Book Review

‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley #FridayReads #BookReview #crime #thriller

hunting party

Hive     Waterstones

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

I love a good thriller where the story is character-driven, and this doesn’t disappoint.

A group of friends gather in a hunting lodge to celebrate New Year, but their apparently close friendships aren’t all they seem. In fact, they don’t seem to like each other very much.

Heather is the manager of the lodge, she’s there to escape something in her past. Doug, the enigmatic gamekeeper, is also hiding something. And the so-called friends seem to be hiding a lot of things from each other.

The story is told in flashbacks from the day a body is found, back and forth with the New Year celebrations, so we know what all the tension is leading up to – but we don’t know who the victim is or who did it. And there are so many skilfully placed clues and red herrings that the final revelation is a real surprise.

The landscape is almost a character in itself, beautifully described and so atmospheric.

There were just a couple of things that didn’t work for me. There was one aspect of the final outcome that didn’t quite ring true but I won’t say what that was for fear of spoilers. Also, I liked Heather so much, but I felt as though I didn’t get to know enough about her or her history.

That said, this is a really gripping and enjoyable read.

4 stars

 

‘Sea Change’ by Sylvia Hehir #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #YA

sea change

Waterstones   Hive 

Sea Change is a cracking YA thriller that sees 16-year-old Alex struggling to look after his grieving mother and pay the bills. So he made some bad decisions in the summer not least of which was getting involved with Chuck, an unpredictable stranger who says he’s on the run.

Chuck was exciting, challenging Alex to take ever-increasing risks. But Chuck wasn’t supposed to turn up dead next to Alex’s fishing boat. Were Chuck’s paranoid stories about men hunting him actually true? And is Alex facing even greater danger? 

Disclaimer – I do know the author, as she was a fellow student on Glasgow’s MLitt. In Creative Writing. However, my review is honest and hasn’t been influenced in any way. She’s just a genuinely excellent writer!

‘Sea Change’ marries a page-turning plot with some absolutely beautiful, evocative writing that brings all the stark, desolate beauty of a small coastal town in Scotland to life.

After the death of his father, Alex is trying to look after his mum, earn some extra money, and cope with school and exams. Chuck provided the opportunity to let off some steam during the summer holidays, but now the new school year has begun, Chuck has vanished, and Alex finds himself drawn into more trouble than he needs.

Alex is a wonderfully complex main character, struggling under far too much pressure, trying desperately to care for his mum. He’s just lovely and I was really rooting for him throughout this novel.

His best friend Daniel has his own issues to deal with, and he is as well-drawn and as fully realised as Alex. There are some fabulous side characters too, including Alex’s wonderful cousin Moth.

This is a YA novel that treats its readers with respect; it doesn’t patronise or preach, and acknowledges the sometimes difficult lives that teenagers have to face. It’s an honest book, with authentic characters and a novel (and author) that I highly recommend.

5 stars

 

 

‘Do Not Disturb’ by Claire Douglas #FridayReads #BookReview

do not disturb

Hive     Waterstones

Could your dream home be your worst nightmare?

After what happened in London, Kirsty needs a fresh start with her family. 
And running a guesthouse in the Welsh mountains sounds idyllic.

But then their first guest arrives.
Selena is the last person Kirsty wants to see.
It’s 17 years since she tore everything apart.

Why has she chosen now to walk back into Kirsty’s life?
Is Selena running from something too?
Or is there an even darker reason for her visit?

Because Kirsty knows that once you invite trouble into your home, it can be murder getting rid of it . . . 

Having just moved from the south east of England to a small village in West Wales, I was intrigued to read this book.

It’s a great idea, with lots of different strands that are really interesting and that do keep you turning the pages to see what’s at the bottom of all these weird events.

I liked Kirsty and sympathised with her, particularly the situation she was in with her mum, grateful for the help, but irritated by her behaviour, and not able to say anything because of the gratitude! A horrible situation to be in.

But – there were so many strands here that it didn’t feel as if enough time was given to any of them. There was such a lot that could have made this into a much more satisfying novel, particularly the story around Selena and Ruby, and the resentment Kirsty felt towards her husband.

One of the ‘red herrings’ was dealt with so quickly and with no real depth whatsoever which was hugely disappointing.

And, as someone who has moved to Wales, I found the idea of the locals resenting the ‘incomers’ a bit of a tired old stereotype.

The ending too felt a bit odd and definitely needed to be developed further. The implications of the ending are absolutely huge and could be so interesting. But again, there was no real depth.

A real shame, because this could have been so good. There was a lot I really liked, but I wish it had been better.

three and a half stars

‘UK2’ by @TerryTyler4 #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

UK2

Amazon.co.uk

‘Two decades of social media had prepared them well for UK2.’

The pace steps up in this penultimate book in the Project Renova series, as the survivors’ way of life comes under threat.

Two years after the viral outbreak, representatives from UK Central arrive at Lindisfarne to tell the islanders about the shiny new city being created down south.  UK2 governor Verlander’s plan is simple: all independent communities are to be dissolved, their inhabitants to reside in approved colonies.  Alas, those who relocate soon suspect that the promises of a bright tomorrow are nothing but smoke and mirrors, as great opportunities turn into broken dreams, and dangerous journeys provide the only hope of freedom.

Meanwhile, far away in the southern hemisphere, a new terror is gathering momentum…

I read the previous two novels in this series ages ago and thoroughly enjoyed them both, and this third in the series certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I was worried I wouldn’t remember the ins and outs of the story, but I was back in this fabulously crafted dystopian world within a few pages, catching up with lovely Lottie (such a well-drawn character), her mum Vicky, dastardly Dex, poor little princess Flora and a cast of other, equally strong characters.

What works really well here is the dawning realisation of each of the characters that things aren’t what they seem. After everything that’s happened, they’re still hanging on to the idea that someone in charge will make it all go away, that someone else will sort it out and make them feel safe. The way each of them deals with the truth is so compelling, and it’s also what makes this book such a delight to read – it’s not difficult at all to imagine this happening.

My favourite storyline was Flora’s. She is so annoying, but I have a lot of sympathy for her. I have a sneaking suspicion I’d be a terrible wimp in similar circumstances, and to see her character develop the way it does is one of the highlights of the story.

As always with Terry Tyler’s novels, you get a great, believable storyline, and well-crafted, compelling characters. This is essentially about people, and how they cope in dreadful circumstances – and it’s written with real skill. The author is a natural storyteller, and her books never disappoint.

I won’t be leaving it as long to read ‘Legacy’!

5 stars

 

 

‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ by L.M. Barrett #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

 

I read ‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

You

Amazon.co.uk

Declan’s a tad annoyed. Not only has the love of his life run off with ‘Superman’ but she’s also unwittingly caused his current hostage situation. 

This is the story between two childhood friends and the ‘stuff’ that always gets in the way of their relationship. Mostly the fact that Sarah is engaged to another man and Declan is being held prisoner.

Find out what Sarah did to cause Declan’s current situation and if Declan will ever forgive her. Can things ever go back to the way they were?

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this story and two potentially compelling characters. Sarah and Declan are childhood friends, growing up together and falling in and out of friendship.

They argue, they ignore each other, they look out for each other, but then Sarah really lets Declan down, and neither are sure if this is a situation they can come back from.

There’s romance here, and heartbreak and the awkwardness and anxieties of growing up and finding out about yourself – all the ingredients for a great story.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t really do the story justice. The structure, with Sarah telling her story to a man she meets in a bar, and Declan telling his to a fellow hostage, Lisa, doesn’t really work. And some of the situations don’t ring true. The hostage situation is treated very lightly (perhaps it’s not a suitable situation for this genre) and Declan is hardly affected by it at all. Secondary characters are treated horribly by the two main characters which makes it hard to root for them. And the writing itself does need some tidying up.

There’s a great idea here, but it needs a bit of a polish.

3-stars-out-of-5

‘Your Closest Friend’ by Karen Perry #FridayReads #BookReview #thriller

closest friend

Hive    Waterstones

Keep your friends close. And your enemies closer.

Cara shouldn’t have survived the attack. But at the last moment, a stranger snatched her to safety.

In the hours that followed, she told her Good Samaritan secrets she’d never told a soul.

Not even her husband. Especially not her husband.

In the aftermath, Cara is home, healed and safe. Which is when the anonymous threats begin.

Someone knows things about her that they shouldn’t.

Cara’s Good Samaritan offers to help – to save her all over again.

That night, Cara made a friend for life. But what if she isn’t a friend at all?

This has a really gripping beginning, and had me hooked from the first page. Radio producer Cara is on her way home when she finds herself caught up in a terrorist attack and is pulled into the safety of a coffee shop by a stranger, Amy.

Frightened, in shock, and still a little drunk from her evening out, in the hours they are hiding, Cara finds herself confiding her darkest secrets to Amy.

This sets the ball in motion for a twisty thriller, told from both Amy and Cara’s points of view.

The writing is really strong, and each scene adds to the slightly surreal, claustrophobic nature of the story. It’s a clever tale, and really intriguing. I got so frustrated with Cara at times, for not being able to see what was under her nose – proof of a storyteller that knows how to keep her reader engaged!

It’s a good, solid, well written thriller, and I’d definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

 

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy #FridayReads #BookReview

Ministry

Hive  Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

At magic hour; when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke…’

So begins The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s incredible follow-up to The God of Small Things. We meet Anjum, who used to be Aftab, who runs a guest-house in an Old Delhi graveyard and gathers around her the lost, the broken and the cast out. We meet Tilo, an architect, who although she is loved by three men, lives in a ‘country of her own skin’ . When Tilo claims an abandoned baby as her own, her destiny and that of Anjum become entangled as a tale that sweeps across the years and a teeming continent takes flight…

I absolutely adored ‘The God of Small Things’ – one of the best books I’ve ever read – and this novel, ten years in the making, is just as good.

This is a tricky book to explain; it’s almost impossible to summarise, so I won’t even try. It is so intricately woven and so complicated, but it isn’t difficult to read – in fact it’s an immense pleasure to do so because every single passage is so beautifully crafted. Arundhati Roy is a remarkable writer, a genuine talent and I heartily recommend this book not only to those who love to read, but also to those who write, because we could all learn a thing or two from the writing here.

I didn’t know a great deal about Kashmir before I read this book. The horrors of that ongoing conflict are told through some fascinating and compelling characters – which makes it all so much more disturbing. But the book is also life-affirming and positive, the kindness of strangers, of friends, of family overcoming the bloodshed and the violence.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I hope it doesn’t take the author another ten years to write her next novel.

5 stars

My Ten Best Reads of 2019 #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

johnson-celebration-of-learning-Thinkstock

Well, that’s another year completely whizzed past – and a year of huge changes in the Williams’ household. We’ve moved from busy Basingstoke to a rural village in West Wales. I’ve turned 50 (yikes!), my daughter has turned 21 (big yikes), we’ve celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (big, big, yikes), and both children are at university and living in London. My editing and freelance writing business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve worked with some lovely authors.

It’s been such a busy year that I’ve not read nearly as much as I should have – and getting through my TBR list is definitely a resolution for 2020. But when I have managed to read, I’ve read some absolute crackers. These are my ten best of 2019 – click on the title to read my review.

Winter’ by Ali Smith

ali smith winter

Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

ailsa rae

Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.

She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .

Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point and she wants to find her father.
Have her friends left her behind?
And she’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. She barely knows where to start on her own.

Then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.

But her new heart is a bold heart. 

She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton

craftsman

Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson

kindness2

Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

‘An Empty Vessel’ by J J Marsh writing as Vaughan Mason

an-empty-vessel-3

Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield

The boy

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson

Lowborn

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today’s Britain.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor

lighthouse

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

Ministry.jpg

I’ve just finished this completely wonderful, beautiful book – review to follow very soon!

Happy holidays, everyone – and happy reading!

 

holidays

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

lighthouse

Hive   Waterstones

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

I remember learning about Grace Darling many years ago when I was at primary school, and for some reason he image of her rowing across the wild sea in the moonlight has stayed with me. I loved Hazel Gaynor’s ‘The Cottingley Secret’, another novel that mixes fiction with reality, and this novel further establishes her as one of my favourite authors.

This is a really gorgeous book, beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of Grace, living with her close-knit family in the lighthouse on Longstone, who helps her father in a dramatic and dangerous rescue one night, which leads to an unwanted celebrity. We also follow the story of Matilda, alone and scared, sent by her family across the sea in shame, to live with an aunt she doesn’t know – a lighthouse keeper. The two women’s stories are threaded together, the narrative moving from 1838 to 1938 effortlessly, with compelling and honest characters and a poignant, arresting storyline.

One of my bugbears with women portrayed in historical fiction is that they often act outside of what wold have been allowed without repercussions. Often they are ‘feisty’. Grace and Matilda are definitely ‘strong’ women, but their lives are controlled and defined by convention – the author portrays them as finding ways to live within that and be true to themselves rather than allowing them unrealistic happy endings.

I loved the portrayal of Grace especially. There’s a real warmth and respect that comes across very clearly, without Grace being perfect. The ramifications of her bravery and celebrity are shown honestly, and shed a whole new light on her story.

A really lovely book and definitely recommended.

5 stars