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Guest Post with Sarah Armstrong

Good day ladies and gentlespoons!

I have the pleasure of presenting to you a guest post from Sarah Armstrong, author of the newly released novel The Devil In The Snow.

The thing that stood out to me the most while reading this book was the strong focus on mother and daughter relationships across generations of the same family, so I asked the author if she could tell us a little bit more about this.

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Mothers and daughters

We think we know how the theme of mothers and daughters should play out. Everyone has an understanding of the way the relationship should be, with the adoring young daughter, resentful teenager and conciliatory adult. In The Devil in the Snow, my mothers and daughters have to navigate their relationships with each other, but under an unusual kind of pressure.

My main character, Shona, is repeating the same pattern of angry resentment with her daughter, Cerys, that was played out between Shona and her mother, Greta. Shona knows that unhealthy habits are being repeated, but can’t seem to break the pattern. Greta can see exactly what is going on, but Shona refuses to believe in the family curse. Who would want to believe that the devil was after their family?

The line, ‘But she hadn’t quite turned out to be that kind of mother, and Cerys wasn’t that kind of daughter,’ was one of those which floated into my head when I was thinking of other things. We have expectations, as reader, as parents, and as daughters, of what an ideal mother-daughter relationship should be like. There is a strong archetype of perfect mother-daughter pairs who go shopping and have lunch, a dynamic of strength in their similarities. Shona wants this with her daughter, but refuses to do the same for her mother. I use the theme of familial repetition in many different ways in the novel.

When we find fault in ourselves, we sometimes look back to see who can be blamed for our large feet or a tendency to stay in bed too long. Genetics link us back through time, way before we can start to follow the threads. However, for Greta, Shona and Cerys, inheritance isn’t just made of physical flaws, but an external and determined threat, chasing them through the centuries.

The idea of a family curse linked to inheritance can be traced, in my own life, to the metabolic illness within my own family and other families I know. Metabolic disorders are inherited and triggered by genes from both the mother and father, causing problems in the way energy is processed. These unknowable, unseen genes sit within our DNA for generations, silently being passed on, waiting for that pair to cause problems. The symbol of the devil becomes a way of looking at the real, physical world, and the threats we can pose to our children without even knowing. Neither Greta nor Shona want to believe the warnings, and so the cycle continues.

The relationship between the mothers and daughters in The Devil in the Snow is complicated by the same thing that complicated the relationship between the sisters in my first novel, The Insect Rosary. Their situations are made problematic by an unwillingness to learn from the past. Everyone is doing their best, but it isn’t until they start listening to each other that they become formidable and can finally face the true enemy.


Sarah Armstrong

Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and she teaches creative writing for the Open University.

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Review: The Devil In The Snow by Sarah Armstrong

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Published by Sandstone Press

3 stars

Synopsis:

All Shona wants is a simple life with her young son, and to get free of Maynard, the ex who’s still living in the house. When her teenage daughter goes missing, she’s certain Maynard is the culprit. Her mother, Greta, is no help as she’s too obsessed with the devil. Her Uncle Jimmy is fresh out of prison and has never been entirely straight with her. Then there’s the shaman living in her shed. Shona soon discovers that the secrets she buried are as dangerous as the family curse haunting her mother.

 

 


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**Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

I don’t think the synopsis does this book justice – I initially though that this was going to be a humourous book, and that’s the one thing that it was not! This book is very surreal at times and impossible to classify as a genre, but it’s definitely not a comedy.
This book is told from the perspective of Shona and her mother, Greta. It covers the history of the women in their family and the traditions and poor choices which seem to have been passed down through the generations.

I’m sure that a lot of the subtext in this book flew right over my head, I’m a very literal kind of reader and I could tell while I was reading this book that there were hidden meanings to things that I just wasn’t getting. It didn’t really affect my enjoyment, I don’t think, but I would be aware of this when you give this book a read.

My fascination with this book was held by the exploration of relationships between mothers and daughters, Shona has shitty relationships with both her mother and her daughter – she certainly hopes for a better one with her daughter but isn’t prepared to make the effort with her mother. It’s an interesting look at a lack of self-awareness within a family, they resent their mothers’ failed relationships with their fathers and then ignore all warnings to avoid making exactly the same mistakes – this is something that I can certainly relate to in my family, we have a long history of poor decision making and I’m trying to at the very least make different bad choices and crack out of the cycle.

The relationships between characters in this book were very authentic, a narrative of messy lives and how people try to make their best in a bad situation – even if they’re responsible for getting in the situation in the first place.

The beginning of the book was a little surreal and there were moments and characters that made little sense to me (why is there a teenage boy living in the shed?!), but the ending became somehow more grounded and tied up neatly. Well… everything apart from the last chapter.

Armstrong’s writing style is very much in the genre of literary fiction in my mind, adding more than a dash of poetry and subtext for you to dwell on as you go through the book. Her characters are believable and well developed, even though I can’t say I really liked a single one of them – which is a sign of a job well done on the author’s part!

My conclusion is that I would recommend this book to fans of literary fiction, looking for a profound look at the relationships between mothers and daughters rather than the suspenseful thriller I was expecting.

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Side note for my fellow book sniffers – this book smelt amazing and went well with marshmallows

 

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Review: The Beast of Bath by Chasity Bowlin

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Synopsis:

Lord Victor Mayhew, Viscount Norcross, lives in the shadows, hiding his scarred face from those who would fear him… or worse, pity him. He’s become accustomed to the dark, and to the aching loneliness that is his only and constant companion. But while traversing the city in the dark of night, he encounters a beautiful woman who is running for her life.

Lady Thessaly Shade has discovered that the prettiest of faces can hide the ugliest of hearts. While Lord Norcross keeps his face carefully concealed from her, he cannot hide the fact that he is a man of honor, a man for whom the word gentleman is a way of life and not merely an honorary title.

With no way to repay him for his kindness, for his courage in aiding her at great risk to himself, Thessaly bargains with the only thing she possesses of value… herself. Can she convince him to trust her, to believe that she can see beyond the scars he bears to the man he is? Or will he push her away out of fear and retreat into the loneliness that he knows so well?

The Beast of Bath is a 30,000 word novella previously published in the Wicked Fairytales Anthology.


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**Thank you to the narrator for a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review**

This is a pretty typical Beauty and the Beast trope novel – man with facial scars rescues a beautiful young woman who can see his inner beauty.

My god, this trope is like crack and it doesn’t matter how many variations of the story that I read or listen to, I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.

Lord Victor Norcross rescues a young woman he finds fleeing for her life in the dark of night, it all follows a slightly absurd path from that point on while he’s checking out her ass during their daring escape, marries her the next day and practices martial arts in his spare time. Absurd, but hey – crack.

Bowlin’s writing style is easy to read and gives you that comfy regency feel, that allows makes Lord Wandering-Eyes Norcross seem classy rather than unnecessarily lecherous. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be scoping out some more of her novellas in future as a more complete introduction to the regency romance genre!

If you do chose to read this book, let me heartily recommend the audiobook version as the best way to enjoy the story! Lillian Yves is one of my favourite narrators and has a particular knack for romance and bringing characters to life, which complements this story perfectly.

As this story was set in Bath, UK, the characters were all British and Yves does a great job flipping between character voices and accents, as well as her own voice for the narration. It does get a little ‘fun’ near the end of the book when the accents briefly start sliding a little between different regions but they do stay close enough that it isn’t distracting. It’s also infinitely better than the cardinal sin I discovered last year…. a character driven story set in Leeds, done entirely in an American accent.
Her voice draws you into the story and keeps the suspense and intensity building throughout.

If you too are a sucker for fairytale retellings, I insist you drop what you’re doing for the next two hours and give the audiobook a listen! It’s the perfect length to listen to during a commute or while doing chores, but I heartily recommend having headphones about for the sexy bits if you don’t want other people to know what smut you listen to in your spare time…

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Review: How the Wolf Lost Her Heart by Sarah Brownlee

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4 stars

Synopsis:

Set against the backdrop of a dystopian London where thugs and criminals run rife, Skye Archer possesses a rare gift, the ability to transform into her spirit animal at will. Widely regarding her morphing ability as a curse, Skye’s aim is to keep it a secret at all costs. But one day she meets the intriguing and affluent, Raphael Renzo, who soon proves to have a secret of his own, one that could heal the downtrodden city and affect Skye in ways she never thought possible…

This debut Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel from Sarah Brownlee is a compelling and gripping read, taking the reader into a world where both the heart of a city and the heart of a girl are simultaneously pierced by one man.


 

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**Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

I’m not generally a YA reader, but look at that cover! It would take someone with stronger principles than I to refuse that cover!

Skye, the main character, lives in a version of London 200 years in our future. Society has changed and though some things have changed for the better (the technology and emergency services are really cool), there is a sense of lawlessness in the city. The only thing standing between London and full scale riots is the uneasy truce between the Renzo and Pearson families.

Skye herself is a moody, emotionally constipated whingebag of a wolf morpher, but I can hardly hold it against her – we’ve all had our off days and we don’t have the ability to turn into animals.
One day, she’s attacked by a group of thugs on the street – led by the son of the Pearson family. Thankfully, Raphael Renzo steps in to save the day. From this point on, Skye has a close up view of how tenuous the peace is in the city.

Obviously the two are desperately attracted to each other, this is a YA novel after all! I did find myself getting a bit irate with how much time and energy they wasted denying their feelings for each other when they have no apparent obstacle keeping them apart.

I love the original concept of the novel, I wouldn’t even call it entirely dystopian at this stage because shit hasn’t gone down yet. The world is well developed and the society is amazing, Morphers are people with the genetic ability to change into their inner beast as a result of an experiment performed 200 years ago. It’s a recessive trait and very rare in the world, however most Morphers suffer persecution and will be immediately executed for attacking a regular human. It’s just another form of racism and seems particularly relevant this year, I can’t wait to see what the rest of this series is going to be like!

While reading this book, I did get a strong sense of ‘debut novel’ as some parts were repeated and a lot of the text could be whittled down so that what was left made more of an impact but the ideas and characters more than make up for this.

If you like YA paranormal romance (like regular paranormal romance but without the boobies) or even standard paranormal fiction but you’re looking for something a little bit different from the usual, I can’t recommend this book enough!

 

 

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Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Published by Random House UK, Ebury Publishing

5 stars

Synopsis:

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.


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**Thank you NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

YES! So much YES!

This book feels like it picks up at the end of a horror film, the bloodstained heroine survives a terrible ordeal and we join her 10 years later when she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’ll have to spend the rest of her life as a ‘final girl’.
Final girls are doomed to become media fodder every time a similar event crops up and the target of weirdos and fetishists, while they try to recover from the trauma of their past.

In this case, Quincy’s doing a pretty good job. She has an income, a strong relationship with her boyfriend Jeff and a future that doesn’t feature any more horror.

The synopsis of this book tells you what’s going on, so no need for me to add any more here or I’ll spoil the fun. I will, however, say that it’s nothing like anything you’ve ever read before. What I enjoyed the most is how Sager has written very complex and developed characters – everyone has a good and a bad side in this book, they’re capable of anything and that’s what keeps the tension going until the very last page.

Sager builds nail biting tension throughout this book, combining the art of the unreliable narrator and characters with everything to hide. I didn’t have a clue how this book was going to end right up until the final chapter and it was BRILLIANT.

Quincy is very easy to connect to as a main character, she’s understandably a neurotic mess after everything that’s happened but she’s moving forward and trying to keep herself together. She’s not a perfect human being, she’s a little too reliant on Xanax and red wide, and she has a fiery temper but she’s doing the best with what she has.

When Sam sweeps into town and forces her to dredge up the past, things start to get messy. The dynamic between the two characters is fascinating, it’s completely unhealthy from the very start but they’ve both survived the most unimaginable hell at the hands of other people and know that the other can understand them.

There’s not a hell of a lot else I can say about this book really other than that I loved it and hope that this author has more books up her sleeve along the lines of this one! She’s come up with an entirely original concept and, as far as I’m concerned, written the story in the best way possible.

If you’re a horror film, thriller or murder mystery aficionado: this book will rock your world. It’s the ultimate survivor’s story, which left me with that ‘you go girl!’ feeling at the end.

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Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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Published by Crown

5 stars

Synopsis:

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.


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**Thank you NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

I started this book just before Christmas and had to read it in small chunks ever since. It’s a tough read and broke my heart on every page.

I don’t normally read more than one book at a time but I needed to punctuate this book with some lighter stuff because it was dragging me down into depression. There’s a trigger warning for you right there: take caution in reading this book if you suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts.
This book is the heart wrenching memoir by the mother of a high school shooter. Sue Klebold was an ordinary mother, she was attentive and involved in her son’s everyday life but she didn’t pick up on the subtle signs which could have shown her what her son was planning.

This book explores that very fact, highlighting how difficult it is to see into the mind of another human being if they choose to hide something, in this case- depression. Dylan’s parents had no idea that he was suicidally depressed for years before he took catastrophic action, and I for one believe that there’s no way they could have known without specialist advice. Unless you’re looking at your loved ones and specifically for signs of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, how  would you spot those signs? How many of us look at children and wonder if they’re thinking about killing themselves or others?

I believe her when she says that Dylan was an empathetic and compassionate teenager. It doesn’t absolve him of anything that he did, but it does shine a new light on matters – a kind and thoughtful teenager can still do these things. Posthumously, Dylan has been diagnosed with various mental conditions which can never be definitively proven but seem very likely.
Klebold uses the term ‘brain health’ a lot in this book rather than ‘mental health’ and makes an excellent point: ‘mental health’ is made to sound so ethereal, as if any illness or diagnosis would be questionable. Whereas with ‘brain health’ is sounds more grounded in fact – we believe in high blood pressure and know that it could cause a heart attack, we should believe in chemical imbalances in the brain that could cause irrational behaviour too. It’s a purely psychological use of the term, but it makes a good point.

This book packs a hell of a punch and does discuss tragedy, grief, depression and suicide in great but essential detail. My heart broke for Sue (I don’t normally use authors’ first names, but this book feels so much like reading someone’s diary that you lose a bit of formality along the way) over and over again,

Sue Klebold has not written this book for financial gain, donating all proceeds to brain health charities. She hasn’t written it to protest her innocence or to beg forgiveness, she’s poured her heart out on a page to tell other people what the signs were that she’d missed in her own son and overall:

‘Anyone can be suicidal. Don’t assume that you and your loved ones are safe, so educate yourself and be aware of the people around you.’

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Review: Sister, Sister by Sue Fortin

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Published by HarperImpulse

3 stars

Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of The Girl Who Lied

Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.
Alice thinks Claire is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.
Two sisters. One truth.


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**Thank you to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

At some point I’m going to have to admit to myself that I’ve watched too much TV and read too many books to be easily surprised, even by the most suspenseful and well written thrillers (this book is worthy of those accreditations).

Sue Fortin is a talented suspense writer, setting the scene powerfully from the start when Clare is stuck in a hospital bed after some kind of accident, we don’t know the details but we know she’s in some way responsible.
After this description, we’re thrown back a few weeks to a time just before Clare is reunited with her long-lost sister. We know that Alice grew up in America after their father took her away 20 years ago, leaving Clare and her mother behind in the UK. They’ve been searching for Alice the whole time and are delighted when she makes contact.

Alice ingratiates herself into the family immediately and Clare’s hackles are up- but the book explores whether Alice is up to something nefarious or if Clare is losing her mind under the shock of family having her family back together again after so long. One thing’s for sure –all is not what it seems.

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Clare wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist, she’s spectacularly selfish and doesn’t spare much thought for the people closest to her. She’s incredibly petty, you get a feeling that she’s smug about being the main breadwinner for her family but also, she gets a kick out of her children making a fuss over her, at the expense of her husband’s feelings.
I can’t help but think that everyone is so quick to believe that Clare is either losing her mind or just acting like a bitch for no reason, that there must be some kind of track record of shitty behaviour on her part.
This was the bit that I struggled to suspend my disbelief with, the only thing that stood between me and 100% enjoyment of this book – I’m too cynical for my own good!

If you’re a fan of thrillers and suspense, particularly from a domestic view (rather than police, spies and secret agents) then I would recommend you pick this book up. It’s so well written that you’ll struggle to put it down!