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On My Life by Angela Clarke

After a whirlwind romance, Jenna is preparing to marry Robert and become stepmother to his teenage daughter, Emily. Everything changes, however, when Emily is murdered and Robert is nowhere to be found, a trail of his blood leading the police to believe he has been dragged, dying, from the house. Arrested and charged with the murders, Jenna is adamant that she is innocent and that someone has set her up. Finding out that she is pregnant, she knows that she must, somehow, prove her innocence in order to provide a life for her unborn child.

Every now and then a book comes along that really makes you sit up and think about what you are reading – this is certainly one of those books. I have read several books set in women’s prisons but what sticks out here is the research that Angela Clarke has clearly done to provide an eye-opening account of what really goes on inside such a place. It was easy to picture the scene inside of the prison and, at times, felt genuine fear for Jenna as she tried to hide the fact that she was the ‘blonde slayer’ from the other inmates. Knowing she was innocent, I spent the whole book rooting for her and hoping that justice would prevail.

The book is told in two time frames, both as gripping as the other. As well as the real-time plot of Jenna’s prison life, we travel to the near-past to witness the build-up to the murder. It doesn’t take long to realise that all is not well in Robert’s life and that there are secrets that his family would prefer to be left hidden. Prior to the murder, we see Jenna discovering some of these secrets, leading her to wonder if it could be someone close to home who has set her up. Angela Clarke gives us just enough information about these characters to make you wonder which one, if any, it could be. A couple of events in the book did lead me to the right conclusion, but I was still left shocked when the whole truth was finally revealed.

It was, perhaps, the prison scenes that I enjoyed the most, especially those involving Jenna and her cellmate, Kelly. It was nice to see a genuine friendship developing and was a huge contrast to scenes involving the more violent inmates. It was inevitable that, at some point, Jenna’s identity would be revealed and I felt genuinely scared for her as, one by one, the other women began to turn on her.

Angela Clarke has done a fantastic job of highlighting the poor prison conditions, in particular those of pregnant women. I was already a fan of the author’s social media series but I feel that On My Life could be the book that puts her firmly in the public eye. This is a must read.

With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton / Mulholland Books for my copy. Take a look at my reviews of Angela Clarke’s other books:

Follow Me

Trust Me

Watch Me

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

51sclfe1B-LWhen she finds out that her husband and children aren’t quite as excited about her pregnancy as she is, Cara Burrows packs her bags and flies to America to create some space between herself and her family. Breaking into the family savings to spend some time at a five-star resort, Cara is shocked when, arriving at her room, she finds it already occupied by a man and a teenage girl. Initially accepting it as an oversight, she soon becomes troubled when she recognises the girl as Melody Chapa whose parents are currently serving life sentences for her murder. Can the most famous murder victim in the USA actually still be alive and will Cara be able to find out the truth before her own fate is sealed?

I had seen some glowing reviews of this book and so couldn’t wait to to read it myself after being intrigued by the very novel premise – a murder victim who isn’t actually dead. Initially, Cara seemed a very impulsive character, not really caring about the consequences of her actions but we soon discover that this is all a front and that she is experiencing great inner turmoil and has placed herself in a very vulnerable situation. In contrast, Tarin Fry, a woman befriended by Cara at the resort is her complete antithesis – headstrong, impetuous and wise-cracking. I enjoyed the relationship between Tarin and her daughter and found their nicknames for the other resort patrons very funny.

Although I did find the interludes detailing the transcripts of various television programmes slightly lengthy in parts, it did demonstrate how, in recent years, the media has played a big part in the justice system and, in some cases, TV can help to sway the opinions of people before a trial has even taken place. One example is the OJ Simpson case – it is hard to think about this without visualising the high speed chase, broadcast on US television. In Did You see Melody? we see Melody’s parents being more or less convicted as a result of ongoing television coverage of the case.

It is essential to suspend reality when reading this book as quite a lot of it veers towards unbelievable. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the book, though, and it was an entertaining summer read.

With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Net Galley for the ARC.

Holding by Graham Norton

When a skeleton is unearthed in the Irish village of Duneen, Sergeant PJ Collins finally has something to sink his teeth into. Thought to be the remains of the missing Tommy Burke, the discovery stirs up memories for two of his former loves: Brid Riordan, an unhappily married mother of two, and unmarried Evelyn Ross. Do either of these woman know more about the skeleton than they are willing to divulge, or is someone else harbouring a shameful secret?

When I saw that TV presenter and comedian Graham Norton had written a novel, I was intrigued. Even more so with the realisation that it was based around the discovery of a body. Would his acerbic wit be evident in the characters or would this be a departure from what I was expecting?

What I read was a gentle mystery with a well-written, character driven plot. Such is the style of the writing, I could almost hear Graham Norton’s voice during certain sections of the text and his humour certainly comes through, albeit in a much more laid back way. In PJ, we have the very antithesis of a leading man – overweight, no social life to speak of and limited job prospects – and yet you quickly find yourself charmed by him. Likewise, I found myself willing Brid Riordan to get out of the rut she had found herself in and felt real empathy towards her plight.

Holding is a great debut from Graham Norton and I hope that this is the start of a new venture for him! It is published on October 6th and can be purchased on Amazon.

With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Net Galley for the ebook.

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