Cambridge Black by Alison Bruce

Cambridge Black

My grateful thanks to Helen Upton at Little Brown for a copy of Cambridge Black by Alison Bruce in return for an honest review and to help me prepare for interviewing Alison at the first ever Deepings Literary Festival, more details of which can be found here.

Cambridge Black is the latest in Alison Bruce’s DC Goodhew series and was published by Constable, an imprint of Little Brown, on 23rd February 2017. Cambridge Black is available for purchase in e-book and hardback (and paperback pre-order) here.

Cambridge Black

Cambridge Black

A cold case waits to be solved . . . and a killer waits in the wings.

Amy was seven years old when her father was arrested for murder. His subsequent trial and conviction scarred her childhood and cast a shadow over her life until, twenty-two years later, new evidence suggests he was innocent and Amy sets out to clear his name.

But Amy is not the only person troubled by the past. DC Gary Goodhew is haunted by the day his grandfather was murdered and is still searching for answers, determined to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death and find his killer.

But, right now, someone is about to die. Someone who has secrets and who once kept quiet but is now living on borrowed time. Someone who will be murdered because disturbing the past has woken a killer.

My Review of Cambridge Black

An arson attack in 1991 forms the basis of secrets and lies that reverberate for more than the next two decades.

I haven’t read any of the previous DC Goodhew books and I have to say that didn’t affect my enjoyment at all as Cambridge Black works perfectly as a stand alone, although I would now like to go back and read them all because I enjoyed it so much and I would like to find out more about what brought DC Goodhew to his present position and relationships.

Cambridge Black has an incredibly well crafted plot so that I was kept guessing right to the end and making the connections between three seemingly disparate plots was hugely entertaining. I thought the way in which all the strands came together leading to what appears to be the final book in the series was extremely clever. The ending is so fast paced I had to make a conscious effort to slow down my reading to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Characters are varied and complex and I had to work quite hard to keep tabs on all the relationships which was an element I really enjoyed.  Alison Bruce doesn’t patronise her readers, but has a sophisticated style that gradually reveals layers of deceit and untruth so that readers find out what is happening in tune with those in the narrative. I also thoroughly enjoyed the naturalistic quality of the direct speech and the small details that brought the text alive. I could picture the Cambridge settings so vividly.

Characters show the full range of human emotion, but in Cambridge Black it is revenge, deceit and anger that are so well defined. Whilst I found some actions totally reprehensible I could understand exactly why those involved behaved the way they did.

I felt Cambridge Black was a sophisticated, intelligent, well written and entertaining thriller that held my attention from the first word to the last. I only wish I had encountered DC Goodhew sooner and I’m looking forward to asking Alison more about him soon!

About Alison Bruce

alison bruce

Alison Bruce is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. Her previous DC Gary Goodhew novels are published by Constable & Robinson. A fan of vintage clothes and the rockabilly music scene, for two years she wrote and presented a monthly 1950s music feature on BBC Wiltshire Sound.

Alison Bruce has also written two non-fiction books, Cambridgeshire Murders and Billington, Victorian Executioner, both published by the History Press.

You can follow Alison on Twitter and visit her website.

My Sister and Other Liars by Ruth Dugdall

my sister and other liars

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a fantastic event Oceans of Words at Waterstones in Nottingham and you can read about that here. When I was there I met Ruth Dugdall and invited her on to Linda’s Book Bag. I’m delighted that Ruth agreed to be interviewed and she will be joining me on 1st May 2017 when her latest novel My Sister and Other Liars will be published. Ruth very kindly gave me a copy of My Sister and Other Liars for review.

My Sister and Other Liars is published on 1st May 2017 by Thomas and Mercer and is available for pre-order here.

My Sister and Other Liars

my sister and other liars

Sam is seventeen, starving herself and longing for oblivion. Her sister, Jena, is mentally scarred and desperate to remember. Between them, they share secrets too terrible to recall.

Eighteen months earlier, Sam was still full of hope: hope that she could piece together Jena’s fragmented memory after the vicious attack that changed their family forever. But digging into the past unearthed long-hidden lies and betrayals, and left Sam feeling helpless and alone in a world designed to deceive her.

Now, in a last bid to save her from self-imposed shutdown, Sam’s therapist is helping her confront her memories. But the road to recovery is a dangerous one. Because Sam has not only been lying to her doctors: she’s been hiding dark secrets from herself.

My Review of My Sister and Other Liars

On the Ana ward, anorexic Sam has no real reason to live, but as she slips toward the point of no return, memories come to the surface that can change her life.

Ooh, My Sister and Other Liars is a cracking read. It took me a while to appreciate just why the setting of a ward for anorexic girls had been chosen, but that is all part of the intelligent way the plot is constructed. Ruth Dugdall is forcing the reader to confront uncomfortable truths along with those, both girls and staff, on the ward. She explores so effectively how and why the girls there have made the decision to starve and it doesn’t always make for comfortable reading. In fact, it was the uncovering of this world about which I knew very little that made My Sister and Other Liars such a compelling read for me. I think Ruth Dugdall must have been meticulous in her research. I can’t really mention all the themes without spoiling the read but they build to create a read that goes beyond being merely an entertaining narrative into providing intelligent considerations.

I thought the plot was extremely good.  I did work out the denouement, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all because the writing builds tension and there is no guarantee that Sam will uncover the truth she so craves and which is destroying her physically and emotionally. I found the atmosphere created was often claustrophobic and frequently brutal and I kept wanting to read just one more chapter so see what happened.

At the beginning I found Sam an unlikable character and she didn’t gain my empathy even though she had my sympathy. It took me a while to warm to her, but again it was the quality of the writing that drew me in and altered my perceptions until I was completely on her side.

A further aspect that deserves mention is the skilful way in which Ruth Dugdall creates a sense of place. I could picture the town, the ward, the Pleasure Park so clearly and yet the effect was subtle too so that it never felt contrived. I thought that aspect of the writing was so good.

I wouldn’t say I necessarily enjoyed reading My Sister and Other Liars, because of the disturbing nature of some of the themes and events, but I found it irresistible. It’s a really good thriller that I can recommend completely.

About Ruth Dugdall

ruth dugdall

Ruth studied English at university and then took an MA is Social Work. Following this she worked in the Criminal Justice System as a social worker then as a probation officer. Part of this time was spent seconded to a prison housing serious offenders. She continues to work within the Criminal Justice System, most recently in Luxembourg.
Ruth’s novels are informed by her experience and are “authentic and credible”.

You can follow Ruth on Twitter, visit her website and find all her books here.

Penance by Theresa Talbot

Penance

My grateful thanks to the author Theresa Talbot for a copy of Penance in return for an honest review and an ENORMOUS apology that she has waited over 18 months for me to get round to reading it! Some of my excuses for the delay are documented here.

Penance was published by Strident in October 2015 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Penance

Penance

Oonagh O’Neil has a challenge on her hands – and her head over a toilet bowl.

TV journalist and media darling Oonagh O’Neil faces danger and chaos when an elderly priest dies on the altar of his Glasgow church. His death comes as she is about to expose the shocking truth behind the closure of a Magdalene Institution. The Church has already tried to suppress the story. Is someone also covering their tracks?

DI Alec Davies is appointed to investigate the priest’s death. He and Oonagh go way back. But their friendship counts for nothing when Davies suspicions falls on Oonagh’s married lover. Oonagh now faces the biggest decision of her life. But will it be hers to make? What secrets lie behind the derelict Institution’s doors? What sparked the infamous three-day riot that closed it? And what happened to the three Maggies who vowed to stay friends forever?

From Ireland to Scotland.

From life to death.

My Review of Penance

When Father Kennedy drops dead in the middle of mass, there are repercussions that echo back decades.

I thoroughly enjoyed Penance. What I loved about it was the quality of the plotting. I really appreciated the way in which all the strands were drawn together to a highly satisfactory conclusion and I was especially impressed by the way I thought I had it all worked out but had only managed partially to guess what was really going on. The events set in the 1950s made for very uncomfortable reading and gave me a real insight into the lives of unmarried mothers at the mercy of society and the institution of the church at the time. I was so drawn in to the story that I simply put life on hold and read the whole book in one sitting. Without spoiling the plot, there is one incident that made me feel we haven’t moved on much since Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles and I felt there were echoes of his writing in Penance.

I thought the characterisation was excellent. Whilst Oonagh belongs to an environment with which Theresa Talbot is familiar so that there is credibility to her, Oonagh is not an idealised version of the author. Oonagh has flaws, deviousness and a stubborn streak that means she doesn’t always behave well or even rationally, but every one of her actions is absolutely believable and the writing draws in the reader so comprehensively that I went from from finding Oonagh an unattractive character at the start to one for whom I had the highest regard at the end as if she were real.

Whilst both character and plot deserve high praise, what most appealed to me about Penance was the range of themes, and moral and social issues, raised by the narrative. The story is highly entertaining but it also made me think. Our desperate need to belong and be loved as individuals is there, as is the right to life and abortion debate. Theresa Talbot explores what is morally justified and how history can be manipulated and distorted so that sometimes we can lose sight of what makes a crime and what is forgivable. Other themes include adultery, homosexuality, the media, religion and prostitution so that there is much to ponder whilst enjoying a cracking story.

As a result of the easy and flowing style, Penance is a thoroughly entertaining read and I heartily recommend it – I just wish I’d read it sooner.

About Theresa Talbot

Theresa talbot

Theresa Talbot is a freelance writer, journalist and radio presenter, perhaps best known as the voice of Traffic and Travel on BBC Radio Scotland and as the host of The Beechgrove Potting Shed. Prior to working with the BBC she was with Radio Clyde and the AA Roadwatch team. Theresa worked in various roles before entering the media as an assistant in children’s homes, a Pepsi Challenge girl and a library assistant. She ended up at the BBC because of an eavesdropped conversation on a no.66 bus in Glasgow. Her passions include rescuing chickens, gardening, music and yoga.

You can follow Theresa on Twitter and visit her website.

The Dandelion Years by Erica James

dandelion years

Today’s review is for a book chosen for my U3A reading group, The Dandelion Years by Erica James. I’m delighted that, because I’ve given up blog tours and author features for April in my AWOL in April month I’ve actually had time to read the book in advance of the group meeting – I don’t always manage that!

I’m thrilled that I’ll be having lunch with Erica James in the near future at the first ever Deepings Literary Festival that I previously blogged about here.

The Dandelion Years is published by Orion and is available for purchase here.

The Dandelion Years

dandelion years

‘Someone had made a perfect job of creating a place in which to hide a notebook . . . there was no address, only a date: September 1943 . . .’

Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling cottage on the edge of a Suffolk village, it provided a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to broken and battered books, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a hidden notebook – and realises someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.

My Review of The Dandelion Years

32 year old Saskia lives with her father and two grand fathers following the death of her mother and grandmothers in  a car crash ten years previously.

Initially I didn’t warm to The Dandelion Years as it felt slightly slow in comparison with other books I’ve read recently, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it, until I was completely absorbed in the story and really entertained by it.

I laughed aloud at one point when Bill Nighy is mentioned because the reading group for which I was reading The Dandelion Years always tries to find a role for Bill Nighy as one of the characters in a fantasy film version of the book. This time he matched Ralph perfectly.

Indeed, the characters felt warm and human, especially Saskia and Jacob. What I found appealing was the fact that these are not idealised individuals, but flawed and difficult people who do not always behave as they should. This made them feel much more realistic to me. I came away feeling Erica James has an incisive understanding of human nature.

I really enjoyed the literary references and in particular the conceit of a book within a book that the diary presents.  There’s also a smashing sense of place in both Bletchley and Suffolk so that I found the writing quite vivid. I thought the creation of 1940s England, with its war time deprivations, the class divide and sense of making the most of life was well depicted, particularly through the direct speech contained within those parts of the book.

Most of all, however, I found the themes in The Dandelion Years resonated thoroughly for me so that by the end of the story I felt quite emotional. Trust and relationships, and the need to make the most of life, are comprehensively explored, but it was the image of grief I found most affecting after similar experiences in my own life quite recently.

I went from feeling quite indifferent to The Dandelion Years to thoroughly enjoying it and being glad I had read it as it felt mature, well written and accomplished. It left me feeling positive and hopeful and I heartily recommend it.

About Erica James

erica james

With an insatiable appetite for other people’s business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother’s compulsion.

The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer At The Lake and The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.

You can find Erica on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and visit her website.

How To Be A Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan

How to be a grown up

My grateful thanks to Georgina Moore at Headline for a copy of How To Be A Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan in return for an honest review.

How To Be A Grown Up was published by Headline on 6th April 2017 and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

How To Be A Grown Up

How to be a grown up

Have you ever felt lost, anxious, panicky about adulthood?

Have you ever spent a hungover Sunday crying into a bowl of cereal?

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and felt nothing but green-eyed jealousy and evil thoughts?

Award-winning journalist, Grazia agony aunt and real-life big sister to five smart, stylish, stunning twenty-something young women, Daisy Buchanan has been there, done that and got the vajazzle.

In How to be a Grown-Up, she dispenses all the emotional and practical advice you need to negotiate a difficult decade. Covering everything from how to become more successful and confident at work, how to feel pride in yourself without needing validation from others, how to turn rivals into mentors, and how to *really* enjoy spending time on your own, this is a warm, kind, funny voice in the dark saying “Honestly don’t worry, you’re doing your best and you’re amazing!”

My Review of How To Be A Grown Up

A handbook for 20-30 somethings to help steer their way through the digital age.

When I first began reading How To Be A Grown Up I have to confess to thinking ‘Oh good grief. More self-indulgent navel gazing!’ and setting it aside in a grumpy fashion. I didn’t like it at all.

And then I thought about it. I’m not a 20-30 something. In fact I was 56 yesterday! But I have been 20-30 (and I did have a university friend who was, like Rosie, allergic to alcohol). So I picked up the book again and had another go. And I got it! I think it was when Daisy revealed she’d stopped thinking of herself as a child in a grown-up’s world as she developed intergenerational friendships that I realised I had to stop reading How To Be A Grown Up as an adult in a child’s world!

How To Be A Grown Up has a lively and intelligent style that conveys an awful lot of good advice. I think that as I’ve never really had an issue with who I am or what people think of me I didn’t really appreciate just how hard it can be for those who do and what Daisy Buchanan does is provide realistic everyday advice for those struggling. I found the real life comments from others that exemplify her points quite touching at times. Although I appreciate that Daisy is a modern feminist, I would have liked some male views as a balance too so that readers could understand the issues are those of humans and not just women.

The topics covered are varied and relevant from money and mental health to masturbation so that there is something for all readers. The practical ‘Daisy Does This‘ sections dotted throughout give an insight into the author as well as good advice and I think there is real wisdom between these pages. I especially liked Daisy’s letter to herself and the chapter How To Make Mistakes.

So, from initially not liking How To Be A Grown Up, I actually really enjoyed it. Maybe it made me confront my own grown-upness when I didn’t really want to believe I was a grown up at all! I may not have any of the issues dealt with in the book, but reading it made me appreciate the positives I have even more. I think those 20-30 somethings will love it!

About Daisy Buchanan

daisy

Daisy is Grazia UK’s resident agony aunt, starting her column Dear Daisy in October 2015 and sharing her wisdom with Grazia‘s 120,000 readers. She has been writing about twenty-something TV favourite Made in Chelsea for four years, with loyal readers following her from Sabotage Times to the Mirror to Bauer’s big 2014 launch The Debrief, racking up over a million page views along the way. Daisy is a frequent fixture in the Guardian‘s ‘most-read’ section, covering everything from trying out masturbation apps to hiring a tutor. She’s a Telegraph Women columnist, and writes regularly for titles including The Daily Mail, Esquire, Glamour, Look, Marie Claire, Stylist, The Pool and The Sunday Times.

Daisy was named in MHCP’s 30 To Watch list in 2015, she won the title Dating Writer of the Year at the 2015 Dating Awards and won the Lifestyle category at the first Words by Women awards. Her internet dating book Meeting Your Match was published in January 2015, and her first book, The Wickedly Unofficial Guide to Made in Chelsea was published as an eBook in Autumn 2013. She’s a regular broadcast contributor, appearing on The Today Show, Woman’s Hour, Last Word, BBC London, 5 Live Breakfast, London Live and This Morning.

You can follow Daisy on Twitter.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

BLWICS cover (1)

My grateful thanks to Samantha Gale at Harper Impulse for an advanced reader copy of The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is published today, 7th April 2017, and is available for purchase here.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square

BLWICS cover (1)

When Emma’s boyfriend Daniel pops the question with a ring the size of a small country, she suddenly realises just how different they are. She’s the Eastenders to his Made in Chelsea. She wants a low-key wedding with close friends and family in Uncle Colin’s pub, while Daniel’s mother is expecting a society do that their high-brow guests won’t forget!

How on earth can Emma put together a celebration fit for Lords and Ladies on a shoestring budget? Not to mention the fact her cross-dressing Uncle Barbara wants to be a bridesmaid, her best mate Kelly can’t stand Daniel’s best friend Cressida, and her dad is too proud to accept any help from Daniel’s family towards the costs.

There’s three months to go until the big day. Will Emma’s happy-ever-after end in disaster?

My review of The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square

When poverty stricken Emma gets engaged to rich Daniel, the two families are seemingly from different planets, let alone different parts of London.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is such an entertaining read. I don’t often read what might be termed chick-lit, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I thought the underlying message that a marriage isn’t the product of an expensive wedding but it based on love, friends and family was delivered perfectly, without preachiness or sentimentality.

Although the narrative revolves around the preparations for the wedding and Emma’s attempts to present a reception that will fool Daniel’s family into thinking she created it deliberately whilst saving as much money as possible, there are other well presented themes too. I liked the concept that we shouldn’t judge others before we know them properly. Uncle Barbara’s desire to wear dresses, Auntie Rose’s wanderings, Dad’s illness, are just some of the aspects that add depth to make The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square a satisfying read.

Humour comes through the differences between the two families and the direct speech enabled me to hear the different characters beautifully well. Although I didn’t warm to Kelly I understood her unhappiness at feeling supplanted in her best friend’s affections and I felt that Lilly Bartlett has created a cast of true-to-life people I really want to hear more about.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is a feel good read about characters I want to read more about. Great fun.

About Lilly Bartlett

Lily Bartlett

Lilly sprang from the imagination of a romcom author whom you already know and love. Full of the author’s signature humour, Lilly Bartlett’s books are packed with extra-lovable characters, oodles of fun and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.

Can you guess who the real Lilly Bartlett is?

Yes, it’s Michelle Gorman!

About Michele Gorman

michele-photo

Michele writes books with heart and humour, full of best friends, girl power and, of course, love and romance. Call them beach books or summer reads, chick lit or romcom… readers and reviewers call them “feel good”, “relatable” and “thought-provoking”.

She is both a Sunday Times and a USA Today bestselling author, raised in the US and living in London. She is very fond of naps, ice cream and Richard Curtis films but objects to spiders and the word “portion”.

You can find Michele on Instagram and on Facebook . You can follow her on Twitter and visit Michele’s blog and her website.

We’ve Come To Take You Home by Susan Gandar

We've come to take you home

My enormous thanks to Susan Gandar for a copy of We’ve Come to Take You Home in return for an honest review and for waiting almost a year for me to find time to read it! Previously on Linda’s Book Bag Susan told me a little about why she decided to explore difficult themes and concepts in We’ve Come To Take You Home and you can read that post here.

Published by Matador We’ve Come To Take You Home is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

We’ve Come To Take You Home

We've come to take you home

It is April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of these men. A year later, he is still alive, but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.

Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.

As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…

My Review of We’ve Come To Take You Home

Two young women, Jess and Sam, live a century apart and yet are joined in ways they can’t possibly imagine.

Although We’ve Come To Take You Home has been sitting on my TBR pile for about a year, I hadn’t had chance to look at it in detail so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. What I found was a time slip novel that had me entranced throughout. I don’t always enjoy this kind of structure but I found the overlaps, Sam’s hallucinatory visions and the echoes of the past all so well written that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

I really enjoyed the characterisation and although I felt more empathy towards Jess, I thought both women were warm and realistic people whom I cared about.

Susan Gandar has an evocative turn of phrase so that it was easy to visualise the grand house Jess finds herself in, the hospital setting and the horrors of the First World War. I thought history was brought to life highly effectively and vividly so that We’ve Come To Take You Home would definitely appeal to lovers of historical fiction.

However, We’ve Come To Take You Home is so much more than just an historical novel. There are many layers so that there really is something for every reader through the sociological and spiritual elements, the family relationships and our perception of what is true or imagined. I found that not only was I presented with an intriguing plot, but with some challenging concepts that made me question my own views. I’m not especially spiritual but I was very entertained by those aspects in the novel and let’s just say that next time I’m at an airport I shall scrutinise the departure boards very carefully!

We’ve Come To Take You Home is a hugely satisfying read. It made me think, it entertained and educated me and it took me away from the writing I usually read. Ultimately, I found We’ve Come To Take You Home an uplifting read. Great stuff.

About Susan Gandar

Susan Gandar holding book

Susan Gandar is the daughter of John Box, a film production designer who worked on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘A Man For All Seasons’ and the musical ‘Oliver’.  Her house was always filled with people, usually eccentric, always talented, invariably stroppy, discussing stories and a major chunk of her childhood was spent loitering around on film sets.

Susan worked in television as a script editor and story consultant, and was part of the creative team responsible for setting up Casualty. She became known for going after the more ‘difficult’ stories at the same time successfully racking up viewing figures from 7 to 14 million. Susan went on to develop various projects for both the BBC and the independent sector.

You can find out more about Susan on her website, on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.