Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

Music is powerful; hearing a particular song can transport you right back to your youth, and evoke vivid memories of times gone by. Alison and Dan reconnect, after more than thirty years, by sending each other links to songs with memories from their youth, and new ones they’ve heard since. Mix Tape is a clever idea – using songs to convey emotions. If you are familiar with the songs used in the book, you will have a deeper understanding of what is going on. On the other hand, there is a Spotify playlist that you can listen to as you read. Being of a certain age, I knew most of the songs (and remembered making mix tapes on cassettes) but I did discover a few new ones.

Alison and Dan fall in love while still at school; drawn together by their love of music. When Alison just vanishes one day, Dan is heartbroken and unable to find out where she has gone. She had always kept her horrific home life a secret from him, preferring to spend time at his house.

We only find out what prompted her flight quite a lot later, and it is shocking. Jane Sanderson deals sensitively with some fairly serious subject matter in this book – alcoholism, domestic violence, rape, homophobia. There is also the theme of too many people thinking they know what’s best for others, and their actions having far-reaching consequences.

Mix Tape is well written with believable characters that you care about (mostly). I loved Alison’s relationship with Dan’s father, Bill, and how they bonded over his love of his homing pigeons. Right from the start I took a dislike to both Michael and Katelin; I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention, or it was just me. There are also several quirky characters that add colour to the narrative – Sylvia and Dora, and Dan’s neighbours at the houseboat.

Told from the alternating points of view of Dan and Alison, both in the past and present day, the various locations are brought vividly to life – Sheffield, Adelaide, Edinburgh and Little Venice (where the houseboat is moored). Dan’s life as a music journalist has obviously been well researched as it is completely convincing. This would make an interesting film – great locations and the soundtrack is already in place.

I had not read anything by Jane Sanderson before but I will definitely be on the lookout for her other books. I really enjoyed Mix Tape; it was heartbreaking in places, but also joyful and uplifting. It shows the power of music and memory, and I can’t imagine living in a world without music.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Beyond the Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley

Beyond the Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley

Beyond the Yew Tree is a dual-timeline story that jumps between nineteenth-century and present-day Lincoln. The pace is a bit slow at the start as we are given the background to the trial, and introduced to the main characters. 

Laura is on jury service, in a case involving financial fraud at a charity for the blind, but keeps her accounting background to herself to avoid questions from the other jurors. As she gradually comes out of her shell, she grows more confident about expressing her opinions, and, by the end of the trial, is happy to give the others the benefit of her expertise.

While listening to the evidence, Laura is distracted by strange sounds only she can hear. They become the whispers of a child, and her sleep is disturbed by nightmarish visions of a Victorian gaol. Keen to discover the identity of the woman in her nightmares, Laura enlists the help of the museum curator, Sean, after a chance encounter brings them together. As it is obvious to the reader that Laura’s boyfriend, Marco, is not intending to come back, will she and Sean become more than just friends?

What seem like unconnected strands are skillfully woven together in this book which is a wonderful mixture of historical fiction, mystery, ghost story and romance. The characters are well drawn, offering fascinating insights into life in Victorian Lincoln; in some respects life now is so very different, but in others (such as the domestic abuse suffered by Bronte and her child) nothing much has changed.

The area of Lincoln around the castle and cathedral is vividly brought to life, and makes for an unusual and atmospheric setting. I had not read any of Rachel Walkley’s books before but will definitely look out for them in the future, as I found Beyond the Yew Tree to be a very enjoyable read that I would definitely recommend.

Thanks to the author for a copy that I review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

Keep Him Close by Emily Koch

Keep Him Close by Emily Koch

Lou goes out the pub with his friends, but will never come home again; the events of the evening are surrounded in mystery. None of the others present will say what went on, and then Kane confesses that he was responsible for Lou falling to his death.

Keep Him Close is an unusual crime thriller in that the story is told mostly from the points of view of the mother of the victim, and the mother of the young man who confesses to the crime. The two lads were friends, but their mothers did not know each other. The police are involved but seem particularly inept and happy to take Kane’s confession at face value.

To begin with Alice has the advantage as she works in the library and Indigo comes in looking for help using the computer. Alice knows that Indigo’s son has confessed; Indigo does not know who Alice is. This adds to the tension. As the story progresses, we learn not to judge the characters by first impressions. They all have secrets that only gradually come to light, and through Indigo’s eyes we see a different side to Alice, less rigid and more human.

Once Indigo finds out that Alice is Lou’s mother, and that they are both searching for the truth about the fatal events in the multi-storey car park, they start to work together to clear Kane’s name and find out what really happened to Lou. The backstory is revealed a little bit at a time, ramping up the suspense, until the truth finally comes to light.

Keep Him Close is well written with believable characters and a plot that will keep you guessing right to the very end. I’ve not read anything by Emily Koch before, but I will certainly be looking out for her next book.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.  

Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro

Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro

When I requested Escape Routes from NetGalley, I obviously was not paying enough attention – I must have been distracted by the attractive cover. I am not a fan of short stories in general as I find them unsatisfying; no sooner have you started reading and it’s all over. Unfortunately, this also means I have nothing to compare these stories with.

Having said all that, the writing is very accomplished, but I was just not emotionally engaged. As the title suggests, there is a theme running through the stories in this collection; in the words of Freddie Mercury, they want to break free. The nine very different stories are a mix of style, length and genre. The three stories about the Rat Catcher have a kind of fairytale quality and they gave me the creeps, as they were no doubt meant to.  

I look forward to reading Naomi Ishiguro’s next book – hopefully it will be a novel – as this was beautifully written, but just not what I was expecting.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

The Forgotten Sister is a dual timeline novel split between the sixteenth century and the present day. It centres around the mystery surrounding the death of Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His cruel treatment of his wife, and the ruthless ambition fuelling his desire to be the partner of Queen Elizabeth 1, makes him a thoroughly despicable character.

In the present day,  Dudley Lester, a member of the boy band Call Back Summer, is married to Amelia Robsart and they are on the verge of divorce.  She is found dead at the bottom of the stairs just like Amy all those centuries before. Dudley had been spending far too much time with his childhood friend, Lizzie Kingdom, and the ensuing scandal forces her to flee. A bit late in the day, she has come to realise that the people she has surrounded herself with do not have her best interests at heart; to them she is just a commodity to be exploited. Lizzie is alone among the characters in the modern part of the story to change for the better. This is fortunate as she was not very likeable at the beginning.

I found this book quite slow to get going; it was not obvious what the connection between the two strands of the story was until about a third of the way in (or maybe this was just me). This was not helped by the fact that the modern-day characters were particularly vain and shallow, and it was hard to care what happened to them.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Amy and Lizzie. The sixteenth-century strand is well researched and full of fascinating historical detail. The supernatural element is done with a light touch, lending an extra dimension to the narrative. The characters are well written and believable. Overall, this is a  gripping and atmospheric story that you won’t be able to put down.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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