The Secret Child Review: Another Tense Thriller From Caroline Mitchell

The Secret Child

Following on from Caroline Mitchell’s gripping novel Truth and Lies comes the second in the DI Amy Winter series The Secret Child. Having reviewed the first in the series previously I was keen to take part in Mitchell’s latest blog tour to find out more about the second outing for this dogged and troubled detective.

In the follow-up to the thrilling first novel in her series, which will hopefully be a long one, Winter is still reeling from the news that she is the daughter of a pair of sadistic serial killers and the horrible experiences of her previous case.

Despite this she has no time to grieve as she is thrust straight into another in the form of an investigation into a horrific abduction with a sadistic twist. When another child is snatched Winter faces a race against time which sends her straight back to the one person she wished she’d never have to speak to again: her serial killer mother.

Showcasing her strong characterisation skills and her unique ability to create engaging emotional scenes Mitchell brings this frightening tale to life in her latest novel. Her characters are evolved and emotionally entangled without being annoyingly sappy, and the reader is quickly immersed in the entwined tales of the kidnap and Winter’s relationship with her psychotic mother.

Being a police officer gives Winter access to the case in full, as well as access to a myriad of other insider information and as such her manipulative mother wants a quid pro quo in return for advice on the topic she knows most about: the mind of a depraved child kidnapper.

Having enjoyed both novels I desperately hope that there’s more where this came from. I loved Truth and Lies and The Secret Child was just as thrilling and gritty, so hopefully Mitchell will bring her talent for tension and passion for the police procedural back in the future!

 

 

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A Perfect Explanation Review: A Haunting Historical Human Drama

a perfect explanation

Another blog tour post for you today, this time a review of a gripping historical book depicting real-life events from a fresh perspective.

A real life story that is almost too mind-boggling to be true, Eleanor Anstruther’s A Perfect Explanation tells the story of Enid Campbell, the author’s grandmother, who sold her son Ian, Anstruther’s father, to her aunt Joan for £500 in the 1930s.

The book is incredibly rich in human emotion and, as the author explains in the epilogue, is designed to turn these half-remembered caricatures from her family’s past into living, breathing, thinking entities.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the women involved: be it Enid herself, in both the 1960s, when she lives in a nursing home awaiting a visit from the son she sold and across the year leading up to his sale, as well as her daughter, who was not sold but still feels the burden it placed on her family, as well as Joan herself, who is coming to terms with the challenging fate her sister has thrust upon her.

This approach ensures that the reader is able to view the complex drama that unfolds through numerous perspectives, helping them to feel empathy and understanding. With such a personal connection to such an emotive and upsetting case, Anstruther could easily have created a take-down of her grandmother, but instead she wrote a unique and deeply moving book which explores her motives and those of the other players in the tragedy.

Throughout the book Anstruther perfectly combines human drama and emotion with evocative settings and haunting description. Each individual comes alike thanks to the writer’s skilful descriptions and human-focused narrative, which hones in on each member of the family and brings them to vivid life.

In all I was incredibly impressed by this moving portrayal of human suffering, mental illness, obsession and parenthood, and I think anyone who enjoys books of any genre that are rich in human emotion will too.

 

The Widening Gyre Review: A Modern Sci-Fi Epic

the widening gyre

The debut novel from Michael R. Johnston, The Widening Gyre, creates an entire empire peopled by numerous species in just over 200 pages. A sci-fi epic that makes the genre accessible to even those who aren’t die-hard fans, this is a detailed and intriguing novel that packs a punch.

The story follows Tarjen Hunt, a member of the human race now living in an empire run by the Zhen, a proud race who distrust and mistreat humans after they saved them. The human race was on board a ship travelling away from earth when it got damaged and had to be rescued. In author Johnston’s portrayal of the future earth is now just a distant memory, and humans now live as part of the empire in uneasy truce with their hosts.

Tarjen is a war hero turned wheeler-dealer travelling space hauling parts around for the empire after a personal tragedy alienated him from his family. When his estranged brother sends him a message begging for help, and then promptly dies, Tarjen and his newly acquired crew go on a dangerous quest to follow a path which they believe will take them back to earth.

Mistreated and overtaxed by the Zhen, the humans are considered an inferior race in the empire, and as such they are eager to reclaim their homeland and uncover the truth about their history. But Tarjen and his team face stiff opposition from ruling Zhen and a number of other dissidents as they battle to find his brother’s clues and uncover the path back to earth.

Written in the first person as a sort of ship’s log combined with a diary, Johnston’s narrative shows Tarjen’s personal opinions on each situation he’s in, building characterisation and driving tension as the plot hurtles towards a fascinating conclusion. Also Johnston gets a lot of love from me for integrating a gay protagonist and a lot of female characters into a genre traditionally not known for its representation. He does it in a very respectful way that isn’t too self-congratulatory, and as such this is a great victory for those looking for literature with more representation.

Overall this is a great debut from Johnston, who has built a unique world and created a fast-paced adventure within it. The Widening Gyre is great not just for science fiction fans but for those who enjoy thrilling, action-packed reads that will keep them captivated from start to finish.

Brave Review: A Masterpiece for the #MeToo Movement

RM -THUMBNAIL

If you only read one book in 2019, make it Brave by Rose McGowan. A unique and insightful memoir, the book tells the incredible story of McGowan’s fascinating and frightening life in her own words.

Prior to reading her memoir I had no real opinion on McGowan. I’d enjoyed a few of her films and Charmed, and I disagreed with a few of the comments she’d made in the media and agreed heartily with others, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Brave. One of my key motivations for requesting a place on her blog tour was my fascination with her comments on feminism and her spearheading of the #MeToo movement. These are important actions and I was keen to find out more about the person behind them.

One very important aspect of Brave is the fact that, from the very beginning, McGowan makes it clear that she is in no way trying to influence the reader to be like her. You don’t have to shave your head to be come free. What you need to do is evaluate your choices. McGowan is telling us that our choices are valid only if they are genuinely ours. If you want long hair, have it. If you want short hair, you do you. If you want to shave your head then go right on. But if you are being influenced by a society telling you that short hair is the best, or you are hiding yourself away behind your waterfall of cascading locks, then you need to evaluate your choices and decide if they are genuinely your own.

What I enjoyed most about this brutally honest portrayal of a hard and frightening life is that McGowan repeatedly shows great empathy, and is keen to reiterate time and again that her experiences are no worse than those of others, and make her no better than anyone else. She expresses the fact that, had she not been white, she would’ve had a far worse time and not received the opportunities she did, and she even forgives an actor who sprayed a water bottle into her crotch without her consent when she was a young actress. She pins most of the blame for the sexual assaults and brutality she received on the patriarchal society that allowed this pattern of behaviour.

Despite the challenges she has faced and the disgusting treatment she has received, McGowan is not bitter. She understands the cycles that often lead to abuse being perpetrated by those who have been mistreated themselves, and as such she doesn’t blame anyone for her tough life. She is, however, exceptionally angry against the systems and patriarchy that put her in the positions she was in. She can’t abide excuses and she is quick to retaliate against those who still believe their behaviour was justified or who claim ignorance of assaults perpetrated under their noses.

This anger manifests itself in the form of top-class swearing: the kind of swearing ordinary folk can only dream of. Inserted into lengthy descriptions of disgusting miscarriages of justice or acting as angry exclamations against those who have wronged her, McGowan’s language is evocative and emotional. Her expressions are raw and unashamed, and frankly it feels like a true honour to be able to read her experiences in her own words and learn the horrors, heartaches and triumphs she has experienced.

Among the book’s most harrowing scenes is when McGowan depicts her rape by the former head of Miramax Studios, whom she labels ‘The Monster” or ‘The Pig Monster”. Her depiction is so vivid I screamed whilst reading it, and was genuinely frightened for many hours afterwards. It is angry, raw, brutal and honest, and for that I heartily commend McGowan- if it was tough to read then I cannot possibly imagine how hard it must’ve been to write and to relive.

There are times when McGowan, despite the sensitive nature of her subject matter and the harrowing details of some of the traumas she has faced, is deeply, darkly funny, mocking both herself and the situations she has faced, some of which are utterly absurd. From being born into a cult called the Children of God in Italy to fleeing to America where she battled homelessness, drug abuse and anorexia, among other challenges, there is plenty to be bitter and sorry for about in McGowan’s story, but she is neither: her approach to challenge is refreshing and intriguing.

She is particularly scathing about bullies and online trolls, and another great aspect of Brave is the fact that McGowan repeatedly points out the mental healthy implications that words have, driving readers to consider the importance of remembering the mental health of both themselves and those they interact with. Such a frank conversation about mental health and the affects that even simple dismissals can have is refreshing and, again, vitally important.

Anyone who knows me personally will know that in my mad life I’ve had some slightly comparable experiences to McGowan. I’m not going to go into it here because this isn’t about me, but I will say this: reading Brave was the first time I’ve ever felt truly heard. I struggle to articulate my experiences, feelings and situations I’ve gotten myself into as a result of my fear. McGowan expresses her own versions of these issues perfectly in a way that is easily identifiable but at the same time completely unique and respectful of everyone’s individual experiences.

So, to finish as I started, I would like to implore you to read Brave, even if it is the only book you read over the next 12 months. McGowan’s focus is to make you sit up and listen: to drive you to explore the art you take in, be it in any form, and how it affects your mind-set and views. This may be a memoir, but it is filled with important, frank and honest conversations that need to be had in today’s society. This is more than a discussion on the life of an actress: this is an exploration of patriarchy, mental health, rape, homelessness and abuse, and I would urge you to read it and take its key messages of hope, honest, integrity and support on board.

Harry’s Quest Review: A Shockingly Good Thriller

Harrys Quest

Having interviewed Sydney based author and former police detective A. B. Patterson last year, I was pleased to be able to review the second in his series about his dogged private investigator Harry Kenmare, Harry’s Quest.

A private eye novel with real grit and drive, Harry’s Quest sees readers reunite with investigator Harry Kenmare as he seeks to right the world’s wrongs and achieve his revenge on a world that has taken a great deal from him. Drawing on Patterson’s experience as a policeman, the novel is gripping and features a host of memorable characters.

The sequel to Harry’s World, like its predecessor Harry’s Quest consists of five ‘parts’, which each act as a component part of the whole to create an interesting narrative. Gritty and spellbinding, the novel combines the same short, sharp sentence structure and witty dialogue that made the first novel so popular and adds an extra element of danger.

In this second outing for Harry Kenmare, the private detective is now inundated with work as the elite seek him out to do their dirty work. He uses these jobs to finance his real focus; revenge on those who have wronged him in the past.

Having assembled a team, Harry uses them to extract his revenge and get back at the monsters that preyed on him and those he loved. Packed with sex and violence, the novel gives an eye-opening view of the nastier side of human nature and the motives that bring out the worst in people; money, power and sex.

Ultimately, Harry’s Quest is another cracking example of author A.B. Patterson’s expert storytelling as he takes his hardboiled investigator for another spin and lets him loose on the elite and the scandalous. Balance is the key here; Patterson gets it just right, with enough gore, grime and gentile backstabbing to have the reader coming back for more.

The Man With No Face Review: Getting 2019 Off To A Thrilling Start

the man with no face peter may

Last year Peter May published the intense and gripping I’ll Keep You Safe, so I was incredibly excited to check out his latest novel, The Man With No Face, due to be released on the 10th of January. I was expecting May’s typical strong characterisation, eventful plotlines and a spectacular finale to round it all off. I was not disappointed.

Less of a domestic drama than May’s previous book and far more of an international thriller, this latest novel travels the world, focusing on jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman, who travels to Brussels in search of a scoop. During his stay two men are murdered, with a young girl being the only witness.

Desperate for answers and to protect the child, Bannerman begins a potentially fatal race against time to uncover the truth in a very tangled web of lies. Trying to both find out what happened and protect the girl, who is the sole witness to the tragedy that killed her father and changed her life. Autistic and vulnerable, her only method of communication is drawing, but she is unable to finish her portrait of the killers face due to her own fear and the dark, terrifying surroundings in which she saw it.

As Bannerman gets closer to the truth he has to combine protecting the girl with finding the culprits and bringing them to justice, but the work brings him nothing but trouble.

Set in the late 1970s, the novel evokes an era in turmoil, both politically and socially, and shows this through the tense narrative and tightly wound plot. May’s real skill is in characterisation and dialogue, and he shows this in The Man With No Face, with every character expertly crafted.

At the end of the day, May’s books are always dependable for their excellence of characterisation and deft plotting, and The Man With No Face is no exception. Any fans of May, or of gripping international thrillers in general, will enjoy this novel no end, and it makes a great read to get the New Year off to an excellent start.