersweet novel – I need a thesaurus to keep raving about this book – I fell in love with Faithful from the very first page. I’ve never read any of Alice Hoffman’s books before, but I certainly will now.

Local Girl Missing – Claire Douglas

51iyLGPJNhL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

8/10. I don’t get the significance of the flowers in relation to this particular book, but great standard crime novel cover.

“Twenty years ago: 21-year-old Sophie Collier vanishes one night. She leaves nothing behind but a trainer on the old pier – and a hole in the heart of her best friend Francesca. Now: A body’s been found. And Francesca’s drawn back to the seaside town she’s tried to forget. Perhaps the truth of what happened to Sophie will finally come out. Yet Francesca is beginning to wish she hadn’t returned… Everywhere she turns are ghosts from her past. The same old faces and familiar haunts of her youth. But if someone knows what really happened to Sophie that night then now’s the time to find out – isn’t it? Except sometimes discovering the truth can cost you everything you hold dear – your family, your sanity and even your life…”

I loved Claire Douglas’ The Sisters, so when I spied her new book, Local Girl Missing, on NetGalley, I didn’t hesitate in downloading it. As with her first novel, the book centres around two girls – protagonist Francesca, who has created a new life for herself after moving away from her claustrophobic old town, and Sophie, who went missing twenty years ago and whose dead body has supposedly just turned up. In the present day, Francesca heads back to her hometown to help Sophie’s brother Daniel identify the body – and as soon as she does she feels the vices of her old life returning to oppress her.

Whilst simultaneously glad to be away from her current life – away from the very fresh break-up she’s just left, her father in a post-stroke comatose state, and a demanding job that barely gives her pause for breath – Francesca doesn’t relish returning to her old life. Her discomfort in being back is mirrored by the difficulty she has traversing the streets of her old town in stiletto boots, the only pair of shoes she’s brought back with her.

As we see Francesca increasingly enjoy getting closer to Daniel, someone who used to have feelings for her, we’re simultaneously taken down memory lane with Sophie’s recollections of growing up and her old best friend Francesca coming back to town after being away for years. As the truth about Sophie’s life comes to the fore – a relationship with an old flame who’s still in the seaside town, Leon; a clash with Leon’s dangerous, older brother Lorcan – we start to see a portrait of Francesca being drawn; a glamorous, beautiful girl who seems to have it all but who, at her root, seems insecure and slightly manic. We read secondhand how Sophie and Francesca’s relationship starts to crumble after Sophie meets Leon and they start a relationship, despite Francesca’s warnings and claims that Leon used to stalk her. At the same time, someone Sophie has always known and trusted grows closer and closer to her, starting off as a source of comfort but becoming more and more threatening, until Sophie isn’t sure who she can trust – right up until her untimely death after she falls off a pier…

As Claire Douglas teases the denouement of Local Girl Missing out, everyone’s character, motive and circumstance on the night of Sophie’s premature death – even Francesca – comes into question. Is Leon, who Francesca always claimed to be dangerous, to blame? Lorcan, who’s no stranger to violence, infidelity and threats? Or is it someone else entirely… Someone Francesca isn’t even aware of yet? As her suspicions grow, so does the sense that she’s not alone. She keeps seeing girls like Sophie everywhere. But Sophie’s dead… Isn’t she?

Local Girl Missing is a gripping novel that weaves an unreliable protagonist into a tangled web of deceit and danger, set in an pathetic fallacy-appropriate oppressive, cold and grey seaside town, keeping the reader guessing – and mistrusting everyone in turn. Though the ending came a little too quickly and neatly for me, Claire weaves an enjoyable and unique concept throughout the novel, letting us view the story’s full ending through an article published in the local town’s paper after its shocking climax. Recommended.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the review copy.

Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

23746004.jpg

10/10. Vivid and jumps out from the shelf.

“Seventeen-year-old Tessa, dubbed a ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer. Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars – or so she thought. Now, decades later the black-eyed susans planted outside Tessa’s bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison. Haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter’s safety, can Tessa uncover the truth about the killer before it’s too late?”

I stumbled upon Black-Eyed Susans somewhat by chance, when I was walking past a Waterstones and my best friend pointed out the book displayed in the window. Bolstered by her claim that it was supposed to be really good and my curiosity piqued by the intriguing title, I took a chance and bought a copy. I’ll tell you now: it’s one of my best impulse purchases to date.

Readers, I loved it. I LOVED it. I had recommended it to 10 people by the time I was  20 pages in. I spent every spare moment reading. I silenced people who tried to talk to me whilst I was reading. In short: I enjoyed this book more than any others that I’ve read recently. Sorry, heaving bookcase, but it’s true: Julia Heaberlin is a genius.

Lest I gush much more, let me set the scene: years after surviving a serial killer’s attack, Tessa – then Tessie – finds patches of the eponymous flowers planted at her home. It’s not the first time that this has happened – she’s seen the unusual flowers, which only flourish in certain areas, at other places that she’s lived or been connected to, many times before. Her supposed killer sits behind bars, but the flowers, and the lack of evidence that convicted the criminal, has haunted Tessa for years.

Growing less and less convinced that she put the right man away, Tessa casts her mind back to all those years ago when, following the attack, she overcomes temporary blindness and jumbled recollections of that night by talking the traumatic event through with a therapist. Supported by her slightly morbid best friend, Lydia, while the American media scrutinises the only surviving ‘Susan’ – so-named from the flowers in the shallow grave that she nearly died in – Tessie tries to sort through what really happened.

Back in the present day, new forensic evidence discovered by state-of-the-art DNA testing throws new light on the case. Torn between confusion, fear and a desire to protect her daughter from harm, Tessa is forced to conclude that she doesn’t know the truth about everything that happened that night – and that her killer is still be out there…

Tense, pacy and compelling, Black-Eyed Susans is a taut psychological thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Julia Haeberlin masterfully ramps up the suspense gradually, building to an explosive denouement that you won’t see coming. Quite simply, the best thriller you’ll read this year – perhaps decade. Miss it at your peril.

TAMPA – Alissa Nutting

17225311

10/10. Clever, bold, subtle… All the things a good cover should be (I’ll even forgive the unnecessary use of ‘a novel’), though sadly I got the much less suitable and more boring button version.

“Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession – fourteen-year-old boys. It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought. Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web – car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods. It is bliss. Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair – the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless…”

TAMPA was all the rage when it was first published, and for that reason I steered clear of it for a while (I think I’ve mentioned a few times that I get a bit anti-hype, working in the publishing industry), but I suddenly decided that it was time to give it a go. A quick look online at the reviews told me that this was a divisive book – no surprises there – but with one of my favourite books being Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, a book sorely mistaken by those who haven’t read it as filth (thanks, pop cult), I decided to give it a chance.

From the get-go, I was taken aback; Alyssa pulls no punches with her brazen plot, her brash writing, and her sexual under- AND overtones . Subtle this book ain’t; it’s overtly, openly sexual, with a boldness not seen in modern literature for a long time. Whilst I found this slightly distasteful – I can’t tell if it’s due to the book’s originality, the watering-down of sexual scenes in other novels that aren’t outright erotica, or the fact that this definitely ISN’T Lolita – I was hooked by Alyssa’s daring story and shameless metaphors.

Much like the main characters in the popular TV show Breaking Bad, Celeste is not really a likeable or admirable person, but you find a little bit of yourself rooting for her not to get caught – even as she breaks the law so distastefully. However, as her sexual proclivities start to go further and further past the reasonable border of psychological conditioning regarding her choice of lovers – which is what explained Humbert’s penchant for young girls in Lolita – I was relieved to get to the end of the book.

As the reviews show, this book isn’t for everyone – I lent it to a friend with two stepsons, only a little older than Jack in the book, and she simply couldn’t get past that – and I don’t think that I’ll read it again, but I’m glad that I did. Literature deserves more bold writing like Nutting’s and original plots; if we didn’t write the things that people found shocking to read, many great books and films would never have come to light, which would be an absolute travesty. TAMPA is provocative and audacious, whilst being brave and subversive: two things that books and authors should be striving more towards.

The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew

 

The Big Lie

6/10. It’s a clever idea and the title font suits, but it grates against the author  font. And let’s play spot the strapline…

“Jessika Keller is a good girl: she obeys her father, does her best to impress Herr Fisher at the Bund Deutscher Mädel meetings and is set to be a world champion ice skater. Her neighbour Clementine is not so submissive. Outspoken and radical, Clem is delectably dangerous and rebellious. And the regime has noticed. Jess cannot keep both her perfect life and her dearest friend. But which can she live without?”

I spotted The Big Lie as a staff pick in Foyles and couldn’t resist picking it up after reading the blurb. A YA, dystopian post-WW2 novel: brilliant. And the plot is truly original; set in Nazi England, 2014, after Germany won the Second World War. Open scene…

Jessika Keller is the perfect daughter of the Reich. Obedient, talented and good at executing instructions, even if she doesn’t make sense of them, Jessika takes pride in her innate goodness. Though not every aspect of her life is exemplary; her next-door neighbour and best-friend-in-the-world Clementine (though Clementine would point out that there could be better friends elsewhere) is an intuitive, switched-on girl. Little does Jessika know that her best friend is harbouring resentment, rebellion, and the need for truth – until at an event held to demonstrate Britain’s greatness, when Clementine hosts a public protest and Jessika intuitively steps in to protect her – on TV, broadcast to the world.

After the event, Jessika is forced to lie to protect her clean reputation – no, she’s not a traitor, no, she doesn’t agree with Clementine’s actions, and yes, she’s still a good girl, thank you very much. But a seed of rebellion has been planted in her heart too, and she can’t quite quash it…

The plot line of The Big Lie is a genius idea, and Mayhew should be applauded for it, but the execution wasn’t quite to my taste. The reviews show that most people loved it, and of course every book is subjective, so I’m chalking this one down to personal preference/cups of tea. Others may find the vagueness intriguing, but to me this story just doesn’t scratch beneath the surface. A shame – but an enjoyable read nonetheless, with some truly beautiful and chilling moments in it, and a talented, redeeming last chapter, including a poignant, accessible truth that everyone can take something from:

“I am Good Jessika and Bad. All of it is in me. But I am whole. And I am here.”