Category Archives: Authors V to X

Reviews by author surname V to X

Book Review – Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

The Blurb

Tall Oaks is an idyllic small town, until the disappearance of a young child throws the tight-knit community into crisis.

Jess Monroe, the boy’s distraught mother, is simultaneously leading the search and battling her own grief and self-destructive behaviour. Her neighbours watch on, their sympathy masking a string of dark secrets.

This is a small town where nothing is as it seems, and everyone has something to hide. And as the investigation draws towards a climax, prepare for a devastating final twist…

Dark but laugh-out-loud funny, full of suspense and packed with twists, this brilliant new thriller is like nothing you’ve read before.

My Thoughts

‘’’We’re all fucked-up in one way or another.’’’

I have had Tall Oaks sitting on my Kindle for a while and have been dying to get around to reading it, but never seemed to find the time. Fellow reviewers and bloggers have raved about it, and I had to see if it lived up to the hype.

Whitaker’s debut novel centres around the small American town of Tall Oaks. A close-knit, well-heeled neighbourhood with a small crime rate, Tall Oaks has been rocked by the disappearance of three-year old Harry Monroe. This is not, however, your run-of-the-mill crime novel. Tall Oaks is a novel about community, facades and never really knowing what goes on behind closed doors.

I was impressed by Whitaker’s writing. Despite being British he pulls off the American setting perfectly, and I never once felt I was anywhere other than the USA. For the duration it takes to read Tall Oaks you are fully immersed in this very American town and living and breathing amongst its inhabitants.

With a large cast of characters, it would be easy for some to have more of a peripheral feel, but each one has been carefully thought out and developed to the point that they all leave their mark on you. Incredibly well plotted, the intertwining nature of their lives works perfectly with Whitaker skilfully holding back enough information to add intrigue and then weaving it all together flawlessly at the end. It is hard to believe that this is Whitaker’s debut novel.

Tall Oaks is dark and emotional yet very funny. It relies on the individual stories of each town member to bring it to fruition and I adored this aspect. It made me laugh and at the same time moved me. The gradual unfurling of secrets helps you identify with each and every character while simultaneously throwing you off the scent of the story at its core, resulting in an ending that took me completely off-guard and yet made perfect sense.

Quite unlike anything I have read before, Tall Oaks is quirky, refreshing and compelling. It is one of those books that leaves you feeling upset that you won’t ever experience it for the first time again, but you know you will find yourself re-reading it to look for clues you may have missed the first time around. A work of pure brilliance!

Published on eBook on 7 April 2016 and paperback on 8 September 2016 by Twenty7 (Bonnier Zaffre).

Thank you to Chris Whitaker, Bonnier Zaffre and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Blog Tour – Bad Little Girl by Frances Vick *Book Review*

I’m thrilled to be one of two hosts on the Bad Little Girl blog tour today, finally getting to share my review of this cracking psychological thriller by Frances Vick. Be sure to also check out Sarah’s review on By The Letter Book Reviews today.

The Blurb

 ‘I’m not safe – you have to help me…’

Little Lorna Bell is from a notorious family on a rundown estate. Everyone thinks she’s a nasty piece of work. The schoolchildren call her a thief. But Lorna’s hair is matted, her shoes pinch her feet and school teacher Claire Penny can’t help herself; some kids just need a bit more support, a bit more love, than the rest.

As the bond between teacher and pupil grows stronger, Claire sees Lorna’s bruises, and digs to uncover the disturbing tale behind them. Heartbroken, Claire knows she has to act. She must make Lorna safe.

Just when Claire thinks she has protected Lorna, a chance encounter brings enigmatic stranger Marianne Cairns into their lives. Marianne seems generous and kind but there is something about her story that doesn’t quite add up. Why does she feel so at home, and why is Lorna suddenly so unsettled?

Claire has risked everything to save Lorna. But what can save Claire from the shocking truth?

An utterly unputdownable and darkly compelling read that will have fans of The Girl on the Train, The Sister, and Gone Girl absolutely hooked.

My Thoughts

Bad Little Girl is the story of Claire Penny, a teacher, and her pupil Lorna Bell. When Claire suspects that Lorna is being abused by her family she feels she has to take action to make the little girl safe. With that action comes consequences she never imagined…

Vick completely pulls you into the novel from the very first page. The prologue starts with a bang and then chapter one teases you with just enough information to compel you to keep reading to find out more. Written in third person narrative, Vick writes really well with vivid descriptions and I loved her use of smells and scents, especially in relation to Lorna, to describe people and the contradictions within them mixing sweetness with something altogether less pleasant. Bad Little Girl is not a fast-paced story, it is one of those insidious, creeping novels that gets under your skin and sets your nerves on edge although you are often left wondering why. It has that ‘something’s wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on’ quality to it.

The characters within Bad Little Girl are key to the whole book and they are strongly portrayed. Vick has cleverly written them so that they often leave that seed of niggling doubt in your mind as to whether or not you can trust them or believe them. Claire is a character you warm to immediately, but she also drove me mad! She clearly cares deeply about her job and the well-being of her pupils, to the detriment of her personal life. While her actions are not right they come from a good place and are well-intentioned, but every one of my ex-social worker senses was screaming out at her to make different choices. She finds it hard to go against people despite believing they are wrong. Claire is a woman who has missed out on her life and those opportunities to start a family of her own and I really felt for her. Lorna fulfils something within her that she hasn’t been able to achieve on her own.

Lorna is the child who is tarred by the reputation of her family, who is unlikely to succeed due to the unfortunate hand that fate has dealt her by making her a member of the Bell family. Switching between empathy and distrust, the character of Lorna kept me on my toes and messed with my head.

And then there is Marianne. Unfortunate enough to bump into Marianne in Cornwall, Claire finds she cannot get rid of her. Blatantly unstable from the start, the consequence of meeting another unsettled mind is devastating. Is Marianne manipulator or manipulated? Marianne is a highly unlikable character who I found particularly intriguing.

Underneath the layer of psychological thriller Vick raises some serious themes. This is also a novel about manipulation, the impact the history of your family has on you and if you can ever escape it and whether children grow up to quickly and are too knowing. Bad Little Girl would work really well within a reading group as it raises lots of issues that are ripe for discussion.

Bad Little Girl is an unsettling novel that it has you doubting what you are reading and who you can trust. It centres around some disturbing ideas that are thought-provoking and uncomfortable and you are left feeling uneasy. A great psychological thriller, highly recommended.

A huge thank you to Frances Vick and Kim Nash at Bookouture for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Published on 22 February 2017 by Bookouture.

Purchase Links

UK 🇬🇧 http://amzn.to/2gElGCH
US 🇺🇸 http://amzn.to/2fsr3zE

About Frances Vick

The only child of parents who worked at a top security psychiatric hospital, Frances grew up receiving disquieting notes and presents from the patients. Expelled from school, she spent the next few years on the dole, augmenting her income by providing security and crewing for gigs, and being a guinea pig for medical trials. Later jobs included working in a theatre in Manhattan, teaching English in Japanese Junior High Schools, and being a life model in Italy, before coming back to London and working with homeless teenagers and refugees.

www.francesvick.com
https://www.facebook.com/FrancesVickAuthor/
https://twitter.com/franvicksays

Blog Tour – Jacques by Tanya Ravenswater *Author Guest Post and Review*

Jacques

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Jacques, the beautiful novel by Tanya Ravenswater, I am sharing my review and am excited to have the lady herself here talking about the five things she can’t write without.  So, I will hand you over to Tanya…

Tanya Ravenswater[156483]

Five Things I Can’t Write Without

My Laptop
When I first started writing, I used to always make notes and write first drafts on paper (in black gel pens), then type them up and continue to revise on the computer. I now tend to write most of the time directly onto my laptop. I find that the act of sitting in front of it can put me into a more focused frame of mind and even when I’m not feeling so inspired, I can usually write something which might be the seed for something else. The ease of deleting gives permission to freely experiment and also appeals to my obsessive attachment to a tidy page! When writing on paper, I honestly don’t like the visual ‘clutter’ of a lot of scoring out. Call it writing hygiene, housekeeping, whatever. Or perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that I had my hand smacked on my first ever school day for day-dreaming and enjoying drawing in my Writing Book? I genuinely thought my teacher would be proud of my lovely work, but she wasn’t. Still, we live and learn, sometimes by growing our own shells and neuroses.

Quietness and Space
While I enjoy listening to music and it can put me in a creative mood, when actually writing I need a quiet background. Ideally, I prefer to be alone, though working at home with family around, I’ve got used to getting into the zone and blinkering myself from everything else going on in the circus arena. Even if the ring-master sometimes has to call me in.

Table and Chair
I’ve recently started working in a shed down the garden, which I love. It’s a quiet place apart, with minimal distractions, a simple desk, power-point, high-backed office type chair and a simple white table for spreading out books and papers. Otherwise I move to wherever’s quiet in the house, often to the kitchen table by the window. Sometimes, more at weekends, I’ll write in bed as soon as I wake up or last thing. I do think the relaxing feel of staying under the duvet in such a personal space can help loosen up ideas. The odd cigar and bottle of champagne works wonders as well. Churchill, Twain and Proust, among others, apparently did the same.

Windows
I want plenty of natural light and a view – somewhere to look and take regular screen breaks. I think I could make myself write in a room without a window, but I’d always be much happier with one.

Food and Drink
I write better these days with plenty of Yorkshire Tea and Colombian coffee. Home-made iced coffees more recently. My husband’s a Yorkshire man, iced coffee is my agent’s favourite drink, so there could be a rationale there? If totally absorbed, particularly at first draft stage, I can go for a long time without thinking about food, but during redrafting and editing I tend to graze a lot. Chocolate, bread and salted peanuts are often on my mind, though I try to go for celery, apples and oranges instead. And iced green grapes can do the trick. Even if it hasn’t been a productive writing session, there’s still something to feel good and virtuous about!

About Jacques

‘It’s only when we matter, when we are seen and truly loved, that we know what it means to fully live.’

This is the story of Jacques Lafitte, a young French boy who is orphaned and torn away from everything he knows.  Forced to move to England to live with his guardian – the proud and distant Oliver Clark – Jacques finds himself alone in a strange country, and a strange world.

As years go by, Jacques becomes part of the Clark family and learns to love life again.

But then his feelings for Rebecca – Oliver’s daughter – become stronger.

And this development has the power to bring them together or tear the whole family apart…

For fans of Boyhood, Jacques is a moving and unique coming-of-age story about one boy’s struggle to find his place in the world.

My Review

‘…sometimes in a confined space, within limitations of the present, we can have everything.’

Jacques is a beautiful coming of age novel in which loss, grief and love intertwine to make an enthralling read and it’s beauty comes from it’s depth and simplicity.

Jacques’ world is turned upside down when his parents die and he has to move from France to England to be cared for by his legal guardian. I was not surprised to learn that Tanya worked in bereavement support as she captures the feelings of grief and loss perfectly and writes about them with empathy and acute sensitivity.

The prose is gorgeous – poetically philosophical – and I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to take in the words again. Tanya is a very talented writer and she evoked such emotion within me while I was reading Jacques. Despite this, the book has a peaceful feel about it and is a book you want to read slowly in order to take it in and appreciate it.

‘Some experiences bring us awareness we can’t ignore. They become touchstones, deeply embedded in the valleys of our psyche. Whether we want to or not, we can’t help measuring everything else in our subsequent life against them. Such knowledge has the potential to lead us to despair, as well as to the path of authenticity.’

Jacques is a wonderful character, he is sensitive, intelligent and emotionally intuitive. You cannot help but adore him and feel every nuance of his thoughts and feelings. Anna also stood out for me, initially a character that is difficult to warm to, Tanya demonstrates through her how experiences can affect a person’s character. As the story progressed, I began to feel a great affection for her. In contrast, Jacques’ guardian, Oliver, is a self-centred, arrogant man who has little empathy for those around him and seeks to gain sympathy from others to justify his own bad behaviour. I loved the different character’s within Jacques who Tanya has brought to life wonderfully.

Jacques is a remarkably uplifting book, despite the themes of loss and grief it never comes across as melancholy. Jacques’ views on life and his resilience in the face of adversity make you think and contemplate those things you maybe take for granted.

An intelligent, thought-provoking, moving, beautifully written book I cannot recommend Jacques highly enough. You need to add it to your to be read list!

Thank you to Tanya Ravenwater and Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for the copy in exchange for my thoughts.

About Tanya Ravenswater

Tanya Ravenswater was born in County Down, Northern Ireland.  she graduated in modern languages from St Andrews University.  She has worked as a nurse, in bereavement support and counselling education.  With a love of words since childhood, inspired by nature and fascinated by the diversity of our inner worlds and relationships, Tanya writes fiction and poetry for adults and children.  She has published a collection of short stories for women, and has also been short-listed and published in the Cheshire Prize anthologies.  Her children’s poem, Badger, was the winner of the 2015-15 Prize for Literature.

Connect with Tanya via Twitter at @starlingbird

A huge thank you to Tanya for taking part with a great post and to Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for including Bloomin’ Brilliant Books on the blog tour.  Catch Tanya’s other guest posts on the rest of the Jacques blog tour…

Jacques Blog Tour Banner[189332]

 

#10 Books of Summer – Book #4 The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

Things We Never Said

The Blurb

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed.  She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…

In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago…

And as these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.

The Things We Never Said is a powerful novel about fatherhood and motherhood; nature and nurture; cruelty and kindness; and mental breakdown.  Written in beautiful, compelling prose, it is by turns revealing, witty and moving.

 

My Thoughts

Told during two different times, we follow the main characters, Maggie from 1964 and Jonathan from 2008. The prologue drew me in immediately with enough unanswered questions to keep me intrigued.

Maggie’s story is really moving. The reader first meets her in 1964 when she is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Susan has written these parts of the book wonderfully, horrifying yet with glimpses of humour, it has the perfect balance. I really liked Maggie, she has an inner strength and courage that I admired greatly.

Jonathan is having a difficult time as events seem to conspire against him. Expecting his first child with his wife, he is finding it difficult to tell his parents due to the difficult relationship he has with them. I was rooting for him throughout the book, desperately hoping things would work out for him.

Without giving the plot away, the two stories come together perfectly. Mental health and parenting feature in this book and Susan has written sensitively and beautifully about difficult issues. The book is not depressing, however, and I felt uplifted by the ending.

A compelling read that is written beautifully, I would definitely recommend this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it as part of my 10 books of summer.

Published 23 May 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK.

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