Shiver by Allie Reynolds

I was looking for something quick and gripping to read as I was laid up in bed with a fever and I couldn’t have asked for anything better, than Allie Reynolds’s book, Shiver.

Set in the Alps, it’s about a group of competitive snowboarders who, ten years after they’re involved in a tragedy, come together to commemorate the loss of one of their own. Believing they’ve been invited for an exclusive weekend in a resort they’re all familiar with, once they arrive, they find things are not what they seem. As the hours pass, they swiftly understand that whoever invited them – and it wasn’t who they thought – has done so with sinister intentions. But which of them is it? And what are the dark secrets they all seem to be hiding?]

Told from the perspective of one of the snowboarders, Milla, and moving between the present and ten years earlier, the story moves quickly, the suspense and claustrophobic feel of not only being trapped on a mountain, but with fiercely egotistic and alpha personalities, takes its toll.

The writing is taut, you are able to suspend your disbelief and let the story carry you. The characters aren’t always particularly likeable, though a couple are redeemed, and it’s a credit to Reynolds that she doesn’t shy away from exposing the less than glamourous aspect of competitive sport and athletes at these levels. It was a great way to spend a few hours, curled up in bed, turning pages of what was a thrilling read. 

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Mrs England by Stacey Hall

After reading so many positive reviews of Mrs England, a new historical fiction by Stacey Hall, I simply had to read it. The title is bold and strangely evocative and the cover is gorgeous too, but it’s what lies between that is utterly compelling.

A slow burn of a book, it draws you in with beautiful prose and marvellously but economically crafted characters (this is high praise – Hall allows you to see and even understand a person with a deft few words). The titular character from which the book earns its title doesn’t appear for quite a while and, indeed, the story is told from the first-person point of view of Norland nurse, Ruby May. Quiet, efficient, in some ways Mary Poppins-like, Ruby is a woman who takes her work and the charges in her care very seriously. She knows her place and responsibilities. The Norland Institute motto – Fortitude in Adversity – is etched on her conscience. 

When circumstances send Ruby to Yorkshire to care for the four children of the wealthy England family, who are part of a greater dynasty who have made their riches from wool and milling, she meets the challenges of a new family, new charges and new area with aplomb. The master of the house, Mr England, is nothing like she expected, nor is his quiet, disinterested wife, the lovely but very fragile Mrs England.

As the weeks go by and Ruby settles in, the children responding to her genuine care and ability to nurture and bring out the best, she begins to sense that all is not as it seems in this strange but beguiling family. As letters go missing, information is misunderstood or misconstrued and mysterious goings-on begin to occur, Ruby starts to wonder if she has misjudged not only the family, but her own abilities. After all, Ruby has her own secrets, ones that if they should be revealed will not only threaten her livelihood, but that of those she loves.

This is one of those books that lingers in a strange and quite wondrous way. The telling is superb and even though in some ways not much seems to happen, it is like an ice-berg with nine-tenths occurring below the surface. You cannot stop turning the pages, wanting to know, to find out more. The story-telling is first-rate, each scene building on the last, persuading you to keep going so you can see the complete picture… and yet, it remains somehow elusive. And then, just when you think you have it all sorted and neatly wrapped up, Hall delivers one of the best OMG moments on the final page. It overturns everything and, if you hadn’t already gleaned why the book carries the title it does, this will cement it for you.

A really clever, completely fabulous read. 

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The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

Having thoroughly enjoyed White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I couldn’t wait to read his latest. As usual, life got in the way and it wasn’t until work was put aside for Christmas that I was able to treat myself to this marvellous and structurally clever novel and immerse myself in its mystery.

Set on an island off the coast of Victoria Australia, the action occurs during winter, when most of the tourists have gone and the residents are left to live their usual lives. When a body is found, not only does the town begin to whisper and those whose lives are affected by the murder rush to cover up long-held secrets, but the newly minted widow arrives to pick up the pieces and discover what led to her husband’s death – a man, it swiftly becomes apparent, she didn’t really know as well as she thought.

Atmospheric, wonderful, stark and evocative prose, this is a book that will hold you in thrall as it slowly builds to a conclusion that when you see it coming will impress you for its craftiness.

Another wonderful read from White – I cannot wait to see what he produces next.

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The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

The second Cormac Reilly book by Dervla McTiernan, The Scholar, is a gripping read, a genuine page-turner that had me staying up into the wee hours because I simply had to finish it. 

Cormac and his scientist girlfriend, Dr Emma, have now moved to Galway where Cormac has been assigned cold cases and given the cold shoulder by his new bosses while Emma takes up a prestigious job in a pharmaceutical research company attached to the local university. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus grounds, and Emma is the one to discover the body, it sets in motion a chain of events that have devastating consequences, not just for the victim’s friends and family, but for Cormac and Emma as well.

McTiernan has done a marvellous job of expanding upon the primary characters she established in her debut novel, The Ruin, and introducing some new ones as well. She also uses police politics and procedures to give the reader insight into how various characters cope with not only the mundanity of the everyday, but the impact this, and the trauma of police work, can have upon families, individuals as well as the toxicity of certain personalities and their motivations in the workplace. DS Cormac Reilly is a terrific character and his relationship with Emma is still finding its feet as she deals with the fallout of the past and he has to overcome his urge to protect her. It feels real as do the various issues they have that any busy professionals with psychologically and physically demanding jobs as well as emotional baggage could face. 

Not only does McTiernan create relatable characters you invest in (or even dislike intensely even while understanding why they might behave a particular way), but the plot is also given careful treatment. It is tight, totally believable and intense. I had to know how this book resolved itself and couldn’t sleep until I did – and then it kept turning over and over in my head.

A fantastic follow-up to what’s already proving to be a sensational series. Cannot wait for the nest installment. 

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Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

The second book in the Vera Stanhope series, Telling Tales, centres on a cold case – the murder of young, rather promiscuous and self-confident young girl, Abigail Mantel, who is found dead on a moor. The killer, a Jeannie Long, the former girlfriend of Abigail’s father, the known and a little bit shady womaniser, Keith Mantel, is jailed for the crime she swears she didn’t commit. Fast forward 10 years, and Jeannie’s alibi is found to be solid. Alas, it’s too little, too late as this information comes after Jeannie commits suicide in jail.

Enter Vera Stanhope, untidy, nosy, larger-than-life and strong mentally and physically, who travels to the small, fictional village of Elvet with her partner Joe Ashworth to look into what is now an unsolved cold case to see if she can track down the killer. Not made to feel welcome by local colleagues, Vera nonetheless perseveres. What she finds in Elvet, apart from those who knew Abigail all those years ago including her best friend, Emma, and her family as well as the police in charge of the initial investigation but who are now retired, is a village full of intense, strange people with a propensity to tell stories about themselves and each other. It’s up to Vera to sort out fact from fiction. When someone else connected the old case is found dead, Vera needs to work harder than ever before the killer strikes again.

Wonderfully atmospheric with powerful characterisations, this novel is a treat for crime and mystery lovers, but also those who enjoy a story that lets you really sink your teeth into the people and the place. You can see the houses people live in, smell the flowers growing in the fields and hear the crack of frost upon the ground. In this second book, Vera comes into her own and what makes her tick, her self-doubts, inner convictions as well as the way she relates to people is really fleshed out.

Cleeves is such a terrific writer and I am devouring this series (like the Shetland one) with a mixture of longing and regret. Longing because I am enjoying every single word and regret because I know it will soon come to an end.

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