Review of Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent

Oh my word the tension in Nugent’s second novel is so high that if I did bite my nails I’d have had none left by the end of the book.

I do love a writer that takes risks and who is not afraid to make you squirm in your seat and Nugent is one such writer. This is the kind of read where you’ll watch events unfold with a sense of horrified fascination. The story is told in the first person from the perspectives of Lydia, Laurence and Karen in alternating chapters.

Lydia is married to Andrew Fitzsimmons and they live in Avalon with their son, Laurence. Lydia’s voice is cold, detached and calculating right from the start as she delivers the attention grabbing opening line…

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Nugent is rapidly becoming the queen of killer opening lines. This is all about the voice. Just look how clean and simple that line is. There’s no waffle, no fluff instead you’re pulled straight into the story. Genius, GENIUS I’m telling you. This is what makes a thriller writer stand out from the crowd.

I’ll bet you’re curious after reading that line. You’re dying to know who Annie Doyle is and why Andrew murdered her aren’t you? But I’ll bet you’re even more fascinated by the cold sense of superiority in Lydia’s voice. The sense of entitlement in her tone is one of the scariest things I’ve read in a while. She’s at her most terrifying when she’s trying to protect her innocent son, Laurence, and preserve her social standing as her husband Andrew begins to fall apart under the pressure of keeping their secret. But Laurence may not be as naive as Lydia thinks…

This is tale of obsessive love, possession and the dangers of forming the wrong attachments. It’s one stomach churning read that will have you compulsively whipping through the pages to find out what happens next. I have to say that Lying in Wait is an incredibly apt title on so many levels in this mind-bendingly dark psychological thriller. The last page is the stuff of nightmares and best read with all the lights on!

Follow the author on Twitter: @lizzienugent

With thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy of the novel to review.

If you like the review above you may also be interested in my review of Nugent’s first novel – Unravelling Oliver.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent will be published 14 July.

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Author Steven Dunne reads from his new novel and shares his publishing journey

Today I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for author Steven Dunne whose new psychological thriller Death Do Us Part is published on Thursday 5 May. I attended Steven’s book launch at Waterstones Nottingham on Saturday 30 April to obtain something a little special for you. 

I made two videos during the event. The first features Steven being introduced by Dan, a specialist bookseller at Waterstones Nottingham, followed by Steven reading the first chapter from Death Do Us Part, which features a young woman called Reardon reacting to the aftermath of a brutal and horrifying murder…

As the chilling scene with Reardon ends in the novel, the reader is introduced to DI Damen Brook who is on leave and trying to repair the difficult relationship he has with his daughter, Terri, who is drinking more than he would like. He knows this is because Terri has lost her way in life due to the terrible things that have happened to her recently and that he needs to be patient, but there’s only so much he can do and work has always been a source of respite.

When his colleague, DS John Noble, phones to tell Brook about the double murder of an old couple who’ve been shot through the heart with a single bullet, saying that it’s similar to the double murder of a gay couple a monDeathDoUsPart_finalth earlier, Brook decides to go back to work.

Steven explores the psychological impact of severe trauma through multiple character perspectives, both in the characters themselves and those they come into contact with. This is one of DI Brook’s most challenging cases as the mounting evidence sends him in unexpected directions.

The banter between Brook and Noble provides much needed levity but even Noble’s patience is tried at times by Brook’s determination to to catch the killer at any cost.  The ending is inspired, my emotions swung from elation to devastation as the full consequences of Brook’s actions played out. I’m already looking forward to book seven to see how Steven develops this complex and emotionally explosive set up.

As Steven originally self-published his first psychological thriller – The Reaper – the second video features the conversation between Dan and Steven about the journey to publication that Steven has been on.

Steven decided to self-publish The Reaper in 2006 when he had zero contacts in the publishing industry. The video below highlights how he found a way to have his self-published novel stocked by bookshops and featured in the local press, to the unexpected moment when he was offered his first two-book deal from Harper Collins.

In the video Steven also shares the thinking process behind the creation of the serial killer The Reaper. As you’ll see Dan is a BIG fan of The Reaper and if you would like to read it after watching the video below you can buy it here, and if you would like to buy Death Do Us Part,  the sixth book in the series, you can pre-order it here. Each novel can be read as a standalone, but you may feel inclined to invest in them all after you’ve read one novel from the series!

You can follow Steven on Twitter at @ReaperSteven and follow the rest of the blog tour to find out more about his work, please see the poster below. Death Do Us Part is published by Headline.

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Review of The Missing by C.L. Taylor

UnknownThe Missing begins with an intriguing text conversation which takes a dangerously emotionally manipulative turn, before diving straight into the mind of Claire whose 15 year old son Billy has been missing for months.

The sense of loss in Claire’s thought processes is intense. As she compares the past to the present you know that this is a fragile family, a brittle one, where each individual is wrapped up in their own interpretation of the events leading up to Billy going missing and beyond.

Everyone within the family is acting out of character due to the emotional stress they are under as the communication channels between them break down.

There are many well considered scenes, like the moment Billy’s father, Mark, decides to fiddle with the lawnmower while wearing his best suit for the court appearance. Claire can’t believe it as Mark’s behaviour is thoughtless in her eyes, his actions bring out her control freak tendencies which revolve around how her family is perceived, but for Mark it’s a natural coping mechanism. The couple operates at cross purposes all the time because they’ve lost the ability to communicate with each other in their sorrow.

Their other son, Jake, feels the weight of of his parents miscommunication and the loss of his brother keenly, leading him to drink and lose his temper. Jake’s girlfriend, Kira, also lives with the family bringing another layer of tension as she tries to appease everyone while coming to terms with emotional challenges from her own family background.

Claire instinctively senses that the truth of the event lies at the heart of her family, but her mind will not let her access the knowledge she seeks at first. The whole novel is an intriguing exploration of perception from every character’s perspective, it asks how well does anyone know anyone else and what have you chosen not see in order to retain an illusion of control.

Taylor’s strength lies depicting of the minutiae of ordinary family life in extraordinary circumstances, which makes the scene setting and dialogue feel authentic. I enjoyed reading this perceptive psychological thriller, the story moves at a cracking pace as Taylor explores people’s prejudices and fears before revealing the truth behind Billy’s disappearance.

The Missing by C.L. Taylor is published by Harper Collins

With thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Follow the author on Twitter: @callytaylor

Review of Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

91d+hP7-FELMy word Hilary’s latest novel will make your stomach churn with tension. The opening features a barely dressed young girl running out into the road inadvertently causing a car crash before disappearing. There are mixed reports about whether or not a girl was there but those who claim to have seen her report that she was in a severely distressed state.

D.S. Noah Jake is just tucking into his breakfast when he takes a phone call ordering to join D.I. Marnie Rome at the crash site. As the pair interview the witnesses they begin to gather a disturbing picture and go in search of the missing girl.

These scenes are interspersed with a graphically depressing picture of youth homelessness on the streets and chapters titled ‘Aimee’, a character who represents the voice of the homeless who’ve been taken in by a man called Harm.

And this is where the story becomes genuinely disturbing. Hilary ramps up the sense of oppression and fear in that house through Aimee’s experience with Harm. Right from the off Aimee talks about the dead spaces, the places where people don’t really see what’s right in front of them. Hilary cleverly experiments with this construct throughout the entire novel in ways you won’t even see coming.

Harm is a menacing presence at all times, the kind of presence that is immobilising, the kind that makes time slow down as you become hyper aware of every gesture he makes, until you’re left wondering, like those in his care, what his motives are and what will happen next. Everyone has to obey Harm’s rules in order to live under his roof; he controls everything they do, think and eat. The scene setting is incredibly visual, when those girls sit down at the table to eat with Harm, so do you, and their experience becomes yours.

Meanwhile, DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah encounter both resistance and help from the people who witnessed the events that led up to the car crash and some have issues of their own that blur the truth. They’re negotiating with gang culture on an estate and children who are witnesses to things they never should have been exposed to. Rome is also trying to come to terms with her traumatic history as she tries to place herself in the missing girl’s shoes and retrace her footsteps. Meanwhile, Noah’s relationship with Dan is warming up nicely despite being called out to crime scenes at all hours. This third outing for D.I. Marnie Rome retains the humanity she is known for as the truth of the situation unfolds even as she puts herself in danger to protect the innocent.

Tastes Like Fear is an extraordinary depiction of psychological, emotional and economic violence that is genuinely chilling.

With thanks to Headline for the review copy.

Tastes like Fear by Sarah Hilary is the 3rd novel in the D.I. Marie Rome series and is due to be published on 7 April.

Follow the author on twitter: @sarah_hilary

 

Review of In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake is a profoundly moving story of loss, grief, depression, acceptance, In-Her-Wake-Vis-4-2.jpgforgiveness and renewal that is beautifully written and deeply humane. Jennings dives beneath the surface of her characters to reveal heart-breaking and tragic moments of self-awareness that lead to the decisions they make, characters who have no concept of the waves of physical and emotional devastation that they will leave in their wake at the time. It’s one of the most subtle and immersive psychological thrillers I’ve read in long time.

After Bella’s father dies she finds herself in possession of a terrible secret, one that has had repercussions throughout her life. Compelled to leave everything she thought she knew behind, including her controlling husband, Bella embarks on a search for the truth and arrives in St.Ives in Cornwall full of fear and hope.

There is a dreamlike quality to the writing as the story of Bella is woven through the myths of St.Ives. Jennings draws you into a sea of complex emotions as Bella goes in search of half-forgotten truths and a sense of identity. This is also a multi-sensory tale as the stunning expanse of the Cornish coastline is evocatively evoked and contrasted with the cosseted, suffocating and claustrophobic environment that is all that Bella has known before she embarks on her journey, albeit in the name of love.

Storms of anger and misunderstandings roll in and explode with the ferocity of a Cornish thunderstorm, then recede with the tide leaving a clear path formed from the light of new understanding. Bella is not the only character who has lived in the shadows of what might have been, letting in the light is a key them in the novel as the darkness of the past is gradually washed away. Stunning and unforgettable, Jennings has truly found her voice.

Published by Orenda Books

Follow the author on Twitter: @MandaJJennings

Find out more about the author: Amanda Jennings

The novel will be published as an ebook on 10 February and in paperback on 1 April. Limited, first edition, signed hardbacks are available from Goldsborough Books from 29 February but you can pre-order now.

Review of The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

The minute Roy tells Betty that the one thing he hates is lies on their Unknown (5)first date you know he’s a massive liar.

As a retired conman, Roy trawls the internet looking for likely victims. He’s the kind of man whose internal monologue contains a creepy degree of malevolence and a sense of superiority as he ruthlessly evaluates and then dismisses women’s profiles. Roy exhibits all the classic traits of a manipulator.

Betty, meanwhile, appears to have the tolerance levels of a saint for Roy’s rather more unsavoury habits and soon has him installed in her home, much to her family’s disgust. It seems she would rather put up with Roy for the companionship than be alone.

Roy gradually reveals his intriguing past as he sets in motion each stage of the scam he’s about to pull on Betty, revealing his connection to major events throughout the last few decades. Including a brief mention of football legend Brian Clough, which Nottingham based readers will appreciate.

Meanwhile, Betty observes Roy quietly and calmly as the trap is set, gradually revealing her true feelings about the man as tensions in the house begin to rise. Both have secrets and both lie, and Roy isn’t as sharp as he thinks.

This is a cracking psychological thriller with a clever, thought-provoking twist which highlights where the true power lies in this game of deception and misdirection. I could not put it down and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

With thanks to Penguin for the NetGalley copy for review.

Follow the author on Twitter: @searlegoodliar

My top 12 novels of 2015

Having read and enjoyed many great best reads lists by other book bloggers for 2015, I thought I would add my own list into the mix. 

This isn’t something I normally do as all the books that make it on to my blog are great reads. However, there are 12 books that were so extraordinary and resonant that my memory replays whole scenes with the visual impact of an IMAX movie the moment I think about them.
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Becoming Unbecoming by Una is, in my opinion, one of the most important novels published in 2015. As it is a graphic novel it may have slipped under your radar. Within theses pages is a sensitively rendered yet powerful exploration of the blame and shame culture that surrounds sexual violence. Set in the seventies in the era of serial murderer Peter Sutcliffe, known as The Yorkshire Ripper, this graphic novel examines how the reporting and investigation of the Sutcliffe killings undermined, devalued and restricted many female lives. The novel does not feature gratuitous violence, instead much is left to the imagination and it is a much more emotionally powerful reading experience because of what the author chooses to leave out. If you’d like to find out more here’s my full review and there’s a wonderful review over on the Savidge Reads blog.

The Last Pilot

The Last Pilot by Ben Johncock is an absolute joy to read. Johncock’s writing is taut and spare yet it has a quietly powerful resonance that evokes deeply emotional imagery. Prepare to have your heart shot into the galaxy of human emotion as you read The Last Pilot, just remember to pack plenty of tissues for the moment that Harrison is drawn into a black hole of loss and despair. This is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read about the infinite capacity of the human heart to dream, love, grieve, survive and thrive despite the heart-breaking impact of adversity. Read my full review.

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Reading this novel is like watching a life go completely off the rails as unspoken truths come hurtling down the track, smashing through the lies and deceit to leave the hausfrau, Anna, in a perilous position. The writing is piercingly perceptive, as disturbing as it is enlightening, as an almost forensic spotlight is turned on the self-deception that is practiced by almost everyone within these engrossing pages. Read my full review

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Disclaimer by Renee Knight. A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, especially responsibility, and that’s why this novel is so brilliant. Everyone in it makes a disclaimer: some because they have taken a situation at face value, some because of a need to protect and others because they don’t want to face the truth, because to face the truth would mean they would have to take responsibility for their actions. This gripping and well conceived novel put me through an emotional wringer. I was in tears by end as every character finally understood what they were and weren’t responsible for, and what it had cost them. Read my full review.

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Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp. It’s quite possible to be a ghost in your own life, to exist yet not really feel alive, to become subsumed by another person’s expectation of who you are and what you should be until you no longer recognise yourself. In many ways this is 64-year-old Grace’s experience, until the day she thinks she’s seen the ghost of her long-deceased first husband, Pete. To say I loved this novel would be an understatement. Reading Ghosting is a heart-breaking yet uplifting experience. The writing is brimming with tenderness, insight and compassion as Grace gradually begins to reclaim herself rather than slip back into old habits and beliefs. As I turned the last page I hoped that the autumn of Grace’s life would be as golden as the leaves drifting down the black and white cover of this beautiful novel. Read my full review.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. This is an insightful, poignant and clever novel about the value we put on great art, love and life. There’s considerable skill on display in this novel, on the surface it appears to be light and comical but beneath the surface there is perceptive emotional depth as Rothschild takes you on a tour of the history of art from a rather unusual perspective. After reading this wonderful novel you will have a new appreciation of art and why it commands such high prices. Read my full review.

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Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. Sean Michaels has reimagined the life of the inventor and Russian spy Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the inventor of the first electronic instrument – the Theremin – in 1920. The sentence structure has a sense of rhythm that’s quite breathtaking at times, some are short, no more than four or five words yet they resonate with meaning. The description of the sound of a theremin was so evocative I could hear it, like a forgotten memory, it sent me in search of the sound on YouTube where I found the love of Lev’s life, Clara RockmoreUs Conductors is an original story of unrequited love that travels from America to Russia through some of the biggest world events from 1920s onwards, and is one of the most fascinating historical novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Read my full review.

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The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis. This extraordinary novel depicts the human cost of war. The pages are peppered with vividly evoked scenes of the physical, emotional and mental trauma that many Armenian families went through during the massacre of their people in WWI. Makis has given the Armenian people a voice that shares the pain of the past and ends on a hopeful note. I was in tears by the end, they were cathartic tears as I grieved for those who were lost and acknowledged the light of a new generation that still burns thanks to those who survived. Read my full review.

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I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers. This is a finely balanced, insightful and powerful novel that explores the impact of violence and how grief, blame and the desire to redeem past errors of judgement can be deeply complex, as each decision made by Turner ripples outwards causing unbearable pain and torment for himself and everyone involved. Snap up this stunning literary thriller for an unnerving and unforgettable reading experience. Read my full review.

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Belonging by Umi Sinha. The story moves from India to England covering the Indian Cawnpore Massacre of 1857 to the First World War, when the lines of what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour due to the English class and Indian caste systems became increasingly blurred, as new rules were made, bent and broken. This novel makes you think about the damage that secrets and lies can inflict on the unsuspecting and innocent. Silence is used as a mask, a shield and as a weapon depending on whether or not the protagonist feels like they don’t know where they belong, or that they are the property of someone with no control over their own lives. Every character is a fully realised human being with strengths and weaknesses, and Sinha writes each one with sensitivity and empathy as the truth of each situation is gradually unveiled. Love is the overriding emotion in this novel, a deep love that comes from understanding what has gone before in the hope that what is to come will be better, which is why this novel is one of my favourite books of the year. Read my full review.

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The Good Son by Paul McVeigh. The voice McVeigh has created for young Micky Donnelly is full of energy and high spirits, filled with passion, humour and warmth. A sense of time and place is established within seconds on the opening page as Micky announces that he was born on the day the Troubles in Northern Ireland began, while his mother jokes that he’s the reason they started. McVeigh has captured the naïvety and complexity of being a little boy in an untenable situation with great sensitivity and compassion. If you choose to invest in The Good Son, you can do so in the knowledge that you are in the hands of an accomplished storyteller. Prepare to laugh and cry as Mickey Donnelly takes hold of your heart and never lets it go until the last page. Read my full review.

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Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. The  novel features a little girl called Peggy who is taken away from everything she knows by her father who has survivalist fantasies. Peggy spends many years in isolation with her father and the novel sensitively explores the impact this has on her development as she leaves her childhood behind and becomes a young woman. Fuller has written a complex, devastating and completely unforgettable début novel. There is subtle artistry and exceptional skill in how Fuller shows rather than tells the reader what is happening to Grace and her father. The final scene is exquisitely drawn and resonates with such raw emotional power that I’ve never forgotten it. Read my full review here and/or my interview with Claire Fuller here.

I hope you enjoyed reading my list and that it encourages you to check out a few new reads. Please feel free to add your thoughts and recommended reads from 2015 in the comments section.