#BookReview – Skin Deep by Liz Nugent (@PenguinRandomIE @LizzieNugent)

skin deepThe sinister new novel from the No 1 bestselling author of Unravelling Oliver and Richard and Judy Book Club pick Lying in Wait.

‘Once I had cleared the bottles away and washed the blood off the floor, I needed to get out of the flat.’

Cordelia Russell has been living on the Côte d’Azur for ten years, posing as a posh English woman fallen on hard times. But her luck is running out. Desperate to escape her grotty flat and grim reality, Cordelia spends a night at a glittering party. Surrounded by the young, beautiful and privileged she feels her age and her poverty. As dawn breaks she stumbles home through the back streets. Even before she opens her door she can hear the flies buzzing. It hasn’t taken long for the corpse in her bedroom to commence decomposing …

Liz Nugent’s novel is the dark, twisted and shocking story of what takes Cordelia from an island childhood in Ireland to ruins in Nice. 

Published April 5th 2018 by Penguin Ireland

Reeling. That’s the only word to describe how I was feeling when I finished Liz Nugent’s novel, Skin Deep, last night before promptly taking to twitter to declare it my book of the year so far. And now I’m going to try and tell you coherently why. And I don’t know if I can because it was just SO. DAMN. GOOD!!! 

Skin Deep tells the story of Delia, the only daughter on a remote and wild Irish island – she is adored by her obsessive father. Delia is beautiful, but beneath the exterior there’s a mean, dark streak. When tragedy befalls the island, nine-year old Delia finds herself ostracised  and is brought up on the mainland by foster parents. But Delia wants more, and her manipulative, selfish ways will bring tragedy to all she comes across.  Delia reinvents herself time and time again while leaving a trail of destruction and misery behind her as she seeks the life she so strongly believes she deserves. But when her luck finally runs out, who is left for Delia to turn to?

This book starts with an absolutely gripping first line and holds you captive right until the end of the book. It starts with a bedraggled and middle aged socialite abandoning a dead body in her grubby flat on the Riviera in search of food and alcohol among the rich and powerful of the island. From then on we follow Delia’s story from childhood, as a deeply dark and twisted tale of obsession, manipulation and one woman’s deluded and narcissistic path to eventual  self destruction.

This is a dark, dark story – very different from any other psychological thriller’s out there at the moment. It’s character driven, rather than plot and is a study of the abhorrently selfish Delia and the destruction she leaves in her wake. It’s difficult to find any empathy with her at all, yet I was mesmerised by her and found her one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across in a long time.

This book is seeping with cloying, sinister atmosphere, accentuated by the sporadic inclusion of Irish folklore tales. I absolutely adored these deliciously dark cautionary fables of old and how they related to Delia’s own story as she told it. You could say that Skin Deep itself is a cautionary tale, and it indeed has the feel of a modern twist on a fable where the perils of vanity, greed, obsession and selfishness are driven home.

And still there was a mystery at the very heart of this book, introduced at the very beginning. Spanning decades, Skin Deep takes the reader through the moments that lead to this point. I became so engrossed in Delia’s life from feral childhood to conniving socialite that I almost forgot about it, but in the final chapters Liz Nugent absolutely blew me away with a twist that left me reeling and an ending as dark and chilling as any myth.

Skin Deep was, in my opinion, overwhelmingly good. I was utterly mesmerised and disturbed by the deluded and twisted Delia and the sinister and atmospheric writing shrouded me from beginning to end. If you like your stories as dark as they come, with thick atmosphere and a hint of fable, then look no further – this book ticks ALL THE BOXES for me and sits firmly at the top of my books of 2018.

(I read an advance proof courtesy of the publishers)

#BookReview – Broken Branches by M. Johnathan Lee – @HideawayFall

Broken branches‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse. 

Published July 27th by Hideaway Fall (UK) 

 

 

I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Broken Branches – the blurb gives very little away, neither does the cover. I wasn’t even one hundred percent certain what genre this book would fall into! Was it a ghost story? A thriller? However, I was intrigued by this mysterious little book and wanted to give it a shot. I finally managed to read it a few days ago and despite some initial misgivings about whether this book was going to be something I’d enjoy, I ended up really liking it and kicking myself a little at not getting around to it sooner.

Broken Branches tells the story of Ian, current owner of the creepy and mysterious Cobweb Cottage. It’s been passed down the family for generations – always to the eldest living child of the former owner. However, Ian’s family history isn’t a happy one and has been beset by tragedy after tragedy – believed by many to be the result of a curse. As Ian decides to delve into the family’s murky past and solve the mystery of the curse, he finds himself drawn into a dark spiral of obsession and paranoia. Is he about to become the next victim of the relentless curse?

Right from the start this is a story that grips you, with beautifully atmospheric writing casting an eerie and foreboding spell. It’s told mainly from Ian himself, but in two time frames – both as a child growing up at Cobweb Cottage and as the current owner- a husband and father of a small son himself. I liked the opportunity to have glimpses into the family history from a more naive and uncertain younger Ian, and then fitting everything together with older Ian piece by piece.

The author does an amazing job of setting the scene, diverting attention and leading the reader down a path right until the very end, before turning everything completely on its head. There’s an unsettling and suspenseful tension throughout with a deliciously Gothic air that had me glued to the pages. Broken Branches surprised me – both in how much I actually enjoyed it and by the story, which took a turn I wasn’t expecting in the slightest and caused me to gasp out loud. A short book, this one is ideal for the coming dark autumn evenings, to curl up beside a warm fire with – although it may leave you jumpingly unnerved as the wind whistles outside!

(I read an advance proof courtesy of the publisher)