Anne Bonny #BookReview Only In Whispers by @GrimaJgrima #Thriller #Suspense #Mystery @BooksManatee ‘It is a story of secrets and lies. The secrets we all keep to protect one another.’

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Only In Whispers by Jacqueline Grima
Review Copy
Synopsis:

A forgotten past
An uncertain future
A family hiding from the truth
When their mother is hospitalised with depression, Annie and her brother Matthew are fostered by their beloved Aunt Helen. Their family eventually reunited, the siblings begin a new life in Derbyshire with their mother and new stepfather.
Now in her thirties and separated from her husband, Annie is struggling to escape the past and move forward with her son. Haunted by memories of her childhood, she begins to realise that there may have been more to her time in foster care than her mother claims. Why did social services take her and Matthew away? Who can she trust to tell her what really happened?
As Annie finds out more, things take a sinister turn…has the life she’s lived so far been a lie?

My Review:

Only In Whispers tells the story of Annie as she attempts to rediscover what happened in her past. After finally separating from her ex-husband David, 18 months ago. Annie has a new lease on life, taking care of her son Spencer 6yrs and reconnecting with her mother in a way she has never tried before.

‘It has felt like my husband still controls every aspect of my life’ – Annie

Annie reflects upon her own upbringing with brother Matthew, mum and stepdad John. Annie was very lucky considering the era, that when John took on the kids he fully enjoyed his role as ‘father’. He treated them as his own.

‘No-one was ever left out in our family, the two of us cherished each other’ – Annie

Annie lives in a big house in Buxton, she has a close friend Mags and her son is her entire life. But she can’t help but dig away at her own past and what occurred when social services became involved and her and Matthew were sent to live with their Aunt Helen and uncle Frank. She reflects on how her mother’s post-natal depression impacted her own life and mothering skills.
‘After Spencer was born, I had immersed myself into being the best mother that I could’ – Annie

Annie attempts to quiz her mother who is evasive and defensive. Her Aunt Helen is now suffering what appears to be early-onset dementia and confusion. Annie is struggling to find clues to help her unlock her past in her mind.
Eventually she finds help from an unlikely source, her brothers best friend Adam. He challenges Annie in ways she has never been before, and their bond is beautiful to watch grow.

‘You may not have any control over the way other people behave, Annie. But you do have a say in your own life and how you live it’ – Adam

The novel is slow-burning, and the tension slowly builds. Buxton makes for a perfect location and I could easily imagine taking walks along the pavilion gardens (Google Buxton pavilion gardens- image search)  with my own personal secrets on my mind.
It is a story of secrets and lies.
The secrets we all keep to protect one another. 4*

JG
Jacqueline Grima
Twitter
Website

Only In Whispers is released today and is available for just £1.99 (UK) and is listed under Kindle Unlimited. Happy release day to Jacqueline Grima 🙂 

Anne Bonny #BookReview Hydra by @ConcreteKraken Matt Wesolowski #SixStories #CrimeFiction #Thriller #Suspense #Horror @OrendaBooks ‘such a bloody great book! 5*’

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Hydra by Matt Wesolowski – Six Stories #2
My own copy from my TBR mountain
Synopsis:

A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Five witnesses
Six Stories
Which one is true?

One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.

King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out.

As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…

My Review:

I really enjoyed the authors first novel Six Stories, it was clear to see that it was a fantastic debut novel and the author clearly had a natural talent for storytelling. I think the author brings something young and edgy to the crime fiction genre. It maybe the use of technology and crime novel surrounding a podcast. But I happen to think it is the writing style and knowledge of certain aspects of true life horror phenomenon. For example, when the lift footage of Elisa Lam was mentioned, I was instantly reminded of who creepy it is and yet it remains an unsolved case!

This podcast with Scott King revolves around Arla Macleod. A young woman who massacred her entire family one evening with a hammer! Why did this meek young woman commit murder? What drove her to kill those closest to her?

‘We rake over old graves’ – Scott king

The podcaster is able to video interview Arla, from her confines of Elmtree manor. Just the very theme of Arla being detained under the mental health act, rather than serving a lengthy prison sentence is cause for mass media speculation. Did Arla getaway easily with her crimes? Was she even mentally ill?
These are all themes Scott king wishes to explore with his podcast.

This is what makes Wesoloski’s novels so unique. They force you to question and explore why people do commit violent crimes and their personal reasoning for doing so.

In the first episode we hear directly from Arla. Although certain subjects are forbidden from discussion at the staff’s request. We also learn about Arla herself, the crime and the victims she killed. Arla lived with her mother and stepfather Stanley and sister Alice. Her biological father was violent and abusive and it was Stanley that ‘saved’ the family as they fled from Scotland to Stanwel. Stanwel is described as your typical run-down northern town, where nothing ever happens. That is until a young woman takes a hammer to her parent’s heads.

‘Her life was lived under the law her parents imposed’

Arla’s parents were right-wing Christians with firm and steadfast beliefs on issues such as abortion and LGBT rights. Arla began to reject her parents values in her teens and this seemed to inflame their attitudes towards her. With her sister Alice becoming the preferred ‘favourite child’.
Something happened to Arla, that much is clear.
But what occurred that day at 41 Redstart Road, Stanwel?

“I let them in. I let them in” – Arla

Arla talks of visions of ‘black eyed kids’ BEK, an urban myth amongst young teens. It is unclear if the BEK caused her to further seek out other occult behaviour or she was already actively seeking it out. Needless to say Arla was fascinated by the occult and the notion of escaping her current life.

Arla’s background is further explored and the details of her psychosis diagnosis. Is Arla mentally ill? Seems to be a common question in the novel and schizophrenia is known to present itself in the late teens/early 20s. So, there is more than enough room for speculation. Which I think makes for fantastic reading.

I typically avoid novels with a mental health theme, as that was my previous occupation and I hate to see it misrepresented in a novel. Statistically mentally ill people are more likely to harm themselves than others and too often it is distorted to fit a narrative in a crime fiction novel. But this was not the case at all within Hydra. The mental health aspects were backed up with knowledgeable facts. The central theme remained focused on understanding Arla, not condemning her due to her illness.
I must admit I really respect the author for that. It could have been too easy, to delve off into a tangent of mental health and loose sight of Arla completely.

As Scott King continues to interview people from Arla’s past such as her former teacher, childhood friend and holiday buddy. We learn more and more about why Arla was the way she was. Why she became so meek and introverted. Her obsession with the band Skexxixx and occult practices, is all explored.
At the same time Scott begins to receive personal threats to cease and desist with his Six Stories podcast. But he refuses to back down to the threats of an online troll.
But this troll just won’t simply go away!

‘No one wants you when the world tells you that you’re not important, that you don’t matter, that you’re an inconvenience – some people start to believe it; they make themselves unlikable’ – Angel Mawson

The novel has so many talking points, as it incorporates real-life themes within the story. In a comparison from Arla to the killers of James Bulger, we are forced to ask why the media was so quick to condemn two 10yr old boys instead of asking why they did it? The band Skexxixx is forced to shoulder some responsibility for the violent crime. Almost as if listening to a specific type of music can turn you into a killer.
But I can remember the exact same approach being used against Marilyn Manson in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting.

Why are we so quick to cling to meaningless reasons in the aftermath of a violent crime? Instead of seeking to understand the individual that felt the violent crime was their only way out!

I write my reviews days after reading the books. As I sit here now, I keep reflecting,
‘this is just such a bloody great book’.
So, there you go, this is simply put – such a bloody great book! 5*

mw
Matt Wesolowski
Twitter
Orenda Books

Anne Bonny #BookReview Bitter by Francesca Jakobi – @fjakobi #Literary #Psychological #Suspense @wnbooks Would you let her in?

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Bitter by Francesca Jakobi
Review Copy
Synopsis:

It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? And how far will she go to find out? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

Bitter is a beautiful and devastating novel about the decisions that define our lives, the fragility of love and the bond between mother and son.

My Review:

This literary novel takes you right into the heart of 1969 and the mind of Gilda, which is not always a nice place to be.
Gilda is such an unusual protagonist, at times I quite liked her. Yet at others I found her behaviour and obsession quite disturbing. Whatever you think of Gilda good or bad, she dominates your thoughts for the entirety of the read!

The novel opens at the wedding of Gilda’s son Reuben to his beloved Alice. Gilda is on edge at the wedding. I couldn’t quite fathom if Gilda is uncomfortable at this wedding, or in her own skin. I was soon to learn the answer is both!
I felt quite sorry for her at the wedding, having to put up with the sight of her ex-husband Frank and Rueben’s stepmother Berta. Especially when guests complimented Berta on what a fabulous son she has raised etc. There is something that told me, there was more to Gilda than meets the eye!
Yet it is at her own son’s speech at which her internal thoughts rage. . .

‘He says she taught him how to love; that she taught him what love could be. And I can’t look at him because he didn’t learn about love from me’ – Gilda

The bond between mother and son is infinitely complex and can be fundamental to the man, that will grow from the boy. Various psychologists have studied the bond between parent and child, including Freud etc. I have also seen the mother/son relationship extensively documented in true crime documentaries. Did the mother cause the man to develop into the killer? So, on and so forth. Yet this novel isn’t about the impact of the relationship on Rueben, but on Gilda.
Gilda’s fractured emotionally longing, for love from her son.

‘This is the son who never touches his mother, not even on the cheek when he kisses me hello. This is the son who never visits me unless he knows he has to’ – Gilda

The wedding and the speech leave quite the impression with Gilda. They cause her to challenge everything about her own childhood, upbringing and existence.
Gilda’s emotional pain at her son’s marriage, weighs on her like a bereavement. She lives alone and has little else in her life to focus on. So, what is born that day becomes an obsession. Gilda’s only (reluctant) friend is Margo, who has known Gilda from their school days together. I hoped through Margo we might get to the truth. But Gilda is content to paint an entirely different story whenever she speaks to her. Margo believes the two share a close bond. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. . . .

‘As if love were simply there for the taking’ – Gilda

The novel explores Gilda’s childhood, she had distant parents. Who were Hamberg socialites until ww2. Gilda was then sent to boarding to school in England to avoid the Nazi’s. She took this as the ultimate rejection, which caused a lack of confidence as a mother herself and last a lifetime.

“Don’t think any of us will miss you” – Lena

Gilda was constantly compared to her sister Lena. Her sister was the blonde bombshell, the beautiful clever daughter. Gilda was seen as the inconvenience or the embarrassment. This is cemented further when her father decides to marry her off to a work colleague. A marriage of convenience for an inconvenient young girl.

“You’ll like him very much. You’ve got no choice” – Gilda’s father

Her marriage to Frank Goodman, was far from a success. But yet produced the very much-loved Reuben. The secrets within Gilda and Frank’s marriage slowly unravel and you begin to see things not only from Gilda’s point of view. But from the truth of what took place years ago.

‘Our marriage went wrong but he wasn’t a bad man. He doesn’t deserve the things I’ve done’ – Gilda

In the present day of 1969, Gilda begins to meddle in the lives of Rueben and Alice. I could tell this would end badly for Gilda and that her continued interference would only push her son further away. I wanted to scream through the pages at her, that she was going to make this all so much worse than it need be.
Alice however, continues to make effort with Gilda to try and form a bond and a relationship with her new unapproving mother-in-law. In one sense Alice is quite the hero of the novel. It maybe through her kindness and tolerance that Gilda sees sense. Rueben on the other hand is not so forgiving. He blurts out a brash statement, that made me physically flinch. As I knew the impact this would have on Gilda’s emotional state.

“She looks after me better than you ever did” – Rueben

Rueben’s own childhood is then explored. We learn that like his mother he too, was sent away to boarding school. However, the circumstances were devastatingly different.
We also learn that through his entire childhood Gilda seemed to love and long for him from afar. Pursuing other interests as she felt so inadequate as a mother. To such an extent that Rueben’s first word was ‘nanny’.

Somehow in all of this, I felt that a lot could be solved if Gilda and Rueben just sat down and talked the past through. Then you remember that this is 1969 and within the era, parenting attitudes were much different to modern-day parenting.

I found this novel incredibly moving, for many reasons. Gilda’s past history makes such a fascinating read. I felt captivated by her. She is this book reading, whiskey drinking woman that loves to wallow in her own misery.
We can all be a Gilda, given Gilda’s personal history.
Essentially this novel is about coming to terms with our past mistakes and building a future. I found it interesting to read about women in a different era. The social norms and traditional roles they play. So much different from my own experiences.

Slow burning, literary and captivating. 4*

FJ
Francesca Jakobi
Website
Twitter