On the surface, Anna Witherall personifies everything the aspirational magazine she works for represents. Married to her university boyfriend David, she has a beautiful home and gorgeous three-year-old twin daughters, Stella and Rose. But beneath the veneer of success and happiness, Anna is hiding a dark secret, one that threatens to unravel everything she has worked so hard to create.
As Anna finds herself drawn into the dark and highly controlled world of secret intelligence, she is forced to question her family’s safety, and her own. Only one thing is certain: in order to protect her children, she must leave them, forever.
And someone is watching. Someone she thought she could trust. Someone who is determined to make them all pay.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction – The Borough Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A complex fusion of psychological and spy thriller with domestic suspense makes ‘The Most Difficult Thing’ an intriguing, poignant, riveting read.
Anna is leaving her children, her husband, her successful career because she has no choice, but does she? Told from Anna and later Maria’s points of view, the story moves between the present and the past exploring how Anna finds herself with such a terrible choice.
Anna is an unreliable protagonist, emotionally damaged from a tragic accident in her past, and her parents’ reaction to it, she seeks anonymity at university, changing her name, family background and meeting Meg and David. Her choices are always questionable once she leaves university. Ripe for manipulation, and craving acceptance and love, her life is tangled in a web of deceit and dangerous secrets that threaten her life and her sanity.
Maria is out for revenge and finds the opportunity for it in a fatalistic way.
The story is detailed, with many timeline changes. The menacing ethos of the plot is disturbing, the evil of rich, politically connected individuals, uses the protagonists as pawns in a chess game. The sense of hopelessness and loss is profound, but there is enlightenment in unexpected places and a glimmer of a chance of justice for the victims.
There are many twists in this story, some expected, some not. Particularly in the closing chapters, the story is challenging, you need to concentrate, otherwise, you will miss the clues to discover the true state of events. The book ends with a question, about Anna’s future, which could go either way.
Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night: trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges, as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.
In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine – a pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for “dives”, used as an alternative therapy for conditions including autism and infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.
I received a copy of this book from Hodder and Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A tragic event at an alternative medicine site leaves two dead, and others severely injured. This story is about the court case that follows over a year later, through the testimonies and thoughts of the people involved at the time, the story explores what really happened and whether the person in the dock is truly guilty.
The courtroom scenes are detailed and enthralling, seen through multi-points-of-view they illuminate the actions, emotions and motivations of the people at the time of the accident and before. All have secrets, tell lies and many have a motive, but are they guilty? The perception is whilst their lies may be insignificant in abstract, they may form part of a conspiracy against justice and the truth.
The people undergoing treatment are vulnerable and deserve protection. The crime is shocking, as are the revelations that follow. It is not easy reading, but there is nothing gratuitous, everything is a piece in the puzzle or an insight into a character’s personality.
Parenting a child with a disability, maintaining your personal identity, as an immigrant, the role of women in society, abuse, culture clashes, society’s expectations and norms, and alternative medical treatments are themes of this complex, well-researched story. They interweave with a pacy, twisty, sometimes controversial plot. Making this story an addictive mix of courtroom drama, family secrets and psychological thriller.
The ending has a final twist, not unexpected, but still shocking. The sense that the guilt should be shared is paramount and is the perfect end for this thought-provoking novel.
The story is original and complex, the characters are well thought out and believable, The courtroom scenes are realistic, but did I enjoy reading it?
The overriding ethos is dark, and almost lacking in hope, showing the worst side of humanity. Also, there is a level of repetition because events are examined from multi-points- of-view. So, the jury’s still out for me. It’s down to personal preference. If you like a mix of courtroom drama and psychological thriller, you should give this a try.
As the wind whipped around her, dragging strands of hair from beneath her bonnet and tugging at her skirt, Nettie left behind the only home she’d ever known…
London, 1875. Taking one last look around her little room in Covent Garden, Nettie Carroll couldn’t believe she wouldn’t even be able to say goodbye to her friends. Her father had trusted the wrong man, and now they would have to go on the run. Once again.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is the first Dilly Court romantic saga I’ve read, and I enjoyed it.
Set in Victorian England and Europe, it follows the adventures of Nettie and her father, as they flee from the law, in the wake of an art forgery scandal. The plot is gently paced with hardships, romance and mystery, all intertwined to create, an easy to read historical adventure. The historical setting is well- researched and enriches the plot with different lifestyles and cultures and iconic cities and countryside.
The characters are authentically written. Netties’ father is a particularly irritating man. Netties is courageous, intuitive and loyal. You want her to find a happy life, after the constant stress of looking after her father.
This is quite a lengthy read, but it is easy to pick up the story again if life interferes with your reading time.
Scarred by his dark past, Damen Alexopoulos does not let emotion dictate anything—especially his choice of wife. So when his convenient society bride is switched at the altar for her innocent younger sister, Kassiani Dukas, Damen’s adamant their marriage will remain strictly business. He’s too damaged for anything more… Yet Kassiani’s determination to know him—and the intense passion of their Greek Island honeymoon—could be this ruthless Greek’s undoing!
I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Providing you can see beyond the rather contrived titles of Mills and Boon romances, which don’t seem to keep pace with the 21st-century covers and themes, they are very readable, and a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.
‘Marriage of Convenience’, and ‘Mistaken Identity’, are the predominant tropes in this story, which involves Kass agreeing to be the last minute, stand-in bride, to save the family shipping firm, when hersocialite sister runs away,
Ignored by those who should love her, Kass wants to escape, and realise her inheritance, which she only gets if she marries, or on her twenty-fifth birthday. She is naive, but knows what she wants, and hopes to improve her life, even if her husband to be doesn’t want to cooperate.
This is a passionate romance, dark and troubled because Damen has a tragic past that he tries to overcome, through anger and control. Kass is courageous and clever, and you cannot help, but empathise with her wish to help Damen become the man he should be.
A darkly dangerous romance that focuses on abuse, not a usual theme in this type of romance. It is sensitively written and provides strong conflict, to the happy-ever-after, the couple seeks. Naturally, this is Mills and Boon romance, so there is a hopeful, positive ending, which this enjoyable romantic story deserves.
journalist, Maddy, goes to interview prostitutes in a rundown Manchester pub,
she doesn’t reckon on attracting the attention of their ruthless pimp, Gilly.
He quickly decides to use Maddy for his own gains; he just needs to work out
A TOXIC AFFAIR
In the weeks that follow, Maddy is oblivious to Gilly’s growing obsession with her, particularly when she begins a romance with a successful businessman, Aaron. Their passionate love affair starts to dominate her life, and she finds herself losing control and alienating the people around her.
A TARGET ON HER BACK
As Maddy’s safe and successful life starts to crumble around her, she must quickly work out who has it in for her, before it’s too late…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Journalist Maddy’s latest assignment takes her to interview working girls. Their pimp sees something in Maddy, a lifestyle that used to be his, and could be again. Maddy lives with her young daughter, she has a good life, all of which her pursuit by the pimp and her new man could jeopardise.
This story is dark and menacing. Maddy, despite her professionalism, is naive and this makes her vulnerable to manipulation. All the girls have a story, why they ended up as working girls, as Maddy’s life unravels she realises how fine the line between safety and danger is.
The story is slow paced, to begin with, as the characters are introduced, and the ease with which different worlds can collide is explored. As the book progresses the adrenaline increases. An interesting start to this new series, with a contemporary, realistic edge.
How ‘The Mark’ Developed – Heather Burnside
I first found my inspiration for The Mark when watching a
TV detective series many years ago. I tend to jot down ideas as they occur to
me then revisit them years later when I’m deciding which novel I should write
next. This particular TV scene featured a senior female detective who was
sitting in a rundown pub talking to prostitutes and trying to get information
She was refined, well-dressed and well-spoken and looked
totally out of place surrounded by street girls with their provocative clothing
and garish makeup. I remember thinking how brave she was to venture into the
pub alone and that she was leaving herself open to all sorts of risks.
That gave me the seed of an idea. The police detective became my protagonist, Maddy, who is followed home from the pub by a seedy pimp, Gilly. She appeals to him because she is so different from the women he is used to dealing with and initially he sees her as a challenge. Gilly is attracted not only to Maddy but to her lifestyle too.
During the course of the novel, we find out that Gilly’s background is far different from the life he now leads. As a young man he came from an affluent middle-class home but he was thrown out of university for dealing in drugs and his parents subsequently disowned him and left him to find his own way in the world. In Maddy he sees the life he should have had and he soon becomes obsessed with her. I won’t tell you any more than that as I don’t want to give the story away.
Once I decided to write ‘The Mark’, I carried out a lot of research by reading books about the life of a prostitute and watching online videos. The videos, in particular, were a real eye-opener. They featured several street girls who discussed what they did and what led them to a life of prostitution. Most of the girls were hooked on drugs and were prostituting themselves to feed their drug habit. Many had difficult upbringings or had spent time in care and living on the streets.
Watching the videos made me think that each of the girls had their own story to tell, which made me decide to expand ‘The Mark’, into a series of books with each subsequent book featuring the story of one of the girls. So, that initial idea many years ago has led to a series of possibly four or more books.
One of the girls, in particular, stuck in my mind when I was watching the videos. She was an ageing prostitute with a bad chest problem who couldn’t afford to take time off work because she needed the money for drugs. She was therefore still plying her trade in all weathers despite her considerable health problems. That particular girl provided the inspiration for a character that appears in a later book in the series.
It’s interesting how one small idea can take root in an author’s mind and develop into the basis for a whole series of books. I suppose that’s why authors do what we do because we have such active imaginations.
Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester
and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels.
After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a
creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her
home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children.
behind the wheel of her Audi. Sapphire blue and polished until it was gleaming,
the vehicle was just as easy on the eye as its driver. She turned into the
tree-lined road in Flixton where she lived. She owned a three-bedroomed
detached house, which she shared with her eight-year-old daughter, Rebecca.
As Maddy sped into the drive, she glanced again at the clock on the dashboard. 19:58. She’d just made it. Maddy was surprised that her first interview with the prostitutes had taken so long but at least she’d gleaned some good information from them and had managed to arrange another meeting before the girls had all become nervous of someone at the bar.
ex-husband, Andy, was bringing Rebecca back at eight o’clock and, although he
was fairly easy-going, Maddy always liked to be on time. Thank God his working
hours were flexible. It meant he could pick Rebecca up from school whenever
Maddy had to work late. As she parked the car, Maddy put thoughts of her
working day out of her mind. It was time to concentrate on family now and, in
her line of business, it wasn’t always a good idea to mix the two.
soon as Maddy stepped inside her hallway she had that familiar comforting
feeling she always got when she returned home. Like everything else surrounding
Maddy, her home was immaculate and tastefully furnished. But it was more than
that; it was a cosy home that felt lived in. She quickly switched on the hall
lamp, which bathed the interior with a subtle amber glow, highlighting the
polished wooden flooring, expensive rug, and stunning artwork that hung on the
walked through the house, switching on the lights in the main rooms and
plumping up cushions before flicking the switch on the kettle. She had no
sooner pulled a mug from the cupboard than she heard the doorbell ring. Maddy
dashed to answer the door, delighted to find her daughter Rebecca standing
there with Andy by her side.
gave her mother an affectionate hug. ‘I scored a goal, Mum,’ she gushed before
OK?’ Maddy asked once Rebecca was inside.
‘Yeah, she’s fine,’ said Andy. ‘She’s been to netball club after school. They had a practice match and apparently, she was the hero of the hour.’
smiled. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I must go and congratulate her.’
See you next weekend,’ he said.
see you then,’ said Maddy.
she shut the front door straight away and went through to the lounge to find
Rebecca. That was how it was with Andy now. After being divorced for four
years, emotion didn’t come into it as far as she was concerned. They were just
two adults sharing joint responsibility for their daughter.
was well over those early days when their separation had torn at her heart. It
had been difficult to walk away but Andy’s infidelity had left her with no
choice. She was too proud to carry on with the marriage after that and knew
that she’d never be able to trust him again.
they maintained a united front when it came to anything involving Rebecca
whilst getting on with their own lives. Maddy preferred it that way and she
knew that it was the best way to deal with the situation.
had already switched on the TV and Maddy sat down beside her, stroking
Rebecca’s hair as she held her close.
you scored a goal, did you?’
and all the girls were cheering. And Jade Coulson said after the match that I’d
saved our side from getting beat. Jade Coulson doesn’t normally bother with me
much. She’s, like, so-o-o cool. I can’t believe she likes me now.’
Baking fanatic, Charlie Quilter, still nursing a broken heart, is surprised when her late uncle bequeaths his vintage 1950s Routemaster bus to her in his will. She adored driving around with him in it when she was a child and can’t contemplate selling it.
When Charlie loses her job, her friend Juliette has an exciting idea and suggests Charlie come to stay with her in the picturesque Cornish village of Porthgolow.
Thrilled at the chance of a new start, Charlie packs her spatula, her pinny and her cute dog Marmite onto the bus and they head off for a summer adventure…
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK -Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I love the charming cover of this story, but why is the bus on the cover a single-decker, when Gertie is supposed to be a Routemaster double-decker bus? This slight confusion aside, this is a promising start to a new series set in Cornwall, perfect for the holiday season.
Charlie had a special connection with her uncle when he dies and leaves her, his bus, she knows she has to keep it, but can she do something with it? Her first attempt is gutsy but fraught with difficulty, but with the help of some positive comments from her mysterious stranger, she tries again in Cornwall.
The characters are warm and real, and even though baking, tea shops and coastal Cornish settings are well used in literature, the bus adds a different dimension that gives the series, the promise of originality. There is a conflict with the upmarket spa and a delicate balancing act to win the approval of the locals. This promises to have humour, romance and a lovely holiday setting. Looking forward to seeing how it develops.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin Books UK – Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Reading the prologue of this novel, I imagined two ladies from the between the wars era, travelling to a glamorous, if slightly contentious, house party. In reality, this story has a contemporary setting, but with all the atmosphere, secrets and intrigue of a more romantic era.
Flora, an artist, mother and daughter, grew up in Cornwall, she still loves her husband, to the extent she has put her romantic life on hold, but he has been married to another woman for over fifteen years. This story is about ‘ A Cornish Summer’, where the past meets the present, and secrets kept for years, change the family dynamic, and give Flora a chance of love and happiness.
This is the perfect book to be read when you have a few hours to yourself. It is absorbing, enlightening, and switches between humour and poignancy, against a lovely, vividly described Cornish coastal setting. The characters are authentic, believable, but not necessarily always likeable. Flora is a frustrating, woman, kind, loving, but only living half a life. More than anything else, this story is about her self-discovery, and you enjoy and empathise, as she finally comes out fo her self-imposed shell.
Family dynamics, social expectations, secrets, manipulation and unrequited love are the ingredients that make this story something you just have to finish but are sad when you do. Perfect holiday escapism.