Just Read… Bad Sister, by Sam Carrington

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Then

When flames rip through their family home, only teenager Stephanie and her younger brother escape unhurt. Brett always liked to play with fire, but now their dad is dead and someone has to pay the price.

Now

Psychologist Connie Summers wants to help Stephanie rebuild her life. She has a new name, a young son and everything to live for. But when Stephanie receives a letter from someone she’d hoped would never find her, Connie is forced to question what really happened that night. But some truths are better left alone . . .

In this second psychological thriller from Sam Carrington, we’re dealing with both Stephanie and Connie who are trying to escape a past that just doesn’t want to let them go. Stephanie is hiding under a witness protection scheme, with Connie trying to help her deal with the past and adjust to a new life, but when Connie’s own past is thrown glaring into the spotlight, Stephanie wants to be reassigned to someone new. That doesn’t happen, and we soon start to fear for the safety of both characters.

Bad Sister is a character-driven novel that soon draws you in. Well written, plenty of intrigue, and enough twists and turns to keep you off-balance. A great book, and is out in paperback today!

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Just Read… Roam, By Erik Therme

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Woah, I am so behind with reviews, so it’s catch-up time.

First up is Roam, by Erik Therme:

Three strangers, each searching for something out of reach.

Sarah Cate, celebrating her 21st birthday, is pushed over the edge after car trouble strands her in the middle of nowhere with an angry, unstable boyfriend.

Kevin Reed, a troubled adolescent abused by a loveless father, roams the night in his black Camaro, looking to pay forward one of the few acts of kindness he’s ever received.

Scotty Mason, plagued by profound guilt and completely detached from his world, is haunted by the unshakable fear that something inside him is dangerously broken and cannot be fixed.

When their lives intersect in an unsavoury hotel with a bloody history, all three will struggle to exorcise their personal demons, unaware that a bigger threat is looming… and waiting for the right moment to strike.

This was an Audible book, which I actually listened to at the start of November. Here’s what I thought of it then:

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And that tweet largely sums it up for me. As you might know, I’m a big Stephen King fan, with The Stand being my all-time favourite. And why? Well, it’s largely down to the way SK breathes life into his characters. They become real. And to me, it seemed that Erik Therme exercised the same skill in Roam.

Not a long book at four and a half hours, but a neat one. Separate stories soon start to intertwine, as the ‘three strangers’ find their paths are on a collision course. There was the odd moment where I did question the course of action one of the characters took, but those moments were brief and fleeting. None of these three lived ‘normal’ lives, and it is our experiences that make us. And often drive us.

The litmus test for me when I’m reading a novel is do I actually care about what happens to the people? In the case of Roam, the answer was, ‘Oh yes!’.

This was my first Erik Therme novel. I’m sure it won’t be my last.

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Just Read… Deep Down Dead, by Steph Broadribb

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Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past.

Another brilliant debut. Another book I haven’t ‘just’ read, although I did read and not listen to it. Steph Broadribb’s debut has picked up glowing reviews from the likes of Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham, and it’s easy to see why. Her style reminds me of one of my favourite authors, Meg Gardiner, who also likes to pace her novels as… relentless. Well, not quite relentless, as both authors know just when to give the reader a breather. Probably like Commando training though, it’s not for long.

Lori Anderson, single-mother, bounty hunter, and somewhat your perfect protagonist. Forced to take on a high-paying job she really should steer clear of, things get complicated. Very complicated. But that isn’t really doing this story justice. Steph takes us along with Lori on a perilous mission, and accomplished writing really makes us feel it!

If you’ve not read this book, and you like your thrillers ‘breakneck’, you really, really should.

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Just Read… You Don’t Know Me, by Imran Mahmood

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It’s easy to judge between right and wrong – isn’t it?

Not until you hear a convincing truth.

Now it’s up to you to decide…

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.

He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.

There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?

This is another catch-up review, and one I listened to on Audible rather than read.  You Don’t Know Me is real-life lawyer, Imran Mahmood’s debut, brilliantly narrated by Adam Deacon. I hadn’t actually realised that the protagonist isn’t even named in the story until after I’d finished, it was that gripping. Reminded me a little of Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. That entire story is her non-stop monologue police interview following the discovery of her husband’s body. You Don’t Know Me is a similar monologue – in this case, our protagonist’s closing speech in his murder trial after he’s fired his barrister.

In order to convince the jury of his innocence in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence, our protagonist tells his own story, right from the very start. Mahmood paints a vivid picture of the difficulties big city youth can face, especially those raised in areas of deprivation, and he does it with amazing skill. There are twists and turns aplenty, and some great characters.

I won’t give the ending away, but will leave you with this thought: a book is all about the journey, and this is one hell of a journey!

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Just Read… The Harbour Master, by Daniel Pembrey

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Henk van der Pol is a 30-year-term policeman, a few months off retirement. When he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour, his detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his jurisdiction. Warned off investigating the case, Henk soon realises he can trust nobody, as his search for the killer leads him to discover the involvement of senior police officers, government corruption in the highest places, Hungarian people traffickers, and a deadly threat to his own family…

Whilst I’ve chosen ‘Just Read…’ as the standard lead in to book reviews, as a lot of the books I get through are on audio (although not this one) and a number are catching up on older, outstanding reviews (such as this one), then it’s becoming increasing regular that either ‘Just’ or ‘Read’ aren’t quite accurate. Never mind, I’m sticking with it.

The Harbour Master is one of those novels that does a brilliant job of completely transporting you to another place; in this case, Amsterdam. There are quite a few Dutch names (places and people), and I’m sure my mental pronunciation of them is awful, but they all add to the atmosphere. Daniel skilfully describes Amsterdam and creates a sense of place, but not at the cost of story.

As noted in the book blurb above, Henk van der Pol is approaching retirement, but he’s not planning on going quietly. When you’re a grizzled detective who’s discovered a body, what else are you going to do other than poke your nose in? But it’s soon clear that there are bigger things at play here, things that put Henk’s family’s life in apparent danger.

Daniel introduces some great characters in The Harbour Master, not least Henk van der Pol, and coupled with the sense of place I mentioned earlier, creates a story with a strong realism. I’m pleased to recommend this book, and have added its sequel, Night Market, to my TBR list.

 

 

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Just Read… Lifesaver, by Louise Voss

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If you save someone’s life, do you become responsible for them?

When Anna receives a letter from Adam, thanking her for saving his son Max’s life with a bone-marrow donation, it’s the first positive thing that’s happened to her for a long time. Grief-stricken at the recent loss of her baby, she’s failed to give life in the past. Now this four-year-old boy is alive and healthy because of her: it’s a heady realization.

Anna is desperate to get to know Max, yet terrified at how responsible she feels for him. So she decides not to tell anyone about him or that she’s arranged to meet his father. Soon she is immersed in a complicated double life, spending half the week with her husband, who believes her to be filming out of town, and the other half with Adam and Max.

But Anna has lied to Adam about who she is. And she’s lied about her marriage. And soon these lies will catch up with her…

I’m catching up with some overdue reviews, starting with Louise Voss’s Lifesaver. I actually won the Lifesaver audiobook in a competition Louise ran over on her Facebook page. This version was updated and republished in April 2015. Whilst this novel is more women’s fiction, so doesn’t fall into my usual genre, the subject included an element close to my heart (bone marrow donation), and Louise is an excellent story-teller, so I thought I had nothing to lose.

And I was right! This isn’t a fast paced novel, but the story develops nicely, with engaging characters and a very interesting premise. It’s one of those books where you can see the protagonist, Anna, digging herself deeper and deeper into trouble, but unlike a lot of books, it’s very clear to the reader why Anna makes the choices she makes. This means there’s no frustration with the story, and you’re not left with the feeling that any literary devices have been used to set characters up. The opposite, really; things all flow nicely. With the story that is, certainly not for Anna!

I also think the ending was well done. With this type of story, it can all feel a little twee, and it was satisfying when things didn’t quite go as expected. The author did a skillful job. The audiobook was narrated by Caitlin Thorburn, who I also thought performed well.

As I said, not my usual fare, but as I have come to expect from Louise Voss, a very enjoyable and entertaining story.

 

 

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Just Read… Rubicon, by Ian Patrick

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Two cops, both on different sides of the law – both with the same gangland boss in their sights.

Sam Batford is an undercover officer with the Metropolitan Police who will stop at nothing to get his hands on fearsome crime-lord Vincenzo Guardino’s drug supply.

DCI Klara Winter runs a team on the National Crime Agency, she’s also chasing down Guardino, but unlike Sam Batford she’s determined to bring the gangster to justice and get his drugs off the streets.

Set in a time of austerity and police cuts where opportunities for corruption are rife, Rubicon is a tense, dark thriller that is definitely not for the faint hearted.

Ian Patrick’s debut starts with a bang and just keeps going. As noted in the book blurb above, Sam Batford is an undercover police officer, who is walking the wrong side of the line, although the very nature of the work he is involved in makes that line very blurred indeed. But he is unashamedly corrupt; the very first chapter makes that clear.

His approach to his work is unconventional, irritating his real bosses, DCI Klara Winter (who’s forced to take him onto her team), and the gangland types he meets. He’s such an unlikely copper that he fits right in with them.

Ian has written Batford as cocksure, and whilst he might irritate those he comes into contact with, for the reader, he’s a true delight. Rubicon is fast-paced and keeps you wanting more. I expect to see a lot more from both the author and the character.

 

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