Category Archives: reviews

Review: ‘Clear My Name’ by Paula Daly

When Carrie was accused of brutally murdering her husband’s lover, she denied it. She denied it when they arrested her, when they put her in front of a jury, and when they sent her to prison.

Now she’s three years into a fifteen-year sentence, away from the daughter she loves and the life she had built. And she is still denying that she is to blame.

Tess Gilroy has devoted her life to righting wrongs. Through her job for Innocence UK, a charity which takes on alleged miscarriages of justice, she works tirelessly to uncover the truth.

But when she is asked to take Carrie’s case, Tess realises that if she is to help this woman, she must risk uncovering the secrets she has struggled a lifetime to hide . . .

I really enjoyed ‘Clear My Name‘, Paula Daly delves into the world of charities that work to overthrow wrongful convictions. Although these charities are now often in the news, I haven’t read a novel about these groups before. Using Tess to tell the story gives the reader an insight into the difficulties encountered by those involved in these investigations. 

The story is fast-paced and I found myself unable to put ‘Clear My Name‘ down. I constantly questioned what could have truly happened to Ella. Clear My Name‘ is a compelling story featuring complex characters. Combined with an original concept, this novel is sure to be a hit. 

Happy publication day to Paula Daly – you can get your copy of ‘Clear My Name‘ now. You won’t regret it. 

Vic x

 

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Review: ‘Have You Seen Her’ by Lisa Hall

Nanny Anna only takes her eyes off Laurel for a second, thinking Laurel was following her mum through the crowds. But in a heartbeat, Laurel is gone.

Laurel’s parents are frantic. As is Anna. But as the hours pass, and Laurel isn’t found, suspicion grows. Someone knows what happened to Laurel but they’re not telling.

My mum recommended ‘Have You Seen Her‘ to me and I could not put it down. The narrative is simple yet effective, sucking the reader in. 

Set in a small village, ‘Have You Seen Her‘ explores the reaction of a community after a child goes missing. Sadly, it seemed an all-too-familiar scenario which added some realism to the story. 

Alongside evocative descriptions of place, Hall’s exploration of her characters sets up a great mystery where anyone could be guilty. I thought her descriptions of Laurel’s parents and their relationship were particularly strong.

Have You Seen Her‘ is the first of Lisa Hall’s novels that I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘. 

I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark. 

One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of . 

M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Body Lies’ by Jo Baker

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing class.

When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the lecturer recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.

Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?

Starting with an assault on our unnamed pregnant protagonist, The Body Lies‘ drops the reader straight into a world where this woman is almost constantly at the behest of the men around her – from her husband who won’t look for a new job in order to facilitate a move to a place she feels safer in to the head of department who continuously expects her to take on more and more work despite her inexperience and the difficulties she has managing her work-life balance to the students who snipe at one another in her class, overruling her at every point. 

By leaving this character nameless, Jo Baker says a lot about her interpretation of the world – and how the character is unable to make herself heard and understood in her male-dominated life. However, don’t think that ‘The Body Lies‘ is a novel that is constantly screaming about inequality – its power lies in the fact that the author has managed to subtly weave the point in to almost every sentence without the reader even being conscious of it. The way the issues are presented is almost ‘normal’, reflecting how insidious sexism and inequality is in our society today. You may not notice it but it is happening.

Jo Baker’s skill for beautiful prose makes ‘The Body Lies‘ a truly stunning literary thriller. The slow-burn tension allows us to empathise with the main character, understanding the pressure she is under and how burdensome it is to be a woman. The imagery Baker creates heightens the tension at key points as well as showing the reader the beauty of the world despite the horrific events that occur in it. 

The Body Lies‘ is a compelling study on what it is to be a woman, how women are subjugated and taken advantage of in many areas of their lives and how unsafe many of us feel on a daily basis. 

I’m genuinely not sure I’ll find a more engaging read this year.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Woman in the Photograph’ by Stephanie Butland

An empowering, feminist and moving novel that will change the way you see the world. 

In 1968, Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. Then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica is almost a recluse, her stellar career somewhat derailed by one of the most infamous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the focal point of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-hidden memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time for Vee to break her silence, and step back into the light.

Stephanie Butland captures the historical impact of feminism from the sixties onwards, right up until the present day, wonderfully. Using key moments, Butland weaves the lives of her characters into the realities of the UK’s first female prime minister to the #Time’sUp and #MeToo movements. The structure of the novel helps Butland combine Leonie and Veronica’s stories with the historical setting, giving the reader a sense of context. 

I really enjoyed the prickliness of Leonie, the woman who irrevocably changes Veronica’s life in many ways. She is militant and unapologetic, says what she feels and doesn’t care if that offends anyone. It would have been easy to make her a right-on feminist stereotype with little in the way of redeeming features but the way in which Butland brings nuance to this character is magnificent. Her depiction of Leonie is thoughtful and thought-provoking, making her a whole person rather than a caricature.  

The Woman in the Photograph‘ is a strong statement about women’s rights, how far we’ve come and how far we still have left to go. I really loved the exploration of how lack of equality for women, even now, is more subtle but no less insidious.  

Stephanie Butland has taken her writing to the next level with ‘The Woman in the Photograph‘. 

Out today, ‘The Woman in the Photograph‘ is a must-read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died’ by Alyson Rudd

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies. 

Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.

But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

And so every ending is also a beginning. And with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to being found…

The premise of ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is an absolute corker. The idea that Lauren can switch from one life to another and the impact her (multiple) deaths have on those close to her is really interesting – and thankfully easy to follow. You might expect to get tied up in knots trying to follow which timeline Rudd is referring to but I genuinely never got confused once.

I liked the small differences in each world – the lack of cats in one, the fact that Britain has never had a female Prime Minister in another. By including these subtle changes, Rudd gives the reader a sense of the displacement and unease that Lauren feels when deposited into a new world.

However, I felt there were missed opportunities in terms of character exploration and dramatic tension at times. I thought there was more potential with certain strands than were exploited. 

Rudd’s strength lies in the nuanced in which way she explores the relationship between Lauren and her ‘final’ husband, Simon – how a half-lived life causes a ripple effect. In addition to this, the way Rudd weaves the mystery of Peter Stanning’s disappearance into each of Lauren’s alternative lives is skilfully done. 

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is like ‘Sliding Doors’ meets ‘Interstellar’ with a dollop of mystery thrown in.  

It’s out tomorrow, pre-order The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ now. 

Vic x

**When I Lost You Blog Tour**

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I am delighted to be today’s host on Merilyn Davies’s ‘When I Lost You‘ blog tour.

As most of you will know by now, I am due to have a baby very soon and therefore my review for this book will be posted in due course (will I ever have time to read again?!).

However, today, we have an excerpt from ‘When I Lost You‘ to whet our appetites. I am sure it will make you want to put this book to the top of your TBR pile. 

My thanks to Merilyn and Rachel Kennedy for allowing me to be part of this wonderful tour. 

Vic x

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A screen sits to the left of the judge, and displayed on it is my child: a fragile, beautiful daughter, who had barely begun her life before the chance to live it was taken from her.

‘Not lost,’ the lawyer is saying, his wig a little frayed, in sharp contrast to the fresh youth of his closely shaven skin. ‘Her life wasn’t lost, it was stolen.’ He emphasises the words, ones I’ve heard endlessly during the two-week trial, by looking in my direction. He doesn’t linger, it’s more a glance – the way a painter uses a gentle brushstroke to shape the outline of an image before colouring it in – but it’s enough to make sure the jury remember I am the image he is painting: mother, killer, guilty.

I shift a little in my seat. The packed courtroom is hot and the white blouse I’m wearing sticks to my armpits, the polyester scratching against my skin. I see a juror glance in my direction and freeze; he’s the one my lawyer warned me about. 

‘Third one from left, hipster beard,’ he’d said in the cell as we waited to be recalled on that first day. ‘Jeans and a tight jumper. He’s got it in for you, so make sure you don’t fidget too much or it makes you look guilty, but move a bit, because too little makes you look heartless.’

I am a trapeze artist – one wrong move and I fall into a cell, seven foot by nine. I steady my breathing and look down at my feet, concentrating on the new brogues I’m wearing, their brown shine complementing the sky-blue suit my husband bought me for the trial.

‘Here,’ he’d said, handing me the plastic bag he’d paid five pence for, then sitting down across from me in the noisy, smelly visiting hall. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s your size, but I kept the receipt just in case.’

I didn’t remind him we had no time to exchange it. I just smiled my thanks and stuffed it by my feet next to the cooler bag full of fruit and biscuits. He took my hand. ‘We’ll get you out of here, my love,’ he’d said. ‘As soon as they see you, they’ll understand, and then this nightmare will be over.’

I lost myself for a moment in his touch, the lightness of it, a soft caress. I marvelled again at how resolutely he’d stood by me. Against all evidence to the contrary, he’d refused to ever accept my guilt. But then his words returned – ‘This nightmare will be over’ – and they dragged me back to the bowels of the prison where the whispered threats told me otherwise.

Extracted from When I Lost You by Merilyn Davies, out now in eBook and published in paperback by Arrow, Penguin Random House on 22nd August.