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Before This Is Over – Amanda Hickie

Published November 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

How far will a mother go to save her children? A twisting, edge-of-your seat drama that you’ll never forget.

BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie is a powerful, thought-provoking drama that looks at one family in the heart of a devastated community and compels us to ask: how far would I go to save my children? ‘Shatteringly suspenseful…it’s impossible not to be super-glued to the page’ Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU

A normal family. A quiet, leafy street. A terrifying epidemic.

It’s been coming for a while: a lethal illness. With sons of five and fourteen to look out for, Hannah has been stockpiling supplies, despite everyone telling her that it’s unnecessary.

Then it arrives.

At first there are a few unconfirmed cases. Then a death. Now the whole city is quarantined. But Hannah’s family is not yet safe behind their locked front door…

Basics soon become luxuries, and neighbours become hazards. There are power cuts, food shortages and an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia. How will the family cope?

How would you cope?

How far would you go to protect your children? 

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Headline publishers for reaching out and asking me if I’d like to read a copy of this novel, originally published in Australia under the title An Ordinary Epidemic in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the synopsis, I knew I had to have it. I love stories similar in vein to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or an old classic, The Stand by Stephen King where a catastrophic world event explores how people in the modern day would cope. By and large, Before This Is Over fulfils all the briefs required of this type of novel – it’s entirely believable and it shows the extremes that people will go to when placed under extreme pressure if the lives of their loved ones are at risk.

The deadly event that I mentioned in this novel is in fact a virus (known as Manba), very similar in symptoms to our ordinary flu virus but fatal to the vulnerable (in particular the very old or the very young). However, this virus does not like to discriminate and spreads astronomically around the globe from the first reported cases across the other side of the world in Manchester, England to thousands of people becoming infected and succumbing to death on a daily basis in Sydney where our story is set. We follow one family, Hannah and Sean and their two boys, teenager Zac and five year old Oscar as the virus switches from being a background worry to a very real and terrifying presence in their lives. Industrious Hannah gives in to her extreme paranoia and has already started stock-piling foods in her pantry so they are quite well prepared when the family ends up barricaded within their own home. Before This Is Over follows the family over a period of seven weeks as their food supply dwindles, the water and electricity is turned off and they end up with a very tenuous connection to the outside world, struggling to survive.

As a survival story, this is a brilliant, realistic portrayal of how our contemporary life can be easily threatened with the removal of merely a few home comforts, many of the things that we take completely for granted. For example, a regular varied food supply, mobile phones and the ability to charge them, fresh water, a working fridge and the means to cook our meals and of course, our source of endless information and connection to others – the Internet. It made you think about how you would cope if you were placed in a similar situation and the thought of having to manage without basic necessities such as toilet paper is quite frankly, terrifying for me! If I’m being completely honest, I have to agree with a few other reviews I’ve seen and mention that I found some of the characters supremely irritating. I didn’t agree with a lot of the choices that Hannah and Sean made for their family and I found Hannah especially quite grating at times to read about, particularly in her attitude and lack of compassion to those around her that weren’t her immediate family. However, who knows how we would all individually react if we were placed in that situation and surely we would want to protect our own? I’m not sure….I’d love to know if anyone felt the same way. Apart from that minor niggle, this is a fascinating look at how one small family unit cope with such a frightening, life-altering event and I’m very glad I read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

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My Mother’s Shadow – Nikola Scott

Published September 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It is the year 1958 and Elizabeth Holloway has been sent away from her London home to spend the summer at Hartland, a beautiful, rambling country estate by the Sussex coast. To lovely, innocent Elizabeth, the Shaws are the height of sophistication and they treat her as one of their own, but when she falls in love, no one warns her that her dreams are dangerously naïve.

Forty years later, Elizabeth’s daughter Addie finds a stranger on her doorstep, a woman claiming to be her twin sister. At first, Addie refuses to believe it — until her beloved father admits that the circumstances surrounding her birth were not what she’d been led to believe.

The discovery challenges everything Addie thought she knew about the brilliant, difficult woman that was her mother. And as their journey takes them back to Elizabeth’s past, Addie and her new sister Phoebe uncover the extraordinary story of a lost child, a mother’s secret, and one golden summer that changed a woman’s life forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Becky Hunter and the team at Headline for sending me a copy of this fantastic debut novel by Nikola Scott in exchange for an honest review. My Mother’s Shadow is a cosy and compelling read that I found myself instantly intrigued by and it was easy to race through it as I became determined to discover the root of the mystery which also provided a very satisfying conclusion. I’m also a huge fan of a dual timeline and was delighted to realise that I enjoyed the narrative set in the present day just as much as the story set in the 1950’s (usually it’s the opposite way around for me!).

The novel follows our main character Addie in the present time and her mother, Elizabeth Holloway when she was a young adult in the fifties. It comes as quite a shock to Addie exactly one year after her mother’s death to find a stranger on her doorstep claiming to be her long lost twin sister. At first, it’s inconceivable to Addie and her family that this woman, Phoebe is telling the truth although the evidence she provides is highly stacked in her favour. When it turns out that Phoebe might actually be who she says she is, the two girls join forces to uncover the secrets behind their birth. As Addie had quite a tumultuous relationship with her mother, the details of what they find are incredibly eye opening, moving and surprising and makes her look at her late mother in a whole different light.

I was so happy when this book turned up on my doormat – I was just in the right sort of mood for a novel such as this, something which was gripping, poignant and heart-warming all at the same time. The author has an obvious gift for creating characters that you immediately become fond of, especially the two main characters of Addie and her mother, Elizabeth. As I mentioned, I loved the dual timelines and I felt each characters story was captured to perfection, in a way that always made me want to read just “one more chapter.” My Mother’s Shadow is a beautiful combination of historical and contemporary fiction with a slice of mystery on the side and I loved attempting to unravel what had happened to Elizabeth in her past that led to two estranged twin sisters, multiple secrets and a bucket load of questions. It’s the ideal book to cuddle up with if you like a bit of a puzzle to solve and I’m really looking forward to what this author writes next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Wages Of Sin – Kaite Welsh

Published August 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1882, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

An irresistible read with a fantastic heroine, beautifully drawn setting, fascinating insights into what it was like to study medicine as a woman at that time, The Wages of Sin is a stunning debut that heralds a striking new voice in historical fiction.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving my request on NetGalley to read this extraordinary novel in exchange for an honest review. I saw Wages of Sin initially on Twitter and it ticked all the boxes for me as a reader. It’s a work of historical fiction (tick), set in Edinburgh (tick) in the Victorian era (tick) that involves a strong female lead character (tick) dealing with a mysterious murder (tick). With so much going for it, there is always the anticipation that it might not be as great as it sounds but luckily I had no worries at all on that account. This book was a fantastic and thrilling debut novel and a truly fascinating look into women in science at a time when it was slightly frowned upon in an arrogantly patriarchal society.

Our main character is Sarah Gilchrist, a highly intelligent woman who dreams of being a doctor but has to leave London after a scandal threatens her standing in the world. She becomes a medical student in Edinburgh and has to struggle on a daily basis with not only the derision of the male students but also the attitudes of her fellow women scholars who become suspicious of her past. Sarah works her fingers to the bone – studying, completing practical and written assessments for her training and then (if that wasn’t hard work enough) assisting a friend at her medical clinic, helping the poor, needy and often “women of ill repute.”

This is where she comes across Lucy, a prostitute who comes in begging for help with an unwanted pregnancy, of course completely illegal in these times. She is turned away only to turn up dead on the anatomy table the next time Sarah sees her. Sarah feels devastated at what has happened but also determined to unearth the secrets of her death, especially when she suspects foul play and discovers tenuous links between Lucy and a professor at the medical school. However, she is treading on very dangerous grounds as some people may desire the secrets that died with Lucy to remain buried and may not necessarily welcome Sarah’s interference.

The Wages Of Sin was an exciting, roller-coaster ride of a novel that had me hooked from page one. Kaite Welsh writes with such a canny eye for detail that you can sense everything in the narrative – the smells, the sounds, the sights and it is brilliantly gritty and difficult to put down once started. Sarah was a fantastic character who was flawed but inherently such a good person and I loved her dogged determination in getting at the truth behind an obviously grisly murder. One of my favourite things about this novel though had to be learning about what female medical students had to suffer when studying to become doctors. They went through abominable treatment being mocked on a daily basis for their choice of career and the lack of confidence in what they could achieve was quite honestly, disgusting. Thank goodness times have changed! For a debut novel, this is an amazing piece of work and so beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and cannot wait to see what Kaite Welsh does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley – Hannah Tinti

Published July 24, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Bursting with imaginative exuberance, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY by Hannah Tinti has been described as ‘One part Quentin Tarantino, and one part Scheherazade‘ (Ann Patchett) and will appeal to fans of The Sisters Brothers or The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving me on NetGalley for this fantastic novel in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, this story was one amazing, crazy ride and I loved every moment of it. When I first saw the title of this book, I immediately compared it in my mind to The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August which was a book I reviewed with my sister Chrissi Reads and is also one of my all-time favourite books. Let me just say that The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley is nothing like Harry August when we consider the subject matter but it’s just as thrilling and written just as beautifully and is definitely a book I would re-read in the future.

This novel focuses on two main protagonists – widower Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo whom he is raising on his own after his wife, Lily died shortly after Loo was born in a terrible accident on a lake. The “twelve lives” of the title are actually twelve bullets that have struck Samuel at different points in his life in various places in his body. We, the reader learn the story behind each individual bullet, how Samuel came to be shot and what the consequences were for him. Interspersed with the bullet stories is also the story of Samuel’s relationship with his wife Lily and, after she gave birth to his daughter, the story of Samuel and Loo. Samuel has made a lot of mistakes in his life (well….come on, he’s been shot twelve times?!) but he has a fierce love for his daughter and would go to the ends of the earth to protect her. Unfortunately, this means he always has to sleep with one eye open as his chequered and colourful past is threatening to catch up with him.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this novel but it certainly wasn’t this and I was delighted to discover a gritty, exciting and incredibly unique plot with fascinating characters that make it difficult to put the book down. In the synopsis, it’s compared to Quentin Tarantino and Scheherazade by Ann Patchett and I couldn’t have put it more perfectly myself. There are violent, bloodthirsty and graphic scenes combined with moments of such tenderness that it almost feels like you’re reading a very modern day fairy tale minus the magical realism. Samuel and Loo were such intriguing characters to read about and although they were both flawed and a bit kooky I literally didn’t want to let them go by the end of the novel. On the strength and pure beauty of Hannah Tinti’s story-telling I will one hundred percent read anything she writes and now can’t wait to read her debut novel The Good Thief.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Quieter Than Killing (DI Marnie Rome #4) – Sarah Hilary

Published June 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it’s personal.

Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.

What did I think?:

If you’re a crime fiction lover and haven’t read any Sarah Hilary can I just ask why on earth not? With the fourth offering in the author’s DI Marnie Rome series that began with Someone Else’s Skin, and continued with No Other Darkness and Tastes Like Fear, Sarah Hilary has cemented herself in my eyes as the queen of British crime and with each successive novel, her writing, characters and plot just keep getting better and better. Thank you so much to Headline publishers via NetGalley for allowing me to read a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. In Marnie Rome’s London, the seedy and grittier side of our capital city is brought to life in an explosion of colour but grounded so deeply within reality that you could almost imagine that you were reading about the neighbours next door rather than fictional characters.

Marnie Rome and her wonderful sidekick Noah Jake are back and have a new case to solve. Horrific assaults are happening all over London but the strange thing about these vicious attacks is that the victim in each case has a criminal record themselves or a record of having wronged someone in their past. Marnie and her team immediately hit on the idea of a vigilante attempting to dole out justice for past crimes in the strangest and most brutal way possible. There are a few very important alternative threads to this story however. A ten year old boy has been kidnapped and is being held hostage at an unknown address by an unknown perpetrator. Furthermore, Marnie’s childhood home has been burgled with the tenants living there at the time subjected to a nasty beating, leading to them being hospitalised. In this convoluted plot and intricate web of secrets, violence and manipulation how are all these threads linked and why is Marnie and her personal life being dragged into the battle?

If I had to compare this book to the previous two novels in the Marnie Rome series I would say that Quieter Than Killing is slightly slower in pace but this is in no way, shape or form an insult to the writing. In fact, I loved that we got to learn so much more about our characters as individuals, with their own problematic families and personal lives. This novel exudes more of a quiet menace that is simply delicious to experience and although it could easily be read as a stand alone, I highly recommend reading the series from the beginning to get the full flavour of our character’s back stories which is hugely important for the plot. Once again, I adored the relationship between Marnie and Noah (please don’t ever break them up Sarah!) and just feel these characters keep getting stronger, more “real,” and infinitely more intriguing where I just keep wanting more. I’m eagerly anticipating the fifth book in the series which I’m certain will be another belter and I can’t wait to become immersed in Marnie’s world once more.

To read my interview with the wonderful Sarah Hilary, please see my post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) – Alison Weir

Published June 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by bestselling historian Alison Weir, author of Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, is the second captivating novel in the Six Tudor Queens series. An unforgettable portrait of the ambitious woman whose fate we know all too well, but whose true motivations may surprise you. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry’s Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

SIX TUDOR QUEENS. SIX NOVELS. SIX YEARS.

What did I think?:

Alison Weir has been for the longest time now in my eyes, the queen of historical non-fiction and I was delighted when she began writing historical fiction especially as her new project is focused on one of my favourite time periods in history – the Tudor period in England. This will take the form of six novels over six years, one for each wife of the inimitable Henry VIII. The first book, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen came out last year and was utterly brilliant so I was incredibly excited to be approved by NetGalley to read the second novel, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession when it was published in May of this year. Thank you so much to them and the publishers, Headline for this opportunity and for a copy of the novel in return for an honest review.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession was everything I was hoping it would be coupled with being a huge surprise and delight to read. Drawing on new research available, the author shows us a different side to Anne, certainly a shocking turnabout from how she is often portrayed in history. It’s true that Anne Boleyn doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. She embarked on an affair with Henry VIII while he was still married to Katherine Of Aragon, an affair that continued for many, many years and led to a number of upsets and permanent changes in England as a result of their relationship, particularly in Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic church. Henry was finally set free of the shackles of his marriage to Katherine, which he had become convinced was an abomination in the eyes of God as she had been originally his deceased brother Arthur’s wife. These shackles were not removed willingly however by Katherine, she was determined until her last breath that she was the true Queen of England and their marriage was right and lawful and it was only her death that allowed Henry and Anne to become (legally) husband and wife.

It is not too long however before Henry once again begins to question the validity of his marriage with Anne. She has given him one child, Elizabeth but no male heirs that he was so desperate for and certain that Anne would provide. Then the rumours start to circulate. From musicians in Anne’s chamber, to old flames and even her own brother, Henry is persuaded into believing that the innocent girl he met and fell in love with may not be so innocent as he thought.

I’m presuming we all know how the story ends? I have to say, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still felt an odd sort of hope of a reprieve for Anne at the very end. It’s quite silly really, especially when I have read a couple of different accounts (fiction and non-fiction) of the events and it ends the way it truthfully did all those years ago. However, I became so attached to Anne as a character that it was hard to let her go at the end. She was a flawed, stubborn and sometimes quite precious person but I admired her ambition and determination and the way she took quite a feminist stance on a few issues, entirely alien at that time of history, something I had no idea about and found a very welcome addition to the story. Let’s just talk about her opinions and feelings towards Henry as well? Let me just say I did not see that coming! In other accounts I have read, Henry and Anne are both deeply in love with each other. So, to have it suggested that this may not necessarily have been the case was fascinating and very exciting to read as a result. Alison Weir exhibits a true mastery in re-telling the stories of the Tudor reign and her Six Tudor Queens series is really exceeding all my expectations. Do I really have to wait a whole year before reading about the next wife, Jane Seymour?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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