One Small Act of Kindness by Lucy Dillon

image My grateful thanks to Veronique Norton at Hodder and Stoughton for providing this lovely book for review.

When Jason loses his job, he and his wife Libby move back to Jason’s home town to run the family hotel with Jason’s widowed mother, Margaret. A car accident outside the hotel brings a young woman into their lives and so ‘One Small Act of Kindness’ begins.

Lucy Dillon has written a delightful book that I read in a weekend as I found her characters so warm and convincing that I wanted to see what happened to them. I think keeping the palette of characters relatively small is a real triumph as they are truly three dimensional. Each is gradually revealed and the reader gets to know them thoroughly – even (or perhaps especially) Lord Bob, the basset hound.

The plot is well constructed so that there are twists and turns, false leads and hints engaging the reader throughout. The ending is hugely satisfying.

Lucy Dillon’s other great skill lies in her ability to paint pictures with words. I could envisage every aspect of the hotel from her descriptions.

I had initially worried that ‘One Small Act of Kindness’ might just be a sugary chick lit read and I wonder if men would enjoy it as much as a female audience, but it is definitely so much more. It does make the reader think hard about their own behaviour, and indeed, want to live their lives better. This is the kind of book that makes for a fantastic feel good read. It does truly warm the heart. In fact, if I were ever to become a writer, this is exactly the kind of book I wish I had the talent to produce.

I can’t wait to read another of Lucy Dillon’s works.

The Heat of Betrayal by Douglas Kennedy

My great thanks to for providing this review copy. ‘The Heat of Betrayal’ is out on 23rd April.

I’m a real lover of Douglas Kennedy’s writing so it was with excitement and not a little trepidation that I began ‘The Heat of Betrayal’. I was anxious that I might be disappointed as my expectations were high. I need not have worried. From the opening two sentences, ‘First light. And I didn’t know where I was any more.’ I was completely drawn in to the story of Robin and her feckless husband Paul as they live out their personal drama in a trip to Morocco. The betrayal of the title is explored on so many levels, not least our own betrayal of ourselves, so that there is something for all readers to relate to. Other themes to make the reader think include the nature of corruption, love, revenge, culture and death, making us stop in our tracks as personal truths resonate in the reading.

Douglas Kennedy excels at writing from the first person perspective of women and Robin’s voice is clear and strong so that the reader empathises with her from the start.

The writing is so eloquent, with natural dialogue and a pace that grabs the reader and pulls them along relentlessly. I found the twists and turns highly engaging and exciting. The ending is realistic and satisfying whilst leaving questions for the reader to ponder about the truth of their own lives.

A great joy in reading ‘The Heat of Betrayal’ is the exquisite description of Morocco. Anyone living there or who has travelled in Morocco will instantly recognise the scenes Kennedy describes.

Readers of strong contemporary fiction and thrillers will love it as much as I did.

Heat of Betrayal

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

There have been so many rave reviews of ‘Adult Onset’ that tells of a week in the life of author Mary Rose as she struggles to care for her children and come to terms with the relationships she has had with her family, that I was delighted to receive a copy for my blog. I loved ‘Fall On Your Knees’ by the same author.

However, I struggled with ‘Adult Onset’; so much so that initially I gave up and read a couple of other books before returning to it. It wasn’t until this second attempt at reading that I realised what is so clever about Ann-Marie MacDonald’s writing. I didn’t like Mary Rose, I couldn’t empathise with her and I hated the toddler Maggie. I found the day-to-day life they lead tedious and frustrating. And that’s the point. MacDonald has created a world where daily life can be mundane to the point of breaking a person’s soul, making them question how they got to be where they are and whom they have become.

The themes explored in ‘Adult Onset’ are huge. Our relationships with out parents, siblings, with our children and lovers are dissected and examined. Our neuroses and our fears are laid bare. As I read there was very much the horrible realisation that, in Mary Rose and Dolly’s situations, I may very well have behaved as badly or even worse.

Although I can’t say I enjoyed reading ‘Adult Onset’, I would say that I appreciate how clever and incisive a novel it is. Others, I’m sure, will love it.

If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

My grateful thanks to Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) for generously providing this text.

It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of this story, told in the first person by Katie, an 18 year old living in Long Island in the summer of 1972. Set in a time of decay and depression in the town, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War all the characters are struggling to find happiness and peace; whether through love, sex, drugs, relationships or alcohol. There are some very big themes explored through Katie’s eyes from abortion and homophobia to post traumatic stress disorder, but these themes are skilfully woven into the story in a way that makes them integral to our understanding of the time in which ‘If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go’ is set.

Initially, I found the frequent use of expletives jarring, but as I read on I became used to which characters spoke in which way and their language choices actually made them more real to me.

Once I attuned to the structure of introducing characters and events and weaving them into Katie’s experiences and her memories, the narrative seemed to build and build like classical music, almost hypnotising the reader into its cadences. The further I read, the more engrossed I became.

The descriptions are vivid and evocative, giving a clear mental image of the setting. At times the writing was so beautiful and insightful I had to jot down quotations to return to in the future. Judy Chicural understands and conveys the longing of youth and the frequent disappointment of experience so well that I felt a real resonance with my long lost teenage self.

I don’t know if I am able to say I ‘enjoyed’ Chicurel’s ‘If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go’, but I was certainly ensnared by the quality of the writing and emotionally moved and affected by it – so much so I wept at the end. I would certainly read it again as I’m sure I have missed many nuances on first reading.

If I knew...

Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson

I am indebted to Frances Gough of Headline for providing this novel for review.

I am utterly ashamed to confess that I have not previously read any of Imogen Robertson’s novels featuring Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman, but I will be rectifying that omission immediately. That said, I did not need the earlier novels to enjoy this read as a one off.

‘Theft of Life’ is an exquisitely written murder mystery story based in the murky world of London in May 1785. An ex-slave trader is found dead, partially clothed and wearing a slave mask. The race is on for Harriet and Gabriel to discover what has happened to him.

The attention to detail and the research that has obviously gone in to the background of slavery underlying this narrative makes it an utterly absorbing and convincing read. Keeping true to the niceties and manners of the time so that the text is historically accurate, whilst managing to write an accessible, entertaining and thoroughly satisfying story takes considerable skill and I felt Imogen Robertson excels in ‘Theft of Life’. I really felt immersed in London of the late 1700s. Whilst there is no shying away from a very disturbing era of British history, there is, very frequently, a warmth and humour in this book that prevents it from being ‘preachy’ and makes it all the more effective.

I loved the details of day to day life and London as a setting, being easily able to picture what was described. Similarly, I found the characters utterly real; some thoroughly despicable, others completely charming. Underpinning the several exciting twists and turns in the story is real human emotion including love, revenge, jealousy, hatred, fear and madness.

The structure of the novel over one week gave it a coherence and pace that I felt was truly cinematic. ‘Theft of Life’ is a book that can be read and enjoyed on many levels. I loved it.

Theft of Life