Things In Jars by Jess Kidd

 

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Things In Jars by Jess Kidd

Published by Canongate

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says: 

London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.

As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fanatical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showmen. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment. The public love a spectacle and Christabel may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen.

Things in Jars is an enchanting Victorian detective novel that explores what it is to be human in inhumane times.

What I Say:

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you find a novel that absorbs you so completely, that you wish there were another hundred pages.

What I did know, was that everyone who had read Things In Jars, had loved it and could not stop recommending it. When I saw that my Bookish Sister, Bookish Chat had awarded it six stars (you can read her review here), I knew that Things In Jars was going to be very special.

Bridie Devine is the heroine, a woman who bursts into the novel and out of the pages with such passion and strength, and into the 1800’s of London’s streets and alleyways with such force that we know she is absolutely in charge of her destiny.  She is working for the police – usually Inspector Rose and actually not officially, to help them solve crimes.  Bridie is still smarting from her failure to reach her last victim in time, and is wary of getting involved with police work again.  However, when she hears about the case of Christabel Berwick, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, who has apparently been kidnapped, she is intrigued and cannot resist getting involved.

We, as readers, know from the very start of the novel that Christabel is not a normal child, and she seems to possess supernatural powers as well as very sharp set of teeth and a fondness for eating slugs and snails!  She is taken from her bed in the middle of the night, but as Bridie starts to investigate, it is apparent that not only do lots of people seem very interested in Christabel, but that also no one is really as innocent as they may seem.  We learn that Christabel is actually a merrow – a magical creature that has the ability to affect the emotions of a person who looks upon her, and that she can also influence the weather.  This of course means that she is a highly valuable prize, who is being touted around until her kidnappers can find the highest bidders.

The London that we are presented with in Things In Jars, is one teeming with life, a world filled with fantastical sights, disorienting sounds and powerful smells that overwhelm and envelop us constantly. London is not presented at its tourist friendly, picture perfect best. This London is one of poverty and suffering, where things that might be ignored in other novels are pushed right in front of our faces so that all we can do is look at them and feel a sense of unease and discomfort. Bridie on the other hand knows exactly how to navigate it to get what she wants.  Bridie is not alone in her endeavours to find Christabel.  She has a maid called Cora, who is a seven foot woman with facial hair and a whole lot of attitude, as well as a fighter called Ruby Doyle who is a ghost, and only Bridie can see him. As the novel progresses, Ruby and Bridie form a powerful and nearly romantic bond which delights and also frustrates them, as they know they can never truly be together.

This is one of the many things I loved about Things In Jars – the fact that what could have been an ordinary ‘whodunnit’ is elevated way beyond any usual reading experience, and it makes you sit up and take notice from the very start.  There is a sense of the magical, surreal and supernatural which weaves its way into the fabric of the story from the moment you turn the first page. As a reader you are pulled along with Bridie and her unrelenting determination to find Christabel, but Jess’ writing is so wonderful, that the magical elements seem to fit perfectly and are not at all out of place.

Along the way, Bridie and Ruby meet a plethora of interesting and unusual characters, all with a story to tell and more often than not, a score to settle. As Christabel is moved around the capital, and the kidnappers try to find a buyer, there is a sense of unease that starts to unsettle the natural order of the city.  Birds start to congregate, the Thames starts to rise, and London’s inhabitants sense that all is not well with the world and unbeknown to them, Christabel is at the heart of it all.

Although there is lots of humour in the novel, it is a very real depiction of the grim reality for many of those living in London, far away from the wealth and privilege of the monied classes.  Jess is not afraid to show the dark and often grim side of life. People and children are killed, a decapitation occurs, and we also see how awful it was for those who had to have operations in a time where there was no anaesthetics. It also shows us how difficult it was for women like Bridie, who are fiercely intelligent and refuse to be limited by society’s expectations and have to constantly battle to ensure that they are heard.  This made me love Bridie even more, and at the heart of her character lies kindness and compassion and an overwhelming desire to find Christabel in time.

Things In Jars is a novel that is breathtaking in its scope, that delves into the dark underbelly of London and captures our attention and heart from the very first page.  Bridie is a fierce and captivating character, who defies the limits that others place on her and is reassuringly comfortable with who she is and what she wants. Jess Kidd has boldly taken a familiar genre, unapologetically turned it on its head, added elements of the supernatural and magical and created a fantastic and vibrant world filled with amazing characters that quite simply that leaves us wanting more.

I loved it.

The Language Of Birds by Jill Dawson

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Jill Dawson: The Language Of Birds

Published By: Sphere

Buy It: here 

What The Blurb Says:

In the summer of 1974, Mandy River arrives in London to make a fresh start and begins working as nanny to the children of one Lady Morven. She quickly finds herself in the midst of a bitter custody battle and the house under siege: Lord Morven is having his wife watched. According to Lady Morven, her estranged husband also has a violent streak, yet she doesn’t seem the most reliable witness. Should Mandy believe her?

As Mandy tries to shield her young charges from harm, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings – an odd girl with her own painful past and a rare gift. This time, though, she misreads the signs.

Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women’s voices all too often went unheard.

 

What I Say:

At the moment, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to novels that place unheard people at the centre of them, which allow us to hear their voices and lives that might otherwise be silenced by the weight of more prominent ones.  The Language of Birds by Jill Dawson is one of those novels.

It recounts the story of Mandy River, who arrives in London in the summer of 1974 with her friend Rosemary.  Both are nannies (Rosemary is a Norland Nanny) and Mandy becomes Nanny to Lord Dickie and Lady Katharine Morven.  They have two children, a baby called Pamela and a young boy called James.

If you believe that this is simply a coming of age novel in the heydays of swinging London, filled with young women finding themselves and loving life, it is not.  That is a very small part of an intelligent and thought-provoking retelling of the infamous Lord Lucan case.  Lord Lucan is notorious for his alleged part in the murder of his nanny Sandra Rivett, and his subsequent disappearance.  His story has been told numerous times, and in all this, Sandra’s story has been lost. Until now.

Little by little, the story of Rosemary and Mandy before they came to London starts to unfold.  They meet while they are in The Poplars, a psychiatric unit, and their friendship grows as each tries to come to terms with their lives and what has brought them to this point.  Both have troubled relationships with their mothers, and have tried to be the daughters their mothers wanted, but with little success.  We discover that Mandy has had two children, one of whom lives with her parents as their son, and the other child was given up for adoption.

As the young women finally start to forge new lives for themselves, free from familial interference and guilt, Mandy is intoxicated by the life she has fallen into.  Lady Morven lends her clothes so she and Rosemary can go out nightclubbing, Mandy loves looking after Pamela and forms a close bond with James, and is instantly attracted to a young man called Neville who lives over the pub she visits.

The unnerving reality however, is that Mandy finds herself in the middle of a bitter divorce between Dickie and Katharine, both desperate for some sign of personal or parental failing which will strengthen their legal position.  Lord Morven no longer lives with his family, but has the house constantly watched, anonymous phone calls taunt them day and night, and he is determined to ensure that Katharine fails in her role as mother, so he can have sole custody of the children.

Mandy and her friend Rosemary find themselves drawn into this privileged world, as Lord Morven realises by charming those closest to Katharine, he can gain the evidence he needs to humiliate his wife and not only ruin her social standing but ensure his children are removed permanently from her care.  When Lord Morven asks them to accompany him with their charges to Scotland, Rosemary and Mandy blindly believe they will be treated as guests, as oppose to members of the staff. However, when they are there, Mandy finds herself reassessing her opinion of Lord Morven and starting to question her loyalty to Katharine.

The narrative switches between Mandy and Rosemary, and in understanding both of the women, we also see how Rosemary is haunted by the fact that as her mental health worsens, she is able to hear voices – the language of birds which taunt and torment her, and also foretell Mandy’s fate.  There is a sense of foreboding which only adds to the tension that underpins every page.

I loved the fact that this novel is filled with so many different ideas, of motherhood and what it means to be a mother.  It is a novel about class and privilege, and that just because you may have the financial means, it does not necessarily bring you happiness and fulfillment. It is also about language, and the power that it holds. Mandy cannot find the words to tell her son that he is hers, Rosemary is haunted by the language that she hears and cannot tell anyone else about, and both of the young womens’ Mothers cannot find the words to communicate with their daughters.

As the novel reaches its awful conclusion and the repercussions of the case for those who are left behind, instead of focussing on the man who is at the root of all of this, we are  look at the young woman.  As the reader, we are made to confront the reality of how an inquest like this is dealt with.  Mandy is fodder for the press, her attractiveness is a selling point that seemingly adds to the glamour of this case.  Lord Morven is portrayed as a dashing Lord with a penchant for fast cars, gambling and a plethora of aristocratic friends who are ensure he is able to evade the justice he should face.

What Jill Dawson brilliantly achieves is in The Language of Birds is to make us question ourselves and the ingrained social norm which is to see the woman as a faceless victim.  In creating a character like Mandy, and following her life, her hopes and dreams, we understand that she is a living, breathing woman. We all need to start looking beyond the sensationalist headlines and instead acknowledge that behind every victim is a life lived, a person loved and in this case, a world shattered.

I loved it.

Star Crossed by Minnie Darke

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Minnie Darke: Star Crossed

Published by: Bantam Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Destiny doesn’t happen by accident . . .

When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her teenage crush Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or it could be written in the stars.

Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life.

Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention, Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to the horoscope for Aquarius before it goes to print.

After all, it’s only the stars. What could possibly go wrong?

What I Say:

If I read my horoscopes, and it says wonderful things – of course I am in awe of the wisdom of the Astrologer. If it makes no sense at all, then of course it’s a load of rubbish and a waste of paper too.  How many of us sneak a peek at what the stars have in store for us, and tell others that we behave in a certain way because of the Star Sign personality we have.  By the way, I am a Scorpio, so that’s fiercely loyal and very protective thank you, and of course I read my stars regularly.

Minnie Darke’s exqusitely different novel asks us, what would happen, if someone altered the horoscopes to make a person fall in love with them.  Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star magazine and does not believe in horoscopes at all. Nick, her childhood boyfriend and aspiring actor believes in them passionately. When they meet by chance (or is it?) one day, Justine realises that she still has feelings for Nick, but is too scared to say anything – and after all, he now has an impossibly beautiful and picture perfect girlfriend.

As Justine watches Nick move further away from her, and with access to the magazine’s horoscopes, she decides just to alter Nick’s horoscope, Aquarius, so that when he reads it, he realises that Justine is the woman for him.  The thing is, and as we all know, life is never that easy…

What follows is a brilliantly imaginative story, that looks at how we may think we are able to determine our fate, but that maybe letting the stars determine them is far more fun.  Each chapter of Star Crossed is a different star sign, where we learn a little about astrology, but also, it gives us a glimpse into the lives of other people who have read the same horoscope as Nick, and how that impacts the choices they make too.  What we also see is that the same statement can be read in a thousand different ways according to who is reading it and what they are going through at the time.

What is also a clever plot device, and you probably guessed it from the title, that Nick is starring in a production of Romeo and Juliet – the original Star Crossed lovers, and it is a theme that runs throughout the whole novel too. Justine helps Nick to learn his lines and interviews the young actress who plays Juliet, and Nick inadvertently crashes another production where he has to stand in as Romeo.

This is one of the many things I loved about Star Crossed. It is just so different to anything I have picked up recently, and it is a joyous celebration of the power of love and that you may try and fight it, but apparently our fate is determined by a higher power whether we like it or not.  The story moves along quickly and at a cracking pace, and Minnie’s plot is a thing of beauty as it starts stories, ends them, you wonder why this character has been introduced, but as the novel gains momentum towards the end, it all finally makes sense. I loved how each story also brings new characters into the novel, but it never felt forced or superfluous to the main plot.

At the heart of Star Crossed is the story of Nick and Justine, and how really, they were always meant to be together, but they just didn’t know it. They are two really likeable characters, flawed, unsure and relatable, and I defy you not to read Star Crossed and shout at them to just get together and start the rest of their lives (I may have done this once or twice!). That is why this novel is so unique – as fate conspires to keep them apart, we understand that they need to go through all this heartache and missed opportunities to truly acknowledge what has been right in front of them from the first time they met

Star Crossed is just the novel I needed to read at the moment.  Sometimes I just want to read a novel that brings me joy, doesn’t upset me, and that in the end, shows that love conquers all (the fabulous dog Brown Houdini-Malarky was a brilliant addition to the plot too!).  Minnie Darke has written a truly wonderful novel, which is filled with characters I loved, a belief in the power of love, and is just simply heart warming to read. It would also be absolutely perfect for a film adaptation- just in case by any strange luck there are any film-makers reading this blog…

I really loved this novel, and I hope you do too.

Thank you so much to Hannah Bright at Transworld for my gifted copy of Star Crossed, and for asking me to be part of the Blog Tour.

You’ve read what I thought, now follow the rest of the other Bloggers to find out what they thought…

 

 

Dignity by Alys Conran

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Alys Conran: Dignity

Published By: W & N Books

Buy It: here

 

 

What The Blurb Says:

‘An Indian household can no more be governed peacefully without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire’ The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, Flora Annie Steel & Grace Gardiner

Magda is a former scientist with a bad temper and a sharp tongue, living alone in a huge house by the sea. Confined to a wheelchair, her once spotless home crumbling around her, she gets through carers at a rate of knots.

Until Susheela arrives, bursting through the doors of Magda’s house, carrying life with her: grief for her mother’s recent death; worry for her father; longing for a beautiful and troubled young man.

The two women strike up an unlikely friendship: Magda’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense attitude turns out to be an unexpected source of strength for Susheela; and Susheela’s Bengali heritage brings back memories of Magda’s childhood in colonial India and resurrects the tragic figure of her mother, Evelyn, and her struggle to fit within the suffocating structure of the Raj’s ruling class.

But as Magda digs deeper into her past, she unlocks a shocking legacy of blood that threatens to destroy the careful order she has imposed on her life – and that might just be the key to give the three women, Evelyn, Magda and Susheela, a place they can finally call home.

 

What I Say:

So, this is my blog, my space to be honest about what I read and why. I was sent my copy of Dignity by Virginia from W & N  books, I thought it was beautiful, but I put it onto my reading pile to pick up later on this year.

On March 20th, my Mum passed away.  It wasn’t unexpected, it was after a long battle with lung cancer.  One of the many things my Mum and I had in common was our deep love of reading and books.  She is the reason I cannot leave the house without a book in my bag, and there is not a day goes by that I don’t read something.  As I finally took the plunge and started book blogging, she was there every step of the way, loving the fact her daughter was talking about books and often told me how proud she was.  Mum loved seeing the books I was lucky enough to get sent, and I would always show her my bookpost.

When I showed her Dignity, she told me how beautiful she thought it was, and to read it next and let her know whether she would like it too.  I started reading it on Monday 18th March, and the reason I am so specific is because two days later, Mum passed away.  In the days after she had gone, I had to do all the things a grieving daughter has to do. I had to carry on, being the Mum, daughter, wife and sister that I needed to be until I could come back from seeing my Dad and sister and finally process what had happened.

When I was able to sit down, Dignity was there, right next to the pile of stuff I had brought back from my Mum and Dad’s house and I just picked it up and started to read. The thing was, then I couldn’t put it down again.

Dignity is the story of three women, Magda, Susheela and Evelyn.  It is a novel about love, of trying to find that elusive home that we all strive to belong to, and of finding a family.

Magda is a cantankerous old woman, confined to her decaying house and reliant on the care and support from the women who are paid to look after her.  Susheela is one of the young women who takes on this task, in spite of Magda’s constant attempts to belittle her and break her spirit.  Magda was born and raised in India until she was sent away by Evelyn, her Mother, and Benedict her Father, to a cold and desolate boarding school.

We meet Evelyn as she is being sent to India to marry Benedict.  She is perfectly packaged and preened, naive about many things, and reliant on the books she has taken with her on the voyage to try and make sense of the world she is about to enter.  Although slightly wary, you get the sense that Evelyn is going to relish this next stage of her life, and she sees her new life as a time of adventure and promise.  Indeed when she arrives, she is overwhelmed and in awe of the sights, smells and sounds of the world around her. 

Unfortunately, this is short lived, as she realises that being a wife in India comes with certain conditions, ways of behaving, and treating the servants who work for you as if they are there purely to cater to your every whim.  Little by little, Evelyn realises the world she was ready to embrace is slowly closing in around her. Her husband Benedict only sees her as a trophy to show off, to prove his virility and to establish his position in polite Indian society.  Evelyn’s hopes and dreams are ignored and quashed, as she realises her worth is purely measured in her ability to produce an heir and to conduct herself in a manner deemed appropriate by those around her. 

Even when she gives birth to Magda, her longed for child, she is not permitted to be the mother she truly wants to be, as almost immediately an Indian woman called Aashi is hired to be Magda’s wet nurse. Evelyn is slowly removed from Magda’s life and is told that when Magda reaches an appropriate age, she will be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom, while Evelyn and Benedict stay in India. Unfortunately, a life changing event happens, and Magda is sent home alone, forever apart from her parents.

Magda is a different kind of prisoner, trapped with her memories and dreams of her former life in the decaying family home at Victoria Road. Initially she seems resentful of the ever changing world around her and mired in outdated attitudes and beliefs especially towards Susheela. We know that Magda is fiercely intelligent and strives for independence, but now she has no one, and is seeing out her days in a cluttered and neglected home, a stoic reminder of her past glories. Magda reluctantly accepts Susheela’s help, but finds herself drawn to this bright young woman who has many issues of her own. Together, they form a unique and tender bond which changes both of their lives in ways they never would have dreamed possible.

Susheela is trying to balance so many things, she is trying to deal with her father who is grieving for his wife, while she grieves for her Mum and they are in danger of losing their home. Her boyfriend Ewan loves her but is fighting his own demons after serving in the Army, and on top of all this, Susheela has to deal with Magda. She may be the youngest of the women in the story, but her fierce determination to find her place in the world is just as engaging.

What elevates Dignity for me is not only the beautiful storytelling, and the sense of depth you get with each character, but that these women are bound together. This is not a novel of hopelessness, it is a novel of hope. Evelyn, Magda and Susheela are all looking for a sense of belonging, of being loved and being able to love too. They are all searching for a place to call home.

The writing is so engaging and smart, and you really feel that you are there with each character. The description of life in India, was a revelation for me- it brought home to me how much things have changed, and how much they haven’t. The novel draws you in from the first page, and as you fall deeper in, the changing narrative and evocative descriptions only serve to keep you willing the women to fulfill their dreams.

In Dignity, Alys Conran has written a novel that will captivate you from the first page, and will not let go of you until you turn the last. It is about love, loss, motherhood and home, and of a time past and a world where everyone is searching for their place in it.

Without a doubt, Dignity will be one of my books of 2019. I absolutely loved it, and I know that my Mum who understood the importance of home and belonging and would have truly loved it too.

What Not by Rose Macaulay

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Rose Macaulay: What Not

Published By: Handheld Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

What Not is Rose Macaulay’s speculative novel of post-First World War eugenics and newspaper manipulation that anticipated Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World by 14 years. Published in 1918, it was hastily withdrawn due to a number of potentially libellous pages, and was reissued in 1919. But by then it was quickly overshadowed by Macaulay’s next two novels, and never gained the attention it deserved. What Not is a lost classic of feminist wit and protest at social engineering, now republished with the suppressed pages reinstated. Kitty Grammont and Nicholas Chester are in love, but Kitty is certified as an A for breeding purposes, while politically ambitious Chester has been uncertificated, and may not marry. But why? There’s nothing apparently wrong with him, he is admired in his field, and is charming and decisive. Although Kitty wields power as a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Brains, which makes these classifications, she does not have the freedom to marry who she wants. They ignore the restrictions, and carry on a discreet affair. But it isn’t discreet enough for the media: the popular press, determined to smash the brutal regime of the Ministry of Brains, has found out about Kitty and Chester, and scents an opportunity for a scandalous exposure. The introduction is by Sarah Lonsdale, senior lecturer in journalism at City University London.

What I Say:

“Humanity; the simple things; love, birth, family, life.  They’re the simple things, but, after all, the deep and grand things.  No laws will ever supersede them”.

I had heard a lot about Rose Macaulay’s novel, What Not, as Handheld Press had decided to reprint it, and the notion of a novel that anticipated Brave New World from a female writer was one I definitely wanted to read.

The sobering thing about this novel, that in today’s uncertain and inflammatory times, the premise behind this novel seems to be not as far fetched as we may hope to believe.  The country is returning to normality after the First World War, and that is what struck me about the opening pages of this novel.  Everything is just as it was, people are commuting to work, reading magazines, chatting and lives are carrying on, but it is only as we read on that we realise things are far from usual. From the minute you read of aero buses and street aeroplanes, you know that this is not the Great Britain we know.

The Government has decided the way forward for the country is to use social engineering to ensure that they control the population. People are certificated according to their intelligence, and a new Ministry – The Ministry of Brains has been established.  It has passed an act called the Mental Progress Act, where every citizen is categorized according to intelligence. The idea is that you must have children with someone of an appropriate intelligence level, and you are punished if you do not.  This is further complicated by the fact that if anyone in your family has mental disabilities, you are categorised as Uncertificated, and are forbidden to marry or have children.

This was something that was extremely chilling for me to read, as my eldest son has learning difficulties, and the implication that laws like this could exist are just devastating.  It was a sobering and frightening thought that anyone could deem this an acceptable law to live by, and it added a personal level of involvement in this novel for me.

Our main protagonist, Kitty Grammont, works for the Ministry of Brains, and she lives in a house in the village of Little Chantreys with her brother Anthony, his partner Miss Pansy Ponsoby and their child who is called the Cheeper. Her father is a vicar, and he is seeing the devastating consequences of the Mental Progress Act, as he knows that more and more babies are being abandoned for fear of punishment from the authorities for not fulfilling the relevant criteria.

Throughout What Not, you get the unnerving sense that the world has already survived a horrific war, and although it is over, there is still a sense of unease and foreboding.  The State is desperately trying to ensure their citizens have stability in their world, but they need to limit and control every aspect.  Knowing as we do that the world will see a Second World War, I wondered how the Ministry of Brains would react to another situation that was out of their control and what more extreme measures they would strive to put into place afterwards.

This is not an easy novel to read. The unflinching narrative is set against the seemingly idyllic notion of Britain’s victory and the unchanging English countryside, however the subject matter- that of social engineering, seems to be always present in the background of the story, and the notion of the state controlling everything is the reality for Kitty and the British people.

When she meets and is attracted to Nicholas Chester, the Minister of Brains, Kitty believes she has met the man of her dreams.  The brutal reality is that Nicholas is Uncategorized as he has siblings with a mental disability, so, following the legislation he oversees, he is unable to marry or have children.

This then becomes the crux of the novel.  What happens when the one person you love is the one person the state forbids you to?  Chester and Kitty are undeniably attracted to each other and after attempting to conduct their relationship in private, they are confronted with a hostile press and unsettled population who are starting to fight back against the Ministry of Brains – whatever the consequences for Chester and Kitty.

What Not is a biting satirical novel, that succeeds in its premise by drawing us in.  It is rooted in reality, and that is what for me, made its tone even more sinister.  In today’s political uncertainty, especially in a week where even Parliament seems to have no say over its destiny, a state attempting to control its population by extreme measures while ignoring basic human emotions such as love, suddenly doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Thank you so much to  Kate at Handheld Press for my gifted copy.

What Not was published by Handheld Press on 25 March.

 

 

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

 

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Published By: Quercus Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Maddie and Ian’s romance began when he was serving in the British Army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend Jo in Europe. Now sixteen years later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America.

But when an accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son Charlie; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, the years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of shocking crime.

But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?

What I Say:

Beautiful Bad is a novel that many might classify as a psychological thriller, a page turning, shocking, twisty, turny book that asks you to try and work out what really happens. It is all those things, but it is also something much more complex.  It is an acute and intricate observation of the effects of conflict and PTSD on a relationship, how the realities of being in a war torn environment has consequences not only for those who served, but also for all those who love and live with them.

When a novel’s first chapter is titled ‘The Day of the Killing’, you are immediately aware that something awful is going to happen – you just don’t know when and to whom…

Maddie and Ian are undeniably attracted to each other from the moment they meet.  He is an ex-soldier, now working as a bodyguard in Europe, and Maddie is a travel writer who frequently visits her friend Jo, a woman who is determined to ensure that people get the humanitarian supplies they need whatever the cost. Unfortunately, it transpires that Ian is currently in a relationship with a woman called Fiona, and Maddie knows she cannot get involved.

The novel switches between time lines and moves backwards and forwards. From before Maddie and Ian were a couple, to when they were, to the Day of The Killing.  I have to admit, I did find the switching between timelines a little confusing at times, but, it makes you pay attention and this is certainly a novel that commands your attention at all times.

As Maddie and Ian edge ever closer, Jo makes it very clear that she is not happy about the relationship and does everything in her power to keep them apart. When they cannot fight their attraction any more, Jo seemingly massively overreacts and Ian and Maddie are cut out of Jo’s life. It may seem like they have finally got what they wanted, but it is then that Annie Ward starts to slowly drop little hints into the plot that Ian may not be as perfect as he seems.

He and Maddie initially stay at a beautiful hotel, wrapped up in each other in the first wonderful days of their relationship, but when Maddie wants to go out to the bakery, Ian becomes extremely agitated. He convinces Maddie to stay in, with her believing that it comes from a place of love as oppose to anything more sinister. This is when the alarm bells start to ring…

When we later learn that Maddie has had an accident while away with Ian, that has left her with serious facial injuries and no memory as to how it happened, the seeds of doubt are further subtly sewn in our minds. How far can we trust Ian – really.

This sense of things not being quite right seems to form the basis of their marriage, as Ian’s work constantly takes him far away from Maddie. When she gives birth to their son Charlie, the idyllic life she had pictured for the three of them is very far from the reality of her day to day existence. Ian’s prolonged absences and intermittent communication give Maddie time to think about what is happening, and strengthens the bond between herself and Charlie so they become a tight insular family unit..

Alone, isolated and overburdened, Maddie finds that her sessions with Therapist Cami J are the very thing that will help her understand the complicated reality of her relationships with Ian and Jo. Little by little, Maddie starts to come to the conclusion that she needs to do something to stop the creeping fear that permeates her days and increasingly her nights.

From the moment Maddie starts therapy, all the events prior to arriving in her home, and what she discovers when she moves in there, slowly and deliciously start to unravel. As we head towards the shattering conclusion (still am not telling you what is going to happen!), the novel picks up its pace and finally reveals the uncomfortable truth underneath the beautiful facade which has been so purposely constructed by Ian and Maddie.

Beautiful Bad is a clever and well paced story, that works by serving to unnerve us and make sure we never quite know who to trust. It is a refreshing and smart take on the well versed psychological thriller, which Annie Ward has skilfully turned on its head and made us look at again with new eyes.

Thank you to Ella Patel at Quercus Books for my copy of Beautiful Bad in exchange for an honest review.

 

Your Guilty Secret by Rebecca Thornton

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Rebecca Thornton: Your Guilty Secret

Published By: Bonnier Zaffre

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

You know Lara King.

The top billing of the showbiz pages, you’ve seen her every morning; over your breakfast, on your commute to work. You know everything about her; you’ve dissected her life.

Her perfect relationship with film-star Matthew Raine. Her beautiful six-year old daughter Ava.

And so when a terrible incident shatters the family’s carefully constructed facade, a media frenzy ensues.

What happens when the perfect woman begins to unravel? When her whole life is really just a lie? One she will do anything she can to stop you from finding out?

 

What I Say:

Before I posted the picture of Your Guilty Secret to my social media feeds, I took a photo of the novel on some gorgeous fabric I found, used portrait mode, and then went through all the filters on Instagram until I found the one I wanted. Finally when I was happy with how it looked, I posted it and tagged it with all hashtags I could to make sure as many people as possible saw it.

Today’s world is one presented through an Insta-perfect lense, tweaked and refined until we feel comfortable hitting the ‘post’ button.  I did all that just to show you all one picture of a novel I was going to read.  Lara King, the protagonist of Rebecca Thornton’s thought provoking and perfectly timed novel, has to go through that process for every thought, action and decision she makes. 

Lara King, celebrity, mother, and soon to be fiancee of actor Matthew seems to have it all.  Every one wants to be her, companies are desperate to be part of her empire, and she revels in the fact that millions of her followers are hanging on every post and tweet that comes from her perfect world. For Lara, life is all about living the dream as long as she can ensure that people online care enough about her brand.

Lara is intelligent enough to understand that her world is built on the adoration of her fans, and that the worst thing for her career would be that they lost interest in her mother and daughter posts. In an attempt to stay relevant, she realises that she has to expand her ‘brand’, which means she decides to get ‘engaged’ to Matthew.  Tellingly, this is purely a calculated publicity stunt to maximise both their celebrity status. It is a massive media event, with the world press and the online community desperate to see what Lara King is going to do next.  The interesting thing is that behind the scenes, as Lara attempts to control every element of the day, you can see that all is not as glossy as it seems. Lara only wants things done the way she knows will ensure she keeps getting the attention she wants.

Little by little, the reader is made aware that while what the outside world sees can be edited and filtered, in real life, there are many things which Lara cannot control however hard she tries.

One day, when Lara takes her daughter Ava for a day out, she does what many people do, and takes her eyes of her daughter for a second.  Unfortunately for Lara, her daughter disappears.

From the moment the world realises that Lara’s daughter is missing, her carefully constructed world starts to come crashing down.  The novel very cleverly show us how it is so easy to be built up on a sea of likes and unwavering adoration, but that people are just as willing to turn against you when you are no longer regarded as popular. Your choices are questioned, conspiracy theories abound, and Lara is desperately reliant on her steely media savvy to attempt to ensure her followers stay connected to her.

The novel is told in a dual narrative – Lara and her missing daughter, and Lara’s life before she found fame.  We also see what the internet thinks of what is happening- so we can understand what the ‘normal’ people are being told alongside the narrative that Lara is controlling. What is interesting is that from the outset of her time in the spotlight, Lara has a fierce determination and an unnerving ability to ensure she reaches the top whatever the cost to those around her.

To reveal any more would give the plot away, but as Lara’s perfectly curated world descends into chaos, there are many surprising twists and revelations that will disorientate and shock you! Every sentiment of our social media obsession rings true, and we see that if one person falls from grace, there are a million more waiting to step into the limelight, desperate to be this year’s next big thing.

Your Guilty Secret by Rebecca Thornton is a clever and biting examination of the social media world we are all part of.  It makes us realise that what we see is not always what we get, and that perhaps it is time for us all to step away from measuring our world in likes and followers, and instead attempt to reconnect with the real world and the people in it..

Rebecca Thornton is a journalist and runs an online advertising business. Her work has been published in Prospect magazine, the Daily Mail, the Jewish News and the Sunday People. She was acting editor of an arts and culture magazine based in Jordan, and she’s reported from Kosovo, London, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Rebecca is a graduate of the Faber Academy and The Exclusives is her first novel. She lives in London.

Thank you very much to Ellen Turner at Bonnier Zaffre for my copy in exchange for an honest review and for asking me to be part of the Blog Tour.

The Blog Tour continues with these amazing Bloggers – find out what they are saying about Your Guilty Secret…

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