Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Girl Who Wanted to Belong by Angela Hart

It's hard to conceive that some children who have a seemingly complete family unit end up in foster care. But this is what happens to Lucy. Her father and three siblings were abandoned by her mother when she was four. One stepmother didn't work out, the next one is your quintessential wicked stepmother. Lucy is hard work, it's true: over-exuberant, temperamental…a bit of a wild child. But an absent mother and then two unpleasant stepmothers certainly don't help. After being dumped on two aunties, then a grandmother, none of whom can cope with her, foster carers Angela and Jonathan take her in.

This is Angela's true story…a foster carer for many years…of Lucy. An eye-opening account of the life of a foster carer, how they cope (are they saints?) with children of wide-ranging distress and trauma, red tape, the constraints they face, and in Lucy's case, unpleasant people. 

There wasn't anything wrong with Lucy that a stable, loving, understanding family unit couldn't have put right. But enter Wendy, stepmum number two and with her, the inevitability of Lucy's behavioural deterioration and fallout of rejection. Wendy is a piece of work, an evil piece of work. As for Dean, Lucy's dad, I have nothing but contempt for him. He's a limp rag who dances to Wendy's tune. Instead of putting his immediate family first, he let Wendy and her sultry daughter rule the roost. The names have obviously been changed, but if either of them read this book, they will know who they are, and I hope they hang their heads in shame. The poignancy and heartbreak are Lucy's eternal and profound love for her daddy and steadfast conviction that her foster care is minimally temporary. 

I don't often read non-fiction books, but Hart has a very engaging style to relate her foster-caring experiences: it's like reading a (very compelling) novel. It's tragic to remember it's all true. 

We do get to learn where and how Lucy ends up. It's a bumpy road, for sure…I won't spoil it, but let's just say, Angela did good! 

I now know just a teensy bit more about foster caring than I did before. One thing is certain, some foster carers are amazing: their patience, tolerance and unconditional love for their wards is truly awesome. 


Sunday, 28 June 2020

I Never Lie by Jody Sabral

This is quite an intense psychological thriller. Gripping and compelling.

I'm not sure quite what I felt about Alex, TV journalist: she's supposed to be a 'functioning alcoholic'. Seems to be a bit of an oxymoron to me. If you drink a bottle of vodka for breakfast, I wouldn't say you're functioning. If you blackout three times in a week, minimum, and can't remember what you did, you're not functioning.

Sympathy  for her isn't at the top of my list. I'll be honest, I'm not sure I like her very much. She cuts rather a pathetic figure. Oh but, she's not an alcoholic, of course, she can control her drinking, and she can stop when she needs to. After a near career-ending drunken rant on air, she tries to rebuild her future. She's in a good place, doing well, with a growing Twitter audience. She's doesn't have a problem with alcohol. Certainly not. 

Three murders, local to where she lives is the news story she's banking on to get her back on the ladder: it's her neck of the woods, she's the ideal person to take the lead on the reporting. But while she's trying to be the best, she's still fighting the battle with her notion that alcohol is not a problem. Even vital gaping chasms in her memory aren't spelling it out for her. It's all getting a bit messy. Especially when this huge story is edging into her life, past and present.

Alex is brilliantly drawn. The plot is well constructed and it's very well-written. No points for present-tense narrative, though…just not my thing…never works in my view. But that's just a by the by. It's a good, tense thriller that keeps your attention right to the end.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Welcome the Little Children by Lynda McDaniel

I was a little upset towards the end of this book, as the title caught my eye: Appalachian Trilogy. Trilogy—three:  oh no! And this is the third book. I think I might cry.

I've thoroughly enjoyed this little series. And talk about character development! Abit, described by his father as 'a bit slow', just continues to grow. He has a such a refreshingly straightforward outlook on life. Things are what they are. There's a clear divide between right and wrong. He's loyal, thoughtful, committed, steadfast (sorry, Abit, I've pinched one of your words). Hmm...sounds like the perfect man!

McDaniel's trilogy is a treasure. Characters are colourful, entertaining, diverse, likeable. The plots in each book are well structured, well developed and complete. In this book, Abit and Della…whom I would describe as Abit's surrogate mother and saviour…are on the trail of a young mother who has upped and offed without a trace, leaving her two young children and their father, Enoch. The nature of her disappearance forces suspicion to fall on, amongst others, Enoch. But Della is like a dog with a bone, and she is determined to find out where the missing mother is and the person responsible. The trail goes cold, but two years later, coincidence plays into Della's hands. 

Ten years are neatly parcelled in this book. There's icing on the cake in the form of Abit's and Fiona's relationship. One teensy crack in that icing, though: a little snippet of information Abit's mother reveals. I'll leave that there. 

My half-hour nightly reading before lights out have been spent in the very best company. What will I do now?

The Roads to Damascus by Lynda McDaniel

I was totally smitten by the first novel in this series. Abit, Della and Alex cocooned me in the Appalachian backdrop, and no sooner had I finished their first 'case', I was more than a little eager for their company again. 

We've moved on four years, and Abit has returned to education, previously curtailed by his father due to Abit's 'slowness'. It all goes well until a spot of bother with a girl. Not the 'bun in the oven' sort of bother. Something a bit more serious: fraud and con artists. And this 'nice' young girl, with her partner and mother-in-law, cunningly put Abit in the frame. His first port of call for help is Della and Alex, who arm their fledgling with a car, some intel and a 'you can do this on your own' shove. Abit is twenty years old, he's smart, he's resourceful: as far as they're concerned, he can find the lowlifes who have been ripping people off left, right and centre, but they'll be on call if things get tough. 

The first novel was narrated by Abit and Della in equal measure. Here, Abit takes the helm throughout: a sort of a nod to his maturity and schooling. And he's a good storyteller! His solo journey to seek justice and prove his innocence results in an experience of learning, revelation…and a rather pretty little Irish colleen.

Book 2 is always tricky when its predecessor is a five-star act to follow. But McDaniel has cracked it with flying colours. Book 3 is already on my Kindle, at Chapter 1, ready to be devoured!

Friday, 26 June 2020

Psycho Samaritan by Leon A. C. Qualls

Well, crikey. I've never read anything quite like this. It's very dark, very raw, tinged with humour and cynicism and a bit bonkers…literally and metaphorically. 

Once I'd settled into the darkness, rawness and humour, I was cruising along fairly happily until about halfway through. Then I got a bit lost and confused. Probably as much as the main character, and narrator, Lucas. The comicality gets a little bit lost, then, in a rather disturbing plot. 

An old friend, whom Lucas hasn't seen for twenty years, asks him for help to find the person who killed his mother. Not in the 'find him and hand him over to the police' way. In a 'I'll deal with him in a à la Lucas' way. This involves stepping over a number of bodies en route. But Lucas is mentally ill…and his grip on reality is slipping away from him…from the reader, too.

It's a bold plot for a debut novel, and despite my misgivings, this is an author with great promise. I have to admit, I've read a number of novels by Scottish authors, and they're often peppered with  that unique Scottish wit and humour, which is what carried me through this. 

I can't decide whether or not it was just a smidge too dark and twisted for me. But I can certainly say it's bizarrely compelling.

Monday, 18 May 2020

A Life for a Life by Lynda McDaniel

I really enjoyed this book. Much as I loved the mystery side of it, what I particularly loved about it was the special relationship between the two main characters. 

There are two narrators, recounting an event from some twenty years previously. One is Della, an ex reporter who decides to give up the pressure of her Washington job and settles for country life in the Appalachian countryside. The other is Abit. Unusual name? Yes. But I won't spoil it for you! Abit is a young teenager who is best described in modern terms as 'on the spectrum'. Della and Abit share a very special relationship: no, nothing salacious. Just special. Della sees qualities in Abit his parents overlook. Watching his development over the course of the book was just lovely.

The event that binds them is Della's discovery of a dead girl whilst walking her dog. The local police dismiss it as a suicide. But Della's investigative instincts as a journalist ignite. There's more to it. With the help of young Abit, friends and her ex husband, they aim to get to the bottom of the tragedy. 

This has a solid plot cushioned by Abit and Della's friendship. Beautifully and perfectly executed and written. 

I was a smidge disappointed to get to the end, further evidence of the author's skill. She manages to pull you right into the story, into the scenery and into Appalachian life to the point that you not only feel as if you're there, but actually really want to be.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Shadow of the Jaguar by DV Berkom

Every time a Leine Basso thriller falls into my lap, my 'currently reading' book gets finished in double-quick time. I'm Leine's biggest fan!

She's back, with her daughter, in the Amazon jungle this time. Her boss's niece, Nancy, with her father, is on the hunt for an ancient traditional medicine. But the expedition stumbles on evidence that there is a 'lost' city of gold. Knowledge of which hasn't escaped a greedy, immoral, ruthless drug trafficker, Dario. He isn't going to let anything get in the way of the prospect of huge wealth for the rest of his pathetic days. Nancy's kidnap is a way to that end. It's up to Leine and her daughter to find Nancy and stop Dario exploiting an ancient site. 

The hardest thing for an author is a series. Each book has to be as good as the first to keep the reader's interest piqued, and I can honestly say, that this, number 10 in the series, is as excellent as the first.  As nail-biting, as thrilling, as action-packed.

And now I want the next one yesterday.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Thank goodness I finished this…I don't think I breathed after the first page! The suspense was like a snowball that starts the size of a cricket ball at the top of a hill and ends up a six-foot boulder at the bottom! There's tension and atmosphere from page one, then the intrigue just rolls and rolls and gets more intense, more thrilling and more twisty. What a story. 

Fifteen years separates successful artist Emma Davis's two trips to Camp Nightingale. The first ended in tragedy, when her three cabin camp mates went missing. It also marked the end of the camp, owned by wealthy Francesca Harris-White. But fifteen years later, Francesca is keen to reopen the camp and restore it to its former glory, and invites Emma along, this time as art teacher. She's nervous to return…the events affected her deeply for many years, but it's an opportunity to face those demons and perhaps find out what really happened to her friends. 

I was slightly knocked off my smug perch with this one. I usually guess the who did it (not necessarily what or why), somewhere between 60-80% into a thriller. Not with this one. I bounced between a few possibles, but I was totally unprepared for the reveal. Not only that, we get just one more brilliant final twist. 

Excellent book. My 'read more of' list isn't long. Exclusive admission only. But Sager has earned himself a well-deserved place.