THE LIES I TELL by Joel Hames

To use the term ‘multi layered’ in relation to this narrative is a serious under-statement. Hames spins a web of secrets and lies with an intricately woven plot. As well as the many aliases that Lisa uses as she ploughs through social media her own real story plays out in the background. The story is tight and controlled and I have to admit that it was a challenge keeping up with the various characters and the conceit. However I think that is the point. The plot works to make you think. It is definitely a story of our time in a world so controlled by technology. Using it for our social interactions of course can be a good thing but it can also be dangerous. But it also speaks of the damage that can be caused in face to face relationships as it weaves in Lisa’s (or whatever her name is..!) back story; her dysfunctional parents, lost opportunities and guilt. It really is a great read and the best ones are always the ones that have an impact. This has certainly made an impact on me and I will never take my online security for granted again. @zooloo2009 @joel_hames @spellboundBks

THE C WORD – compiled by Spellbound Books

I enjoy reading short stories especially when I’m heading to work on the bus. They’re perfect for the 50 minutes it takes for my work commute and this collection made me actually look forward to the journey! Deeply dark and gothic, they are all equally good but two particularly stand out for me.

The first story in the collection is by Steve Mosby titled God Moving Over the Face of the Waters and it really resonated with me. I’m lucky to live close to the coast and I have an obsession with walking along the shoreline with my wee dog early in the mornings. There are not many people around, just the odd dog walker and a cyclist here and there. It’s the best time to make the most of the sunrise, the birds, the trees and the sounds of the sea itself. The landscape changes every day, no two days are ever the same. Indeed it can change within hours even minutes. It’s a living breathing entity and Steve Mosby has captured this perfectly. He profoundly portrays the ocean as a relentless creature, doing its thing regardless of the presence of humans. If we get in its way it will take us and it doesn’t make excuses. At the same time the thread of tragedy of those lost at sea weaves through the story and I want to know more about the Anna and Charlotte. Who are they? What happened? Who is the narrator? What has he done? What’s in his bag? This is the power of a good short story and I’ve read this more than once trying to concoct my own theories!

Another one which stood out is The Haunted Trolley by Nick Jackson. I used to work in a supermarket and it reminded me of how different the store was at night. Once the doors closed the shop was like a different beast, lights on, music playing, staff more relaxed and no longer worried about or harrassed by customers, and a hive of activity with the night shift replenishing and moving around getting the shop all ready for the next day. The Haunted Trolley really took me back to that time and also reminded me of the personal relationships made with customers and the way the staff get to know certain ones through their shopping routine. Nick Jackson has really captured the heart of supermarket life, even down to stray trolleys being left in the aisles!

All the stories in this book work as standalone pieces but put together like this they reflect on what we’ve all been through recently. They are entertaining and thought provoking but they say something of the way in which human life is unpredictable. Horrible things happen through death and loss and we often can do nothing about it. What we can do though and what has been happening is to look after each other and just be a little bit nicer to each other and the book can be dedicated to no-one better than the staff of the NHS, who know more than anyone the effects of this virus we have been living under recently. If you enjoy short stories try this collection – 100% of all royalties from The C Word will be donated to NHS Together Charities.

Guilty by Sadie Ryan

Lindy is a stalker. She fixates on Mia. She knows where she works and where she socialises managing to bump into her on occasions to make herself known and ingratiate herself as a friendly familiar face. And it works. The two strike up a friendship as Lindy realises that the comfortable and glamorous lifestyle she has imagined is Mia’s couldn’t be more different. Lindy becomes Mia’s protector and support but that protection and support comes at a cost – or a trade. The problem for Lindy is she doesn’t know what it’s going to cost her, and she doesn’t quite realise how she will repay her end of the bargain.

I would urge anyone who enjoys tense, psychological plots to read this book. The characters are tightly woven and controlled. The tense drama is narrated in the first person by Lindy and Mia who take turns to tell the story from their own perspective. If ever there were two unreliable narrators these two would be it. Neither women are who they seem to be on the surface. Mia has a wealthy husband, a lovely home and from the outside a happy and contented marriage. The truth is very different though as we start to understand the fear in which she lives. In contrast Lindy tells us from the beginning that she wants to kill her husband, she doesn’t even try to hide that fact. The question is why? What has he done that is so bad? As their friendship deepens and Lindy and Mia learn more about each other disastrous consequences lie on the horizon with a twist I was really not expecting. I always seem to say this. You would think that from the amount of books I read nothing could catch me out but this one did. It’s a kind of fatal attraction-like plot and the finale leaves a niggle. Who is the guilty one? Does one crime excuse another? Tit for tat. An eye for eye. Is it ever really justified? I love it when a book leaves me with questions like this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

@The__SadieRyan @SpellboundBks

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Thank you to @zooloo2008 for allowing me the opportunity of being part of the blog tour for this fantastic book.

@The__SadieRyan @SpellboundBks @zooloo2008.

THE MEMORIES WE BURY by H.A. Leuschel

Lizzie is a quiet, unassuming young woman. She has grown up with a cold and critical mother which has had a lasting effect on her. Nevertheless she is making a life for herself working part time while studying to become a music teacher and occasionally playing piano in a swanky Edinburgh bar. It is here she meets Marcus who sweeps her off her feet and together they set up home in a lovely house in an upmarket area and a lifestyle she never imagined she would have.. Her pregnancy comes sooner than expected and while she is happy her new husband is not so keen and the cracks in his commitment towards her start to show. At the same time Lizzie is befriended by her kindly, older neighbour Morag whose own nest is bare, her older children having flown some time ago after the death of her husband Pete. Morag becomes an invaluable support to Lizzie as she recovers after the birth of her son Jamie while Markus becomes more and more distant. However the more Morag becomes involved in Lizzie’s life we discover there is more to her than meets the eye as she manipulates Lizzie and becomes a sinister controlling force in her life.

Leuschal’s simile ‘her face like a loch’s flat and impermeable surface yet presaging unknown depths beneath.’ really sums up the premise of this book. It explores the psychological phenomena of memories and the impact they have on us as well as the inability to ever know the inner life of another person, their experiences, their thoughts and their secrets. Morag’s manipulation feeds on Lizzie’s memories and experiences of her cold and distanced mother and their disjointed relationship. This is amplified by Markus’s disinterest in his wife and child and leaves Lizzie even more vulnerable to Morag’s influences. The narrative is tightly woven with a control and detail that almost matches the control Morag asserts over Lizzie. This works to great effect creating tension and suspense – there were points towards the end where I found myself holding my breath in anticipation wondering how it would all end. To summarise, this is a closely knit story, tightly controlled and evenly paced building to a tense conclusion with truths disclosed and an unexpected twist. It also works as a quasi treatise on the effect of memories of the past and the impact these can have on our responses to the here and now, their contribution to self doubt and/or our self belief. This is a powerful novel and it comes highly recommended.

GROWN UPS by Marie Aubert translated by Rosie Hedger

This short story, set in Norway, left me wanting more which I reckon is a very good thing! Ide and her sister Marthe are childish and annoying with their petty bickering. Marthe is an attention seeking drama queen, she is harmless yet single minded and does not realise the damage she could potentially be causing to her marriage. However there is a sinister side to Ide who tries to manipulate Marthe’s step-daughter and dangerously flirts with her husband. Both sisters want the same thing with each having very different ways of trying to get what they want. Without realising it though they could both be pressing the self-destruct button with potential catastrophic results and it is this that made me want to know more about them. The story ended abruptly as short stories often do but I was so into the characters that I was disappointed when I realised that was it; that was all I was getting! As I said earlier though this is good. It’s what I want from short stories – a short sharp burst of action and this is exactly what this. The writing is clear and concise as it explores some of what being an adult means; the dreams the disappointments, the feeling that life is passing by too quickly and things perhaps are not quite working out the way we expected. There is a lot packed into this story and I loved every minute.

I have to also mention the translation by Rosie Hedger which I really could not fault. A splendid job indeed! I’m always in awe of of the way stories translate and this is an excellent example of a job well done.

Thank you to @tara_mcevoy for including me in this fantastic blog tour. I’m looking forward to reading the reviews of my fellow bloggers.

@marieau @rosie_hedger @pushkinpress

A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen

From the blurb:

He’ll never speak of the evil they did…

A former Swedish ambassador lies dead in his swanky Mayfair flat. With his tongue torn out and placed on a Bible. Competing theories swirl. A religious maniac? A psychopath? The truth is far darker than either. DCI Stella Cole’s search for the killer takes her to Sweden. There, she discovers a horrific chapter in the country’s history that throws the case into turmoil. And then more people start dying.

Teaming up with Swedish cops Oskar Norgrim and Johanna Carlsson, Stella pieces together Ambassador Brömly’s shocking past. And discovers the killer’s motive.

Meanwhile, Stella’s personal life is about to take a significant turn as her boyfriend, Jamie, suggests a change in their relationship. But as Stella tries to process what it means, she makes a fateful decision.

Why won’t the dead stay buried?

A Beautiful Breed of Evil is the fifth in the Stella Cole series and the first I have read. I was a little intrepid at first having no former knowledge of the character or indeed the author and worried it might be difficult to get a hold of the premise of the series. I needn’t have been concerned though. I motored through it and did not feel any sense of discombobulation. Quite simply put I really enjoyed it.

Stella is a cop with a difference. She believes in her job and bringing criminals to justice but she goes above and beyond the legalities restricting her. A stand out motif is one of strong, independent women who know what they want and go after their goals – both in unity and enmity – all centred around themes of retribution and revenge. A particular issue I found interesting was that of the seeking of atonement for the afterlife and the idea that this brings comfort and solace in the face of death. It is difficult to reconcile this with the pain and anguish of the victims left behind whose life choices and experiences have been snatched away from them. Stella herself embodies the victim, with horrific changes being forced upon her but can the actions she takes ever be justified? Exploring such questions and themes gives the novel depth and texture and has made me want to explore more of Andy Maslen’s work. I highly recommend you give this book a go – especially if like me you’re new to the series.

Thank you to @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours for the opportunity to read this book and for the ebook.

For more informationabout this book and about the author see:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Andy_Maslen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AndyMaslenWolfePack/

Website: www.andymaslen.com

And for other stops on this blog tour see:

The Beijing Conspiracy by Shamini Flint

What the blurb says:-

Ex-Delta Force solder Jack Ford is trying to put the past behind him. But when he receives a letter from someone he has hasn’t spoken to in thirty years, claiming he has a daughter, he is compelled to find out the truth.

Soon he’s on a plane to China, a country he hasn’t returned to since witnessing the atrocities of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But on his search he stumbles upon a document which both the Chinese and American governments are desperately chasing. Now Jack is trapped in an impossible dilemma: save his daughter or prevent a new world war where thousands will lose their lives.

I really don’t know where to start with this except that I loved it and as much as I wanted to find out the ending I also didn’t want it to be over. It’s one of those books you can imagine as an action film; a dark and somewhat troubled central character haunted by his past who unwittingly gets catapulted back into the world of spies and espionage while trying to navigate issues in his personal life. Jack is the stereotypical tough guy -slightly aging but still with the power and cognitive agility to protect himself and others when required. But setting the movie like quality aside and my imaginings of who would play ex-soldier Jack Ford, more seriously the book dissects the sobering reality of the fragility of world security and the battle for dominance between east and west.

The student uprising at Tiananmen Square provides the backbone of the richly layered plot with the ‘Tank Man’ trope providing a powerful contrast between oppression and freedom. There is a littering of twists and turns assisted by well thought out characters all trying to out play each other with both external and internal power struggles. The representation of the unnamed incompetent and ignorant ‘POTUS’ is a delight, spot on and relevant. The name of the self aware and astute female Vice President is a wonderful sardonic co-incidence. While the USA and China conspire against each other Jack is battling his own demons coming to terms with secrets he discovers in his own personal sphere involving the existence of a grown up daughter he never knew he had,

The story switches between China and the USA and races along at a cracking pace yet it really captures the tension between two superpowers. It is helped along by examining the individual players lower down the pecking order with their own ambitions and self serving motivations, even those purportedly on the same side. The scattering of quotes from Hamlet and Macbeth remind us that these battles for the upper hand are ages old and are more about personal advancement than the the good of society. As the characters compete and conspire events converge and overlap with unexpected results putting the world on the brink of disaster and bringing the book to a nail biting and unexpected ending.

This for me is what reading is all about, skilful plotting and complex characterisation set against real life events that keeps you wanting more. I really hope that we haven’t seen the last of Jack Ford.

Thank you to @damppebbles for allowing me to be part of this (my first!) blog tour and thank you also to @blackthornbks for my copy of Shamini Flint’s The Beijing Conspiracy.

Contacts by Mark Watson

Contacts it is a thoughtful and powerful mix of humour and sadness depicting the fragility of mental health and the devastating affects of depression and loneliness. James is on a train from London to Edinburgh where he intends to commit suicide as soon as he arrives. As the train propels him towards his end the reader is taken on a journey through James’s life as he recounts significant episodes in his past; his father’s death, his once close relationship with his sister Sal and his broken relationship with Michaela. At the heart of the story is James’s fractured friendship with his best friend Karl. The story is peppered with other characters such as Meghan, Sal’s somewhat awkward PA and Steffi who makes it her mission to save James through the power of social media. All these characters have their own issues, even James’s mum, but Watson presents them sympathetically with a gentle humour which does not poke fun but makes them real and present. They could be your brother or your sister or your friend; they are all just trying to get through life the best way they can – just like we all are. It is also about the way we are connected to each other through the medium of modern technology – that mix of people we may or may not know well that we keep as contacts in our phonebooks; the obscure names and numbers of people we knew once perhaps through work or even just someone we’ve chatted to in the pub after discovering a common interest. We may have only met them once or twice yet we keep their number and it is these links which are examined in CONTACTS, the way in which we are all connected in some way and how small the world really is. Despite the dark subject matter it carries an optimism that people do actually care about each other; even those we don’t know well – a testament to the positive use of modern technology. There is some beautiful writing in this book some of which made me catch my breath, stop and then read again. There was only one character I couldn’t quite work out but I’m not saying who as I don’t want to spoilt it for the rest of you. I’m sure Mark Watson had reasons for the way that part of the story played out and I’m certainly not going to blame him for my obtuseness! One other thing to mention is that it was a refreshing change to read a book about a man with body issues. Focus is usually on the female when it comes to body related themes and again, Mark Watson deals with this in a no-nonsense and pragmatic way avoiding criticism and mockery. A joy of a book. Please read it.

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I came across this book in a charity shop – the title literally jumped out at me from the shelf and I’m so glad it did. I actually thought initially that it was another book with a similar title that I had heard about on Twitter. I will read that one another time (and look forward to it) but for now it is a happy mix up because this one is on my list of best reads for this year. Jack and Mabel are from fairly privileged backgrounds, Jack’s family have a successful farming business while Mabel’s father was a literature professor. The couple have dreams of a traditional family home bursting to the seams with children and noise. However their dreams are shattered when their first and only child is born sleeping. Mabel’s grief is so devastating that she persuades Jack to move far away from their family and friends to a remote part of Alaska. They discover a hard life there with Jack trying to run a farm single handedly and Mabel insisting on a solitary existence unable to deal with seeing other people and in particular families. Mabel and Jack grow more and more distant until one day they start catching sight of a young girl in the woods who seems to appear from nowhere and looks to be alone without anyone to care for her. They are captivated by the mysterious girl who arrives each year with the snow season and leaves to live alone in the mountains when spring arrives. Over the years both Mabel and Jack are able to build a relationship not just with the her and also with a neighbouring family, Esther, George and their youngest son Garret who becomes as much a part of Jack and Mabel’s family as his own. Ivey’s descriptions of Alaska are stunning and she really brings to life the reality of the hardships suffered in trying to eke out an existence in such a remote and frozen part of the world. She does not shy from the truth with descriptions of how animals are hunted for food and fur but at the same time the descriptions are respectful and compassionate and fuelled literally by survival – for the most part at least!. This is a story of loss, grief and isolation, also of hope, friendship, and belonging. It is also about letting go, embracing the here and now and allowing others to choose their own paths in life, especially the young. The novel is framed by a Russian fairytale about a snow maiden called ‘Snegurochka’ and I still haven’t decided if Ivey’s snow child is real or otherwordly; she is presented as an ethereal presence not just in terms of the imagery employed but in the subtle way in which the dialogue between her and the other characters is presented. There is however a hard edged reality to her as well which creates a tension; on the one hand she is represented as a mystical presence whereas on the other she is clearly of flesh and blood. All in all this is a beautiful story and I’m so glad into wandered into the charity shop last week or I would have missed it. trd

The Night Visitors by Jenn Ashworth and Richard V Hirst

I’ve read two of Jenn Ashworth’s books, Fell and A Kind of Intimacy. Both have a dark edge but with this one, Ashworth along with Richard V Hirst, goes much further. The characters develop through a series of emails between Alice and Orla and I’m finding it hard to review without giving any spoilers. However for a short read it had me literally pinned to my seat and how it ended was not what I expected. I’m not really sure what I was expecting but it’s not often that a book surprises me and makes me shout out ‘No!’. I couldn’t let this one go without commenting on it and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. A little late for Halloween perhaps but if you like your fiction dark I don’t think you will regret reading this one. I would love to know what others think of it so please drop me a line using the contact page if you feel the urge!