Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey – A Review

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 3rd May 2018

Imagine the nightmare of having your teenage daughter go missing for 4 days. But what happens if she is returned safe and sound and yet the nightmare continues?

Jen and her daughter Lana are taking a drawing holiday in the Derbyshire Dales to try and work on their fractured relationship and Lana’s depression and self-harm issues. It is during this holiday that Lana mysteriously goes missing for 4 whole days only to turn up again in a farmers field, cold, wet and disheveled and unwilling or unable to talk about where she had been or what has happened to her.

Jen tries desperately to piece together the evens of the four missing days but is met with answers of ‘I got lost’ and ‘I can’t remember’ from Lana. Hugh, Jen’s husband seems to be satisfied and happy that his daughter has made it back alive when the story could have been so different but Jen is convinced that something strange is going on and can’t let go of wanting to unravel the mystery and find out what her daughter has been through.

Why has Lana suddenly started talking in a different voice? Why can her mumbled whispering be heard when she’s alone? Why does she quietly follow Jen around the house? Why does she insist on sleeping with the light on all night and why is there suddenly a cat appearing in the house?

Jen takes it upon herself to try to figure her daughters behaviour out. The press are speculating over various theories. Was Lana part of a human sacrifice gone wrong? Was she one of the children who can apparently be shown the gateway to hell to see what it is like down there? Was it alien abduction? Satanic cults? Jen just wants her daughter back and will try anything to achieve this.

This is a story of family bonds, hope, teenage identity, depression and loneliness. I really enjoyed this story and raced through it within just a couple of sittings. The pacing is perfect, with a mix of short snappy chapters and longer more detailed ones. The tension which builds beautifully had me gripped. I just needed to know what had happened to Lana and could sympathise with Jen’s frustration at being shut out.

Whilst I did enjoy the writing and the whole reading experience, I have to say that the end felt slightly rushed and fell a little bit flat for me. That said it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

If you enjoyed Elizabeth Is Missing also by Emma Healey then you really should give this one a go too.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

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Little Big Man by Katy Regan – A Review

Publisher: Pan Macmillan/Mantle

Publication Date: 19th April 2018

Firstly thank you to Pan Macmillan and Katie James for the advanced proof copy of this book.

Little Big Man tells the story of 10 year old Zac, a sweet boy living with his single parent mum Juliet on a housing estate in Grimsby. Zac’s father up and left him when he was just a few weeks old and very little has been said about him since, in fact Zac has always been told that his father Liam left before he was even born and never actually laid eyes on him. Juliet struggles to cope on her own, bringing Zac up and tentatively trying to avoid any questions he may have surrounding his father leaving.

Zac knows that his grandparents have no respect for Liam his father and is left wondering why. Zac is determined to bring his father back into his life and possibly make his Mum happy after she drunkenly one night after a disasterous date let’s it slip that Liam is the only man she’s ever loved.

However linked into their story are secrets from the past. Juliet’s brother Jamie tragically died around the time Liam left town and through the perspective of Mick, Juliet’s father and Zac’s grandfather we learn about the events leading up to and surrounding this tragedy.

Zac also has the daily struggles of school life to cope with.  A victim of bullying due to his weight, he only really has one close friend Teagan, who lives on the housing estate near him and who he enlists to help him with his mission to find his dad.

Firstly, the characters in this book are extremely relatable and authentic.  Juliet is ultimately a mother who clearly loves her child with all her heart and is doing her utmost to protect him.  She too struggles with her weight and her relationship with her parents due to the events of the past surrounding the death of her brother and the links with Liam.  I enjoyed the fact that she isn’t perfect and has her flaws like most parents do.

The relationships in this book are very true to life, perfectly pitched and totally relatable and believable. The pacing is also perfect, little drops of the past embedded in the present day story, which is something I always enjoy. I love seeing how events from the past shape people and families and this family has ultimately been changed beyond recognition.

I have to say that I don’t always enjoy reading stories from a child’s perspective but Zac’s voice is so genuine and engaging that I adored his chapters. He is such a delightful little boy, brimming with love and humour, and despite there being many heartbreaking moments Zac’s is such a refreshing voice to read.

Of course there are themes of loss, grief, hidden family secrets and loneliness in this book but ultimately there are even stronger threads of love, be that familial love, romantic love or friendship.

This is a massively uplifting, heartwarming, life affirming tale that I urge everyone to read.

I’m glad I had the chance to read and review it.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin – A Review

Publisher: Penguin, Michael James

Publication Date: 19th April 2018

When Grace’s sister Rachel disappears one day on her way to babysit some local children, life is never the same again. Whisked off her bike never to be seen again.

The assumption is she has become a victim of a suspected serial kidnapper and murderer, documentary photographer Carl Louis Feldman. Feldman is now in a kind of halfway house for old felons and may or may not have dementia.

Grace has spent years preparing herself and training to confront the man she believes killed her sister and she wants answers. Although Feldman was tried but not convicted of the murder of another missing girl, Grace is convinced he knows more than he is letting on and hatches a plan to take him on a road trip across Texas, bringing him into contact with various places and buildings to jog his memory about his assumed crimes.

Her precise and detailed plan has been constructed to ultimately allow her to find out once and for all what happened to her sister all those years ago and finally bring some answers and peace to Graces restless life.

Grace believes that Carl’s photographs of nameless girls, published in his book hold the key to the mysteries of the various disappearances. Armed with these images, supplies, a stash of cash and a gun, she poses as Carl’s daughter and takes him away on her mission.

But is Grace putting her own life in danger? Confining herself to rental trucks and motel rooms with a potential serial killer?

I devoured this book in 24 hours. Gripped right from the get go, and swept along by a quick paced action packed storyline.

The story is told throughout from Graces’s perspective. Starting from the beginning of the road trip with the finer detail being fleshed out as the trip progresses. Interspersed with chapters relating back to her childhood and the years both before and after Rachels disappearance, I enjoyed the drip feeding of the backstory.

There is a creeping insidiousness to Carl and Grace’s relationship. A tension that builds perfectly and which left my shoulders somewhere up around my ears!

There is almost a sense of claustrophobia, especially when Grace and Carl are in the rental truck together or in the adjoining hotel rooms, which Grace always insists on keeping firmly locked.

Both characters were perfectly formed. Grace, determined, strong, bloody minded and tenacious. Carl, sharp and incisive with moments of confusion and vulnerability. I felt they were both expertly written and I became fully engaged with both of them.

Short, powerful chapters mean that you seem to fly through this book and what is also a lovely touch is the black and white photographs that appear throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing read and thought the ending was perfectly written. I can see this being made into a film, but that’s just my opinion!

A solid 5 star read for me.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the chance to review this stunning book.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Weaning by Hannah Vincent – A Review

This book has BLOWN. ME. AWAY.

I’m writing this review having only recently closed the pages on it and my heart is still thumping. I devoured it in one two hour sitting and when I was done I wanted to stop everyone I saw and tell them that my heart was broken.

Man alive! I can’t rave about this book enough! I’ll try to get some semblance of sense down for you.

Here goes.

Bobbi is a childminder who quite literally lives for the children she comes into contact with. Making deep connections and putting her entire self into their care. Making sure they are cared for, loved, fed and safe. She takes a job with an upper class couple to look after their baby Marcel.

Simultaneously Bobbi also volunteers as a childminder for vulnerable young parents who are struggling with parenthood. Her own children Lily and John are no longer babies and she finds herself drawn to the babies and toddlers in her care.

Some of Bobbi’s behaviour is odd, slightly off. There is definitely something amiss and this sense of ill ease is expertly interwoven into the story. It is oh so very difficult to review this book without giving too much away. We see Bobbi form relationships with Rob and Nicki, the couple who’s child she looks after and also Kim who’s baby Jade she looks after.

He doesn’t have the strength yet to roll onto his front, so I push his little body, showing him how it will feel when he can do it for himself. I roll him over and then back again, and then, because I like the weight of him against my hand; the resistance of his little body as it tips from one position to another, I do it again and again until he complains.

Bobbi also starts a relationship with her neighbour whom she dubs the Silver Fox or Foxy. Their relationship is not an easy one, with Bobbi a closed book, distant and somewhat reticent.

The sense of trepidation and apprehension surrounding Bobbi is perfectly paced. It builds up to a startling revelation around 92 pages in which actually gave me goosebumps. I had to put the book down and take a breath.

The writing is so visceral (I hate that word but it IS). I felt swept along, caught up in the sense of something not being quite right. Desperate to find out what had happened. Wanting to see how life for Bobbi was going to unravel….because you know it just will.

At 159 pages this is not a long book but for me it was a little powerhouse of emotion. Now I’m usually an ice queen but I felt myself welling up several times. Not in a shmaltzy emotional way but more like someone had reached into my chest and ripped my heart out. *wow Mand, dramatic much?!*

There’s a lot to be said for a book that doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. In fact I think I prefer those kinds of stories. Ones that leave you wanting more. Dropping you like a stone and closing the door in your face.

I just write. I write and I am written. I am not a non-person and I am not an outline of a person, but this is a ghost story and I am the ghost….

This book is more than just an expertly crafted story, it’s more like an actual experience. It will stick with me for ever such a long time and it goes without saying that I will be shouting from the rooftops about it.

Without doubt a full on 5 star read for me. Can’t wait to read more of Hannah Vincent’s work. Also kudos to Salt who have published some of my most favourite books to date. You always know you’re in safe hands with them.

See you soon (when my heart is less broken)

Bookish Chat xxx

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill – A Review

Publisher: Riverun

I’d read and enjoyed Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours and have heard good things about Asking For It (which I now have a copy of incidentally, a cracking charity shop find) so when I heard she was bringing out a new novel aimed at an adult audience I knew I had to get involved with that, I’m not much of a YA reader but made an exception for Only Ever Yours and I’m glad I did.

Almost Love tells the story of Sarah, an art teacher in her twenties living in Dublin. She lives with her boyfriend Oisin in his parents property. His mum is a well regarded artist who Sarah looks up to and admires despite feeling slightly intimidated by her.

Sarah and Oisin’s relationship appears to be very strained. Sarah is evidently unhappy and is in turn making Oisin miserable. Sarah has lots of emotional baggage left over from a very difficult relationship that she had with a parent of one of her pupils.

Matthew is a very influential and affluent man with his own property business. Initially Sarah keeps him at arms length but soon succumbs to his charms. However Matthew is not as invested in Sarah as she is in him and as her obsession with him continues to spiral he becomes more and more distant and ambivalent about their so called relationship which is mainly conducted behind the closed door of room 63 in a local hotel at times that are convenient for him.

As Sarah falls deeper in love with Matthew, she is increasingly accepting of his distant behaviour, waiting for days for even a text message from him. Going along with the unsatisfying, rough, emotionless sex just to keep him happy.

Her close friendships begin to suffer and particularly her relationship with her father. Ever willing to push friends aside and drop plans just to rush to Matthew when he deigns to call.

Sarah finds any opportunity she can to talk to her friends about Matthew. They can all clearly see how badly he is treating her, more or less just using her as toy whenever the urge takes him, but they cannot make Sarah see sense.

This was quite a difficult read at times. We see how independent and switched on Sarah was before Matthew. She’s ultimately a flawed character but I like that. She’s not the typical girl next door being put upon character. I did however wan to shake her and wake her up to how she was being treated and what she was losing as a consequence. Mainly her relationships but also losing sight of who she was herself.

Interesting aswell to see how early relationships and the baggage you carry from them can infiltrate future relationships and cause them to deteriorate.

Quite an eye opening read, I enjoyed the fact that the chapters based in the past were told in the first person so we could really get a sense of how Sarah was feeling during her relationship with Matthew. Chapters set in the current day were told in the third person and I enjoyed this differentiation.

Its heartbreaking to see how Sarah over analyses her behaviour. Tearing herself apart for how she has behaved.

I should have turned him down the first time he asked me out.

I should have known not to get involved with a parent.

I should have kept things professional

I should have refused to give him my number.

I should have waited longer before texting him back.

I should never have gone to meet him in that hotel.

I should have insisted that he take me for dinner first.

I should have waited until the first date to have sex with him.

I should have been more reluctant.

I should have sent shorter texts.

I should have made him chase me.

I should have been more honest.

I should have been less honest.

I should have been more like Florence.

I should have dyed my hair blonde.

I should have waited for him to text first.

I should have been less needy.

I should have been better.

This book is a solid 4 stars from me. A contemporary ‘almost’ love story that takes you on a journey with Sarah whether you want to go or not.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xx