#BookReview: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

skin deep“I could probably have been an actress. It is not difficult to pretend to be somebody else. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for most of my life?”

Liz Nugent’s latest offering Skin Deep is the story of Cordelia Russell –  beautiful, charismatic, living as a socialite on the French Riveria. It’s also the story of who Cordelia really is – her real identity; her real circumstances; and most importantly her real, distinctly unbeautiful personality. Cordelia is some piece of work –one of the best female psychopaths ever written, she is up there with Cersei Lannister and Lady Macbeth for me. Occasional chapters told from other characters point-of-view really bring home the level of devastation Cordelia causes to others without a moment’s consideration. The word that continually comes to mind thinking about Skin Deep is ‘warped’ – there is something fundamentally twisted about Cordelia, and yet her beauty and charisma wins over so many people who are warped by her in turn. This is psychological thriller writing at its best – even when situations become extreme, the characters are totally believable and carry the story.

Most of you know I am a huge Liz Nugent fan – not least because in a genre that can become predictable and formulaic her focus on whydunnit rather than whodunnit keeps the stories gripping throughout the narrative rather than relying on a twist at the end that may or may not deliver. This is my favourite of her books to date. I was gripped by every page of Skin Deep, and yet somehow there was still a kicker of an ending that caused me to wake up my significant other by exclaiming “holy shit!” at 2am. I’m terrified of ruining this for anyone by giving away plot points – just trust me and read this one, ok?!

HUGE thanks to Penguin Ireland for sending me an advanced copy of this in exchange for an honest review. Skin Deep is available from bookshops on 5th April.

Enter to win a copy of Skin Deep here.

Fierce Kingdom – Gin Phillips

FIERCE-KINGDOM-DEMY-HB-REVISEI look forward to a time when the plot of this book seems insane and far-fetched, but that’s not the world we live in. I read this book in the shadow of an American mass shooting; and I write this review in the shadow of another. Always bigger, always worse, ever more common, ever more normalised – never once decried as terrorism by a nation who have covered themselves in true weapons of mass destruction. If I hear one more person with a platform to influence gun control sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims I think I’m going to lose my mind. But I digress.

Lincoln is a good little boy who loves the zoo. He’s four, so he doesn’t like the dinosaur attraction quite so much as when he was only three – he wants to hear about real animals, and figure out how everything works, and play with his superhero ‘guys’. His mother Joan always knew she would do anything to protect him… but never in her worst nightmares imagined she would have to protect him from something like this. As they make their way towards the exit of the closing zoo, shots begin to rain down into the crowd. Those who survive to flee back into the zoo begin to be hunted down one by one.

Fierce Kingdom is almost unbearably tense in places, and while the ending did seem rushed it was almost a relief that it was. My heart. I don’t have any children, but due to the skilful drawing of Joan and Lincoln’s relationship it reminded me of Room, as I wondered ‘what would I do?’. As a lone adult looking at the timeline of the book (set over a couple of hours) it seems like lunacy to risk being found to go looking for food, but as a mother trying to avoid explaining to her hungry child that he needs to stay perfectly silent or he will be another statistic murdered by lunatics it makes sense.

For a book set in a zoo there isn’t a lot about animals, but the setting couldn’t be more perfect. Innocent creatures, trapped behind bars, unable to be free and live their lives, being observed, feeling ever exposed and threatened. Unspeakable creatures, roaming free, who should be behind bars but will never be, picking off those they perceive to be weaker. I’d recommend Fierce Kingdom as a fast-paced topical thriller to anyone with an interest in the genre.

Fierce Kingdom is published by Random House. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Some quick reviews for some quick reads

BeFunky CollageCan you Keep a Secret? by Karen Perry

The well written prologue of Can You Keep a Secret? sets the book in motion – Lindsey’s work leads her to the vicinity of Thornbury Hall, the now crumbling ancestral home of the Bagenal family. Lindsey used to be best friends with Rachel Bagenal, but twenty years ago, something happened to end their friendship. Rachel’s brother is now the caretaker of the estate, and Lindsey’s appearance prompts him to gather their old teenage group back together for one weekend before shutting up the house for good. But this reunion is going to uncover a lot of buried secrets…

The rest of the book is told in alternating chapters – now, and twenty years ago- and we are slowly drawn into the intrigue of what happened. Karen Perry is skilled at description (hypochondriacs beware, she will make you paranoid you have an eye tumour!). I really enjoyed Perry’s Girl Unknown and so I was looking forward to this. However, I never got caught up in this one – it was a slow burner, I didn’t particularly warm to the characters, and I guessed most of the plot. I didn’t dislike it, but I certainly wouldn’t rave about it either.

The One by John Marrs

The premise is simple. A decade after the discovery of a gene that everyone shares with just one person, a DNA based dating website has completely changed the world. One tiny mouth swab and you will find your perfect partner. The One follows the fate of five people who take the test – the scientist who discovered the gene; a graduate downhearted she had to move back in with her parents; a psychopath with a big project; a woman starting to despair she will never get her happily ever after; and a happily engaged man whose fiancée insisted they both take the test.

This is a really snappy read – five people, five stories, told in alternating short chapters each with a mini-cliffhanger ending. It’s next to impossible to put down – the chapters are short enough you will say ‘just one more’, but each chapter ending will make you say ‘just one more’ again. I read it in one sitting (or lying to be precise!) and it was a great holiday read. In the cold light of the next day I realised that the plots had gotten pretty ludicrous in places but you are highly unlikely to care when you are rattling through it. Great fun!

Skintown by Ciaran McMenamin

Set in a vividly captured Northern Ireland in the early 90s, this could well be a marmite book for readers … there’s some brutal and detailed descriptions of violence that aren’t for the queasy. Our narrator is 18 year old Vinny – expelled from school, getting stoned working in the local Chinese, drinking heavily, and getting into fights. Following a chance encounter with some drug dealers, we embark on a long drug fuelled adventure.

There are shades of Trainspotting here, and of 24 Hr Party People, but Skintown is very much its own animal. This is the type of story I am more likely to follow in film than in a book, so I had mixed feelings at times, but this is crying out to be adapted for the screen so can someone make that happen please? McMenamin has a gift for black humour and acerbic asides (“…takes a couple of plastic bags from behind the bar to the toilets and splits the drugs into two smaller prison sentences”) and this is a cracker of a debut novel with a distinctive voice.

My thanks to Penguin books for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Can You Keep a Secret?; to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of The One; and to Random House Transworld for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Skintown – all in return for an honest review.