Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review - The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow Fiona Barton UK
Publisher : Bantam Press
14 January 2016
Copy : Hardback - Reviewer purchased
The Blurb
Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

The Very Pink Notebook Review

This novel has a very strong concept - a happily married couple find life changes beyond all recognition when The Husband, Glen, is accused of the abduction of a little girl, but then Glen dies when he gets hit by a bus and the world wants to know what The Widow, Jean, really knows - and by the world I mean The Reader, of course.
The author manages the plot, and develops the suspense of the novel by writing in alternating narrators - all of them extremely unreliable.  The Widow, The Reporter, The Detective, The Mother (of the abducted child) among others, so I was constantly wondering who the hell could be believed.  They were all punctuated with faults and I have to say, my own personal view was, I didn't particularly like any of them, but I think this helped with the general overall whole uncomfortable theme of the book - I don't think a 'nice' character would have served the book well at all.
I was never sure what to make of Jean, her thoughts seem scattered and irregular, sometimes she seemed naïve and passive, the product of marrying too young to an over-bearing control freak, but other comments or thoughts seemed to indicate she wasn't as innocent to life as she would have appearances make her.  My one negative thought on the book here, is with regard to the age Jean was pitched at.  She is supposed to be in her forties, but my immediate feeling about her was she was from a much older generation.  Like a house-wife in the 1940's era.  I couldn't get the image out of my head of a dowdy, retired, cardigan / slipper wearing women at the point we find her in this story - if she had been I could have found some of her naivety with regard to some of the issues within the plot much more plausible then.  However, as the story progressed I could see glimpses of why she might be so flip-flopped on her thoughts - prolonged pressure and trauma can do strange things to the mind...
Personally I liked how the story pieced-together through both varying narrators and alternating time periods, I thought it was quite clear and didn't ever have to go back and re-read.  I was expecting the pace of the story to be a little faster than what it was, but overall this didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.  The chapters are quite short and because they varied from narrator to narrator this stopped any chance of it becoming boring.  It was a refreshing way to read a dark thriller, not in the intense place of the head of the main characters, but from the view of those on side-lines.  Those left trying to make sense of it all in the aftermath.
One clever thing about the novel is all the characters are quite obsessive about something or another.  It seemed to be a recurring theme throughout and ultimately depicts the darker side of what can happen when obsession takes over and how easily people can be fooled into justifying, unjustifiable actions.
When I finished this book I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it.  It wasn't the 'who done it?' I thought it was going to be, it is a dark topic matter, for me there was no likable characters and the ending left me feeling like I wanted to throttle someone, but, it kept me thinking for days and I realised - that is a sign of a good book.  My advice to people who read this book is be prepared for it not to be quite what you think it is going to be. 
The Widow, therefore receives ... four pink notebooks :

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Review : The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

 Summer 1976
Published by : Harper Collins
28 January 2016
Copy : Hardback - Reviewer purchased
The Blurb
Summer 1976
Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers.  As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.
But as doors and mouths begin to open and the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find more than they could have imagined...
Beware of straying from the flock for fear you'll be left out in the cold.
The Very Pink Notebook Review
I wanted to read this book, as I had the pleasure of being at an event Joanna Cannon was the key note speaker at, in which she outlined her journey of writing it, but I have to say for some reason the title of the book did put me off somewhat.  However, once I did pick it up I found it very enjoyable.  I liked the pacey, short narratives that flip-flopped between ten-year-old Grace and Tilly and the adult residents of The Avenue that help unravel the mysteries and secrets of the cul-de-sac all relating to the unusual disappearance of one of the street's residents, Mrs Creasy.
I got a sense of warmth and comfort while I was reading, thanks to the vivid descriptions of ordinary suburban life in Britain 1976, as memories of long hot summer days when you did run around unsupervised and were in and out of neighbours houses as a matter of course were piqued with acute accurateness.
I liked the characters of Grace and Tilly, I was pleased to see the bulk of the story was to be seen through the eyes of a child - something different - and for the most part I found their actions and exploration very believable, however sometimes I felt their 'knowingness' was a little too advanced for the age of 10. 
As the story unfolds you do get an insight into each of the lives of the residents of The Avenue, The Forbes, Eric Lamb, Thin Brian and his mother, Sheila Dakin and I thought the little glimpses into their histories, none of them glowing or without faults, was cleverly weaved throughout and helped strengthen the main plot - if you have secrets and faults of your own to hide, what better way to deflect it than to champion the highlighting of someone else's peculiarities?  If the finger and attention is on someone else it won't be on you and this seems to be the drive behind almost all the residents of the street - with one resident, Walter Bishop, bearing the brunt of the finger pointing.
Although I didn't get the sense of sadness throughout the book, the actual crux of the story is quite overwhelmingly sad.  In 1970's Britain it was not acceptable to be different or to stand out, and if you did you would be persecuted, both opening and subtly.  In order to be seen as a good and upstanding member of the community sometimes people could resort to new lows to make sure they seemed like a good citizen and would pick off the weak. 
Margaret Creasy, by being a genuinely good citizen finds out the secrets behind all the doors of The Avenue...
...And I suggest you read this book to find out if it is to her detriment...
This book is well worth a read and as such I give it :

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

WIN - A signed copy of I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

As the final instalment to 'Clare Mackintosh Feature Week', I have a signed copy of Clare's first chart-busting novel, I Let You Go, to giveaway. 

To be in with a chance of winning simply click here to follow me on Twitter @lynseymummaduck retweet the pinned tweet and send me a message saying why you would like this fabulous book!

The giveaway will close at 09:00 on Saturday 26 March 2016 (GMT) and is only open to UK residents.  A winner will be selected at random and notified by 12:00 the same day via Twitter.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Essex Book Festival : An Evening with Clare Mackintosh

I have been attending Essex Book Festival events for several years now and have been lucky enough to see some wonderful authors interviewed, including Jodi Picoult and Jessie Burton.  Always inspired, I eagerly await the release of the line-up of fine artists and this year I was thrilled to see Clare Mackintosh among those listed.
The evening took the format of a guided question and answer session and for an hour, Clare and the host held a captivated audience.  Clare is as confident and bold as her writing and I felt we were allowed an honest and true insight into her literary world.  There was no shying away from answering any question with Clare admitting that prior to becoming an author, while she was in the police force, her work came first and her family got the exhausted left overs.
A moment of clarity arrived for Clare one evening when she showed her husband a copy of her recent work appraisal, of which she was extremely proud.  Her husband responded jokingly and asked who the wonderful, approachable, happy women in the appraisal was. Clare realised, at that moment, exactly what he meant and although not said to hurt or offend she knew her priorities had to change.
After a career change into freelance writing Clare took work that paid the bills, but was ultimately quite soul-destroying.  However, several things started to form together in Clare's mind which in turn developed into the debut novel we now know as the hugely successful, I Let You Go.
The audience, obviously eager to know more about the book and it's creation, were not disappointed.  Clare confirmed she does not write characters similar to anyone in the police force she worked with, although she has been asked by previous colleagues more than once if they were the inspiration!  She does however use collar numbers as a little nod to certain friends.
She also revealed the original plan was to have Jenna based in Cornwall, however, to fit with one part of the plot she realised the distance between Bristol and Cornwall was too far, so then had to source a different location that still fitted the idea of the sandy beach, the cliffs, the caravan park.  To this end her thanks go to Google Earth, for that was how she found the spot in Wales.  And no, she didn't get to physically visit the location until after the book was written.  And why Bristol for the other main locale?  Well, Clare has a soft spot for Bristol because that was where she was born, although not raised.
When asked about police procedure, Clare referred to a recent meeting with the author Sophie Hannah.  She uses the rule - 'If it could happen once...' and Clare said that is a good rule to go by when it comes to procedural work, because it allows for a little more freedom and creativity.  Clare's personal opinion is there is too much police procedure in I Let You Go, and if she was re-writing with the knowledge she has now, she would thin it out more (I can't find any fault with the book so I would say there wasn't too much for me).
Of course, after the book comes the movie, right?  Well, it has been optioned for a movie, but personally Clare see's it working much better as a serious, two-part TV crime drama (Sunday evening, prime-time) and I must say the audience was whole-heartedly in agreement on that point.
The questions then moved onto the very exciting news of Clare's second book, I See You, due to be published in hardback and kindle in July this year.  Clare is very happy with the cover for the new book, which was revealed on Twitter just last week (go to @claremackint0sh to see it) and to the audiences delight we were treated to a live reading of the whole first chapter.  You could have heard a pin drop, everyone was so eager not to miss a word.  All I can say is - it is a gripping opening, leaving a million questions running through your mind.
Of course, a book event such as this will always attract writers, who want to know just how a published writer spends their day.  Clare was happy to divulge.  After getting her children off to school, the day starts with a dog walk, during that walk she plays out in her mind the scenes she intends to write.  Some days getting them down onto paper comes easy, others not so much and she admitted she gets easily waylaid with the temptation of social media.  Her writing time is scheduled by the school day and terms.  In general, it is not possible to get much done in the holidays as she is too busy with the children, however she did point out publishers are not so worried about this so on occasion it doesn't always work out.
Clare was also asked about inspiration (if you want to know the inspiration behind I Let You Go, be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book - it explains it all there).  She said she plays the 'What If?' game (What if someone donated an organ and then wanted it back?) and looks out for interesting and unusual stories (A disused building is purchased, it has been made into dozens of little bedsits, when they start to strip it out they find hundreds of hidden camera's everywhere...then her mind can create what individual stories the camera's hold, for example.)
As always with these events, time goes quickly and the talk came to an end.  However, Clare was kind enough to offer to sign copies of her book.  Usually with events like these you get in a huge queue, hover awkwardly in front of said author and (in my case) either fail to speak (other than prove I can actually spell my own name) or go on a nervous verbal diarrhoea assault leaving a confused looking writer behind.  And you feel time pressure, you are holding up the long queue even further while you are spelling out your name!  But that wasn't the case at this event.  A table had been set up with two chairs, one for Clare and one next to her for you to sit.  Actually sit!  So each person sat, and chatted, and somehow it didn't seem to hold up the queue - I guess people didn't mind waiting for their chance to converse with someone who's work you hold in high esteem.  Clare's own comfort with this situation made everyone else feel at ease, and for once, I chatted.  About this blog, praise for the book, excitement about the new one, about signing a book for a giveaway event...
So, if you would like to win that signed copy of : I Let You Go ... look out for details on how you can in the next few days.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Review : I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

I LET YOU GO 400x618px1may
Published by : Little Brown
Paperback : 7 May 2015
Copy : Reviewer purchased
The Blurb
In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.
DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.
As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

Did you love Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train?  Now lose yourself in the twisty, enthralling psychological thriller that everyone is talking about.

The Very Pink Notebook Review
In answer to the above question, yes, I did love Gone Girl and Girl on the Train so there was no doubt about me purchasing a copy of this book once I had picked it up.  I will say, from the outset, this is one of the best books I have ever read (I completed it in two sittings, no mean feat in my house-hold).  
I was fully drawn into the story from the opening paragraph.  The description of the accident, the incident central to all the characters, immediately had me welling up, given I have a five year old son of my own, and from that moment I was hooked, my fingers wanting to turn the page faster than my eyes could read.
Absorbed into the life of both Jenna Gray, who is a fragile and emotional shell, and DI Ray Stevens, the practical investigator, I was driven along exactly the way the author wanted me to be, so when the twist in the plot happened I actually exclaimed - out loud - I really did not see it coming.  I connected to both Gray and Stevens, impossible not to with such well developed characters, and was easily transported between lives from the sweeping, lonely, wildness of the remote Welsh coast to bustling Bristol. 
The book is written in two distinct halves, both equally as enthralling as the other, with a finale pulling absolutely every last string together.  The first and third person narratives I thought worked brilliantly well.  Being placed in the head of a character can be quite intense, so to change to a third person was sometimes a relief, as was the secondary plots of DI Stevens.  The alternating voices (chapters) helped move the plot along at speed, so much so I often found my breathing rate had increased, and I loved the very clear time milestones weaved into the narrative.

The book's title, I Let You Go, I thought was going to be connected to just one person, but by the end I could see how it was important for several characters, for various reasons and in different ways.
Given the complexity of the plot, Clare has managed to write a novel that feels effortless to read through great characters, just the right amount of description, wonderful dialogue and killer twists.
I can not recommend this book highly enough and as such have rated it as five pink notebooks :

Also to come this week : An evening with Clare Mackintosh and a Giveaway Event!


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Review - The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing
Publisher : Faber and Faber
3 September 2015
Copy : Paperback - Reviewer purchased
The Blurb
On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .

Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda's demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth.

Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

The Very Pink Notebook Review
This is a brilliant and dark psychological thriller that I devoured quickly.  Written in three parts, the first finds us taken through the plot via the voices of Ted, a rich, successful man and Lily, an enigmatic and straight talking female.  The two meet on a flight and quickly find each other sharing secrets which results in them agreeing to potentially meet to plan the murder of Ted's cheating spouse.  This might sound ludicrous, but as you are drawn in via alternating narratives you quickly get swept along with the justification Lily, with her dubious past, presents and you can see how Ted's head could be turned. 
With many twists and turns, from very early on, you are never quite sure where the story might go next.  The author goes to great lengths to give you an insight into the histories of the characters, particularly Lily.  This helps the reader understand why they do what they do.  Why they feel how they feel - somehow it makes you not hate them. 
What I thoroughly enjoyed was in parts two and three, with changing view points, this ultimately becomes the battle of the bitches.  It is the women in the novel who are calling the shots, with two alpha females on a head long collision course.  As unbelievable as some of the plot could of seemed, it is so well written, and the characters so well developed it really did seem viable.
What I liked about this book was it could have been a blood thirsty, body counting slay-fest, strewn with blood, gore and over the top action.  But it isn't.  It is calm.  Calculated.  Thoughtful.  Cold but punctuated with passion.  And of course, where there is passion and money, people can do things they never thought imaginable...
With all the main characters having their own agenda's, both clear and hidden, it makes for a compelling read.  The three parts have different focuses which I did not see coming, thanks to the array of twists in the plot but I was quite a satisfied reader when it came to the outcomes for each of the characters and was kept hooked until the very end. 
I found this book a very easy read, which given the darkness of the subject matter, is thanks to the fantastic writing.  I liked getting the snap shots of character histories within the narrative, and was surprised that this did not slow the pace of the novel down. 
The only negative I would have to say in regard to this book is on occasion I found a little too much detail being dedicated to travel routes.  It didn't spoil my enjoyment but I did find it a little unnecessary.  Other than that I found the book had a great balance of descriptiveness and action. 
This novel gets a well deserved... four pink notebooks :

Friday, 4 March 2016

Guest Post by Author Lucy Dawson - Being Popular

As part of The Very Pink Notebook Feature Week, I Sent You a Letter author, Lucy Dawson, guest posts on the need, or not, for likeable characters in novels.

I’m wrestling with a character at the moment. She’s the lead in my next book and I’ve deliberately made her not entirely likeable. Sally has moments where she’s nice, and (I hope) the reader feels sympathy for her, and moments where she’s frankly, a bit of a cow. I did this because something happens to her in the book that I felt would have more power, if the reader felt Sally at least slightly deserved it. Plus, it makes her more interesting to write. But, and it’s a big but: are readers more likely to be swept along by the tale of someone they really like – or really hate – rather than someone who is just ‘normal’ and realistically flawed?
It’s certainly true that as a reader you’ve got to care about what happens to the characters in a book. No one is going to invest their time in the story of people they feel nothing for. It’s also less of a risk as a writer to make a character sympathetic, someone your reader can empathise with, and so imagines the events happening to them. In my current book You Sent Me A Letter, Sophie – the lead – is a kind girl who has made a terrible mistake. That turned out to be a fun challenge; creating someone readers identified with, even though she’d done something very unlikable indeed. That’s still different to having a character who is just… not very pleasant, however. Of course, behaving badly didn’t seem to do Amy Dunne any harm, and Hugh Laurie’s Richard Roper in the BBC’s The Night Manager is completely mesmeric. You really can believe that he is ‘the worst man in the world’ – but equally, do you want to know what he does next? Absolutely.
Perhaps that means lead characters only really work when they sit definably at either end of the scale. So what do I do with poor Sally? Take the safe option and make her softer, less prone to snappy and arsey comments? Make the reader have no choice but to feel sorry for her? Or do I tough it, and her, out? Some writers would argue that having a likeable character shouldn’t be a conscious consideration at all. The Sunday Times yesterday quoted Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter of Adaption, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as saying “I’m trying to explore a character and maybe, in that process make the character understandable. That’s the goal of dramatic writing. Not to make people likeable. Maybe it doesn’t serve the box office. I don’t know. I can’t think of things that way, so I don’t choose to. It feels like pandering.”
In an ideal world, maybe he’s right. But I think perhaps I am going to have to soap Sally’s mouth out a little, because in the world of fiction at least, the nice girls don’t finish last.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Review : You Sent Me a Letter by Lucy Dawson

book cover of 

You Sent Me a Letter 


Published by : Corvus Books
3 March 2016
Copy : Paperback - Received from publisher

The Blurb

At 2 a.m. on the morning of her fortieth birthday, Sophie wakes to find an intruder in her bedroom.  The stranger hands Sophie a letter and issues a threat: open the letter at her party that evening, in front of gathered family and friends, at precisely 8 p.m., or those she loves will be in grave danger.

What can the letter possibly contain?

This will be no ordinary party; Sophie is not the only person keeping a secret about the evening ahead.  When the clock strikes eight, the course of several people's lives will be altered forever.

The Very Pink Notebook Review
This was the first book I have read by Lucy Dawson and most certainly will not be the last.  This novel has the most fantastic opening chapter, if you want a story that hits the ground running you will not be disappointed.  Lucy Dawson manages to continue the fast paced action throughout, which considering the span of time the bulk of the book covers - less than a day - is quite impressive.
I was immediately absorbed into protagonist Sophie's mind, and could feel my own stomach tensing with the choices she was faced with.  I could feel her fear and frustrations, the psychic distance being quite close throughout, so it was an intense read but one I could not put down.  I did guess fairly early on who 'the client' was, although twice I did waiver and think 'oh maybe I am wrong...' so although I was proved right in the end, it did not spoil my enjoyment of the book at all. 
The plot does not really have any secondary stories running alongside it, but because of the short amount of time it covers it does not need it.  Even though I knew all was not well, I couldn't help but really wish that it was and that all the preparations and lead up for the party could be enjoyable for Sophie.  I got on well with the characters and the relationship between Sophie and her sisters and mother did, quite literally, make me laugh out loud on occasion.  Sophie, I felt, was very relatable, she makes a terrible decision yet I didn't dislike her for it.  However, I could understand why it came back round to haunt her so terribly.
This is a gripping psychological thriller, but in the end actually has a very basic, fundamental message; if you make a decision to do something you know is wrong then you must be prepared to live with the consequences.  I thought the ending to this book was fitting and felt content as I closed the back page.
Overall I love this book and highly recommend it.  But, be warned : You won't want to put it down!
Therefore I give this book.. five pink notebooks

I was very kindly sent an advance copy of this book by Corvus Books and in turn have provided an honest review.