You Don’t Know Me (Imran Mahmood)

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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?

Have you ever come across a book that you just knew you had to read as soon as possible? It didn’t matter that you didn’t know the author or hadn’t read any reviews… you just needed it. That’s what happened to me with You Don’t Know Me. One look at the blurb and I was sold.

I admit I was scared I wouldn’t like this as much as I hoped, but it was quite the opposite, actually. This novel blew me away. And I’m perfectly aware that it won’t be a book for everyone (because of the ending, for starters), but those are perhaps the most interesting ones. And I know it was the right book for me, as I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for days.

This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It might be a legal thriller, but only on the surface. The whole book (well, except for a couple of chapters at the end) is told from the defendant’s perspective. We’re told that he has fired his lawyer and has decided to make his final speech all by himself. And what a speech! The book is violent, gritty and filled with plenty of wrong decisions. I was completely enchanted by his monologue.

The story just flows. It is written in a very “informal” style, the way a man his age would talk in real life. And it kept me glued to the pages like no other. It’s impossible not to care for the main character (we don’t even learn his name). After all, he’s telling you his entire life. His story was sad and devastating at times, but it’s an excellent one and I’m so glad I was able to read it.

As captivated I was by You Don’t Know Me, I couldn’t help but feel that the jury would be fed up with him. He talks for about ten days! And the story isn’t exactly straight-forward, as the guy surely likes to talk. Nevertheless, I thought it was endearing and I couldn’t put it down. I started it before going to bed one evening and as soon as I woke up the next morning, I read the rest in one sitting.

If you want to read something completely unique… don’t look any further. And let’s discuss it afterwards!

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ARC, Michael Joseph, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Hannah Tinti)

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After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most.

This novel had one of the most wonderful beginnings I’ve read in quite some time. As soon as I started reading The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, I knew it would be a highly unique story. Hours later, I had finished it and I knew I had been right: I had never read something quite like this. However, my initial delight wasn’t always present, as I admit I struggled a bit because of its length.

I wouldn’t say this is a mystery; it’s more like a coming of age story and a contemporary action thriller: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a tale about family, loneliness and fitting in. The writing by Hannah Tinti is brilliant and the characters are simply unforgettable. I think we can expect a film sometime in the next few years.

Who are the main characters? Let’s introduce you to Samuel Hawley and Loo (father and daughter). They’ve just moved to Olympus, Massachusetts and they’re having a hard time fitting in. Years pass (Loo is twelve at first and seventeen in the last chapter) while we’re witness of their struggles and endless adventures. At the same time, there are some flashback chapters where we learn about Samuel’s 12 lives (bullet scars that he carries on his body). Initially, I thought this flashbacks were a great idea, but the more I read, the more these parts felt repetitive. For once, I was more interested in the present story, especially Loo’s “coming of age”.

As I said, Loo was simply amazing (independent, strong and complex) and, even though we didn’t get to know her that much, Mabel Ridge was also a character I wanted to know more about. The mystery surrounding Loo’s mother, Lily, was one of my favorite aspects of the book. And I appreciated how the author made no excuses for anyone’s behavior. After all, when you love someone, you’re able to overlook their mistakes… Blood is thicker than water.

In the end, I think I will remember this book because there’s something quite special about it. It hasn’t been my favorite read of the year, but I’m not sure I’ll read something quite like it anytime soon. And that’s not something you can say often.

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Netgalley, Tinder Press, 2017

Blog Tour | Born Bad (Marnie Riches)

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When gang leader Paddy O’Brien is stabbed in his brother’s famous nightclub, Manchester’s criminal underworld is shaken to the core. Tensions are running high, and as the body count begins to grow, the O’Brien family must face a tough decision – sell their side of the city to the infamous Boddlington gang or stick it out and risk losing their king. But war comes easy to the bad boys, and they won’t go down without a fight. So begins a fierce battle for the South Side, with the leading Manchester gangsters taking the law into their own hands – but only the strongest will survive…

EXTRACT

As she crossed the room behind Paddy, the animated chatter calmed almost instantly to a low, mournful thrum. Everybody took a respectful step back to let the great King Patrick advance to his rightful place next to Frank, who was standing by the white and gold coffin – its lid mercifully closed now that the Vigil had taken place. Sheila had been amazed that her nephew had been made to look like he was just sleeping off a good night in Ibiza. Appearing rather worse for wear than his dead son, however, Frank now looked like he had spent the night at the bottom of a bottle of vodka. Paddy slapped him across the back and cleared his throat, his eyes darting across the room, as though he didn’t know how to react to a man who unashamedly displayed the visible pain of the bereaved.

‘Sheila,’ Frank said, his chin dimpling up and the corners of his mouth turning downwards. He embraced her warmly, leaking hot tears onto her neck. Poor bastard.
‘We’re here for you, Frank,’ she said, beckoning her girls close so that they should also show their uncle moral support. Casting an eye over the scores of O’Brien cousins, uncles, aunties, dressed to impress. ‘Your family’s all here.’

He shook his head too energetically. Wiped his eyes on the cuff of his jacket.

‘Jack was my fucking family,’ he said, hammering his chest with a nicotine-stained index finger. ‘I lost everything when I lost my boy.’

He directed a bitter stare towards Paddy.

Frank staggered out behind the coffin towards the waiting cortege that lined the leafy side-street. The gleaming black funeral limousine and hearse stood out among vehicles of relatives and pimped-up rides of Jack’s inner circle and O’Brien firm lackeys.

People thronged the street, as if it were a state burial – the men nodding respectfully and the women offering sympathetic smiles to Frank. Dressed in a fine black suit and slim tie, he looked the part, but Sheila could see from the pitch and roll of his walk and his bowed posture that e was drowning on the inside. A ship threatening to capsize. She linked arms with him, pleased to swap Paddy – who was too preoccupied with shaking the hands of his acolytes to be feeling anything but pride – for a thin-skinned man who was flooded with the full spectrum of emotions.

With the reassuring presence of Conky McFadden travelling behind them and the flower-filled hearse in front, they journeyed through the red-brick streets of south Manchester, bustling with back-packed students hurrying to their lectures, to the Holy Name church on Oxford Road. Focusing on the black peaked cap and creased, red neck of the driver, Sheila was careful to avoid the gaze of Paddy. He was sitting, legs akimbo, like he was en-route to a party, holding a monologue that nobody listened to about the O’Brien dynasty and feudal nature of respect. She made damned sure that he couldn’t see her wincing with pain from the bruising caused by his punches.

Finally, as the car pulled up behind the hearse, Sheila understood the enormity of an O’Brien being murdered. Jack O’Brien, of all people. The pavement outside the large, sandstone Catholic almost-cathedral churned with people. Gaggles of young girls decked out in hotpants and vests as though they were heading off to the Trafford Centre for a day’s shopping, taking macabre selfies with the hearse in the background. Paparazzi, snapping nattily dressed black guys whom Sheila recognised as rappers, with their arms slung nonchalantly around the shoulders of singers she had seen on the music channels that played continually on the gym’s TVs. All fluttering false eyelashes and backcombed 1950s hair. Actors, recognisable from soap operas. The region’s glitterati and gritterati had come out in force. Jack clearly hadn’t belonged to the O’Briens. He had belonged to the world. Sheila wondered how Paddy felt now, knowing he was a zero next to his dead nephew. The thought made her smile.

As the pall-bearers shuffled forwards, bearing the coffin on their shoulders, Paddy pushed his way between Sheila and the beleaguered Frank. Placed his arm territorially around Frank’s shoulder.

‘Back off, She,’ he said, glancing in her direction but not meeting her disgruntled glare. As he turned to face forwards, she was sure he winked at some groupie onlooker who was dabbing artfully at observant, dry eyes. ‘This is brotherly business.’

Feeling her cheeks flush hot, Sheila bit her lip and looked down at her shoes. Acknowledged the pain where Paddy had hit her but pushed it aside, hooking her arm inside Dahlia’s. Swallowed hard as her brother-in-law started to sob like a small boy with a skinned knee. From behind, she watched his shoulders heaving, but there was nothing she could do to comfort Frank. She walked three steps behind. Always a cheap afterthought in expensive clothing. At her side, Conky McFadden lifted his glasses and fixed her with his bulging thyroid eyes. Behind the disconcerting frog-like stare, she saw sympathy. Even Conky could see the hurt she thought she was hiding so well.

Inside, the organ played a solemn hymn that echoed around the lofty vaulted ceiling. She had loved coming here as a little girl, on the way back into town from school. Alighting from the bus at the university students’ union, she would sit in silence on one of the pews, marvelling that the tiny golden crucifix, hanging above the altar, was such a modest focal-point in such a famous and otherwise ornate church. The Smiths had sung about it. Even Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street had had her funeral mass here.

Towards the front, she spotted Gloria, looking prim but proud beneath a fascinator that had Debenhams written all over it. She gave her a fleeting smile that would remind her she was not family. Noticed Maureen Kaplan and her posse of bent accountants on the same row, all deferentially nodding at Frank and Paddy. All except for the man that wasn’t one of Kaplan’s sons. What was his name, again? Goodman. David Goodman. He looked like he was about to vomit. And, perhaps most interestingly, she noticed that Goodman was staring intently over at a small dishevelled-looking man with a buzz cut and glasses, sitting next to a frump of a woman with hair that resembled a brown helmet.

The detective and the tax inspector. The gruesome twosome. Ellis James and Ruth Darley.

I had never read any Marnie Riches’ novel before, but I had always wanted to. Her Georgina McKenzie novels are quite popular and everyone agrees she’s an author to watch out for! Born Bad was a gritty crime thriller set in Manchester with a powerful set of characters and a promising ending.

The book is told by multiple voices. Not two or even three, but actually more. I was confused at first, as every chapter seemed to introduce a brand new character and their story. However, soon it all began to click together. This is a complex tale, a story of evil and ambition, a fight for power and success. Who will be the last man standing?

Who do we have here? First, gangster Paddy O’Brien, whom I hated with a passion but was the key to everything. Then there’s his wife Sheila, his right hand Conky and his brother Frank. The Boddlington gang has Tariq and Jonny, and the dangerous Fish Man… and then you have Lev. Keep in mind that I’m not even mentioning all the other supporting characters like Gloria, Frank’s son or Lev’s ex-wife Almost all the characters were evil and hard to like, but perhaps Conky and Leviticus Bell were the ones you could understand a bit more. Not that I would ever be friends with them, but at least they weren’t as bad as the others. And that’s saying something.

The book is filled with suspense and the action begins already in the first chapter. What a way to start a book! And it doesn’t exactly slow down… This is not a fluffy read by any means and you will definitely need something lighter when you finish reading. It’s just one of those books where practically everyone seems to be over-manipulative and selfish, caring only about money and success. And that undoubtedly makes for great stories, but I still wished I had someone to root for. The dark world of Manchester reminded me of Sirens by Joseph Knox; although, Aidan, as flawed as he was, has managed to hold a special place in my heart. Sadly, I can’t say this will happen with any of these characters.

As for the ending, I think it was made clear that this is only the start of a series, and I really enjoyed the final chapters leading to that powerful conclusion. There were some fun surprises and a final twist that made me smile, even if I didn’t exactly like what had happened. Perfect for fans of gangsters, action and violence.

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Avon Books, 2017

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The Promise (Casey Kelleher)

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When their mother is sentenced for brutally murdering a client, Georgie and Marnie’s already precarious lives are blown apart and they now share a terrible secret. Sent to a children’s home, the sisters hope this might finally be their safe haven after years of neglect. But they soon discover they’re in real danger. Desperate to find a place of safety, Georgie and Marnie run for their lives, but end up in the hands of Delray Anderton. A violent London gangster and notorious pimp, Delray has big plans for beautiful teenager Georgie, seeing her as a chance to make some serious money. Fiercely protective of each other, Georgie and Marnie must escape the clutches of a man who will do anything to keep the sisters for himself. And, they must keep the promise they made to each other – no one can ever know the truth.

The Promise was a unique and gripping read and I can honestly say had never read something quite like it. Was it a thrilling book? Sure. Will I remember it forever? Probably not.

This is the story of Josie Parker and her daughters Marnie and Georgie. Josie is a drug-addicted prostitute who can’t seem to catch a break. She’s poor, their house is filthy and they barely have any money for food. What’s more: Marnie and Georgie spend their evenings locked in their rooms while her mother entertains her clients. Meanwhile, we have Delray Anderton, who happens to be Josie’s pimp and basically a really bad guy. And Delray has some plans regarding Javine Turner, a young woman who wants it all…

Although this was surely a fast and engaging read, I thought it lacked some mystery and surprises. I didn’t feel like I was reading a crime book, but simply a series of misfortunes. I guess I thought it would be a different type of novel and even though I couldn’t stop reading, I wanted a more memorable plot. Also, I can’t say that the ending caught me by surprise. However, despite the story being kind of simple, the characters, on the other hand, were not. And I loved that.

I need to warn you: The Promise by Casey Kelleher includes multiple graphic scenes and deals with ugly topics, so this is not for the faint-hearted. Let’s say I was glad I wasn’t eating anything while reading some of its scenes. When I finished the book, I suddenly felt the need of watching a silly rom-com and live in a world of rainbows and glitter. It was weirdly addictive, though.

Anyway, I would definitely pick up another book by Casey Kelleher, as I almost couldn’t believe that I wanted to keep reading after everything Marnie and Georgie went through. She’s an excellent writer that manages to suck you into the lives of her characters and never lets you go.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Netgalley – Bookouture, 2017

The Beautiful Dead (Belinda Bauer)

25705825Eve Singer needs death. With her career as a TV crime reporter flagging, she’ll do anything to satisfy her ghoulish audience. The killer needs death too. He even advertises his macabre public performances, where he hopes to show the whole world the beauty of dying. When he contacts Eve, she welcomes the chance to be first with the news from every gory scene. Until she realizes that the killer has two obsessions. One is public murder. And the other one is her . . .

The Beautiful Dead was a quick and compelling read, a fun (and dark!) book that I managed to read in less than two days. And while I had a great time reading it, I can’t say it’ll become one of my favorites, although I’d still recommend it to all crime fans.

The theme was appealing enough: a crime reporter who is always the first one to visit the crime scenes. A serial killer who wants to be famous. What if the killer knew how to convince the reporter to do what he wanted? Imagine the possibilities… The idea reminded me of the movie Nightcrawler and I think this one could also become a great film, as it definitely offers all the right ingredients.

Maybe it was because I was expecting something much different, but The Beautiful Dead didn’t impress me as I hope it would. This was a proper thriller and I was hoping for a mystery instead. Anyway, you only need to know that this isn’t a whodunnit and there were no surprises or big twists. But it was a thrilling book, no doubt about that.

Curiously enough, what I enjoyed the most was reading about Eve’s relationship with her father. The dialogues were funny and sad at the same time and their relationship felt really tragic and poignant. There were a few chapters in the end where I couldn’t stop reading, wondering what would happen to our main characters.

If you love fast-paced thrillers filled with dialogue and dark scenes, then The Beautiful Dead is a real winner. A  witty MC and some great secondary characters are what makes this one a worthy read. I guess liked the characters and the idea more than the plot itself.

Similar recommendations:
Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn)
Heartsick (Chelsea Cain) 

Other reviews:
Kindle Light
Novel Gossip

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bantam Press, 2016 – Copy from publishers

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