Review: “After He’s Gone” by Jane Isaac

afterhesgone-isaac-ebookweb-188x300I was very excited to see Jane Isaac asking for reviewers on Twitter to read her latest book, and even more excited to see it land in my inbox – I’d enjoyed ‘The Truth Will Out’ tremendously. And just like DCI Helen Lavery in ‘The Truth Will Out’, Isaac gives us DC Beth Chamberlain as a well-written strong female lead, and this is one of the standout features of ‘After He’s Gone’.

As Cameron Swift is gunned down, execution style, outside his family home in a well-to-do estate, the life he held together so tightly unravels and brings new revelations to his nearest and dearest. Enter family liaison officer Beth Chamberlain on her first case in the role, sharing in the reader’s interest and intrigue into how such a controlling man managed to end up mixed in with people who would want him dead.

Nothing is overly played in this novel which is one of the reasons I loved ‘The Truth Will Out’ so much – relationships are what they are, people have good and bad qualities, there are no over-the-top heroes and villains, just everyday people coping with tragedy beyond their understanding. The realism of the book is what makes you invest in it, and helps you to understand the prickliness of characters like Sara Swift and the protectiveness of characters like Beth.

The plot line of the murder was well developed – details were drip-fed through expertly, revealing a little whilst causing more questions and in doing so pushing you through to find out the unexpected truth. It’s clearly well-researched (well, the author’s husband is part of the police force after all!) and even the mention of things like budget constraints offer an interesting insight into the world of crime and how investigations are likely to develop. In all, it’s a story worth investing your time in – and trust me, you won’t be able to help but devour this novel in one sitting!

And best of all, the novel closes with unanswered questions – Beth and Nick? Eden’s custody battle? The outcome of Beth’s case? All left up in the air and begging for a sequel (which will be out this year, hurray!), giving us a further pull towards Beth and her challenges in a demanding role and setting up the next in the sequence in a beautifully seamless manner.

I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on the latest detective series to come from Jane Isaac, and on the previous ones if you haven’t already – you’ll be in for a thrilling read that teases and tantalises you before revealing the explosive finale.

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Review: ‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac

18854687I’d had Jane Isaac recommended to me and grabbed ‘The Truth Will Out’ to give Isaac a whirl – and I can’t wait to pick up her other books, because ‘The Truth’ was a thrilling read.

DCI Helen Lavery is a well-written female protagonist; in some novels there’s a tendency to overplay the girl power card, but she just did what she had to do without being overly-glamorised or over-praised for being a woman in a man’s world. It was refreshing to have a strong female lead who wasn’t overly-lauded for being exactly that!

Likewise (without spoiling anything!), Dean’s role in Helen’s life unfolded naturally without being met with trumpets sounding and fireworks going off; I think that’s what I liked most about Isaac’s writing, in that despite the drama of the police work it was down-to-earth and naturalistic.

The plot moved quickly, leaving you no time for breath and creating an urgent need to uncover the truth behind all the lies and running away, echoing the journey that Eva is on in the fight for her life. It really keeps you involved, and is one of the main reasons I devoured this book in just a couple of days.

Overall, this was a thoroughly engrossing read and one I would thoroughly recommend – I keep spying more Jane Isaac novels in The Works and the like, so I’ll definitely be stocking my shelves in the near future!

The Recommended and the Unfinishables

There’s an irony in why I haven’t reviewed any books lately, and it’s thus: I’ve been on an absolute book binge, chain-reading and using every spare moment to get through some absolutely brilliant reads that I’ve picked up lately. So rather than try and write a million reviews, here’s my hot and not-so-hot from my last couple of months of reading…

HotĀ Hot Hot!

image.jpg‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett – I love anything that shows us the roads less travelled, and this was the ultimate in that genre. Eva and Jim’s paths cross, recross and uncross across their altered histories. Barnett takes us through both the possibilities and inevitabilities of life, making us laugh, despair and cry. Supporting characters such as the insufferable David Katz, Eva’s family, and various children in various lifelines intensify the twists and turns until the final call where life untangles itself and simplicity is left.

‘The Child’ by Fiona Barton – This was an Amazon steal and boy, am I glad I turned to book-lifting. The tragedy of this story is discovered in a haunting manner, with the truth growing clearer through the mists as you live the investigative life with the brilliant Kate Waters. The journalistic style builds the drama and hurtles you to the last page, where you find yourself relishing the reveals and cursing that it’s the end of a brilliant book.

‘Blackberry Wine’ by Joanne Harris – Whilst it’s been lovely to read the dramatic and Blackberry_Wine_by_Joanne_Harris.jpgthe heartbreaking, there’s nothing quite so lovely as the reassurance of a life journey and exploration of the magic in the everyday. The story of Jay Mackintosh and Jackapple Joe, discovering what childhood meant and where adulthood could lead was as touching as it was motivating; it’s refreshing to read a reminder that you don’t have to have it all together every day, that it’s OK to step back and figure out yourself and your life before moving forward. The characters of Lansquenet were well-painted as if viewing a busy frieze, every one throwing a different shade on the story. It was a delight from start to finish, and a warm remind of the wonder in the everyday – layman’s alchemy, if you will.

‘Galatea’ by Madeline Miller – a cheat because it’s a short story, but it’s a brilliant one. A reimagining of Grecian mythology once more, brutal and triumphant, the story of Galatea and her refusal to submit as stone to man’s gaze is the perfect story to whet your appetite for Miller’s upcoming ‘Circe’, or for the breathtaking ‘Song of Achilles’ (one of my favourite books ever).

 

Not-So-Hot…

‘The Italian Wife’ by Kate Furnivall – not for me and a rare book where I gave upimage3
halfway through – I couldn’t even be tempted to see how mattersĀ resolved themselves. I have no patience with characters who announce what type of person they are repeatedly, nor with repeated insistences that said characters are brave/strong/impressive and so on. I couldn’t stand Isabella and her constantly changing moods, neither could I take any more clumsy balancing acts between trying to show people being reverential for Il Duce Mussolini and show people condemning him when history shows this wasn’t the case.

 

‘The Dragon Queen’ by William Andrews – it gets worse; I didn’t even get past the first chapter. I couldn’t take the protagonist, Nate Simon, seriously – his declarations about himself and his life were comical when they were supposed to be revelatory, and all I could equate him to was Horatio Cane in CSI: Miami rather than this serious NATO representative – please.

15990487‘Oh Dear Silvia’ by Dawn French – now this one I finished, and I feel a little guilty putting it on this list. It had it’s moments, but it’s a book of stereotypes and sometimes indecipherable accents. The storyline was pleasant enough in that it allowed us to see the power of life and death and getting past grievances, and the final chapter by Silvia did choke me a little, but I’m not sure it should have made itself into such a long book. Also, what on earth was the point of Tia?

 

Review: ‘We Are Made of Stars’ by Rowan Coleman

I picked up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ for a steal on Amazon Kindle because it looked intriguing, and I came out of the book knowing it was more than intriguing: it was affirming and heartbreaking all wrapped into one.

9780091953126And it’s a weird combination, one that leaves you closing the final page wondering if you feel sad at the heartbreak the world contains, or empowered because these things challenge us, test us and show us how wonderful and brave we can be. In fact, my head was spinning with the mini-argument I was having with myself as to whether I should be feeling like I enjoyed a book with such tender and delicate themes.

This is because ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is centred around a nurse working in a hospice, looking after those nearing the end of their lives and those recuperating from serious illnesses. Through our nurse – Stella – we meet Hope and Hugh as well as various other characters, the former a 21-year-old with cystic fibrosis recovering from a near-death illness, the latter a man clueless about his own turbulent history who becomes embroiled in Stella’s night-time activities of writing final letters to loved ones on behalf of her patients.

Letters are beautiful things and a medium that suits issues so close to the heart. They are well interspersed in the novel to punctuate the happy, the sad and everything in-between, lightening and darkening the scene whenever needed. It’s a method I absolutely loved, and I wanted more letters: call it an odd sense of voyeurism, but it’s fascinating to consider yourself as getting an insight into something so unknowable as the human mind.

Hope’s story was just that: one of hope and unending potential, no matter how hard life treats you. In places it was full of cringey post-adolescence angst, but this wasn’t a negative: it was one of those moments where you roll your eyes cringing because you sit there going ‘oh God, I did that, I was once that daft/naive/embarrassing’ – it’s that warm embarrassing feeling of nostalgia in your tummy, and seeing it through Hope intensifies it because of her shortened life span and her need to work through to the other side of her problems to enjoy life while she can.

Hugh’s story is equally one we all recognise: who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we like we are? He’s written expertly; straightforward and affable, allowing us to go on the journey with him and reflect on why we are where we are. Throw in a romance and, heck, Hugh’s a vision of what we might want in the world: to be loved, to understand ourselves, to be able to move forward.

My favourite story though, by a country mile, was Stella’s. Her husband Vincent is critically wounded on tour in Afghanistan and struggles to adapt to civilian life and living whilst his friend died in the line of duty. Seeing Stella tip-toe around, trying to do the right thing but constantly being told it’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking and it’s all you can do not to scream at her to run fast and run far to save herself from the effects of the blast. She’s tired, near defeat and trying to do right by everyone, neglecting herself: haven’t we all known that feeling? She’s bold and brave, weak and frail, and it’s why you fall in love with her – she’s the epitome of what it is to be human. I adored her, her storyline and how the world unfolded for her.

Without gushing any further, what I promise you if you pick up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is sadness tinged with hope, hope that is filled with unease and promise all at once, and a reminder that life is for living – so don’t sit back and watch others do it for you. It’s a brilliant book and I can’t wait to pick up more of Coleman’s novels in the future.

Review: ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman

It took me ages to get around to reading ‘Pigeon English’, despite a colleague highly recommending it and raving about it. However, after eventually getting to it, I couldn’t put it down; you’re running through Harri’s story all the way with him until the bitter end, and you feel every moment as he does.

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Harrison Opoku is essentially, in my mind, the personality we’d all like to be: fun,carefree and innocent. He has no understanding of the cruelty and violence of the world, and his pigeon exemplifies this: he doesn’t chase it away, try to kick it or poison it, he makes it his guide and friend where everyone else sees the pigeon as sky vermin. What makes Harrison’s beautiful naivety even more endearing is the subtle weaving of his background into the story, a background he doesn’t understand but we pick up on: he’s come to London from Ghana for a better life, making the troubles he encounters even more heartbreaking to witness.

In a way it’s very much a book of types: gangs versus innocents, good versus evil, corruption versus innocence. It’s starkly realistic in portraying these; there’s no sugar coating or promises of happily ever after, the world just is what it is and we have to deal with that whether we like it or not, which is one of the further tragedies of the book that pulls on our heartstrings and makes us an active part of Harri’s journey through life in England: we’re sat screaming, despairing, cheering on the sidelines because we know how we want things to be, and Kelman makes us painfully aware life doesn’t work like that.

It’s beautiful writing; Harri’s dialect stays with us throughout and infecting us until you feel like you can hear Harri telling the story to you like…well, an excited 11-year-old boy. I challenge you to go through this book without having developed a clear and distinctive voice in your head that’s Harri: no other character becomes quite as vivid as this little boy, and again it’s how Kelman leads us into this dark and sinister world, making it feel like a first hand experience rather than just another story.

So unlike me, don’t take nearly a year to pick up this book recommendation; it’s something you’ll love, laugh and cry with, and it will stay with you long after the final page has been turned.

Review: ‘The Marble Collector’ by Cecelia Ahern

I am an avid Cecelia Ahern fan and she has yet to disappointment, and ‘The Marble Collector’ is no exception.

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The bittersweet story of a girl finding her father amid the ashes of his stroke and memory loss, ‘The Marble Collector’ is both sad and beautiful in equal measures. Fergus Boggs loses his memory following his stroke, but the chance finding of his marble collection begins his awakening; enter his daughter, Sabrina, who learns her dad was never who she thought he was and, in equal measure, she sees how much she’s misjudged herself throughout her life.

Fergus’ story is haunting; do we ever really get to be ourselves when there are so many expectations around us? It’s something we all face and all have a struggle with at one point or another, and Ahern’s journey for Fergus reminds us of how precious it is to find people we can be our true selves to.

Likewise, Sabrina’s story is subtle: as a mid-life/existential crisis plot, it had the potential to be cloying, but it’s handled deftly and lingers on the right things in the right places in order to evoke sympathy and maintain our curiosity as Sabrina’s amateur investigations continue. Case in point (warning: spoiler alert), when it’s revealed that Sabrina’s husband had an affair, we could have focused on the pain, the betrayal, the revulsion, but that wasn’t how the story was being told; it was sad, yes, but it was a journey from the dark to the light and not dwelling on the dark kept this momentum going. It’s part of Ahern’s writing magic and why I keep going back for more.

What I really loved about this story was that things so complicated came from these tiny little marbles: family tragedy, spousal divisions, loss, love, and everything else in-between – all from these tiny glass orbs. The everyday, once again, becomes magical under Ahern’s touch, reminding us of little beauties and triumphs in the everyday world. It’s a book I highly recommend if you want a reminder of this and a touching journey to understanding who we are.

Review: ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ by Victoria Hislop

I was suitably enchanted by Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Return’ so when ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ popped up on my Kindle it seemed like it would be a lovely read for the holiday period – and I wasn’t wrong!

‘Cartes Postales’ tells the story of Ellie, who’s reading the story of Anthony Brown, who’s telling the stories of the people he meets after being jilted and travelling around Greece to heal his broken heart. With me? Good.

The stories slowly show how we move on – we begin wondering who S. Ibbotson is and by the end, much like Anthony, we’re distracted by finding wonder, beauty and oddities in the world that challenge our everyday thinking. Much like Anthony and Ellie, we leave our old ways of thinking behind and become absorbed in the colour and culture of Greece, a country renowned for economic problems and forgotten about in terms of its rich cultural heritage.

Hislop’s writing focuses on the sensory human experience and evokes the essence of Greek setting and warmth in the reader. Granted, not in all stories – that of the French couple comes to mind in particular which is haunting in its scary departure from the warmth known previously, reminding us of the cruel and cold side of life.

It’s a beautiful collection of stories that make for easy reading, bringing both the characters and the readers a sense of tranquility and thoughtfulness. It’s a read to drift away to after a busy day, and one I thoroughly recommend.