A vicious assault. A devastating accusation. Who should she trust, her husband or her best friend?
It was supposed to be the perfect reunion: six university friends together again after twenty years. Host Ali finally has the life she always wanted, a career she can be proud of and a wonderful family with her college boyfriend, now husband. But that night her best friend makes an accusation so shocking that nothing will ever be the same again.
When Karen staggers in from the garden, bleeding and traumatised, she claims that she has been assaulted—by Ali’s husband, Mike. Ali must make a split-second decision: who should she believe? Her horrified husband, or her best friend? With Mike offering a very different version of events, Ali knows one of them is lying—but which? And why?
When the ensuing chaos forces her to re-examine the golden era the group shared at university, Ali realises there are darker memories too. Memories that have lain dormant for decades. Memories someone would kill to protect.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I am familiar with Claire McGowan’s books having read a few from her Paula Maguire series. This is a stand-alone novel and she has proved that she can do both perfectly well.
When the six ex Oxford University friends had a reunion years after their graduation none of them had any idea that things would go so tragically wrong. The way each of them handled it revealed how their friendship wasn’t as strong or genuine as they thought.
Most of it is modern day and concerns Ali, wife of the charged man and ‘best friend’ of the victim. She was a character who baffled and annoyed me the more I read. Her obsession with image, her snobbery and especially her noticing that her daughter Cassie had chipped nail varnish on her toes when she had a lot more to think about.
But there are flashbacks to 1993, when they finished university and differing accounts of what happened on the night of the dinner. In each of these more dubious aspects of each character is revealed.
Cassie, her brother Benji and Jake, Karen’s son, were the only characters I really liked. They were the only ones who could see how tragic the events of the night and the few days after were and they were not thinking about the consequences for themselves.
This is a great novel that made me question everything I was reading. I missed a lot, I suspected the wrong people and I seethed occasionally at the elitist attitudes. It is probably one of the most character driven novels that I have read recently.
It’s been seven years since Holly Kennedy’s husband died – six since she read his final letter, urging Holly to find the courage to forge a new life.
She’s proud of all the ways in which she has grown and evolved. But when a group inspired by Gerry’s letters, calling themselves the PS, I Love You Club, approaches Holly asking for help, she finds herself drawn back into a world that she worked so hard to leave behind.
Reluctantly, Holly begins a relationship with the club, even as their friendship threatens to destroy the peace she believes she has achieved. As each of these people calls upon Holly to help them leave something meaningful behind for their loved ones, Holly will embark on a remarkable journey – one that will challenge her to ask whether embracing the future means betraying the past, and what it means to love someone forever…
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I was hesitant about reading this book at first, I hadn’t read PS, I Love You but I was assured that it worked well as a standalone. I’m glad I took the chance, it is a while since I read a book that made me feel so emotionally drained but also enchanted by the characters.
I was prepared to be upset, you would have to have a heart of stone not to get upset at least once when reading this book. Holly’s memories of Gerry were special, but apart from one scene didn’t affect me so much. It was the group of people who Holly decided to help, against advice from friends, family and new partner Gabriel. One of them more than any other, I won’t say who. Everybody who reads will have a character who they have more empathy for.
But there were also moments that made me laugh. Her family, especially her brother Richard and her friends, I laughed every time Mathew appeared.
A truly inspiring novel which showed an unusual way of bringing comfort in a tragic situation. That even doing the smallest thing could make a difference.
Autumn 1943. Realising that his feelings for his sweetheart are not reciprocated, Major John Overton accepts a posting behind enemy lines in Nazi-Occupied Albania. Arriving to find the situation in disarray, he attempts to overcome geographical challenges and political intrigues to set up a new camp in the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.
As he struggles to complete his mission amidst a chaotic backdrop, Overton is left to ruminate on loyalty, comradeship and his own future.
Based on Anthony Quayle s own wartime experience with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), this new edition of a 1945 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the fascinating true events that inspired its author.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Eight Hours From England was originally published in 1945 and has been republished by The Imperial War Museum to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the onset of WW2. It differs to other books that I have read that are set during the war, the characters who feature don’t see any fighting with regards to the war but they do see the unsettlement and grievances between the Albanians. Something that still has repercussions now.
Anthony Quayle was not an actor I was aware of. I have seen reviews that mention the reader being unaware of his role during the war. I searched for him on the internet and was unsurprised to find that he was reticent about his experience. Whilst he wasn’t on the front line it was obvious that his character Overton was deeply affected by what he witnessed.
I did find some of the political unrest confusing, no fault of the author, just with my complete lack of knowledge about how the war affected this part of Europe. What did hit home in a discussion between Overton and a village leader was that both the Allied and German armies were demanding help from the local people, putting their own lives at risk, but would forget all about their troubles after the war.
Humbling, an overwhelming sense of loneliness and brutally honest.
A secret buried for two thousand years. The rise of an ancient evil. An invisible killer who will stop at nothing.
When a brutal serial killer defies all known methods, the police call in prolific lawyer and former homicide detective, Charlie Priest, to assist the hunt.
Tangled in a dark world of fanaticism, chaos and deadly secrets, Priest comes up against a nemesis more formidable and deranged than any he has previously encountered.
Working together they soon discover a link to a lost scripture that contains a secret so devastating that its custodians are prepared to die to keep it.
There is no Judgement Day. There is something far worse.
The defamation of the snake
Of all the members of the animal kingdom, the snake is a PR disaster.
Cast as the antagonist is just about every book and film you care to mention – from Disney’s Robin Hood to Anaconda – snakes are the bad guys. Deceptive, treacherous, devious and cunning, our fear of the snake has been drilled into us from a young age.
But while pop culture has done its best to defame this humble and (generally) calm and non-aggressive creature, the most egregious libel is embroidered in the pages of the Book of Genesis, wherein the snake is depicted as one of the greatest villains of all time.
The story is as notorious as it is ludicrous. God creates Adam and Eve and places them in the Garden of Eden. There, the first humans are told that they can eat anything they want, except the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.
Keen to shake things up a little, a serpent tempts Eve into eating some of the fruit and sharing it with Adam. God is displeased with this and banishes the transgressors from Eden in perpetuity and, at the same time, catastrophically damages the snakes’ reputation beyond repair.
Nonetheless, let it not be said that the Bible treats the snake with complete disdain. For one thing, it’s the only animal that is attributed with the anthropomorphic power of speech (admittedly, there’s a talking donkey in chapter 22 of Numbers but it only mutters a few Delphic words – let’s ignore that for now).
Then there’s the brazen serpent: the bronze snake on a pole erected by Moses in order to protect the Israelites from – oh, wait – snakebites.
But it hasn’t always been like this. In ancient cultures – from the Sumerians to the Egyptians to the Tibetans – snakes were worshipped as deities. They symbolised fertility, procreation, wisdom, death, and resurrection.
And rightly so. The snake casting its skin is a form of rebirth and many ancient people associated the snake with healing. Snakes were often used in healing rituals in ancient Greece in honour of Asclepius, the mortal brutally murdered by Zeus for very nearly discovering the secret of immortality by observing snakes.
For this reason, the modern symbol of medicine – the rod of Asclepius – comprises a serpent entwined around a pole or staff. It remains the symbol of the British Medical Association to this day.
There’s a great deal of speculation about who the snake in the Garden of Eden actually was. Perhaps it was Lilith, the female demon who is said to steal babies in the night and the possible origin of the word ‘lullaby’ – the songs sung by nervous mothers to protect their children from her evil clutches.
Perhaps the snake was Samyaza, the leader of the Watchers – a band of rebellious angels who fell from grace to fornicate with human women thereby producing a race of hybrid offspring known as the Nephilim.
Perhaps the snake was Satan himself.
Whoever the Eden snake was supposed to be, its species deserves an apology. History has treated it poorly, and it’s about time we recognised that.
Emma woke in the early hours of the morning with a pounding head and a pain in her left side she didn’t recall falling asleep with. She must have gone to bed and left the skylight shutter open because the room was bathed in moonlight. She lay still for a moment with her eyes open. It was oppressively hot; she couldn’t hear the air-conditioning unit, although she was sure she had set it to automatic yesterday. Perhaps it was the heat that had roused her.
Her dressing gown was slung over a chair in the corner. It was a dull blue colour with an ugly design of roses weaving their way around each other up both sides, their heads finishing gracelessly below the breast. A present from Harry last year. She hated it. She had been with Harry for two years now–a new record–but, at thirty-three, she regarded herself as too old to call Harry her boyfriend and too uninterested to call him her partner.She was terrified that he was going to propose soon, although thankfully his work meant he was abroad a lot.
Emma closed her eyes. The pain in her side subsided – she must have just slept awkwardly. She should turn on the air- conditioning but she knew as soon as she got out of bed she wouldn’t go back to sleep. She turned over. The full moon shimmered through the skylight. In the morning, she would ditch Harry by text and burn that fucking dressing gown.
There was a noise. Her eyes shot open. A definite thud, from downstairs. She held her breath for a moment. Had she imagined it?
There it was again. Like a heavy object falling off the shelf and hitting the floor.
Emma was used to living alone; she had been doing it since she was sixteen. Harry rarely stayed for more than a few nights at a time before gallivanting off to the next conference. Everyone else was kept at a distance. Did she mind? Not really. She liked living alone; never having to compromise or accommodate other people’s little habits and rituals. But she didn’t like noises in the night.
Thud. This time louder.
Emma felt her heart rate quicken. The sheets were clammy, the heat suddenly unbearable. What the hell was that noise? Her apartment had two bedrooms on a mezzanine floor overlooking the living room. Her room had its own balcony. Downstairs, there was a separate kitchen, along with a bathroom and study. The noise could only be coming from inside her apartment.
She cursed under her breath. She was wide awake now. Was someone. . .? No, she couldn’t bring herself to complete the thought. It was ridiculous. She was alone, as always. Nobody could get into the apartment block without a key, let alone her flat. She closed her eyes. If she heard the noise again she would get up and investigate; if not, then she could put it down to the boiler playing up. Moments passed. A longer interval than before. Her head began to spin.
Emma threw back the covers and stood up, swaying naked in the room for a minute. She felt dizzy and nauseous. Her chest fluttered with unease. She pulled the dressing gown around her and stopped to try and clear her head. What if someone was in the apartment? What if there was a gang of men carrying her electrical goods away right now? Wouldn’t it be better to stay up here?
She threw the thought from her mind and stared over the glass railing. The living room had taken on the same ghostly feel as the moonlit bedroom. She couldn’t see anything out of place, but there it was again.Thud.
The staircase arched around one side of the cavernous space below. Emma descended slowly. The wall leading down was plastered with Emma’s award-winning work. The photographs were varied, a mixture of black and white, sepia and colour: a regiment of elephants wading knee-high in water in front of the Savannah’s setting sun; children no older than ten crowded around a UN convoy, braying excitedly at the arrival of a tank; a woman wailing at the foot of a crumbled ruin, pawing at her blood-stained clothes. Emma had an eye for capturing the soul of human suffering through a lens. The thought steeled her resolve.She had lived in war zones; she wasn’t going to be scared in her own damn house.
Nonetheless, when it came again, the thud still made her jump and she hurried down the stairs.
Everything was still in the living room so she opened the double doors into the kitchen underneath the bedrooms. She fiddled with a cluster of switches near the door; everything was instantly illuminated with splashes of mellow blue light from the LEDs peppering the ceiling. She was met with an array of sleek appliances built into a black range that dominated the far wall behind an island of gleaming white units. There was no noise, except the gentle hum of the giant American-style fridge. Green digits glowed like cat’s eyes from all sides. Everything was spotless.
She left the light on and checked the bathroom, which was as she had left it. Same with the study. She took one last look at the living room. The walls were high on one side, spanning both floors: white-washed brick adorned with abstract artwork. It was sparsely furnished with odd shaped chairs. A hammock was slung between two iron pegs in the corner. The main feature was three enormous black-framed arched windows to Emma’s left. At twenty-five storeys up, it seemed as though most of London was laid out like a blanket below her.
There was nothing wrong, nothing out of place and nobody here but her. Emma felt her body relax, her breathing slow. Her disquiet was replaced with annoyance; precious sleep had been lost.
She turned all the lights off and went back upstairs. Removed the dressing gown and threw it in the corner of the room. It didn’t even deserve a place on the chair. She slumped back into bed, half pulling the cover over her naked body.
Emma closed her eyes.
She started to write the text message to Harry in her mind.
But she didn’t get very far.
She realised, far too late, that the thud had been intended to lure her downstairs ,giving whoever it was in the room with her now the chance to sneak in and hide. Emma tried to scream, but a pair of strong hands were already wrapping around her mouth. She felt the weight of a man straddling her, crushing down on her chest. His knees pinned the tops of her arms. She tried to kick, thrash around, but he was too strong.
The last thing she remembered seeing was the moon through the skylight, igniting the cloudless sky with pale light. Then a strange sensation of floating as her assailant took a hammer and, with one life ending strike, drove an eight-inch galvanised nail into her skull.
She doesn’t trust the police. She used to be one of them.
Hardened by ten years on the murder squad, DNA analyst Doctor Sian Love has seen it all. So when she finds human remains in the basement of her new home, she knows the drill.
Except this time it’s different. This time, it’s personal…
A page-turning cold case investigation, Dead Flowers is an intriguing, multi-layered story perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and British crime dramas like Line of Duty and Unforgotten.
Shortlisted for the UEA Crime Fiction Award 2019
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I always enjoy a dual time frame novel and Dead Flowers is one of the best I have read for a long time. It takes place in the same pub in Nottingham during the present day and in the early 1970s. What happens at the beginning in the present day links the two. But it isn’t as straight forward as I imagined and I changed my mind constantly about what was happening.
The time spent in each period is briefer than many dual time frame novels and it worked very well, I didn’t have to wait long to find out what happened next. This became more important to me the more I read, as the danger levels increased for both Sian and the women connected to her past.
Sian has issues. Ex police, in a relationship with Kris a serving police officer, but she has been in an abusive relationship and struggles to relax. She knows that her former colleagues are corrupt but is scared of who they know. She has a fractured relationship with her family who she doesn’t always communicate with in the best way.
I found this novel fascinating. It’s a long time since I changed my mind constantly about what I thought was happening and how it could affect Sian. I liked the chapter headings that concerned the 1970s, song titles from the time that fitted the storyline of a band that wanted to be bigger than The Beatles. I also enjoyed seeing the police officers in a bad light. Whilst this is a crime novel and a police investigation is taking place and forensics are mentioned it primarily concerns the emotional impact on Sian and those close to her.
I will definitely be reading more by this author again.