Blog Tour: Trap by Lilja Sigurdardottir

From the PR: “Happily settled in Florida, Sonja believes she’s finally escaped the trap set by unscrupulous drug lords. But when her son Tomas is taken, she’s back to square one … and Iceland.

Her lover, Agla, is awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct after the banking crash, and Sonja refuses to see her. And that’s not all … Agla owes money to some extremely powerful men, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

With her former nemesis, customs officer Bragi, on her side, Sonja puts her own plan into motion, to bring down the drug barons and her scheming ex-husband, and get Tomas back safely. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Sonja finds herself caught in the centre of a trap that will put all of their lives at risk…

Set in a Reykjavík still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Trap is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.”

OK: once again I’m at the point of wondering how the hell to review a book without giving away any spoilers. I’ll start at the beginning – the beginning of the trilogy of which Trap is the second part, that is. Last year’s Snare was a thoroughly clever thriller that managed to mix a fiendishly complex web of subplots with a real  emotional punch thanks to a cast of characters that made you question the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Trap takes everything that was great about Snare – which was plenty – and ratchets it up a level… or five.

While Snare was definitely a compelling read, it was very much a laying of foundations and, as such, reading it is kind of a perquisite for fully understanding Trap as it’s here that everything really kicks off and in the second installment in Lilja Sigurdardottir’s Reykjavik Noir Trilogy it’s on from the word go and doesn’t let up until the last page. Hugely compelling and addictive (I spent many a late night glue to this one), Trap does not pull any punches and blends the tenderness of its characters’ emotional motivations with the brutal reality of the world of drug smuggling to staggering affect. Throw in the white-collar crimes and corruption of the Icelandic financial crash and you’ve got a real page-turner on your hands that delivers on all levels.

Lilja Sigurdardottir has a real talent and manages to weave some fantastically complex plots together without losing any of the momentum and populates them with characters so well written as to generate a genuine emotional investment in them from the reader – especially, of course, when it comes to Sonja and Tomas. Which was an odd one for me as for the vast majority of Snare I found it hard to develop any sympathy for her given her actions. Again I’m really trying not to give anything away but  as the plot of this trilogy deepens and increasing levels of deception and back stabbing are revealed along with the reality of other characters’ actions and just how much of a, pardon the pun, trap Sonja was lead into,  it’s impossible not to get hooked and caught up in the web of lies and emotional manipulation. And as for Bragi and his motivations… well, it’s a need to read.

Trap is a powerful follow-up to Snare and I’m really looking forward to the final chapter of the trilogy.  My thanks as always to Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

Blog Tour: House of Spines by Michael J Malone

From the PR: “Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he
discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up.

Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman…

A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…”

So, here we are with the latest novel from Michael J Malone and, I’ll be honest, after getting into House of Spines I did have to double check that this is the same Michael J Malone who wrote last year’s A Suitable Lie for Malone – as one glance at the man’s ‘cv’ will attest – is a very talented chameleonic writer clearly with “over 200 published poems, two poetry collections, six novels, countless articles and one work of non-fiction” to his name.

Whereas A Suitable Lie was something of a domestic-noir thriller with a twist on spousal abuse, House of Spines is very much a psychological thriller with heavy horror overtones and mystery that brings to mind the likes of Rebecca. Its setting in an old, practically empty and isolated manor really upping the opportunity to give Ran and the reader a real sense of the willies with the jarring jolts between Ran’s seclusion in the house and visits back to the modern world in the local village lending a further sense of disconnect between the ‘real world’ and the events back at Newtown Hall.

It’s a brilliantly conceived and well played mystery by Malone too, so thoroughly absorbing that’s impossible not to get caught up in and it’s impossible to express how so without given away a tiny bit of the plot so I’m gonna have to say that the next paragraph contains a SPOILER ALERT.

They say that if you’re only exposed to one narrative for so long you’ll eventually try and find ways to identify with it and find a sort of kinship (a sort of literary Stockholm perhaps) and this is true of House of Spines and Ranald. You get completely caught up in his viewpoint (even though it’s not told first-person) and, thus, in his struggles between distinguishing reality from fantasy and feeling completely in the dark on so many key points. For in the same way that his cousin has lead him a merry dance and played on Ran’s mental state so, too, is the reader left uncertain as to what is reality and what is the effect of Ran’s own mental state with so many puzzle pieces kept from view or merely hinted at with other characters holding on to key facts or leaving me exasperatingly frustrated at their seeming vow of silence on them. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to take a character and shake em by the lapels and scream “just sodding well tell him what the hell you know!”

I didn’t seen the final reveal coming, any of them for this is a mystery of many facets, and that’s always a good thing and the final sentence – in true horror style, managed to give me a chill. But then there’s so much going on for such a relatively novel it’s a wonder that it does all get resolved. From Ran’s own parental background, Newtown Hall and his Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick’s history to the current cousin-related concerns and it’s to Malone’s credit that the novel never feels over-stretched and these story lines are not only given all the space and to breath and come to fruition but are so ably wrapped up within the novel’s pages without feeling in the least bit rushed.

House of Spines is a cracking read that combines a real mystery with a genuinely touching and emotionally affecting story that, at times, makes you really feel for Ranald (and others without wanting to give anything else away) and one that I thoroughly recommend.

My thanks again to Orenda Books for my copy and inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

 

 

 

Blog Tour: Wolves In The Dark by Gunnar Staalesen

From the PR: “Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge.

When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.”

Right now I don’t think there is a writer whose new novels I look forward to as much as Gunnar Staalesen. And I’ll probably say this every year with every new novel; Wolves In The Dark is the best Varg yet! It’s just so fucking good I never wanted it to end.

I cannot recommend the Varg Veum series enough, Staalesen is the sitting King of Nordic Noir and this, the 21st (!) in the series puts Bergen’s finest into his most challenging and dangerous case to date.

Woken up by the police knocking on his door, Veum is shocked to find himself arrested and lead out to a waiting police car for the worst crime imaginable; possessing, sharing and even creating child pornography “of the must repugnant kind.” Having spent a number of the almost-four years previous lost in grief and his alcoholic coping method following the events of We Shall Inherit The Wind, Varg begins slowly pulling together threads of memory and seemingly random cases he’d worked on in the ‘fog’ of those years to try and work out just who might have sufficient a grudge (and ability) to put him in the frame – turns out it’s a pretty long list. When a chance presents itself Veum escapes from the police and sets about investigating for himself.

I read a news story not so long ago about a man whose life was completely ruined after a mistake (an error in one police force’s writing down an IP address) led to him being arrested under child pornography charges and placed on the sex offender’s list. A devastating account of a life turned upside down – his job was lost, he was traumatised, his relationships and family suffered – all because of an error. Turns out there’s a few of these. It seemed stranger than fiction and fascinating – where would you even begin, how could you hope to fight such a case?

I’d like to believe I’d be incensed and able to fight enough to clear my name. But then what about the impact on your life, on your person? To know that so many people – including, in some cases, those near and dear believe you capable of such horrors? Will people ever look at you the same? And these are innocent people. Rendered criminal and untrustworthy, monstrous even, by a mistake.

In Varg’s case it’s not a mistake – the material is on his computer but who put it there? Who has deliberately thrown him to the wolves to be shredded in public? The more he investigates the more he uncovers, the more he shakes the tree the more potential enemies fall out each baring him ill and each with the ability to implicated him via his computer.

The chase, as Varg tears through Bergen as both hunter and prey (to his increasing list of enemies as well as the police) is the most thrilling and gripping in pace as I’ve read from Staalesen; Veum is very much against the clock and working within strict confines of both geography and tool set as he has to evade detection. In previous Staaleson novels I’ve loved the almost leisurely, calm and confident manner in which Veum slowly and methodically pieces together his cases – like a Zen master who knows his craft. Here, though, as much as he knows his craft the shattered state of his memory almost leaves him clutching at straws with thoughts and fragments coming back out of the ether and it’s an absolute joy to read as Veum is forced to work as frantically as possible against the odds.

But what about the human element? The effect of being accused of such horrendous and unspeakable crimes? Well, I’ve said this before and I’ll save it again: Staalesen is the master. He paints an intelligent, detailed and thoroughly convincing portrait of a man on the edge, plagued and sickened (physically) by both the accusation and the crimes themselves (let’s not forget Varg was a Social Services man before a PI) and torn at the prospect people believe him capable of such inhuman crimes.

The underworld of Norway never fails to prove a complex and riveting backdrop in Nordic Noir and Staalesen spins a delightfully well plotted story that delivers a hugely satisfying read as all the strands come together toward a denouement that left this reader gobsmacked.

Again: I cannot recommend Staalesen enough and even though it’s only June, Wolves In The Dark may well be the best book I read this year.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy, do check out the other stops on the blogtour and get your hands on a copy of Wolves In The Dark.

 

2016 Between Covers

Here we are once again amongst the closing days of another year. This is certainly one year I’ll be glad to see the back off. I won’t go off-topic here or cross that line into putting too much of the personal up here but I will say 2016 was an utter bloody farce of a year.

However, as the days before the fat man with a beard drops down the chimney diminish, it’s also that time to share what I think were the best things I read during 2016.

Once again – save for a few weeks where I simply couldn’t read / take anything in – I read a lot this year – some amazing fiction new and old and plenty of fascinating non-fiction. There are some I’ve started but not finished (I do aim to finish Life and Fate in 2017) and some that still sit on the To Be Read pile.

This list, then, is my take on the best written word I consumed during 2016 and is in no particular order with the obvious exception…

Fiction

IMG_7211Jihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Torpov

One of the first books I read this year and one that’s stayed with me throughout. Echoes of great writers can be found throughout but it’s truly marked by the unique voice of Yusuf Toropov who here has written an important novel of our time. In my review I said that  its a rare thing to find “a book that is so unarguably great that you find yourself telling everyone they should read it regardless of their usual choice of paperback writer. Jihadi; A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov is just such a book.” I stand by that.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon

A spy thriller set at the very start of the Cold War, as divisions and sides are drawn in a country still beset by the scars of war and trying to rebuild itself amongst the rubble. As much as I was fascinated by the historical element the plot equally gripped my attention and has sent me off down another path of reading with a couple of Cold War thrillers already en route to my letter box. Original review.

For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

For completely personal reasons this book would already make the top ten. It was purchased while spending ten hours waiting for a plane at Gatwick airport ahead of a family holiday where it was hungrily consumed. I’d been searching for Sebastian’s work in English and this, published this year, did not dissapoint. Beautifully written and deeplu insightful and evokative. The knowledge of the tragedies that lay in store for Mihail Sebastian only make it all the more poignant. Original review.

imageIn Her Wake by Amada Jennings

This book absolutely broke my heart. This book was so far from what I was expecting and so gripping that I honestly can’t see how it wouldn’t make this list. If everything you knew about yourself turned out to be a lie, that your whole life was built around a crime so devestating that lives have been ruined, what would you do? In Her Wake, is a real story of hope and courage. And, yes, the final revelation about Bella still guts me many months down the road.

Notes on a Cuff by Mikhail Bulgakov

Finding this book last year, and finally reading it in this, was such a joyous experience. I thought I’d read all that was available so to discover the stories in Notes on a Cuff was like stumbling upon gold dust. These stories, written in the early 1920s, show a real master finding his voice and revelling in the art and joy of writing. There are elements here that he’d perfect later in his career but it’s amazing to see just how brilliantly formed his work already was.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

On each occasion (and it’s always an ‘occasion’) that a Franzen book is published I can’t help but think it won’t be as good as his previous novel. On each occasion I’m proven wrong. Easily his most accessible and equally amongst his finest work.

The Bickford Fuse by Andrey Kurkov

I’ve written before on just how much I love Kurkov’s work. Something of a cross between Bulgakov and a Ukranian Vonnegut, he weaves near-absurdist, satirical novels of the highest calibre. The Bickford Fuse from what I can tell, is an earlier book than any he’s yet published and was written in the final days of communism. A look at ‘Soviet Man’ told through a series of somewhat connected stories and characters that, while clearly written by the same author, is completely unique amongst his work printed thus far. Ambitious, multi-layered and hugely rewarding to read.

IMG_9197Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen Favourite Fiction of 2016.

I read this in circumstances almost as perfect as possible yet I’m sure that had I read it in the middle of a cesspit as I sank down to the bottom I would have loved it just as much. Hugely gripping, deeply evokative and written without a spare word, Gunnar Staalesen is like the samauri of Nordic Noir – every masterful, well-practiced and skilful word strikes home hard. Staalesen is the master of his craft and it’s a big credit to the translation that there’s never any question of this when translated into English from the native Norwegian. Original review.

Non-Fiction

A book about the intelligence war was never not going to be my cup of coffee and when you factor in that it’s written by Max Hastings, The Secret War couldn’t get much better. Some real shockers in here and written in such a way as to ensure it never gets dull. It’s strange as it never caught my attention in school (more down to the education system at the time) but the Second World War has become the subject I’ve probably delved into most in terms of personal education. While I always enjoy a personal account – my interest being how normal people find themselves in extraordinary circumstance that I can’t comprehend rather than the ‘guns and glory’ stuff – the intelligence and spy / espionage war really fascinates me and this book is packed with detail.

In theory that should mean this would be the best NF book I picked up in a year but, then, this was the year that Bruce Springsteen published his autobiography.

Born To Run is the memoir every Bruce fan could have hoped for. He could’ve phoned it in. He could have gotten a ghost-writer to assisst and turn it into pristine prose. He didn’t. A deeply personal book, there’s more insight here than any such auto-bio I’ve read and all told in Bruce’s own voice. Revelations, inspiration and the salvation of music is all in here like one of his greatest songs. Original review.

 

Honourable Mentions…

The Dark Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson is one of the most compelling and rewarding additions to the thriller genre and this year’s Black Out and Night Blind were both excellent – but impossible to choose a favourite.

I delved deeper into the Jack Reacher series this year with a good five books under my belt including the new (in paperback) Make Me which was a real strong contender and shake up of the character.

Yann Martell’s books are always going to suffer in comparisons to his famous book with the tiger but The High Mountains of Portugal was a good effort, if a little wayward at times, with a beautiful, heartbreaking evocation of absolute grief.

Epithany Jones by Michael Grothaus and The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto really should be on this list too…

Book Review: The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech

“A book is missing.

A black gap parts the row of paperbacks, like a breath between thoughts.”

love that opening.

Last year saw publication of Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave on Orenda Books. A thoroughly moving book that made my reads of the year list. What impressed me most was how its writer was unafraid to tackle emotional areas from which others might blanch while combining such insightful writing with a compelling story. She’s done it again.

I was more than happy and eager to read The Mountain In My Shoe when it was so kindly sent to me by Karen at Orenda. Life and this year being the utter shit that it has been, though, means I couldn’t do so straight away. My stop on the blogtour for this one was kindly populated by the author herself with a piece on adversity that’s well worth a read, here.

Now, though, I’ve not long turned the final page on this one and it’s time to get down my thoughts and I’ll try to do so without giving away too much. If I can…

From The PR: “A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself …

the-mountain-in-my-shoe-copy-275x423On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”

I seem to recall Louise Beech saying that in The Mountain In My Shoe she’d ‘accidentally’ written a thriller. If this is an accident then I’d be first in line to see what happens were she to set out to do so. I was thoroughly gripped and found myself turning through the pages with a speed that ought to have worried the binding. Contained within is a book that encompasses psychological thriller, emotional drama and gripping mystery.

As with How To Be Brave, there’s more than one voice telling a story in The Mountain In My Shoe: Bernadette, an abused housewife on the verge of leaving her controlling husband; Connor, a young boy who’s spent his life in the care system and The Book – Connor’s ‘life book’. The Life Book is Connor’s story updated by those that care for him – foster parents, social workers, teachers. I found this exceptionally moving – having just rediscovered my young son’s ‘My Story’ type book after moving and realising that, for Connor (and so many like him) life can deal some pretty harsh cards. A masterful touch from Mrs Beech.

The changing narratives and perspectives add a great depth to the story and each are handled convincingly and ring true. The Book is especially moving, upping the empathy for Connor and the suspense. It makes for painful reading at times but I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again; woe betide the author that goes for comfortable.

How To Be Brave and The Mountain In My Shoe are very different books and while there’s a few similarities (a diary and lifebook as narrative devices), there’s one undeniable thing they have in common; Louise Beech writes with an emotional honesty and bravery that elevates her work from the crowd. She writes in a way that just manages to cut to the core – especially as a parent – every single time. Brilliant.

Worth the wait, very highly recommended and thanks again to Karen at Orenda for another great book. Seriously, though, Karen; every time I think I’ve got my ‘Top Reads of the Year’ list sorted I open another book with the Orenda logo on its spine.

 

Deadly Harvest

Last month I found myself engrossed in an article about an albino who was forced to flee his home in Cameroon because his albinism made him a target – a target for those who believe they have special powers. It means that across Africa, in countries like Cameroon, Tanzania, Malawi and others, Albinos are killed and mutilated for the parts of their body. It’s an eye-opening article, not least because, from my sheltered seat and lifestyle, I found it so shocking to believe that, in other parts of the world, people still genuinely believe in the power of the Witch Doctors and that people run the risk of being abducted and killed for muti.

IMG_9187Then Karen at Orenda Books sent me a new novel to read- Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley. Set in Botwsana, it tackles just that subject.

A young girl on her way home gets into a car with a mysterious man – she’s never seen again. Months later Samantha Khama – a new recruit to Botwsana’s Criminal Investigation Department – picks up the ‘cold case’, suspecting the girl was killed for muti. Then another girl disappears in similar circumstances. Witness, her devastated father, is just getting over the loss of his wife and the loss of his daughter, too, proves too much and pushes him down a dark path in search for revenge – it’s a path that leads him to accidentally and unknowingly blowing open a much larger case which brings corruption, politics and the plight of AIDS into the novel’s scope . When the investigation gets personal, Samantha enlists opera-loving wine connoisseur Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu to help her dig into the past. As they begin to discover a pattern to the disappearances, there is another victim – an albino man – and Kubu and Samantha are thrust into a harrowing race to uncover the true identity of the man behind the killings and bring the murders to an end.

Don’t let me mislead – I’m eager to point out here that muti in itself is not such an evil thing. It, more often than not, is nothing more than traditional herbal medicines (and, occasionally, the odd animal product) which is likely no more offensive than something you might pick up in Holland & Barrett (perhaps even less so). Sometimes though, it does get darker and can contain human elements. That darkness runs through Deadly Harvest like a potent undercurrent. Botswana is a modern country yet here amongst those living their daily lives are many who are still in thrall to Witch Doctors, the old ways and superstition – serving as a shackle as the country tries to progress and issuing a genuine, palpable threat to so many. Without repeating myself, it’s hard to conceive of such a world from the sheltered seat of the reader yet Deadly Harvest does a great job of bringing that terror, that monster in the dark, to life. Make sure your door is locked before reading this one at night.

It is a fantastic book. That it’s rooted in a disturbing reality makes it all the more powerful and important. Events unfold at a relatively leisurely pace but are interspersed with moments of palpable tension and a sense of foreboding as the Witch Doctor tightens his grip on those in his thrall as the police begin closing in. There’s plenty of humour in here too and events in Kubu’s own family life make for a great read.

I like Detective Kubu (not just because there’s usually a pack of cookies in my desk too, which reminds me….) – he’s a genuinely warm character with a stable, loving family life that’s almost an oddity in the world of crime novels. It’s nice to see a character who is fighting a battle with his waist line rather than one with alcohol / self-destructive habits and makes him an immediately more relatable character and one I very look forward to reading more of. In fact, all characters in Deadly Harvest are well written and convincing, many of which have back stories and character arcs that you know are going to make for intriguing stories as the Detective Kubu series continues (Deadly Harvest is the fourth and the fifth – A Death In The Family – is due soon).

The writer, Michael Stanley is, in fact, the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both Sears and Trollip were born in South Africa and on a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. I’ve read books set in many a location but never one set in Botswana. It meant that this was one of those books that sent me off to that search engine beginning with G to discover more – always a good thing. Messrs Sears and Trollip write of Botswana with an authority that places the reader firmly in the location. They do a great job of weaving in genuine social concerns both in terms of the country’s political climate, the divide between wealthy and poor and the growing threat of AIDS and its devastating impact on families. The writers have a clear gift both for story-telling and hooking a reader – I was asking myself throughout as to just how the killer had lured the girls into his car so easily and the final reveal left me going back through wondering how I’d missed those clues that Kubu had put together. A genuinely intriguing and rewarding read.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for continuing to send me such high-quality novels and inviting me to be a part of this blog tour for Deadly Harvest. Do get a hold of the book if my review has any sway and check out the other stops below:

Deadly Harvest Blog tour

 

In Her Wake

imageHeads-up; the tiniest whiff of a spoiler may be contained in the following.

Who are you? What is it that makes you you? Is it something pre-programmed by genetics or are those things that make you ‘you’ environmental; nature vs nurture? What if the person you thought you were, those experiences that shaped you, turned out to be a lie? Would you still be ‘you’?

The question is one that sits at the heart of Amanda Jennings’ fantastic In Her Wake as Bella discovers that everything she thought she was is a lie…

We join Bella as she’s heading home to her mother’s funeral with her husband, David. It’s clear from the off that Bella’s childhood hasn’t been simple – with “memories of bolted doors and claustrophobic loneliness”- and that her marriage is pretty far from ideal too. Her brief interactions with her father, Henry, are short and stilted and end with his asking for forgiveness – there’s a real sense of something ominous lurking beneath the surface from the off.

When Bella finds Henry dead one morning in his study, having slit his wrists the night before, his guilt-ridden suicide note finishes with what has to be the most pedestrian manner of delivering something earth-shattering; “Elaine and I are not your real parents. We didn’t adopt you and we didn’t foster you. Your real mother is a woman named Alice Tremayne.”

I admit this bomb of a revelation spun me around – In Her Wake very quickly became a different book to what I was expecting and held me in its thrall as Bella, determined after being essentially a prisoner to one controlling influence or another all her life to find out what she’s missed out on, seeks out in search of her real life.

Reality, though, has a frustrating way of being a little out of sync with expectations and what awaits Bella is somewhat removed from the idyllic reunion she hopes for. Instead she has to come to terms with the dark reality of what having a child abducted can do to a family and her mother, who’s depression at her loss sent her into a catatonic state requiring 24/7 care from Bella’s older sister – all the while struggling to put together the dreamed-of vs reality and the identity struggle between who she thought she was, the person she could have been, actually is and wants to become.

In Her Wake is a beautifully written book. With a real sense of warmth and genuine twists and turns of plot. Utterly compelling from first page until last it is a truly original story.

Cornwall is painted with suitably loving and almost poetic prose and serves as a mirror for the positivity and light Bella feels toward her new life vs her old. Indeed when the two do clash it’s against thebackdrop of a storm.

The characters all ring true and are given a good sense of dimension and Bella is a compelling and convincing voice for the first-person narrative.

Of course, first-person narrative has it’s limitations when it comes to delivering a fully rounded take on a story. So Amanda Jennings peppers the narrative with diary-like entries chronicling just how Henry and Elaine came to take the path they took. It gives these characters a greater fleshing-out and, while not justifying or condoning, offers some form of explanation as to how two people can become so adrift as to abduct a child. I’d argue that it’s more effective than it would have been had such details been discovered first-person as it allows the reader to form their own take without that characters’ filter. It also means the reader has a greater sense of empathy for Bella, knowing just how traumatic a start she had in life and truly pulls you in, giving greater emotional resonance when viewing third-person, almost bearing silent witness to some truly shocking events – it’s so compelling and emotionally gripping that you can’t help but remain transfixed and desperate for more – more details, more understanding and more truth with each piece of the puzzle drawing a gasp as it’s revealed, especially when it comes to the final reveal about Bella.

And here’s the thing; with that final revelation about Bella, In Her Wake broke my heart. Absolutely laid waste to it. I had to stop reading for a day or so. I haven’t read something so emotionally powerful and affecting in some time. The last time I think I’ve been hit quite so hard was possibly by Juame Cabré’s Confessions.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for all the heartbreak it is, at its heart, a genuinely wonderful story of hope. No matter how dark the past the future can still be a bright and welcoming place.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading  In Her Wake and am very grateful to Karen at Orenda for my copy and inviting me to take part in the blog tour. If I was in the habit of dropping stars against reviews there’d be five right here. Do, of course, please check out the other stops on the tour.

In Her Wake Blog tour