Category Archives: Mystery

The Lake House- Kate Morton


Synopsis

Whilst on enforced holiday police officer Sadie Sparrow stumbles across an abandoned house that holds a secret. 70 years ago a young child went missing and was never found. Sadie decides to revisit the case and see if she can solve it.

Reveiw

I really enjoy Kate Morton’s books, I like the combinations of mystery, history and relationships. The Lake House is a little bit different, it has more of a ‘standard’ mystery story about it, mainly because it involves an unsolved crime and the actual police where her others are generally more about the people who are involved in the mystery. It still definitely had her personal element, looking at the way the past had affected people now. From how Sadie’s own past had an effect on her to how the child’s own family had been affected by his disappearance.

There were a lot of theories banded about, at first I thought that maybe ‘The Lake House’ was an earlier book by Morton which had been republished because I always felt I was one step ahead of Sadie. Thinking about it a bit more closely though I think that made me be more closely entangled with what Sadie was thinking, and I had more information than Sadie as the book would shift between times, and included sections where you saw into the minds of different people involved.  This gave not just a good look into the mystery, but also a look at the lives and minds of those involved.

There were a couple of things I disliked I thought that (highlight for spoiler) Constance’s killing of Mr LLewellyn just didn’t seem like it was really needed for the story and I found that (highlight for spoiler)Bertie actually being Theo was just a bit too convenient, it fact it slightly spoiled the end of the book for me, maybe I just like a few loose ends.  It didn’t quite hold my attention as well as other Morton books either.

3.5/5

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Other reviews:

The Book Musings

Silver’s Reviews

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Filed under Fiction review, Historical, Mystery

The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield


Synopsis (from goodreads)

Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family–fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates…

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past–and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has Angelfield been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter? And what is it in Margaret’s own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield’s spell?

Review

I read The Thirteenth Tale so long ago now that I had to read the synopsis just to remind myself what happened (I don’t like this synopsis by the way, but I don’t think I can write a better one so I decided to lump with it, it’s the same as amazon’s, except that it doesn’t mention the film). All I could really remember is that I didn’t want to include it as a short review because I felt (still feel) it deserved more than that.

This book sat on my wishlist for a long time after I read lots of positive blog posts about it, then it sat for a long time on my to be read pile. It may have sat their for longer if I hadn’t read Bellman and Black as a review request.

It was better than Bellman and Black too. They both had that gothic element which I love, and a certain mystery to them. Plus a element of the past effecting the future. The main different with this general background was that for William (of Bellman and Black) it’s his own past which effects him, and for Margret it’s more Vida’s past which effects her.

The story takes part during a two time periods, there is the past story of the twins at Angelfield, told in a rather detached way by Vida Winter, and the current story of Margret as she hears Vida’s story and makes her own investigations, as she has been commissioned by Vida to write her biography. At least initially Vida’s story is the most engaging, however the further we get into the story the more the two stories become entwined.

Trapped up in Vida’s big empty house, having nothing to do except listen to Vida’s story makes Margret rather crazy, understandably. (A classic of gothic literature, think Jane Eyre trapped in Thornfield, with all those noises, and the strange maid, and unexplainable fires…you get the idea) But how much is Margret imagining? How much is real? Is she just being effected by Vida’s story? By her own past? Or is there something more to it?

Vida’s own story has the aura of a gothic mystery too. All the way through you are trying to work out what actually happened in Angelfield, just as Margret is.

There was an added little story which I didn’t really think was that necessary to the story. I’m not sure it added all that much either, although it did create a bit of a twist in the tale which I suppose was good, if a little over the top.

It got me guessing right up to the end.

4/5

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Other Reviews:

The Book Musings

Books at Violet Crush

HeavenAli

The Perpetual Page Turner

Reading With Tea

Alison Mccarthy

Words For Worms (Discussion, contains spoilers)

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The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress- Amita Murray


Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge, by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from amazon)

It is the 1860s, and Rachel Faraday is trying to follow in the footsteps of the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Struggling to make a living, in a world that looks down on female traders, she paints her fabrics in the colours and styles of the artists and sells them to wealthy women who daydream about clasping the men of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood between their thighs. One night, she meets a man, who, after the coldness of her cottage and the loneliness of her existence, shows her the possibility of a different life. The next day, he is arrested on suspicion of cold-blooded murder. As Rachel sets out to prove his innocence, she realizes that she must come to terms not only with the evidence in front of her, the vagaries of her trade, the hot-blooded attentions of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but her own erotic longings and the secrets of her past.

Review

I’m trying to remember anything of note about The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress. There isn’t a hell of a lot to be honest. In fact the main thing of note I can think of is that as a historical novel it seemed loose. I wouldn’t really say historically inaccurate, but it had little real history except for the setting.

As a crime novel it was better, but a little sketchy. Not as much detail as I would have liked, but enough to keep me wondering and reading.

The sections with Rossetti were…strange. It seemed almost as if Murray wanted to write the story about  Rossetti but couldn’t find a whole story there so decided to find a place in another story for it. It fit in with the rest of the story, but only slightly, it seemed an unnecessary plot line.

There was a romantic element too. Which was a driving force but a minor element to the story, according to amazon this book is the first in a series which is yet to be finished, I can see the romantic element being a larger plot line than in this first book.

3.5/5

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Filed under Crime, Fiction review, Historical, Mystery, Romantic

Weeks in Naviras- Chris Wimpress


Disclaimer: I was given this novel free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from amazon)

It’s late afternoon in the tiny fishing village of Naviras, where Eleanor Weeks is sipping wine and watching the ocean.

Even though she’s been there dozens of times, how she arrived that particular afternoon is a mystery to her. Until she remembers she’s the wife of the British prime minister, and that she’s just been killed in a terrorist attack.

As Ellie explores her personal afterlife, she recalls her troubled marriage during her husband’s rise to the very top of British politics. She remembers the tragedy and secrets which dominated the last ten years of her life, before recounting her role in a conspiracy which threatens to destabilise not just Britain but the wider world.

Review
This book wasn’t what I expected at all. I expected an introspective look back at what had gone wrong. Maybe a view other that Ellie’s at what had happened, and why. Possibly a detached look at what happened afterwards.
There was an introspective element, however that was about as far as it went. Mainly we saw Ellie exploring the world of her afterlife- but it wasn’t all that it seemed. Heaven? Maybe? Or hell? Either way there was something not quite right.
I expected, I don’t know. Something more political and less thriller. That doesn’t mean it was bad, just different. I think I might have prefered what I expected, however this probably is an easier read than the novel I expected, and it certainly kept you hooked.
There was a slight paranormal element which I wasn’t expecting, and which I still can’t quite figure out. If I’d known that there was a paranormal element I probably would have turned the free copy down. However it did make for a unique story, and I did rather enjoy it in the end
3.5/5
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Before I Go to Sleep- S J Watson



Synopsis (from amazon)

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine’s life.

Review

A couple of years ago everybody was raving about Before I Go To Sleep. I didn’t read it then, partly because I’m not the biggest fan of crime fiction, partly because of my ever expanding to be read pile, and partly because the last raved about crime novel I remembered reading was The Da Vinci Code– which I have no desire to re-read. My Mum had read it, and my boyfriend and a handful of people from BCF had been very positive about it.

However it wasn’t the positive reviews which made me interested so much as the slight psychological plotline- that of Christine having basically no memory. Either way I was interested enough to go out and buy myself a copy, but when my Mum was sorting out books to get rid of (we have nine bookcases in our 3-up 3-down house, so need all the space we can get!) she put Before I Go To Sleep in the pile, and I moved it to my shelves (along with The Tiger’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry). When I actually got around to reading it I was in the mood for something which would be a quick, easy, but (hopefully) gripping read. I read crime the way other people read chick-lit, it’s more of a relaxed easy read (generally, there is some really good crime out there that you really can’t figure out, and that is more taxing). My Mum’s reaction to it more than anything showed me that Before I Go To Sleep would be what I was looking for.

It was that as well. Gripping enough whilst it lasted, but it didn’t really leave any lingering feelings. I guessed the twist quite early on, which meant that anything else was mainly just confirming my theory, although there were enough little twists on the way to make me want to keep reading for the story itself.

I had a bit of a love hate relationship with Christine. She was just too trusting! I understand that you have to trust someone in that situation, but it wasn’t even that she trusted people she met, she tried to force herself to feel things which she thought she should feel for them, I don’t really understand that.

The story was pretty unique. Which probably puts it above other crime novels of a similar quality. However it was just of standard quality. If you’re a fan of crime novels  then you may like this one, but I wouldn’t expect it to live up to hype.

Before I Go To Sleep is meant to be coming out as a film later this year. Nicole Kidman is playing Christine, which must mean they have made her younger. She’s not right for the part at all.

3.5/5

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Other Reviews:

Leeswammes’ Blog

Girl Vs Bookshelf

Heavenali

So Many Books, So Little Time

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Giraffe Days

Wensend

Piling on the Books

Nose in a Book

Literary Lindsey

Knitting and Sundries

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Filed under Contempory, Crime, Fiction review, Mystery, Psychology (fiction)

Bellman and Black- Diane Setterfield



Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge (by the publisher) in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

Review

I was a little unsure about reading this book. I had read good reviews, but I had also read a lot of reviews which said it really didn’t match up to The Thirteenth Tale. I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale yet (I just got it actually) and was worried that if I didn’t enjoy Bellman and Black then I wouldn’t want to read The Thirteenth Tale…and then I might miss out.

Luckily I enjoyed Bellman and Black quite a lot. It wasn’t a traditional ghost story, in fact you could almost think that it wasn’t a ghost story at all. Except that it at least has a paranormal element, if not actually a ghost element.
I’m not sure if I would call it creepy exactly. It’s more a bit…err….I can’t think of the word. It make you unsure, it’s seems like it almost could happen, except for some little things.

It did take me a little while to get into, and I don’t think I would have finished it so soon if I hadn’t been reading it in hospital. Having said that if The Thirteenth Tale is actually better then I think I may actually end up loving it.

4/5

Buy it:

Kindle (£4.72)

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Paperback; pre-order (£7.40)

Other Reviews:

Words for Worms

Literary Lindsey

Under a Grey Sky

Silver’s Reviews

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The Sleep Room- F.R. Tallis



Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge by the publisher (via netgally) in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

As haunting as Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and as dark as James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall, F. R. Tallis’s The Sleep Room is where your nightmares begin . . . When promising psychiatrist, James Richardson, is offered the job opportunity of a lifetime, he is thrilled. Setting off to take up his post at Wyldehope Hall in deepest Suffolk, Richardson doesn’t look back. One of his tasks is to manage a controversial project – a pioneering therapy in which extremely disturbed patients are kept asleep for months. As Richardson settles into his new life, he begins to sense something uncanny about the sleeping patients – six women, forsaken by society. Why is the trainee nurse so on edge when she spends nights alone with them? And what can it mean when all the sleepers start dreaming at the same time? It’s not long before Richardson finds himself questioning everything he knows about the human mind as he attempts to uncover the shocking secrets of The Sleep Room . .

UK cover


Review.

When looking up this book on amazon I became glad that it had been the American publisher offering it on netgally because the UK cover is awful. Looks like some sort of 80s horror novel. If that had been the cover I wouldn’t have even looked at it, let alone request it.

I suppose that goes to show, you can’t always judge a book by its cover (although I can’t say I’ll stop- it’s usually a good indication of the type of book). You see, actually, I quite enjoyed The Sleep Room.

Right from the beginning I could see the gothic elements which reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre in particular. In fact to be honest at times it felt a little bit too like Jane Eyre- almost as if scene ideas had been picked out of the story.

Part of the reason I wanted to read The Sleep Room was the gothic element, but I was also interested in the psychological background.

Those were as it turned out the most interesting bits for me, the psychology section. I would have liked more of it actually, and I felt that Tallis didn’t feel that he had enough psychological knowledge to write a book based in a psychiatric hospital. I could kind of see tricks which meant Tallis didn’t have to show too much psychological knowledge. I’m a psychology graduate so I can’t help but be a bit critical of psychology elements in stories.

The overall thing I enjoyed rather a lot though, and the ending really made it.

4/5

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The Officer’s Lover- Pam Jenoff



Note: In the US this book is sold as Almost Home, which was changed for the UK sale. Personally I think the US name is more appropriate for the story (which is really a discussion for another day) but I’m referring to it as The Officer’s Lover because I’m based in the UK, and my Amazon links are for Amazon UK.

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Ten years ago Jordan Weiss suffered the devastating death of her boyfriend Jared, a gifted rower at Cambridge. Since then work as an intelligence officer has taken her to the world’s hot spots where she has faced terrible dangers. However, it’s the thought of returning to England that haunts her most. But when Jordan learns that her best friend, Sarah, is terminally ill, she transfers to the State Department’s London office to be close to her. In London, she and rakish agent Sebastian Hodges are assigned to an investigation into mafia activities that quickly throws Jordan into a whirlwind drama of lies, cover-ups and corruption. Who can she trust? As she desperately tries to pull the pieces together, secrets start to emerge that are strangely connected to her past and will ultimately shape the course of her future …
Review
The Officer’s Lover had been on my wishlist for a long time, and on my shelf for almost as long and, you know what? I really wish I had picked it up sooner. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
The story really got me hooked, with all it’s twists and turns. I thought I knew what was going to happen at several points, but then something else would be revealed and throw me right off track again. However one big thing that I expected, but thought might be  bit too clichéd did happen. I was happy because I wanted it to, but it was a little too perfect.
The end was rather open however, which I liked. It took away some of the perfection and meant you could make your own end up. However some people might like more of a sense of closure.
I really liked the main character, Jordan, and I wanted things to turn out well for her. There were a few points where I wanted to give her a shake, but that just made her all the more realistic. Seeing the story through her eyes was good too. It meant that we saw things as she saw them so we got all the same surprises as she did, and understand her judgements (even when I didn’t agree with them).
4.5/5
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Paperback (£5.59)
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Other Reviews:
I’m sure I added this book to my wishlist because of a blogger’s review, but without a search function on my feed reader I have next to no hope of finding it 😦
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The Lifeboat- Charlotte Rogan


The Lifeboat, book, books, book review, Charlotte Rogan

This book was read as part of the wishlist challenge

Synopsis (from amazon)

I was to stand trial for my life. I was twenty-two years old. I had been married for ten weeks and a widow for six.

It is 1914 and Europe is on the brink of war. When a magnificent ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion en route to New York City, Henry Winter manages to secure a place in a lifeboat for his new wife Grace. But the survivors quickly realize the boat is over capacity and could sink at any moment. For any to live, some must die.

Over the course of three perilous weeks, the passengers on the lifeboat plot, scheme, gossip and console one another while sitting inches apart. Their deepest beliefs are tested to the limit as they begin to discover what they will do in order to survive.

Review

There was a lot of talk going on around The Lifeboat. It was one of the Waterstone’s 11 last year, and there were a hell of a lot of reviews around. It was on my wishlist for a long time, but once I actually got it it took me three months to actually get around to reading it. Partly because of my requested reviews backlog. I had actually been excited about reading it.

I had expected to like the part of the story focused in the lifeboat itself to be the most interesting (it was split between a tale of what happened on the lifeboat, and Grace’s impending trial), but actually I found that rather slow moving, and you didn’t get the moral debate I had expected. In fact the idea of people being sent from the lifeboat, or jumping was barely discussed at all. It was more a story of what extreme situations can bring out in people.

There was also a vague mystery aspect which was interesting, except we never really got any answers. It was almost as if Rogan had started another storyline but forgotten or been unable to finish it.

The sea scenes were rather well done, and you could imagine very easily what it might be like to be on a little lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.

4/5

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Paperback (£5.03)

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Other reviews:

Sam Still Reading

Every Book has a Soul

Leeswammes’ Blog

Farm Lane Books

As the Crowe Flies (and Reads)

Bookjourney

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Filed under Contempory, Fiction review, Historical, Mystery

Night Waking- Sarah Moss


Synopsis (from amazon)

Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins. Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby’s skeleton in the garden of their house. Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders. The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women’s vexed and passionate relationship with work. Moss’s second novel displays an exciting expansion of her range – showing her to be both an excellent comic writer and a novelist of great emotional depth.

Review

I found this book rather emotionally tough at times. I really liked Anna but because we could see in her head I often found the things she thought, and sometimes even the things she did made me feel uneasy, especially when it came to her children.

In fact it was quite well done because you could understand Anna’s thoughts and approach to things, even though you might not agree, and they were easy things to judge her for.

A lot of the book was about Anna as a mother. At times I did actually find her to be a good mother, but at others she completely lost the plot. Maybe that made it authentic, I really don’t know, I maybe hope not. I suppose all parents get frustrated with their kids sometimes, but Anna didn’t always deal with it well.

There was something about the kids. I think Raph maybe wasn’t meant to be ‘normal’, certainly he seemed ‘too clever’, but I did really like him. Moth was presented at the ‘normal’ kid but I work with two year olds, and he seems rather infantile.

The letters I found rather frustrating. They seemed to break the story, but the way they eventually linked in to the rest of the story made them worth reading.

It’s far from the easiest read, but I did end up abandoning my paperback in favour of finishing Night Waking, and I think that says a lot about how it captured me.

4/5

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The Specimen- Martha Lea


Disclaimer:  book was given to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from amazon)

The year is 1859. Edward Scales is a businessman, a butterfly collector, a respectable man. He is the man Gwen Carrick fell in love with.

Gwen Carrick first meets Edward Scales on a windswept beach in Cornwall. The spark is instant and the couple begin to forge a future together. Seven years on, Gwen’s world has fallen apart and she finds herself in the docks at the Old Bailey, charged with Edward’s murder.

Could Gwen Carrick really murder the man she loved? From country house drawing rooms to the rainforests of Brazil, The Specimen explores the price one independent young woman might pay for wanting an unorthodox life.

Set in a Victorian world battling between the forces of spiritualism and Darwinism, polite society and the call of clandestine love, Gwen and Edward’s tale is a gripping melodrama, a romance and a murder mystery that will compel readers to its final thrilling page.

Review

I cannot remember the last time it took me this long to get through a book. It’s taken me a while to write this review too, mainly because my overriding reaction was ‘YAY I managed to finish!’

I had fairly good hopes for The Specimen, a bit of a mystery, a bit sciencey, a bit romantic, maybe a little feminist. Sadly I was disappointed. It did have all the elements I expected but not to a satisfying level. To try and order my thoughts I’m going to go through each expectation at a time then add anything I haven’t covered.

Mystery, well, I never really wondered who killed Edward. It was basically old from the beginning as if Gwen was guilty. I wondered why she might have done it, and I think I eventually got an answer, which was, to be honest a bit of a cop out of an answer considering other things which had gone on and could have been built to a motive. I had expected Gwen to be married to Edward at the time as well which took away a large chunk of the drama for me.

The science was probably the best in terms of detail, but it was also the bit I was anticipating the least. I thought the Darwinism issue would be interesting to read about, but there was less of a debate as a general feeling that everyone wanted to prove Darwin right, and even that was brief. I dud however like how involved Gwen was in her biologist role and how interested she was in the creatures.

At first there was a fair bit of romance in the way Edward and Gwen interacted but this seemed to very suddenly just disappear for no reason, and I was waiting for a moment that showed they loved one another. There was a sort of intensity to the times when the ‘love’ was there which made me unsure of how genuine it really was, and how but Gwen and Edward really knew each other.

Actually the only thing I really did like was that Gwen was quite a feminist. She wasn’t to be able to explore the world in the same way that a male scientist would, and she- most of the time- expected to be listened to the same as a man would be. I respected her for that although I didn’t exactly like her the whole time. She was certainly an improvement over Edward, even before they went away I started to loose any reasoning as why she liked him, and it just got worse.

There was a certain element to the book which was hard to follow. The time kept switching and I was often confused as to how the events fitted together. Plus there were a few sections which didn’t seem to fit in with everything at all.

2/5

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Hardback (£8.96)

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Other reviews:

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

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Garden of Stones- Sophie Littleford


Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge by the publishers (via netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from Amazon)

In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice Lucy Takeda is just fourteen years old, living in Los Angeles, when the bombs rain down on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, she and her mother, Miyako, are ripped from their home, rounded up—along with thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans—and taken to the Manzanar prison camp. Buffeted by blistering heat and choking dust, Lucy and Miyako must endure the harsh living conditions of the camp. Corruption and abuse creep into every corner of Manzanar, eventually ensnaring beautiful, vulnerable Miyako. Ruined and unwilling to surrender her daughter to the same fate, Miyako soon breaks.

 

Review.

 

It’s taken me quite a while to get around to reviewing this book.

 

It’s the first I’ve read about Japanese living in allied countries during World War Two, I read a lot of WW2 fiction but most of it is based in the UK or Germany. Part of what I liked about it was how it seemed to show that it wasn’t just the Nazis who discriminated. Not that the prison camps were anything compared to German concentration camps, but that people were treated as enemies just because they were of Japanese heritage.

 

Some of the story was interesting. The atmosphere of the camps was well written, and you could imagine what horrible places they were to live in. The actual events that happened in the camp seemed a bit much though. I am not debating whether or not those types of things may or may not have happened but it seems a lot for one person to be involved in. I almost got the sense that Littleford couldn’t make enough of one story so decided to knit a few together.

 

If that was indeed what she did the stories were linked fairly well, but made the ‘secret’ somewhat predictable. My only doubts when it came to what I thought the secret was came from having been told early on that something else was the answer to what had happened.

 

At the time I rather enjoyed this book, but having waited to write my review, and starting Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet since have slowly worn down my opinion. I am glad I read it because I wouldn’t have known to read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet without it, and it opened my eyes to less told stories.

 

However I didn’t really get that strong a sense of how it felt to be Japanese at that time. This novel started off being historical, but became a mystery somewhere along the line and I would rather have just had a historical novel.

 

Oh and the whole way through I did not like the cover, the girl on the front is just too young looking. It’s not something that would have stopped me picking it up however.

 

3.5/5

 

This book is released in paperback on 19th February and on Kindle on 1st March. You can pre-order now from amazon:
Paperback (£8.28)
Kindle (£5.59)

Other reviews
Sam Still Reading
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All She Ever Wanted- Rosalind Noonan


Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the publishers, via netgalley, free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from amazon)

For years, Chelsea Maynard has longed to be a mother. She’s imagined caring for a new baby in the lovely house she shares with her husband, Leo, fondly planning every detail. But after a difficult birth, those dreams of blissful bonding evaporate. Chelsea battles sleep deprivation and feelings of isolation. Little Annabelle cries constantly, and Chelsea has dark visions fuelled by exhaustion and self-doubt. Her sister, Emma, insists she gets help for postpartum depression, but Chelsea’s doctor dismisses her worries as self-indulgent. Doubting her ability to parent – even doubting her own sanity – Chelsea is close to collapse. Then an unthinkable crisis hits.

Review

This book reminded me strangely of Beneath The Shadows it shouldn’t have really. There’s a similarity in plot, in that in both stories focus around a person going missing, and both include a baby. However that is where the similarity ends. There were some similarities in writing style, but not enough to really explain why I kept thinking of Beneath the Shadows whilst reading All She Ever Wanted.

I expected a little more soul searching and a little less blaming anyone but herself. From the synopsis given on netgalley I had imagined Chelsea being frantic that she may have done something to her baby, but whilst that element did come into it she seemed more to want to find someone else to blame than to try and find something inside herself. This made it a bit more of a mystery novel than I had expected.

Having said that it was more than your stereotypical mystery. There were the usual twists and turns, and maybe just a few to many suspects, and I wasn’t able to guess what had happened. However there was a deeper emotional aspect than you would get from most mysteries.

The postnatal depression sections were done well too. You could really see how Charlotte felt. Most people know a little about postnatal depression but this really got through what it’s like in reality.

4/5

All She Ever Wanted is out on Kindle now and is released as a paperback in February, but you can pre-order it now

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Bright Young Things- Scarlett Thomas


Synopsis (from Amazon)

Bright Young Things wanted for Big Project.’ They’re in the prime of their lives but our bright young things are all burnt out. Six sparky twenty-somethings just out of university and working dead-end jobs, they are all bored to tears with their lives and looking for a way out. When a mysterious job is advertised in the newspaper, they all apply. What they least expect is to find themselves prisoners on a deserted island. There’s food in the fridge and they have a bedroom each, but there’s no telephone, no television, and no way to escape.

Review

I was a little sceptical about reading Bright Young Things after recent disappointments from Scarlett Thomas. However it was (and still is actually) only 20p for the kindle so I thought why not.

Maybe because I didn’t have the expectations I usually have when it comes to Scarlett Thomas I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.

I wouldn’t call the Bright Young Things bright exactly. They were clever in terms of learning or bookish knowledge if you want, but they were a little nieve about the situation in general. I know it’s not exactly a ‘normal’ situation but they just seemed to treat it like a holiday. Surely if you woke up on a random island, with no idea how you had got there, or why you would try and find out, wouldn’t you? Or try and get away? They only really make the most basic of attempts at either of those things.

I worked out certain twists in the tale quicker than they did too, but I suppose fear could have an effect on that.

It was an enjoyable book however, although it took a while to really get going. The beginning was interesting, and towards the end it ot exciting but in the middle I did get a little bored.

4/5

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My Dead Friend Sarah- Peter Rosch


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Mere months into recovery, Max, an alcoholic with twisted control issues, meets Sarah – the same woman that for years he’s habitually dreamt will die after a botched abduction. “Doing the next right thing,” a popular AA phrase he’s picked up in the rooms, means befriending Sarah long enough to warn her and hope she takes him seriously. But when Sarah falls in love with Max, his newly sober thinking drives him to choose his overly devoted wife, and he abandons Sarah – even when it condemns her to death. When Sarah goes missing, the NYPD suspects Max’s dream may have been a pre-crime confession. The truth, all of it, lurks inside of Max, but only by drinking again does he recapture the nerve and clarity vital to free his wife, sponsor, and himself from a life imprisoned by lies.

Review

It’s taken me a little while to get around to actually writing this review so I don’t remember the story perfectly clearly, however I will do my best.

I enjoyed this story, it was pretty easy read but I don’t think it lost any thrill or quality from that. The chapters were split up into chapters narrated by Max and by Sarah so you could see two sides of the story. That is up until the moment of Sarah’s disappearance. It was quite clever how Sarah’s voice just stopped. It makes the reader sure that Max’s conviction that Sarah is dead is correct, but you still hope he is wrong.

You really feel as if you know the characters, and as such there is a certain level of inevitability.

4/5

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Genus- Jonathan Trigell


Synopsis (from Amazon)

In the Britain of a few tomorrows time, physical perfection is commonplace and self improvement has become an extinct expression: all the qualities men and women could aspire to can be purchased prior to birth.

GENUS is a time of genetic selection and enrichment – life chances come on a sliding scale according to wealth. For some there is no money or choice, and an underclass has evolved; London’s King’s Cross, or The Kross as it is now known, has become a ghetto for the Unimproved. In The Kross, the natural, the dated, the cheap and the dull, live a brittle and unenviable existence. But unrest is growing; tension is mounting and a murderer is abroad in these dark quarters…

Review

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Boy A (which was Trigell’s first novel) so when Genus was sent to for review I thought why not? I’ve not actually read Boy A so I don’t know if it’s worth of the praise it has received but knowing about it probably did heighten my expectations a little when it came to reading Genus.

At first I really can’t say I was much of a fan. The chapters kept jumping from character to character- sometimes with a heading to say which character’s point of view you were seeing, but not always, which made things a little confusing. Plus at first there seemed to be few links between the characters which felt like I was reading lots of little stories based in the same world, this just added to the confusion. However as the story progressed the stories seemed to intertwine which reduced the confusion- in fact by the time all was revealed the only confusion I felt was the confusion I imagine the reader was meant to feel. That is the confusion about the murderer.

Tone wise Genus reminded me quite a lot of Super Sad True Love Story, which wasn’t really a bonus because I had been rather disappointed by that one, so it didn’t really build good associations. There were certain parallels in the novels too. Both set in a dystopian future which have a certain basis in reality that suggests that everything might come true.

Genus definitely has more meat to it though. The future presented is more scary. The idea of being a lower class just because you hadn’t been a designed child. The vicious circle of it all, the Unimproved couldn’t get the good jobs, so they couldn’t pay for their children to be Improved so if they had children they were condemning them to the same fate. The laws that were meant to protect the Unimproved just made it easier to know who was Unimproved and therefore discriminate against them.

We see this future through different eyes. Some Improved, some not. There’s a suggestion that even life for the Improved is not fantastic, but that nobody would want to be Unimproved, if if they were lucky when it came to natural gene selection. Mainly we follow Holman, an Unimproved of the most obvious type. A midget with legs which do not work as they should, and who is old for his age. In ways he is lucky, he has a natural talent for art which may one day get him out of The Kross, born to an Unimproved, but rich and beautiful mother who is happy to support him. But Holman seems entangled in the murders, is he next to go, or could he even be the murderer?

By the end I just wanted to find everything out, but to be honest most of the time I found I just wanted the story to be over already, it was only in about the last 30% of the book that I started actually getting interested, and the last 10% was pretty riveting. If you’re in for the long haul you may enjoy Genus, but I didn’t find the last section really made up for the rest.

3/5

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The Child Who- Simon Lelic


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Synopsis (from amazon)

A quiet English town is left reeling when twelve-year-old Daniel Blake is discovered to have brutally murdered his schoolmate Felicity Forbes. For provincial solicitor Leo Curtice, the case promises to be the most high profile – and morally challenging – of his career. But as he begins his defence Leo is unprepared for the impact the public fury surrounding Felicity’s death will have on his family – and his teenage daughter Ellie, above all. While Leo struggles to get Daniel to open up, hoping to unearth the reasons for the boy’s terrible crime, the build-up of pressure on Leo’s family intensifies. As the case nears its climax, events will take their darkest turn. For Leo, nothing will ever be the same again .

>Review

This book was not what I expected. Maybe partly because I hadn’t re-read the synopsis before I started reading the actual book (although that is only usually something I do if I can’t decide what to read.

It wasn’t that the book was bad, it’s just it really didn’t reach it’s full potential. I expected much more about Daniel, and his reasoning behind the murder, and that was the part I was really interested in. Actually the whole Daniel thin felt like it had been skimmed over and the focus was much more on Leo and the effect the case had on him and his family.

It’s not even that I didn’t find the Leo side of things interesting I did, especially after the main event happened, but it pretty much made the fact that a child was involved in the case pointless.

There was a certain crime/mystery element but I would it rather predictable, so really that’s didn’t keep me hooked.

It was an easy read however, and interesting enough to keep me reading.

3/5

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Ninepins- Rosy Thornton


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Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Deep in the Cambridgeshire fens, Laura is living alone with her 12-year old daughter Beth, in the old tollhouse known as Ninepins. She’s in the habit of renting out the pumphouse, once a fen drainage station, to students, but this year she’s been persuaded to take in 17-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past, on the recommendation of her social worker, Vince. Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? It’s possible she was once guilty of arson; her mother’s hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble at school and out of it. Laura’s carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control. With the tension of a thriller, NINEPINS explores the idea of family, and the volatile and changing relationships between mothers and daughters, in a landscape that is beautiful but – as they all discover – perilous.

Review

Note on review: where links are gathered around an author’s name these lead to reviews of the author’s books.

I’ve had this book waiting for review for a while, when I got it I intended to make it my next read in paperback, but I was really struggling with The Good Angel of Death (which is weird because I normally love Kurkov) and ended up reading it for more than a month without getting very far. Eventually I decided I was in a bit of a slump (I started having trouble with the book I was reading on kindle too), I read Olivia Joules, and then Big Fish before returning to The Good Angel of Death but still couldn’t really get anywhere with it. So I decided to read Ninepins, partly because I felt a little guilty for leaving it so long (usually review novels go straight to the top of my pile) and partly because I remembered it as something that sounded easy to read.

Well in a way my memories were off. I was imagining something vaguely chick-litty, although maybe more sophisticated. I was wrong. Ninepins wasn’t hard to read, but it was far from chick-lit like too. Actually it kind of reminded me of Kate Morton. There was the same kind of atmosphere built using the surroundings (a little gothic at times in fact, which I always like in a novel). There was also the family issue centre and hints of a big secret, although actually the secret, while never revealed fully was quite easy to guess at.

I thought that the way Thornton was able to make you feel about the characters, especially Beth and Laura, was clever. Beth was a pretty stereotypical teenager, not exactly a rebel but certainly testing some boundaries and trying to gain a bit much independence. Laura (whose voice the novel was told in) was understandable frustrated by this but despite the fact that you should be siding with Laura I found actually I had a lot of sympathy for Beth and found that Laura was a bit stifling. In fact at points I even found she was a little stifling to Willow despite the fact she was only meant to be Willow’s landlady. That didn’t mean that I didn’t see her viewpoint, or feel sympathy for her but sometimes I just wanted her to relax and let go, or let someone else take responsibility for once.

I did really enjoy it however. I think it’s one fans of Linda Gillard would enjoy, and (maybe to a slightly lesser extent, as it’s less of a mystery and more of a family novel) Kate Morton’s fans may well appreciate it too.

4.5/5

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The Summer of the Dancing Bear- Bianca Lakoseljac


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Disclaimer: This book was provided for me free of charge via netgally in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Bianca Lakoseljac’s debut novel, The Summer of the Dancing Bear is a mesmerising melange of love story and mystery, as young protagonist Kata explores the unfamiliar world of the gypsy tribe that has befriended her and embarks on a quest to discover the fate of a neighbour’s missing child. Memory and magic play their roles until the shocking denouement that reveals Kata’s own family secrets and forever alters her perceptions of life as she once knew it. Engaging and original, the novel fuses history, myth, and tradition in a whimsical literary voice that reminds us that the complex and innocent humanity in us is too often haunted by human tragedy.

Review

This is Lakosljac’s first novel, released only this week, and I think she’s really going to be one to watch. I really thought that I could see into Kata’s mind and emotions. At times she had almost prophetic dreams and these were written really well to show Kata’s sense of urgency, fear, and confusion. Kata rarely knew exactly what her dreams meant except that they were important and the reader learns alongside her what the dreams may indicate. Sometimes is is confusing what is a dream and what is reality and this causes great confusion for the reader which seems to be reflected in Kata’s emotional state.

The further and further you read into the book the more dreams and reality seem to merge until you are convinced reality is just a dream…and Kata’s insistence that a dream is reality further confounds this. By the climax you are not sure what just happened, which makes the whole situation just the more scary.

The reader has to work hard towards the end to try and see what really happened, and, like Kata, they still come away with unanswered questions. In a way I didn’t like this because I wanted my questions to be answered however it did add an aspect of reality which sustained the reader’s connection with Kata. Plus you can imagine just anything you want could have happened next- whether in dream or reality!

4/5

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One Breath Away- Heather Gudenkauf


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Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Note: This book is not yet released in the UK. It is due to be released on 6th July 2012

Synopsis (from Amazon)

He has a gun.Who? Tell me, where are you? Who has a gun?I love you, Mum.An ordinary school day in March, snowflakes falling, classroom freezing, kids squealing with delight, locker-doors slamming.Then the shooting started. No-one dared take one breath…

He s holding a gun to your child s head.

One wrong answer and he says he ll shoot.

This morning you waved goodbye to your child.

What would you have said if you d known it might be the last time?

Review

I’ve often heard Heather Gudenkauf being compared to Jodi Picoult, who is a bit of favourite for me. I’ve only read one book by Gudenkauf before, The Weight of Silence, which I partially read because I had read a good review, and partly read because it looked at a topic Picoult hadn’t explored- so I didn’t have to worry about comparing it to another novel. Picoult has written a book about a school shooting, Nineteen Minutes,  so I was a little concerned that I would end up comparing One Breath Away to Nineteen Minutes. Fortunately the parallels pretty much ended with the main topic so I was able to more or less read One Breath away as a book in its own right.

A big storyline was about trying to work out who the shooter was without seeing them. There was a certain element of mystery in this for the reader, however as the reader was able to see the shooter some of the theories were obviously untrue. In some ways I think it may have been better if the shooter was referred to in a more neutral way (e.g. by simply calling them the shooter which wouldn’t reveal anything about their gender, age, or race), this would have made it more of a mystery for the reader. Still it held enough mystery and suspense to make me want to keep reading to find out the answer- who was the gunman and why was he attacking the school. I did guess who it was before the end but I think maybe Gudenkauf writes so the reader will guess a little before the characters make a discovery because there is some victory in being able to guess ‘who dunnit’. Personally I prefer to be a bit shocked and surprised but I can see how some people may prefer being able to correctly guess.

I did really enjoy the shooting storyline, especially how the reader could see different points of view of the shooting. It would have been nice to see the gunman’s view to an extent, however it wasn’t essential and it would have taken some mystery out of the story.

I did have one problem with the book though, there were just to many different storylines. There was of course the main storyline of the shooting, but all the characters seemed to have some other issue which was effecting their lives. I can see why Gudenkauf did it generally- it provided more possible suspects- but it was just to much.

3.5/5

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Beneath The Shadows- Sara Foster


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Disclaimer: This book was given to me via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from netgalley)

When Grace’s husband, Adam, inherits an isolated North Yorkshire cottage, they leave the bustle of London behind to try a new life. A week later, Adam vanishes without a trace, leaving their baby daughter, Millie, in her stroller on the doorstep. The following year, Grace returns to the tiny village on the untamed heath.  Everyone—the police, her parents, even her best friend and younger sister—is convinced that Adam left her. But Grace, unable to let go of her memories of their love and life together, cannot accept this explanation.  She is desperate for answers, but the slumbering, deeply superstitious hamlet is unwilling to give up its secrets. As Grace hunts through forgotten corners of the cottage searching for clues, and digs deeper into the lives of the locals, strange dreams begin to haunt her. Are the villagers hiding something, or is she becoming increasingly paranoid? Only as snowfall threatens to cut her and Millie off from the rest of the world does Grace make a terrible discovery. She has been looking in the wrong place for answers all along, and she and her daughter will be in terrible danger if she cannot get them away in time.

Review

I had intended to review this book before it was released but after a weekend in London I only managed to finish it on the train yesterday. Still it was released today so I don’t think I am to far behind if I manage to finish this review today!

The main reason I decided to read Beneath The Shadows was because it was described as ‘gothic’. I have a bit of a thing about gothic literature, it started with reading Jane Eyre and looking its gothic elements when I was studying for my a-levels, it’s even what I write on the rare occasions I manage to write anything other than the first few lines of a story!

I really liked it as well. I loved the way Foster used the surroundings not only to reflect what was going on but also to reflect Grace’s state of mind. I also liked how sometimes Foster used what you expected to be foreshadowing as a sort of trick when really nothing that suspicious was going to happen, it got me every time!

The only really problem I had was that I started to guess at the truth early on. I never guess the whole story behind everything that had happened but guessing a bit took some of the climax out of the book.

4.5/5

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The House at Riverton- Kate Morton


Synopsis (from Amazon)

Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.

Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long-consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

A thrilling mystery and a compelling love story, The House at Riverton will appeal to readers of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, and lovers of the film Gosford Park.

Review

I remember seeing The House at Riverton around a lot when it was first released, I picked it up a few times to look at but always found something I was more sure about to actually buy. I was interested in the story but it sounded a bit more like something my Mum would buy than me (our taste does overlap somewhat, and it means I often look at books which might actually be more up her alley than mine). It wasn’t until I read and enjoyed The Forgotten Garden (also by Kate Morton) that I actually added the House at Riverton to my wishlist, and it’s taken me two years to actually read it (due to my habit of buying books I spot in the shop rather than books that are already on my wishlist).

Part of me does wish I had read The House at Riverton when I first saw it, although maybe my approach would have been less positive then. I did enjoy it very much and it kept me guessing right up to the end, at one point I thought I had the end figured out but then it twisted away from me- I was all ready to write a review saying that it was enjoyable and mysterious but turned out to be a little predictable! I think it was quite clever how Morton made the reader think they had everything figured out only to snatch t from them at the very last minute. It’s a little difficult to review without giving the game away but I think it was quite romantic, although not in the way of a traditional romantic novel. I liked seeing the different types of romances and how they contrasted with each other. I liked the way Grace’s own romance seemed very simple but seemed somehow like the most deserved (highlight for spoiler) and ultimately the most successful. Hannah and Robbie’s romance might have been more like ‘movie love’, against the odds and star-crossed, but it was interesting to see how dramatic love is not necessarily the best kind.

As far as the characters went I really liked Grace, maybe simply because she was such and honest storyteller and was the character we got to know best, but I admired Hannah up to a point and I would have liked to know more about Emmeline.

I wouldn’t call The House at Riverton a literary great but I enjoyed it, and it was an easy but engaging read.

4.5/5

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