Review: Valentina by SE Lynes

By | July 7, 2016

When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness. 

But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane… 

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.  

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she? 

As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears… 

It’s lovely to find an independent publisher with a real eye for different and exciting reads – I’m really delighted to have discovered Blackbird Books. I really enjoyed Homecoming, the short read from Tanya Bullock – my review is here – and I’m very much looking forward to reading That Special Someone by the same author as soon as I can find a space. 

So when they got in touch offering a copy of “a completely different book to Homecoming” – Valentina by SE Lynes, published on 1st July – calling it “a gripping psychological thriller…and we know it won’t appeal to everyone”, I really wasn’t put off at all. 

I can be a little bit funny about psychological thrillers, though – it’s such a crowded market, and I think it takes something very different and rather special to make one stand out from the crowd. Particularly when it’s a book from an unknown author. But this great read certainly did stand out – it grabbed me from the opening pages, and never let go. I read it in a single sitting – something I really don’t do very often – and it stayed in my thoughts long after I’d finished.

So what made it so different? Firstly, it was Shona herself – immensely likeable, immediately your best friend, sharing her thoughts and secrets, a clear voice talking directly to the reader. I loved her relationship with Mikey – she takes us back to the story of their first meeting, and I think I might just have chucked in my life and career and followed him too. The writing style is eminently readable – almost like reading someone’s diary – and as Shona gets increasingly overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a new mother and the loneliness and isolation of her new life I found myself caring about her deeply. Even if – just occasionally – I sometimes wanted to shake her.

So when Valentina appeared in her life, I was so delighted for her – she was just the sort of irreverent, exciting friend that we’d all rather like to have, turning up with a bottle of wine in the afternoon, excited about anything and everything, making life feel good again. But then I remembered that this was a psychological thriller – I’d almost forgotten in the thrill of getting to know Shona’s new friend. And I followed all the twists and turns of the story thereafter with mounting horror – and a real anger that everything wasn’t quite what it initially appeared.

The structure of the story is incredibly clever, with changes in perspective and narrator, and the whole read becomes almost unbearably uncomfortable and unsettling. I thought I’d worked everything out several times – but then came another twist that took my breath away. I’m amazed that some reviewers have called the outcome predictable – I’ll readily admit that I only really knew where this one was going a few pages before the end. The characterisation is superb, the plot – however far it moves away from what might be expected – totally and completely believable.

And the thing that perhaps surprised me most of all about this book? That it’s SE Lynes’ debut novel. What on earth will she come up with next time? I can’t wait… 

My thanks to Rosalie Love at Blackbird Books for my advance reading e-copy.

After graduating from Leeds University, S. E. Lynes lived in London for a couple of years before moving to Aberdeen to be with her husband.  In Aberdeen, she worked as a Radio Producer at the BBC before moving with her husband and two young children to Rome. There, she began to write while her children attended nursery. After the birth of her third child and upon her return to the UK,  she gained an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. She now combines writing with teaching at Richmond Adult Community College and bringing up her three children.  She lives in Teddington.

Follow the author on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SELynesAuthor.

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