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Book Review: Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland

Bone Deep seeps right into you, imbuing the reader with an inescapable sense of growing unease as local legend is told, more recent secrets are revealed and women unravel.

What happens when you fall in love with the wrong person?

The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly. Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betrayal and murder. It is a dual narrative, told in alternative chapters by Mac, a woman bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and the enigmatic Lucie, whose own past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill, and haunted by the local legend of two long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love, and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.

Sandra Ireland made me feel for Lucie: she’s in the wrong but also effectively in exile for it, a banished damsel-in-distress, in astonishing denial about her situation, which becomes apparent to the reader and Mac long before she acknowledges it. And yet Lucie’s slightly more fathomable behaviour still manages to throw Mac’s into sharp relief.

While Mac’s secrets are not overly surprising, its her actions that are shocking and made my blood run cold. That she doesn’t find them disturbing reveals the toll they’ve taken on her and it’s fascinating to watch this woman unravel before us on the page. Are her only son’s fears about to be confirmed, or is she simply becoming consumed by her work and finding it increasingly difficult to separate fantasy from reality? Or is something altogether more sinister happening here?

I was as desperate as Lucie that Mac kept writing the sisters’ legend. It adds another dimension, making you wonder if it’s holding up a mythical mirror to the modern storylines, dooming these characters to repeat history, or whether their stories will diverge.

Sandra Ireland’s descriptive writing immersed me in Bone Deep’s world until I felt the damp in Lucie’s cottage and the draughts in Mac’s study, could feel the rumble of the mill grinding to life and *almost* taste Arthur’s pastries. Recommended reading.

Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland is published by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Limited. It is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. You can find out more about Sandra Ireland and her books by visiting her Author Website, or you can follow her on Twitter.

My thanks to the publisher and Lovereading UK for sending me a proof copy for review. This review also appears on the Lovereading UK website here

Book Review: Days of Wonder by Keith Stuart #DaysofWonderBook

I’m late posting this review because our book group decided to gift the book to one of our members who’s getting married this month. And she reads this blog, so I didn’t want to post my review in case she went out and bought it before we’d had a chance to give her the signed copy we’d organised. That’s now done (at a rather wonderful open-air book group meeting earlier this week) which leaves me free to let you all know how much I loved Keith Stuart’s second novel, Days of Wonder, and why it’s one of my top reads of the year so far. Here’s what it’s about:

Tom, single father to Hannah, is the manager of a tiny local theatre. On the same day each year, he and its colourful cast of part-time actors have staged a fantastical production just for his little girl, a moment of magic to make her childhood unforgettable.

But there is another reason behind these annual shows: the very first production followed Hannah’s diagnosis with a heart condition that both of them know will end her life early. And now, with Hannah a funny, tough girl of fifteen on the brink of adulthood, that time is coming.

With the theatre under threat of closure, Hannah and Tom have more than one fight on their hands to stop the stories ending. But maybe, just maybe, one final day of magic might just save them both.

The magical title and gorgeous cover held out the promise of recapturing some of the wonder I felt while reading Pamela Brown’s Swish of the Curtain theatre stories in my teens. And, while a young girl with a terminal heart condition might not sound like the basis for an uplifting story, I knew that Keith Stuart could conjure one up having read his debut novel A Boy Made of Blocks.

Tom is doing his best to navigate his daughter’s teenage years of exams and relationships and a growing need for privacy and independence with the competing demands of managing his daughter’s condition which requires constant vigilance and keeping the struggling local theatre open. Hannah wants to be as normal a teenager as possible while health setbacks remind her she isn’t and that her future is uncertain and limited. They’re characters I came to know well and really felt for, as the story progressed. The heart of the book is the tender father-daughter relationship and it feels true here; there is humour and affection alongside the secrets they keep and disagreements they have. I enjoyed the dynamic between these two. Read more

Book Review: The Collector by Fiona Cummins

Sometimes all I need to nudge me into reading a book I’ve been meaning to get to… is to discover that there’s a sequel coming out! Which is how I finally came to read Fiona Cummins’ Rattle and its sequel The Collector in such quick succession.

Jakey escaped with his life and moved to a new town. His rescue was a miracle but his parents know that the Collector is still out there, watching, waiting . . .

Clara, the girl he left behind, dreams of being found. Her mother is falling apart but she will not give up hope.

The Collector has found an apprentice to take over his family’s legacyBut he can’t forget the one who got away and the detective who destroyed his dreams.

DS Etta Fitzroy must hunt him down before his obsession destroys them all.

Fiona Cummins relocates the action from London to the East Coast of England in The Collector. It follows Jakey and his family as they try a fresh start in a new home, although Jakey is unsettled and senses that the Collector is never far away. And he’d be right; the Collector’s licking his wounds but he’s also considering starting over. When DS Etta Fitzroy is drawn East too, with a new partner in tow, in order to follow up a lead in her missing person’s case, all the players are in position and the macabre games can recommence. And I mean macabre. This seemed altogether darker and more disturbing than Rattle, not least because we see how the Collector sets up his new lair.

Having come to know Etta, Jakey, Clara and even the Collector in Rattle, I was already invested in them as characters but Fiona Cummins ups the ante in The Collector. And, interestingly, it’s the youngsters who come to the fore in this sequel as they battle to get the grown ups to believe them, stay sane and, most importantly, stay alive. I liked that they weren’t being helpless victims but actively trying to fight the demons they knew or sensed were close and how they found the strength and will to do so. Read more

Book Review: If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

The title of Emily Koch’s debut novel, If I Die Before I Wake, snagged my interest and its tagline ‘How do you solve your own murder?’, only intrigued me further, so I read the blurb (below). Not only did I want to hear Alex’s story but I also needed to see how Emily Koch was going to make the telling of it work.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER?

Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

If you’re willing to suspend disbelief as to how many of the conversations Alex needs to eavesdrop on in order to solve this case are conveniently carried out in his hospital room, I think you’ll enjoy reading this as much as I did. Given how incapacitated Alex is, this suspension of disbelief came surprisingly easily. Despite strenuous effort on his part, he fails to manage to communicate with either medical staff or his friends and family resulting in them being more frank in his presence than might otherwise have been the case or their talking over him as if he’s no longer there, and already as good as dead.

What carries this through for me is how much Emily Koch is able to put you in Alex’s bed, so to speak. I don’t think it would work nearly as well, if she didn’t spend as much time and description on Alex and the frustrating limitations he is up against. She not only puts you in his head but gives you an Alex-eye view of what it’s like to lie in that hospital bed, incapacitated, unable to communicate on the most basic of levels and frustrated by his inability to do so yet still mentally agile and with a mystery to solve.

I enjoyed this because it was sufficiently different thanks to Alex’s condition, the fact that he’s the one trying to solve the mystery, and the obstacles this places in his way of working out how he ended up in a hospital bed, and why. If I Die Before I Wake is a refreshingly different thriller and a surprisingly tense adrenalin ride of a novel considering it all takes place in a hospital room.

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch is published by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones or Wordery. You can find out more about Emily Koch and her writing on her Author Website or by following her on Twitter

My thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.

*GIVEAWAY* I have one hardback of If I Die Before I Wake to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner at the end of the week. 

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