Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Other Us – Fiona Harper

Contemporary Fiction

I think like everyone the world over I occasionally have those ‘what if?’ moments and that’s exactly what Fiona Harper has tapped into in The Other Us. Maggie is a forty-something woman whose only daughter is preparing to fly the nest so when Maggie and her best friend Becca have been invited to university reunion, her first thought is will Jude be there? Jude invited Maggie to run away with him the night she accepted Dan’s proposal and at the back of her mind, with Dan being secretive, she wonders if she should have done so.

When Maggie is hurtled back through time to 1992 when she was twenty-one, she wakes up in her student digs which she shared with Becca. Back to the time before she decided which man to plump for. Maggie now has the chance to make different choices, and of course the question is will they make her happier?

This fun read doesn’t just focus on Maggie and her love life though, I’m happy to report that it also focusses on bigger life choices such as the careers that Maggie and Dan choose along with a meaningful look at the nature of friendship. How does it work if you don’t like your friend’s partner? And of course it’s harder to like them if you know how they are going to act in the future. Yes, Maggie is conscious that she is in the past, unlike many ‘time-travelling’ novels, so her actions are taken with that knowledge in mind, and the big question is what does Maggie in her forties really want her life to look like? What is important? Only when she is able to answer those questions can she really make the choice she needs to.

My first thought when Maggie wakes up in 1992 was the more benign truth is that youth is wasted on the young. Imagine waking up and shaving a good twenty years off your age – those wrinkles and grey hairs banished to reveal a younger and perkier you – I think I’d embrace that too!! Maggie does, choosing a wardrobe she would have shunned as the old Maggie and revelling in her youthful appearance.

This is a well-constructed novel; it needs to be with three different time lines to follow all involving the same set of characters, the potential for getting confused is high. I’m happy to say I didn’t once wonder where we were I the story though as the author has given us enough pointers – including Jude using Meg as his name for Maggie to keep the storylines straight.

This is perfect beach reading, it’s light and fluffy but with enough oomph to keep you turning those pages to find out what choices Maggie makes and what adjustments she makes to turn her life around in all three story-lines. All of this is helped by the fact that Maggie is someone you’d like to have as a friend and so I was rooting for her even when she seemed incapable of seeing what was really important to her and so meandered way off track. There are plenty of funny scenes to keep you chuckling and this uplifting book may just well convince you that perhaps hurtling back through time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to MidasPR who sent me a copy of this book on behalf of the publishers HQ. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author Fiona Harper for brightening up my day with a humorous look at life.

First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Fiona’s first book was published in 2006 and she now has twenty-four published books under her belt. She started her career writing heartfelt but humorous romances for Mills & Boon, but now writes romantic comedies and feel-good women’s fiction for Harper Collins, as part of their HQ imprint.
She is a previous winner of the Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Scheme Award, has had five books shortlisted for an RNA Award and won the ‘Best Short Romance’ at the Festival of Romance three years’ running.
Fiona lives in London with her husband and two teenage daughters,

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Man With One of Those Faces – Caimh McDonnell

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

Paul Muchrone is a ‘granny whisperer’ – a what? I hear you say? What he does is visit the elderly in hospital and sits with them as if he is a relative. This all came about when he was visiting an old lady on the ward and he discovered his talent.

“While I was there, another lady on the ward – late stages of Alzheimer’s amongst other things – mistook me for her brother. They knew he wasn’t coming back from America and she had some things she needed to say, so – ”
“You did your trick,” she finished.

Paul goes onto explain that he helps out where needed, aided by just having one of those faces:

He had nothing that came close to qualifying as a distinguishing anything. His every facial attribute was a masterpiece of bloody-minded unoriginality, an aesthetic tribute to the forgettably average. Collectively they formed an orchestra designed to produce the facial muzak of the gods.

which is what brings him to St Kilda’s hospice where nurse Brigit Conroy asking him to visit one last patient – this time for some grandpa whispering for a change, but things don’t turn out quite as expected and Paul ends up in hospital. From here on in, things just get worse as the pair realise that they have somehow blundered into something neither had bargained for, and it soon looks like Paul’s life might be at stake.

I get that this all sounds rather farcical but the crime element of the story soon develops complete with a true-crime writer, the police and some terrifying gangsters making up the fantastic assortment of characters.

Much of the humour originates from Paul with his observational humour adding a cutting edge rather than detracting from the crime spree spreading across the pages of this surprisingly action packed thriller. Not only that we are treated to Paul’s backstory from a life in care to his stint on the hurling squad under the watchful eye of Detective Sergeant Bunny McGarry to his Great-Aunt Fidelma who was now controlling his life from beyond the grave. All of that sounds quite sedate compared to the situation he finds himself in where the only person he can trust is Brigit, and she’s a bit of a character too!

Her mam had often said that Brigit’s problem was she thought she was too good for an ordinary life, but she didn’t think that was fair. Brigit just felt that an ordinary life wasn’t good enough for anybody. It felt like she had been born in the safest and most boring time in human history. Everywhere the world had been discovered. Even outer space, it seemed, was full of, well just boring old space. There had to be more. There had to be some adventure, some magic, left in the world.

And then we have Detective Inspector Jimmy Stewart is just about to retire and he’s showing the ropes to and simultaneously trying to increase Detective Wilson’s film knowledge, to no avail. While on duty charged with Paul’s protection they come across something dodgy…

It surely wasn’t some kind of coincidence What were the odds that he and Wilson had stumbled upon an unrelated ambush? This was Dublin: assassination wasn’t that common a pastime.

With such a bunch of enterprising and entertaining characters this book was an exceptionally good read. The plot was well-thought out with the links to a past crime woven seamlessly into the present while the novel moves at a real pace, flipping easily between humour and terror so that I spent most of the book sat on the edge of my seat while chuckling. All the while there was an authentic (in my head anyway) Irish accent narrating the book to me. I really appreciated this lighter style of crime fiction which made a refreshing change. For those of you who read Caimh’s entertaining post  on my blog yesterday, only you can decide if this is too Irish and too funny – I say when is the next book going to be published?

I’d like to thank McFori Ink who gave me the opportunity to read this book. This unbiased review is my thanks to them for a riotous read.

Published UK: 30 August 2016
Publisher: McFori Ink
No of Pages 328
Genre: Humorous Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Crossword Ends In Violence (5) – James Cary

Comic Thriller 4*'s
Comic Thriller

Do you like cryptic crosswords or are you like me and find them impossible to crack? Either way this quintessentially British comic thriller could be for you.

In a complex plot told with enormous humour with more than a dash of the Boys Own feeling about it. John Fellows is a cryptic crossword compiler who employs two other puzzle enthusiasts, Turner, who sets chess problems and the newest employee, Overend, who sets bridge problems at the Bookman Bureau.

The Bookman Bureau was set up by Fellows Grandfather, Carl Bookman with his brother Sydney in the 1920’s at that time producing the cryptic crosswords for the daily papers. On one of those days that just seem to keep getting worse, John Fellows is advised his rent is being hiked, the demand for puzzles is not what it was in their heyday and he learns that Great Uncle Sydney has died and it seems that he wants to tell the family that Carl had been arrested for being a spy, sending messages to the enemy in the solutions to the crosswords.

The story is well structured all the sections headed ‘down’ are set in the war, telling the Bookman brother’s story while those marked ‘across’ detail the present day efforts of John Fellows to answer the myriad of questions posed by the deathbed speech of his Great Uncle as well as those posed by the mysterious package sent by his neighbour. There are also headings marked with chess moves which detail the life of inmate 27142629 who is carry out forced labour for the Russians.

The humour is very British and lifted by the appearance of Amanda, the only female in the book, who worked in the accountants downstairs.

‘Oi! I bought this T-shirt in Madison Square Gardens!’
‘And I’m very proud of it,’ said Turner
‘I’m proud of my twenty-five metres freestyle-swimming badge, but I’m not going to sew it onto my dress,’ said Amanda walking towards the door.

Amanda deciding that the overgrown schoolboys are far more interesting company joins them on their quest to find out the truth of what Carl Bookman did during the war, did he crack codes at Bletchley Park as Carl had always fondly imagined or was he a spy for t. he Germans?

This fairly short book, about three hundred pages, is a delight to read, with the D-Day landings described in a way unlike many history books, but one that I couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t that far off reality. The three sections of writing all join together to create a proper ending and the comedy doesn’t squash the underlying story being told.

The author, James Cary is an award winning comedy BBC comedy radio and TV producer. Not far off Crossword Ends in Violence (5), his comedy series Hut 33 (Radio 4) about Bletchley Park boffins, starring Robert Bathurst and Olivia Colman, has run for three series and this comic thriller was a delight to read but despite some of the tricks used to solve cryptic crosswords are explained in the book, I’m still not convinced that I have much hope of ever completing one. If you like words, some historical humour or just fancy reading something a little bit different to the norm, you may well enjoy this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher Piqwiq in return for this honest review.