Top Ten Reads 2016

Here are my top ten books of the past year, chosen from those I gave 5 stars on Goodreads:

 

1. Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

2. I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Review

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

3. The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

Review

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

4. Daisy In Chains by Sharon Bolton

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

5. When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

Review

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

6. Love You Dead by Peter James

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

7. Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinéad Crowley

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

8. Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

9. Made To Be Broken by Rebecca Bradley

Review

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

10. Dancers In The Wind by Anne Coates

Review


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Three Weeks Dead by Rebecca Bradley. Read October 2016.

A prequel to Shallow Waters and Made To Be Broken, but intriguingly it doesn’t focus on the main character of those two books.

“How far would you go if someone took your wife?
Especially if you buried her a week ago.”

When I read the blurb I expected to find the plot too far fetched but the author has the knack of making the characters’ actions believable. The story is fast paced and, being a novella, this is a quick read.

I enjoyed finding out more about Sally and relating it to her actions in the later books. I think Rebecca Bradley has hit on a winning idea by writing a prequel for different characters.

This was a gripping and satisfying read with elements of whodunnit and why. I’d be interested to see what this author can do with a psychological thriller rather than a police procedural.

Thank you to the author for the advance copy e-book to review.

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall. Read October 2016.

This started as a slow burn but then sparks began to fly and I was hooked.

“Don’t. Trust. Anyone. It was supposed to be a fresh start…But can you ever really start again? Or does the past follow you wherever you go…”

The story is set in London but mainly focused on the homes of the main characters and their neighbours. This gives a claustrophobic feel to the action and adds to the tension when Steph’s world starts to crumble around her. The author is skilled at (mis)directing the reader’s attention towards the various other characters involved. I lost count of the number of times I changed my mind about what was going on – a sign of an excellent mystery plot.

Steph is a brilliantly developed character. I found myself veering between compassion for the situation she has found herself in and frustration at some of her actions. Naming no names, for fear of spoilers, there are also some excellent baddies in this book.

Lisa Hall has followed up her fabulous debut, Between You and Me, with another gripping read that I recommend to all psychological thriller fans.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy e-book via Netgalley.

Dancers In The Wind by Anne Coates. Read September 2016.

Challenges preconceptions you never even knew you were nurturing.

“Freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is commissioned by a national newspaper to write an investigative article on the notorious red light district in Kings Cross. There she meets prostitute Princess, and police inspector in the vice squad, Tom Jordan. When Princess later arrives on her doorstep beaten up so badly she is barely recognisable, Hannah has to make some tough decisions and is drawn ever deeper into the world of deceit and violence.”

The main character, Hannah, is an independent woman juggling a writing career with child care and trying to keep afloat financially. She could have done without Princess embroiling her in a web of intrigue and danger. Hannah’s decisions and actions in the face of this drama make for a gripping and thought provoking read.

The story is set in the early 90s and the author evoked the era well. I enjoyed the author’s writing style which brings each character to life. I particularly enjoyed the development of the relationship between Hannah and Princess.

With its strong plot and the way the reader is made to doubt whether characters can be trusted, this book kept me interested throughout. I also think this story would work well as an audio book.

This book will haunt me for a while. It made me think about my own reactions to news stories and the preconceptions that can cloud your opinions.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy e-book via Netgalley.

The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe. Read September 2016.

A masterclass in multiple points of view.

“How do you survive the unthinkable? Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.”

This cast of characters will stay with me for a long time. Each one is realistic and believable – they could be my neighbours or people I went to school with. They’ve been thrown together on this train, into a nightmare situation, and I turned each page with a sense of impending doom. Telling the story from nine points of view must have been a challenge but it works brilliantly.

The book kept me engaged right up to the last page and although “enjoyed” seems the wrong word it was certainly a powerful and gripping read. I admire the author’s skill in moving the story along with realistic dialogue and even humour during some of the most traumatic scenes.

Highly recommended – but expect to be put through the mill emotionally.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy e-book via Netgalley.

The Devil’s Work by Mark Edwards. Read August 2016.

The latest fabulous read from Mark Edwards – the master of making the mundane menacing (my reason for including that description will become clear later).

“It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake…

…As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her.”

This book is more twisty than a very tall spiral staircase. The characters are believable – the main character and her family make the reader think hey, this could happen to me, and that’s what makes the story so scary.

It’s hard to describe the cleverness of the plot without spoilers so I’ll just say there are plenty of opportunities to think you’ve worked out what’s going on, only to be proved wrong over and over again.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Full disclosure: thanks to a competition win (for coming up with the description of the author I’ve repeated in the opening sentence of this review) I have a character named after me in the book. This added to my enjoyment, as did my first ever mention in the Acknowledgements of a book. However I’m sure I would have enjoyed the read just as much without that.

Thank you to the author for the advance copy e-book to review.

I’m I See You by Clare Mackintosh. Read July 2016.

Prepare to sit on the edge of your seat while reading this, and if reading on your commute, well…

“When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a grainy image, a website address and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.
Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .”

So, how do you follow up a debut crime novel that was one of the most talked about books of recent years? One that has just won the Crime Novel of the Year award at the Theakstons Crime Festival. Clare Mackintosh has answered the question with another great thrilling read. Her writing style pulls you into the world of her characters and they won’t let you go until the last full stop on the last page.

The situation Zoe Walker finds herself in is frighteningly plausible – one of those “it could be you” scenarios that add an extra layer of tension. The police officer who takes her under her wing has her own issues that make her a sympathetic character.

What I enjoyed most was the family dynamic with Zoe and her household and how involved I became in their everyday lives, regardless of the creepy plots going on around them. I’ll miss them now I’ve finished the book – surely a sign that the author has created realistic, three-dimensional characters.

I recommend this follow-up to I Let You Go to all fans of psychological thrillers. There’s a fair amount of police procedural in there too.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy e-book via Netgalley.

Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent. Read July 2016.

One of the best books I’ve read in years.

“Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder. However, needs must – because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants …”

The story is told from the viewpoints of three of the main characters. I enjoyed this structure that allows the reader to be in the know while some of the characters are in the dark. The book is fast-paced and yet the character development is exquisite.

A tangled web of deceit follows the characters through the years in a cleverly plotted story. Dark secrets lurk in every chapter making the book impossible to put down. I never wanted it to end.

I sometimes try to suggest other books or authors similar to the one I’m reviewing. Although very different in style the one I was reminded of most was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (possibly because of the grand house at the centre of everything). I say that as a great compliment as its my favourite book.

I recommend Lying In Wait very highly and I’m off to put the author’s previous book, Unravelling Oliver, on my wish list.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy e-book via Netgalley.

Such Fun…

…and they pay me!

It’s over two years now since I shrugged off a suggestion by my old friend Helen that I should try writing.

Six months later I’d sent off my first entry to a writing competition and I was hooked. (Flashbang Contest)

In a frenzy of newly converted enthusiasm I sent off entries to dozens of competitions and journals. Rejections were just challenges to find somewhere else to send the story to. I didn’t keep track of how much I spent in entry fees but I wish I had. It gradually dawned on me that, although I understand that there are admin costs to be covered, some of the competition fees were suspiciously high.

One particular competition started me thinking that maybe I should be a little more selective with my submissions, and more recently I’ve stopped entering competitions with a fee altogether. I simply can’t justify the cost.

On a more positive note, this time last year I started submitting short stories to magazines who actually pay writers for their work. I’ve had a few successes and a lot of rejections. One thing I’ll say for writing stories for the magazines is it teaches you how to deal with rejection. There is huge competition, with the few magazines that still publish fiction receiving hundreds of submissions a week. I almost gave up but, just as I was about to, I had my first story published in The Weekly News (a DC Thomson publication). This was soon followed by a handful of sales to The People’s Friend magazine (again DC Thomson).

Sadly this market doesn’t like my favourite style (creepy) so I’ve learnt how to write for their readers and it’s been fun. I still can’t stop myself clicking when someone shares details of a writing competition, but if the fee is (to me) unreasonably high I leave it alone.

What do other people think about paying to enter a competition? I’d love to see your views in the comments below.

Made To Be Broken by Rebecca Bradley. Read June 2016.

Book 2 in the DI Hannah Robbins series, a gripping follow-up to Shallow Waters.

“A young mother is found dead in her home with no obvious cause of death. As DI Hannah Robbins and her team investigate, it soon becomes clear that the woman is the first in a long line of murders by poison. 
With the body count climbing, and the city of Nottingham in social meltdown, the team finds themselves in a deadly race against a serial killer determined to prove a point.”

Many of the compelling characters from the first book in the series return and we learn more about their lives against the backdrop of a tough investigation. I enjoyed the way the author moves the plot along at a fast pace while still developing believable characters. I found the main character, Hannah, less likeable this time but also more realistic. I think she has huge potential for future books.

The plot was cleverly constructed and I thought the use of flashback chapters was done well. The reader is in the know while the investigators are in the dark – a format that can sometimes disappoint but worked well here.

The author’s writing style contributes to a satisfying read. Her experience of police work is obvious and gives a feel of authenticity to all aspects of the investigation. It makes a nice change not to be shouting “That wouldn’t happen!” while reading a police procedural.

I enjoyed the read and would recommend this book to all crime fiction fans. However if you haven’t read Shallow Waters first you’ll be missing out on a lot of back story.

Thank you to the author for the advance copy e-book to review.