Duplicity by Sibel Hodge

30848589There are three sides to every story: Yours. Mine. And the truth…

Max and Alissa have a fairy tale life—newlywed, madly in love and enviously rich. Then Max is brutally stabbed to death at their home and Alissa, miraculously, escapes with her life. But why was she spared?

The hunt for the killer begins, uncovering a number of leads—was Max’s incredible wealth the motive? Had his shady business practices finally caught up with him? Or was it a stalker with a dangerous obsession?

Devoted friends rally around gentle, sweet Alissa as she is left to mourn the loss of her husband and pick up her life. But not everyone is who they seem…Deep-rooted jealousies, secrets and twisted love lie just beneath the surface, and not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

Towards the end of last year I read some really positive reviews of Duplicity that meant I couldn’t resist picking a copy up.  I wasn’t disappointed – sometimes the case when you have high hopes for a book – as this was as good a read as others had promised.

It starts with the police being called to a homicide. The victim, Max, is a man who seems to have everything including money and the love of a beautiful young wife.  Married only weeks, Alissa is devastated by the death of her husband but also considered lucky – she escaped with her life.  Of course, it won’t be much of a life without Max and so it seems understandable to everyone around her when she withdraws from them, moving out of her family home and not returning phone calls.

Only one person isn’t convinced and that’s the Detective, DS Carter, who is investigating the case.  His gut instinct is that something is wrong.  Only he’s not sure what and he can’t get anyone else to believe him – especially not his boss, DI Wilmott, newly promoted and out to make name for himself.  Wilmott is also more than a little besotted with Alissa and convinced of her innocence. Like a dog with a bone, though, Carter can’t let go.

As a reader, you are left uncertain for the first third of the book whether Carter is right or just misguided by his intense disliking of his new boss and misjudging the situation as a result of too many sleepless nights – his wife has recently died of cancer and he feels very much alone.  You know something is going on because the killer is telling their story alongside Carter’s in alternating chapters.  But as you have no idea who the killer is you can’t really see how Carter can blame it on Alissa, other than his belief that she is too good to be true.

Plus, through his investigations, there seems to be plenty of other likely candidates – Alissa’s ex-boyfriend, Max’s best friend who might be in love with Alissa too, the best friends sister who was definitely in love with Max, and the residents of a development built by Max on the site of an old asbestos factory who are now unable to sell the homes which are making them ill (Max it seems wasn’t quite as perfect as people thought).

The second third brings a great twist to the story that leaves you in no doubt who the killer is and it isn’t something I saw coming, which is always the sign of a good story.  I won’t share it (spoilers) but will say it set a different tone for the rest of the book.  Knowing who the murderer was and wondering if they would get away with what seems like might be the perfect crime kept me turning the pages.

As in many of this genre, you have to suspend belief a little with the twist but I have to say I was o.k. with that because it was done so well.  In the hands of a less skilled writer, it might have all gotten a bit silly Sibel Hodge does a brilliant job and making it all seem real and reasonable.  I totally bought into what happened next.

It helps that Hodge also paints some great characters.  I especially liked Carter.  He was wounded and knew it but is unsure where to take his life.  He felt very human.  And he’s a good cop, though not one that plays by the rules.  He believes in right and wrong and seems to be a nice person, one you would want on your side. There is nothing better than finding yourself rooting for a character and wanting to get to know them more.

And, for a way to end 2016, there was nothing better than this book.  It was a clever plot, well written, and full of twists and turns.  I really, really, enjoyed it and will be reading more of Sibel Hodge – who I’ve not read before – going forward.

Enjoy!

Emma

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Net Galley
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: 27th December, 2016
Pages: 308
Format: eBook (Kindle)

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. 

 

Witness by Caroline Mitchell

30637470To Rebecca it was a brave decision that led to her freedom from domestic abuse. To Solomon it was the ultimate betrayal.

It’s been ten years since Rebecca’s testimony saw Solomon locked away. Enough time for the nightmares to recede, the nerves to relax; enough time to rebuild her life and put the past behind her.

Then one day a phone rings in her bedroom—but it’s not her phone. Solomon has been in her home, and has a very simple message for her: for each of the ten years he has spent in jail, Rebecca must witness a crime. And, to make matters worse, she has to choose the victims.

Fail to respond and you get hurt. Talk to police and you die. Ready to play? You have sixty seconds to decide…

As the crimes grow more severe, the victims closer to home, Rebecca is forced to confront a past she had hoped was gone forever.

After reading some really good reviews for Caroline Mitchell’s last book I couldn’t resit picking up a review copy of her latest novel, due to be released next week.

Witness starts with a bang – a dark room, a terrified woman, and a dead man lying on the floor – and it doesn’t really stop until the final pages, where Solomon (who has just spent ten years in prison for murdering said man) tries to exact his final revenge on Rebecca (his one time fiancé and one time terrified woman).

It’s a clever story, a twist on the domestic thriller, with Solomon determined to make Rebecca (or Becky as she is now known) pay for putting him in prison.  His approach is ingenious.  She will be a witness again, but this time, a silent one to increasingly violent crimes inflicted on people she knows and cares about.  Determined to keep her family safe, and unware of her past, Becky goes along with his demands, convinced she can find a way out.

However, as the crimes continue and escalate that way out seems harder to find and Becky, who is still fragile despite the new life she has built for herself, gets drawn in and becomes increasingly erratic in her behaviour.  As she does, Solomon, who seems omnipotent and always one step ahead, becomes more vindictive.  Page by page the tension increased to the inevitable confrontation.

I found myself turning the pages at a pace, needing to know what happened next.  I also wanted to know how Becky would find a way out and just how far she would go.  Which is where I have to say I had a slight problem with the book.  I know Becky wanted to save her family but as the crimes become more vicious I also wanted her be a human being and maybe do more to save the victims.  It meant that I wasn’t sure I liked her…and I wasn’t sure at times if maybe she and Solomon didn’t deserve each other.

What saved her in my eyes was her diary entries, which gave an insight into her life with Solomon and the abuse she suffered and which interspersed chapters told by Rebecca (in the fist person) and describing Solomon’s actions (in the third person).  It made her future actions make sense.  It also made me really dislike Solomon.  It was a good way to tell their story then and now and develop them as characters.  A couple of secrets revealed during the diary were really good ones and I didn’t see them coming.

Unfortunately, I did guess the ending – the final twist in the tale – though not till the last third.  I always hate it when that happens as I feel I am reading just to prove myself right. However, here it meant my opinion on the characters changed again and left me feeling a little more ambiguous about both Becky and Solomon as a result.

It also changed my opinion of the book.  Till then, I’d probably say I liked it.  It was well written and, like I said, a clever idea in a genre I read a lot (and can be hard to be original in I think).  Because of the way I felt at the end, however, I’m ending by saying I liked it a lot – a recommended read.

Enjoy!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

Tuesday intro: Witness

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading Witness by Caroline Mitchell, who I’ve never read but hear so many good things about.  It’s my favourite theme – murder – so I have high hopes.  Here’s what it’s about…

30637470To Rebecca it was a brave decision that led to her freedom from domestic abuse. To Solomon it was the ultimate betrayal.

It’s been ten years since Rebecca’s testimony saw Solomon locked away. Enough time for the nightmares to recede, the nerves to relax; enough time to rebuild her life and put the past behind her.

Then one day a phone rings in her bedroom—but it’s not her phone. Solomon has been in her home, and has a very simple message for her: for each of the ten years he has spent in jail, Rebecca must witness a crime. And, to make matters worse, she has to choose the victims.

Fail to respond and you get hurt. Talk to police and you die. Ready to play? You have sixty seconds to decide…

As the crimes grow more severe, the victims closer to home, Rebecca is forced to confront a past she had hoped was gone forever.

And here’s how it starts (a bit of a longer one this week)…

PROLOGUE

12th September 2007

‘Stay away from me,’ I cried, shielding my face with a bloodied hand as the beam of a torch found me. A strong female voice responded, lowering the streak of light to the floor.
‘It’s the police. You’re safe now.’ The officer spoke in a Jamaican accent. The late September night was making her sweat in her fluorescent jacket, her eyes wide as she took in the scene.
‘Where’s the light switch?’ a male officer said, his flash lamp strobing through the darkness of my home. I blinked against the sudden glare as the light flicked on overhead. My Tiffany lamp lay smashed on its side, and had plunged us into blackness. The police woman was still speaking to me, but her words were muffled, as if she were talking underwater. My head spun. I was drowning in confusion. It wasn’t until her fingers dug into my shoulder I could distinguish her words.
‘Why don’t you come over here and let the paramedics do their job?’
Paramedics…It felt like forever since I had made the call.  I cradled Jake’s head in my lap, the tips of my fingers making blood-stained patterns on his greying skin. Glassy-eyed, he stared unblinking at the ceiling.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

30426898Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

One of the things I love about Jodi Picoult is that she doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial or difficult subjects and Small Great Things is no exception, looking at race – and race relations – in modern day America.  Not only is it potentially controversial but, with what has happened recently with the rise of populism and anti-immigrant stances in America and Europe and movements like black lives matter, it seems very timely.

It is a book I was looking forward to reading and expected to be challenging, which it was, holding up a mirror that it wasn’t always comfortable to look in.  To do this, tough, I did feel that Picoult moved away slightly from one of the other reasons I enjoy reading her books, her lack of judgement of her characters.  Here, I felt they were definitely being judged.  I think I would have preferred it if I was left to make some of the leaps in thinking myself; instead I did feel a little beaten over the head with them.  I didn’t feel this straight away but, as the book went on, I felt that I was being led down on particular path.

The story that led me there, though, was a good one and kept me reading (especially because I am always fascinated by US court room drama).  It is told in three parts and by three people, all of whom see things very differently almost right till the end.  First, there is the time just after the birth of the little boy when Ruth is told she cannot care for him because she is African American through to and immediately after his death.  Then the time leading up to the trial, with Ruth in shock over what is happening and her life quickly falls apart.  Then there is the trial itself, where secrets are revealed and things are turned on their heads.

The storytellers are Ruth, Turk (the father) and Kennedy (the lawyer).  Both Turk and Kennedy are white, though they have very different views on race – or do they?  Picoult attempts to show that everyone is biased through the relationship with Kennedy and Ruth, it just isn’t always so obvious.  There is a point in the book Picoult makes about equality and equity and how the latter is just as, if not more, important and she does a good job of showing this in the burgeoning relationship, which is a minefield of misunderstandings that are sometimes painful to read.

I did feel for all the characters as they wrestled with their thoughts and feelings, even Turk, who is not as straightforward as he first appeared.  They were detailed and complex and willing to change, no matter how hard that was.  It is the characters that saved this book for me and stopped me feeling too lectured at.  That said, I am not sure how you approach this subject without some  level of lecturing in order to get the message across and in less skilled hands than Picoult I think it would have been even harder still.  I just think for me, it meant the difference between loving the book and liking it a lot.

Enjoy!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies

imageIn a remote Australian settlement a young wife with an untellable secret reluctantly invites her neighbour into her home. A Quaker spinster offers companionship to a condemned man in a Colorado jail. In the ice and snows of Siberia an office employee from Birmingham witnesses a scene that will change her life. At a jubilee celebration in a northern English town a middle-aged alderman opens his heart to Queen Victoria. A teenage daughter leaves home in search of adventure. High in the Cumbrian fells a woman seeks help from her father’s enemy.

Whilst I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I have to say that they are mine.  A good short story is, for me, also an incredibly clever piece of writing.  It’s hard to get across an idea, an image, and character in a few pages and I admire anyone who can do it.

Carys Davies fall into this category with The Redemption of Galen Pike which took me all over the world in just over 130 pages and introduced me to some very interesting people. Each person I encountered was unique and well drawn with their own voices.   They were people I fell in love with or found myself loathing, with stories that drew me in and, in one case, broke my heart just a little.  This was The Taking of Bunny Clay, the story of a woman who leaves her home to earn money for her children by raising someone else’s.

The Creed and The Quiet weren’t far behind in tugging my heart strings looking at domestic abuse, misunderstandings, bereavement and loneliness.   All were highly emotional and highly evocative with their descriptions of people and place, though each of these was very different (going from the Australian outbreak to the Welsh valleys).

Others were equally as vivid in my minds eye, such as Precious, though not as rooted in the real world. These I found harder to engage with, though more because of my personal reading preferences than the quality of writing.  The same is true of a few that I felt were just too short, like Wicked Fairy; I just didn’t have enough time to connect to the characters, though I appreciated – again – the quality of the writing and the imagery.

Of the 17 stories there were probably four that didn’t click with me, that didn’t touch me in some way.  That doesn’t seem like a bad “hit rate” in the grand scheme of things.  Add to that the fact it’s been a week almost since I finished the book and some, like Bonnet (which features an imaginary Charlotte Bronte) and The Coat (which looks at enduring and unconditional love against all odds and society’s “evil eye”), have stayed with me as clear as day and I don’t think you can go wrong.

Which leaves me liking this book a lot – a recommended read.

Enjoy!

Emma

Monthly round-up: October 2016

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, time moves too quickly the older I get.  Where did October go and how is November already here?  On a plus note, it does mean all the leaves have changed and the ones outside my house are giving me a gorgeous display of reds, yellows and oranges.  It might not last long but it’s so pretty whilst it does.  Anyway, I digress, here is my round-up of my October reads – the good, great and wish I hadn’t bothered abouts…

Loved it

Dark Water by Robert Bryndza, the third in the Erika Foster crime series that just keeps getting better and better. This one looks at a cold case, a missing girl who is found decades after she went missing with no trace.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, this may well up being one of my books of the year (not that it came out this year, just based on when I read it).  So many twists and turns I didn’t see coming.  I couldn’t put it down.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie, another book that is up there as a book of the year, this looks at friendship, family and society through the eyes of one small neighbourhood.  Another I couldn’t put down.

Liked it a Lot

Stalker on the Fens by Joy Ellis, the fifth in the Nikki Galena series, though only the second I’ve read.  Nikki is a great character and a great detective leading her team and trying to protect her best friend from a potentially deadly stalker.

Himself by Jess Kidd, a murder mystery with a supernatural twist set in a small Irish village where everyone has secrets, some of them deadly.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one and didn’t think I’d like it quite as much as I did.  Jess Kidd is someone to watch – a great debut.

Pop Goes The Weasel by M. J. Arlidge, the second in a crime series I am way behind on but determined to catch up with.  This one features Helen Grace, a troubled but determined detective you can’t help but like on the trail of a serial killer you end up having some sympathy for.

The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill, a ghost story perfect for the season and read as part of a Halloween readathon.  It’s got plenty of bumps in the night – just what I want in a ghost story – and no gore, also a plus for me as I’ve gotten more squeamish as I’ve gotten older.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs, the third and last of the Miss Peregrine trilogy this was a fitting end to a great series of young adult books with everything tied up nicely and everyone living happily ever after (well the good guys at least!).

Liked it

The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly, about a woman who can’t seem to make good choices, the worst of which is sleeping with a married man for money.  You know no good can come of it – and it doesn’t.

Call for the Dead by John le Carré, the first book featuring George Smiley, this was a cracking spy novel – not something I normally read – and didn’t feel dated at all despite being written in the 60s.

Not for Me

23510407

A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson, my second foray into true crime and nowhere near as successful as my first.  This one focuses on the Lord Lucan murder – or should I say doesn’t focus as for me it wandered too far from the main subject matter too often and I lost interest.  A shame.

And that’s it’s for me for October.  All in all a very good month with some great books. How was your reading month? Anything I should put on the list?

Emma

What’s in a name?

So you may have already noticed, but just in case you haven’t I thought I would let oh know I’ve changed my name…well, my blog name. After much humming and hawing I decided to give self-hosting a go. I have been wanting to do more with my blog for a little while and thought this might be the push I needed.

It was also an opportunity to do something else I had wanted to do for a while, change the name of my blog. I had chosen Once Upon a Littlefield because I had thought I would write about more than books – or book related things – but that hasn’t been the case. I have always wished I’d for something more reading related. And so that’s what I’ve finally done…now I just have to remember where to post to!

Emma

Stalker on the Fens by Joy Ellis

32702332DETECTIVE NIKKI GALENA’S FRIEND THINKS SHE HAS A DEADLY STALKER

DI Nikki Galena’s friend Helen Brook is involved in a serious accident where she is trapped in a collapsed cellar. After her hard-won recovery, Helen is still getting flashbacks to a man she says was down there with her and who confessed to a murder. But no trace of this man can be found.

Then Helen tells Nikki that someone is watching her. But is all this in her friend’s imagination and part of her post-traumatic stress?

And why is Stephen Cox back in town? He’s the villain who tore Nikki’s life apart and he seems to have returned for revenge.

Before long the whole town is on the verge of hysteria and her friend’s fear will lead Nikki and Joseph on a very dangerous trail.

I am a late arrival in the Nikki Galena series, only discovering them recently thanks to Netgalley.  My first introduction, Killer on the Fens, was book four and I really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait when I saw this next instalment to get stuck in.  I am pleased to say that all the reasons I enjoyed the first book are still here.

Nikki is an interesting character, a more thoughtful and less spontaneous detective than you find in other crime fiction with a female lead, and more into team work.  I liked this about her and her positive relationship with the other detectives, especially Joseph – who is also her best friend and neighbour.  Although I don’t know all their back story, it seems like they have been through a lot together and they have a strong, trusting, relationship.

Joseph is pretty solid too, as are the rest of the team, working to discover just who is stalking Helen and why.  It seems linked to the accident a year before but is that a red herring?  Is something else going on in Helen’s life – or that of her partner who never seems to be around when she needs him – that is actually putting her life in danger.  It really is hard to tell as you read it just where the story will lead.

Which brings me to the next reason I liked the book, nothing is as it seems and there are twists I didn’t see coming and that turn the story on it’s head about a third of the way through (and which I won’t share with you because of spoilers).  A similar thing happened in Killer on the Fens and as a reader I like this – it stops me getting complacent and also, despite the subject smile because I have been slightly “got”.

The only downside here is that, unlike the last book I read – which could have been a standalone – I did feel I was missing something here because of the Stephen Cox angle.  He’s obviously done something to Nikki and Joseph in the past but I don’t know what it is and, whilst he doesn’t appear prominently, he is there – in the background – and I didn’t know quite why.  I am not sure if he was needed as the central story was strong enough on it’s own and his being there distracted me somewhat from the main story.

That’s the downside of joining a series four books in though and my own fault in a way – I should have gone back to the beginning after reading Killer on the Fens.  But I didn’t so I will now have to live with the niggling questions in the back of my mind until I get to them.  That said, though, it wouldn’t stop me reading more books and it definitely wouldn’t stop me recommending this one.

Joy Ellis is a good writer.  Her characters are strong and the location adds to the tension – the fens are a dark, brooding, lonely place the way she writes them and not somewhere I would want to be with a stalker out to get me.  It all leads to me liking this one a lot.  Well worth a read!

Emma

note: I received a copy of this book from netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feeling and opinions are my own.

Books I never seem to be able to finish…

As an avid reader, I am also a fairly avid did-not-finisher (I know, not a real word but it’s the best I could come up with).  It’s one of the reasons I love the library – the lack of guilt if I start a book then don’t finish it because it’s not for me.  Occasionally though I do feel guilt.  There are books I want to read.  I just can’t, for whatever reason.

Doing a bit of a tidy up of my TBR recently, I pondered on some of these and if they should still be on there or if I should just give up the ghost.  Five in particular stood out as having been started, stopped, started and stopped more times that I can count.  In no particular order they are…

clicking on the cover will take you to a good reads synopsis

12360601Possession by A. S. Byatt

I feel I should read it because everyone who reads it says it’s brilliant, including my boss who has read it I don’t know how many times (a lot!) and raves about it constantly, saying she discovered something new every time.

I end up putting it down because I can’t get past the first few chapters.  There is a story within a story that confuses me and poetry I find myself skipping through.   I don’t like the characters and can’t get away with the language which I find way too flowery and fancy.  Plus it’s a love story, which I don’t normally read.

437135Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I feel I should read it because I have never read any Dickens (bar a Christmas Carol) and this is supposed to be one of the best.  Plus I remember watching it on TV and enjoying it.  I know it’s a great, complex, plot and also darkly funny so it should be a hit for me.

I end up putting it down because it seems to be taking so long to read.  The language takes time to understand and absorb and whilst in other classics this isn’t a problem with Dickens I find I end up losing interest.  I put it down only to have forgotten enough of the plot by the next time I pick it up to find I’m starting it again.  And so the cycle continues.

imageThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

I feel I should read it because from the bit I have read (actually more than a bit, I made it through 2/3rds this last time) I know it is beautifully written and it’s a story that fascinates me.  The early chapters draw me in straight away and convince me this is a book I will love.  Then something goes wrong.

I end up putting it down because there are times when it just drags.  The beautifully written paragraphs go on a long time and if I don’t have that same amount of time to dedicate to them I put it down for another day.  Do I get bored?  Possibly, a little.

18343181The Death of a President by William Manchester

I feel I should read this because, to the best of my knowledge, it was the first book written about the Kennedy assassination and Manchester was given access to all the key figures involved in a way that hasn’t happened since.

I end up putting it down because it’s incredibly detailed and they are details I can’t keep in my head (too many code names, locations, historical facts).  Of all the books I’ve tried to read and retried to read, this has been on the list the longest.  I have an original addition – “stolen” from an uncle when I was 13 and it’s been on my bookshelf ever since.

12703 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I feel I should read this because I’m convinced I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t – especially when I see the shock on people’s faces when I tell them – and because I want to “get it” when people talk about Heathcliff.

I end up putting it down because I just don’t get it.  I find it hard to stay interested even beyond the first chapter and just don’t see what the fuss is about.  I have been told it’s because I didn’t read it as an impressionable teen and that I just have to keep at it.  I wonder, though, if any book you have to keep at is worth reading?

And I suppose that’s the question with all of these – should I still be bothering?  Is there really a need to read any book just because you think you should or someone else tells you you should?  Should I just say no more to picking them up and spend my time on something more productive instead (heck, filing my nails would be more productive with these books at times)?  What do you think?  Do I give them another go?

Emma