Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Review - In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings



I was late to the party with this one which is ridiculous when you consider Orenda Books are rapidly becoming one of my favourite publishers and I kept reading scores of glowing reviews. Still, better late than never and seeing how much of the book is set in Cornwall perhaps it was fitting that I read most of it while on holiday in the county.
The book begins with a haunting and mysterious prologue, a perfect amuse-bouche before the outstanding main course which begins with the immediate aftermath of loss. Bella's mother has died and she has returned to her family home with her husband. It quickly becomes apparent that Bella had an unusual upbringing with an overbearing mother, Elaine and distant father, Henry. Both Bella and Henry are lost without Elaine who was clearly the driving influence within their family but seem unable to comfort one another. It takes Henry's shocking confession of a secret hidden for decades for Bella to finally start to shake of the shackles of both her claustrophobic childhood and oppressive marriage and she flees to Cornwall where she slowly learns the truth about her past and has to come to terms with the realisation that not only was she living a lie but that the truth doesn't come with a magic wand that makes everything right. This is what makes In Her Wake such a superlative book. The mystery of Bella's past alone is a gripping story but it's the familial relationships portrayed that make this such a beautiful and poignant book. Jennings acknowledges that learning the truth doesn't mean an automatic happy ending and what you wish for can also be what you fear. Relationships and reunions are complicated and fragile, this is no Disneyfied story where everything falls into place, people are tentative, often wrong-footed and completely believable. Bella herself is a character who could so easily have been one dimensional, the wronged victim who we should feel only pity for, who sleepwalked from the controlling influence of her mother to that of her husband. Jennings, though has written a far more nuanced character. Although Bella is undoubtedly vulnerable she is also stubborn, inventive, frustrating, untruthful and compassionate. The truth itself is revealed gradually and I particularly enjoyed how Jennings employs different devices to explain what happened; from Bella's flashbacks, through the memories of others and chapters set in the past focused on Elaine and David. We are just given glimpses of what actually occurred though, scattered jigsaw pieces that only come together near the end of the book and not without a few twists.
In Her Wake is an outstanding book that combines a superb psychological thriller with a thoughtful and searingly honest look at family relationships and the deep need to understand who you are. That it's also written with such beautiful prose and with breathtaking descriptions of the Cornish scenery makes this a book that deserves every plaudit that comes its way.
In Her Wake is published by Orenda Books.

Book Review - What Remains of Me by A.L. Gaylin



People don't need to know you're a murderer.
They just have to think you could be...

What Remains of Me is a psychological suspense novel, the action shifts between events leading up to the conviction of teenager Kelly Lund for the murder of Hollywood director, John McFadden in 1980 and the aftermath of the murder of his closest friend, Sterling Marshall in 2014 when Kelly, five years out of prison and married to Marshall's son looks to be the main suspect again. Gradually secrets and lies are revealed until the truth about both murders is uncovered.
At first it seems as if both cases are cut and dried, convicted of the first murder and with strong evidence that she also committed the second, I wondered if What Remains of Me was going to be less of a whodunnit and more of a howshedunnit. Once it became apparent that there was much more to this story (or stories) I was hooked. The scenes set in 1980s Hollywood brought to mind a dark Brat Pack movie, bored rich teenagers befriend an outsider, skip school to take drugs and act up because their home life isn't as perfect as it would appear at first. The present day storyline is equally well written and it's a credit to the author that I cared about these characters and what happened to them, particularly the central protagonist Kelly who is somewhat of an enigma. Do we pity her or condemn her? Gaylin has constructed a narrative that is shocking, sympathetic and a believable exposé of celebrity culture and the industry that feeds off it. This is a book of layers and twists, it kept me guessing and managed to surprise me a few times as the truth about the families whose lives have become intertwined is gradually revealed. The premise of two connected mysterious separated by decades is superbly executed and this is a really enjoyable, "just one more chapter then I'll go to sleep" sort of book.  I do enjoy stories with split narratives, especially when the contemporary and historical work harmoniously. What Remains of Me is one of those books and I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publishers, Arrow for my copy received through NetGalley in return for my honest review. What Remains of Me will be published in the UK on 1st December 2016 and can be downloaded to Kindles now.