Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2019

20 Books of Summer 2019 #20BooksofSummer


Well once again I am joining Cathy746 with her annual 20 books of summer challenge, a challenge I have met with varying degrees of success (or failure). Normally I choose only physical books from my own shelves but with my lacklustre reading this year I have decided that I need to keep this easy with a wide variety of genres and types to keep me going…

So like Cathy from 3 June until 3 September I will be attempting to read my 20 Books of Summer.

You join in with your own 20 (or 10, or 15!), and link your post with your choices to the Linky on Cathy’s blog so we can all cheer each other on!

So without further ado here are my books:

1. The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton.

NetGalley – eBook – Non-Fiction

Maud West ran her detective agency in London for more than thirty years, having started sleuthing on behalf of society’s finest in 1905.

Her exploits grabbed headlines throughout the world but, beneath the public persona, she was forced to hide vital aspects of her own identity in order to thrive in a class-obsessed and male-dominated world. And – as Susannah Stapleton reveals – she was a most unreliable witness to her own life.

Who was Maud? And what was the reality of being a female private detective in the Golden Age of Crime? Interweaving tales from Maud West’s own ‘casebook’ with social history and extensive original research,
Stapleton investigates the stories Maud West told about herself in a quest to uncover the truth. With walk-on parts by Dr Crippen and Dorothy L. Sayers, Parisian gangsters and Continental blackmailers, The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is both a portrait of a woman ahead of her time and a deliciously salacious glimpse into the underbelly of ‘good society’ during the first half of the twentieth century.

2. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Own Copy – Physical – Crime Fiction

England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

 

3. Perfect Remains by Helen Fields

Own Copy – eBook – Crime Fiction – Series

On a remote Highland mountain, the body of Elaine Buxton is burning. All that will be left to identify the respected lawyer are her teeth and a fragment of clothing.

In the concealed back room of a house in Edinburgh, the real Elaine Buxton screams into the darkness…

Detective Inspector Luc Callanach has barely set foot in his new office when Elaine’s missing persons case is escalated to a murder investigation. Having left behind a promising career at Interpol, he’s eager to prove himself to his new team. But Edinburgh, he discovers, is a long way from Lyon, and Elaine’s killer has covered his tracks with meticulous care.

It’s not long before another successful woman is abducted from her doorstep, and Callanach finds himself in a race against the clock. Or so he believes … The real fate of the women will prove more twisted than he could have ever imagined.

 

4. I know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Own Copy – Audiobook – Psychological Thriller

Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from. But I know exactly who you are. I know what you’ve done. And I am watching you.
When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

 

5. Victorian Murders by Jan Bondeson

Own Copy – Physical Book – Non-Fiction

This book features fifty-six Victorian cases of murder covered in the sensational weekly penny journal the Illustrated Police News between 1867 and 1900.
Some of them are famous, like the Bravo Mystery of 1876, the Llangibby Massacre of 1878 and the Mrs Pearcey case of 1890; others are little-known, like the Acton Atrocity of 1880, the Ramsgate Mystery of 1893 and the Grafton Street Murder of 1894. Take your ticket for the house of horrors.

 

 

6. Conviction by Denise Mina

NetGalley – eBook – Psychological Thriller

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

 

7. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

Own Copy – Physical Book – Classic

Noel Streatfeild is best known as a writer for children, but had not thought of writing for them until persuaded to re-work her first novel as Ballet Shoes; this had sold ten million copies by the time of her death.

Saplings (1945), her tenth book for adults, is also about children: a family with four of them, to whom we are first introduced in all their secure Englishness in the summer of 1939.

‘Her purpose is to take a happy, successful, middle-class pre-war family – and then track in miserable detail the disintegration and devastation which war brought to tens of thousands of such families,’ writes the psychiatrist Dr Jeremy Holmes in his Afterword. Her ‘supreme gift was her ability to see the world from a child’s perspective’ and ‘she shows that children can remain serene in the midst of terrible events as long as they are handled with love and openness.’ She understood that ‘the psychological consequences of separating children from their parents was glossed over in the rush to ensure their physical survival… It is fascinating to watch Streatfeild casually and intuitively anticipate many of the findings of developmental psychology over the past fifty years.’ ‘A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War, and quite shocking’ wrote Sarah Waters in the Guardian. Saplings was a ten-part serial on BBC Radio 4 in 2004.

 

8. Oustide Looking In by Michael Wood

Own Copy – eBook – Crime Fiction – Series

When elderly George Rainsford goes to investigate a suspicious noise one night, the last thing he expects to find is a bloodbath. A man has been killed and a woman brutally beaten, left for dead.

The victims are Lois Craven and Kevin Hardaker – both married, but not to each other. Their spouses swear they knew nothing of the affair and, besides, they both have alibis for the attack. With nothing else to link the victims, the investigation hits a dead end.

The pressure is on for investigating officer, DCI Matilda Darke: there’s a violent killer on the loose, and it looks like her team members are the new targets. With no leads and no suspects, it’s going to take all Matilda’s wits to catch him, before he strikes again.

 

9. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Own Copy – Audiobook – Contemporary Fiction

For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.

10. 99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter

Own Copy – eBook – Psychological Thriller

wo girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter?
When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge.
What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems?
Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared…

 

11. The Other Mrs Miller by Allison Dickson

NetGalley – eBook – Psychological Thriller

Two women are watching each other.
Phoebe isn’t sure when the car started showing up. At first she put it down to the scandal around her late father, but she’s certain now it’s there for her. What’s interesting about an unhappily married housewife, who barely leaves her house?

Only one knows why.
Every morning, not long before your husband leaves for work, I wait for the blinds beside your front door to twitch. You might think I’m sitting out here waiting to break into your house and add a piece of your life to my collection. Things aren’t quite that simple. It’s not a piece of your life I want.
When a new family move in across the street, it provides Phoebe with a distraction. But with her head turned she’s no longer focused on the woman in the car. And Phoebe really should be, because she’s just waiting for an opportunity to upend Phoebe’s life…

 

 

12. They Walk Among Us by Benjamin Fitton, Rosanna Fitton

Own Copy – Audiobook – Non-Fiction

A Chilling Casebook of Horrifying Hometown Crimes
How well do you really know your friends?

Neighbours, friends, doctors and colleagues. We see them every day. We trust them implicitly. But what about the British army sergeant who sabotaged his wife’s parachute? Or the lodger who took his landlady on a picnic from which she never returned? From dentists to PAs, these normal-seeming people were quietly wrecking lives, and nobody suspected a thing.

In this first book from the addictive award-winning podcast They Walk Among Us, Benjamin and Rosanna serve up small-town stories in gripping detail. They’ve hooked millions of listeners with their intricate and disturbing cases, and now they dig into ten more tales, to provide an unforgettably sinister true-crime experience, scarily close to home.

It could happen to you.

 

13. Roar by Cecilia Ahern

Borrowed – Physical Book – Short Stories

Have you ever imagined a different life?

Have you ever stood at a crossroads, undecided? Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to roar?

From much-loved, international bestseller Cecelia Ahern come stories for all of us: the women who befriend us, the women who encourage us, the women who make us brave. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged her Husband, discover thirty touching, often hilarious, stories and meet thirty very different women. Each discovers her strength; each realizes she holds the power to make a change.

Witty, tender, surprising, these keenly observed tales speak to us all, and capture the moment when we all want to roar.

 

 

14. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

NetGalley – eBook – Psychological Thriller

In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up.
In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note.
They’ve been dead for several days.

Who has been looking after the baby?
And where did they go?
Two entangled families.
A house with the darkest of secrets.

 

 

15. The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine

Own Copy (Re read)- Physical Book – Psychological Thriller

Lizzie hasn’t seen her old friend, Bell, for some fourteen years, but when she spots her from a taxi in a London street she jumps out and pursues her despite ‘all the terrible things’ that passed between them. As Lizzie reveals those events, little by little, the women rekindle their friendship, with terrifying results …

 

 

 

16.. The Hireling by L.P. Hartley

Own Copy – Physical Book – Classic

Overcome with grief at her husband’s death, Lady Franklin, an eligible young widow, unburdens herself to Leadbitter – a gallant, hard-bitten ex-soldier who has invested his savings in the car he drives for hire – as he takes her on a series of journeys.

He in turn beguiles her with stories of his non-existent wife and children, drawing her out of her self-absorption and weaving a dream-life with Lady Franklin at its heart. Half-hoping to make his dream come true, Leadbitter takes a bold, not to say reckless, step which costs him dearly, and brings these characters’ tangled story to a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.

 

17. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Own Copy – Audiobook – Contemporary Fiction

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?

 

18. The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunis

Own Copy – eBook – Historical Fiction

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.
1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.
Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…
Read her letter. Remember her story…

 

19. The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood

NetGalley – eBook – Crime Fiction

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now twenty-two, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone – and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.

And that you can’t walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you…

 

20. The Black Sheep by Sophie McKenzie

Own Copy – Physical Book – Psychological Thriller

Your life is in danger – and the death threats are coming from someone close to you. But who?
Someone in your family is lying to you.

Francesca was widowed a year ago. Since then she has focused on her children, trying to soothe their grief as well as her own. Her husband and father never quite saw eye to eye but no one could have cared more for her in the past year than her close-knit family. Finally, she feels she might be ready to move on with life.

Until she is contacted out of the blue by someone who says he must get information to her. That her husband’s death wasn’t what it seemed. And that her family know more than they say ….

Who can Francesca trust? And what will happen to her if she puts her faith in the wrong person?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises– Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I ‘read’ this book in audio format, chosen because I find my normal fayre of crime fiction bizarrely too hard to listen to, and decided a total change of scene might work better for me, I was right.
I’m not however quite sure how to review it but need to illustrate what an impact Elsa, and her Grandmother had on me as I trudged home from work over a number of weeks. Elsa starts by giving us a few pointers about her Grandmother:

“Granny and Elsa used to watch the evening news together. Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups were generally people, and people are generally shits. Elsa countered that grown-ups were also responsible for a lot of good things in between all the idiocy – space exploration, the UN, vaccines and cheese slicers, for instance. Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the ‘not-a-shit’ side as one can.”

Granny is also a little bit mad. One of the early stories we hear is of her throwing turds at a policeman after breaking into a zoo, firing paintballs from her balcony at one of the most enduring characters of all Britt-Marie and driving a car called Audi, all with Elsa in tow of course. Granny and Elsa live in separate apartments in one building and although the main story is about this wonderful pair; Elsa a super bright child who is ‘different’ and Granny who we discover is similarly different and we have a whole host of other characters whose stories we discover along the way. Child characters always worry me a little and Elsa at ‘nearly eight’ is no different. Fortunately she was an engaging child, full of Marvel super-heros, Harry Potter and a stickler for using Wikipedia a useful device for knowing stuff that no normal nearly eight year old would know and of course as she is absolutely integral to the storyline it was helpful that she was ‘different’ a normal child could never have coped with the pressure!

This might sound like a bit of a ‘twee’ tale, and on a level it is. There is the magic of childhood with an overarching fairy tale world invented by Elsa’s Granny, Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. But Fredrik Backman has a way of making this absolutely story for adults. In a style seen again in his far darker tale, Beartown, there are insightful words that cover the range of every situation and emotion.

“Death’s greatest power is not that it can make people die, but that it can make people want to stop living.”

Because sadly, and especially because she is Elsa’s only friend, Granny dies and leaves Elsa with a number of letters to be delivered, all of which apologise to the recipient for something. It is while undertaking this task that the other resident’s stories are revealed. Some with happier outcomes, some less so and those stories also reveal more about Granny than all the stories and madcap activities she carried out in Elsa’s presence. As the book goes on it becomes clear who some of the characters in Miamas really are and in turn gives an explanation as to why they are the way they are. Along the way we see war, we see natural disasters in the form of a tsunami, we see bullying and betrayal and we also see that life goes on. Life and death are seen up close and personal through the prism of a those who have witnessed both.

This is a delightful story which was beautifully narrated by Joan Walker who manages to keep her voice steady as some of the more emotional moments and the combination of an unusual story, expertly translated by Herman Koch gave me much pleasure and company while I clocked up my steps!

“She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different – look at superheroes.”

I couldn’t help feeling the world would be a much better place if every child had a ‘Granny’ in their corner to guide them.

First Published UK: 4 June 2015
Publisher:Sceptre
No of Pages: 353
Listening Time: 11 Hours 2 Minutes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (July 22)

Well another busy week full of sunshine and a family trip to see the local production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as my step-daughter and her boyfriend were visiting. We were all greatly impressed, the child-catcher being suitably scary!

This Week on the Blog

As I’m alternating the reads I experienced while on my holiday last month and newly published books, there week was a lull in the publishing world so I’m slowly catching up starting with a review of Dying Truth by the outstanding Angela Marsons

My excerpt post this week came from an upcoming read; Little Liar by Lisa Ballantyne an author not afraid to dig a little deeper into the human psyche.

This Week in Books featured the authors Rachel Rhys, Paula Daly and Alison Light a pleasing mix of historical, psychological and non-fiction.

My second review of the week was for Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, an outstanding piece of crime fiction where the setting is almost a character in its own right.

Raven Black was only the fourth book I’ve reviewed for the 20 Books of Summer 2018 challenge and by now I should have completed the first 10. I wasn’t deterred by this apparent failing though and optimistically published my second set of 10 books on Friday.

I redeemed myself somewhat by posting my review of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, the fifth book for the challenge, yesterday. This is going into that very special list of favourite reads of all time!

 

This Time Last Year…

I was reading Death Knocks Twice by Richard Thorogood, a lighter look at murder on the Caribbean island of Saint-Marie where the influence of Agatha Christie looms large.

This old-fashioned story albeit in modern times, is characterised by a minimal number of suspects and a fiendishly difficult puzzle to solve with plenty of red-herrings thrown into the mix. And then Death knocks again and another body is discovered in equally baffling circumstances! With no-one being quite what they seem and it quickly becoming clear that the coffee plantation, built up with the use of slaves, is not as prosperous as the family’s standing in the community might suggest DI Poole along with Camille, Fidel and Dwayne use age-old techniques to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Brilliant done with a lightness of touch that reflects the TV series this was a delightful read.

You can read my full review here or click on the book cover.

Blurb

Two dead bodies. A family of suspects. One grumpy detective.

Reluctantly stationed on the sweltering Caribbean island of Saint-Marie, Detective Inspector Richard Poole dreams of cold winds, drizzly rain and a pint in his local pub.

Just as he is feeling as fed up as can be, a mysterious vagrant is found dead in the grounds of the historic Beaumont plantation. Immediately assumed to be suicide, DI Poole is not so convinced and determined to prove otherwise. Never mind that the only fingerprints on the murder weapon belong to the victim. Or that the room was locked from the inside.

Before long, death knocks twice and a second body turns up. The hunt is on to solve the case – despite the best efforts of the enigmatic Beaumont family… Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

While I was away on holiday a local author contacted me to see if I was interested in reading his book and finally due to other commitments we finally met up for a good chat one lunctime this week. I am now the proud owner of Anthony Le Moignan’s first published novel (although he has more up his sleeve), A Long Goodbye.

Blurb

Simon, a successful accountant, has a big problem. The biggest of them all. He checks himself into Orchard Care Home whilst still relatively healthy, the youngest resident by decades. He’s confident he cut all ties with the outside world and is untraceable.

Emma, married with no kids, lives, breathes and manages Orchard Care Home; a position her husband, Michael, used to hold in the good old days. But now he’s soared up the company hierarchy she sees so much less of him.

The attraction between carer and resident is instant, but ultimately destined for catastrophe. Alzheimer’s takes no prisoners and Early Onset, it’s most tragic form, is the cruellest of all.
How can Michael feel threatened by Simon? And what future could Emma have with him?
Simon understands less and less, but knows he has to try and run away from time – to somehow beat the ceaseless clock.

A powerful new novel by Anthony Le Moignan that will make you laugh and cry, for fans of Jojo Moyes, Emma Healey and Nicholas Sparks. Amazon

I have decided that hard-hitting crime fiction as an audio book is not for me… so I have chosen something gentler to accompany me on my walking; My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman seems to be working better for me…

Blurb

Everyone remembers the smell of their grandmother’s house.

Everyone remembers the stories their grandmother told them.

But does everyone remember their grandmother flirting with policemen? Driving illegally?
Breaking into a zoo in the middle of the night? Firing a paintball gun from a balcony in her dressing gown?

Seven-year-old Elsa does.

Some might call Elsa’s granny ‘eccentric’, or even ‘crazy’. Elsa calls her a superhero. And granny’s stories, of knights and princesses and dragons and castles, are her superpower. Because, as Elsa is starting to learn, heroes and villains don’t always exist in imaginary kingdoms; they could live just down the hallway.

As Christmas draws near, even the best superhero grandmothers may have one or two things they’d like to apologise for. And, in the process, Elsa can have some breath-taking adventures of her own . . . Amazon

tbr-watch

Finally I have broken the 2 book a week reading and managed to read 3 books this week and I have only added the 2 so the TBR is standing at 170!
Physical Books – 112
Kindle Books – 41
NetGalley Books –16
Audio Books –1

And with all three of this week’s reviews were for a books I own I’ve added another whole book token so now I’m 3 1/3 books in credit, having bought no new books.

Posted in Five Star Reads

Five of the Best (June 2014 to June 2018)


5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

It should be noted there are typically slimmer pickings for reviews to choose from in June as that is typically when I go on holiday but fear not, there are still some great reads to choose from.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

From June 2014 I am choosing The Kill by Jane Casey, book five of her spectacular Maeve Kerrigan series. It looks like book eight is due to be published in 2019.

This exceptionally worrying read features a serial killer who is picking off the police in London. The story uses elements that we witnessed from the 2011 riots in London giving the storyline a basis in reality that only serves to give it more credibility. That combined with the media and politicians using the murders to serve their own agendas only ramps up the tension.

As ever Jane Casey includes a wonderful array of characters, the plotting and pacing are spot-on making for absolutely compulsive reading.

Their job is to investigate crime – not become the victims…

A killer is terrorising London but this time the police are the targets. Urgently re-assigned to investigate a series of brutal attacks on fellow officers, Maeve Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent have little idea what motivates the killer’s fury against the force.

But they know it will only be a matter of time before the killer strikes again. Amazon

I am a huge Sophie Hannah fan but even given the massive expectation I already have A Game for all the Family was just something else!

Never before have I got quite so far through a book where I’m enormously enjoying what I’m reading but have no clue what actually is going on… the oddest experience and all the more delightful when everything became clear in the end.

The basic premise is that whilst driving to their new house, the Merrison family spot an odd house which resonates.

All goes well with the move he ugly house is more or less forgotten and for the first couple of months the move out of London to Devon proves to be a good one. But then Ellen becomes withdrawn and secretive. Ah but she’s fourteen, so nothing too out of the ordinary! Ellen is spending all of her time working on a story she’s writing for an English assignment and when Justine finds the first couple of pages she’s alarmed. It is very well-written, set in their new house and has more than one murder! Around the same time Ellen becomes distressed about her friend George Donbavand who has been expelled from school for a crime he hasn’t committed. Justine visits the school and is told that George never existed!

The story winds tighter and tighter and is one of the most unusual and yet absorbing books I have read.

Blurb

He’s not your son. It’s not up to you to save him. But you have to try.

After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.

But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.

Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety.

If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be… Amazon

For June’s 2016 top pick I am choosing another innovative writer but this one is a police procedural. Reginald Hill’s Pictures of Perfection is one of my favourites of all of his books. This is the thirteenth book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and as with any series they are probably best enjoyed if you read them in order although many, this one included, can be read and appreciated perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

There is so much to delight in within the pages of Pictures of Perfection, from the links to Jane Austen both ostentatious in the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and slightly more subtle references within the themes themselves, to the moment in history that the book evokes; this was probably the last moments where ‘village life’ could be portrayed in this manner without those who live in such places laughing at the cliché of ‘Olde Worlde Britain’ that it evokes, one where everyone knows each other better than they know themselves often bound by a common enemy or two.

You’ll be pleased and reassured to know with all the periphery views to enjoy within the pages of this novel, there is also a proper plot with a full-blown mystery or two to be solved

Blurb

High in the Mid-Yorkshire Dales stands the traditional village of Enscombe, seemingly untouched by the modern world. But contemporary life is about to intrude when the disappearance of a policeman brings Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to its doors.

As the detectives dig beneath the veneer of idyllic village life a new pattern emerges: of family feuds, ancient injuries, cheating and lies. And finally, as the community gathers for the traditional Squire’s Reckoning, it looks as if the simmering tensions will erupt in a bloody climax… Amazon

There were a few books I could have chosen to feature in this post from June 2017 but I have decided to go with Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett because this is not a crime fiction novel of any description!

Instead it taps into the fact that music is the soundtrack to all of our lives. We all recall how we felt about those songs that were the background to early years; the songs we fell in love to and those that we obsessively listened to as we attempt to mend wounded hearts; for many of us there is a tune that can turn back the years to a distant time and place. Laura Barnett has taken this idea and turned it into a densely woven story.

Music is woven throughout the tale about songwriter Cass’s life and we meet some stand-out characters of all types. Cass’s life felt like one I could have been part of, so evocative were the descriptions and so rich in both characters and writing style. This is a book to wallow in with a story that transports its reader to a time and place far away.

Blurb

If you could choose just sixteen moments to define your entire life, what would they be?
Cass Wheeler has seen it all – from the searing heights of success, to earth-shattering moments of despair. She has known passion, envy, pride, fear, and love. She has been a daughter, a mother, a singer, a lover.

A musician born in 1950, Cass is now taking one day to select the sixteen songs in her repertoire that have meant the most to her. And behind each song lies a story – from the day her mother abandoned her, to her passionate first love, to the moment she lost everything. The dreams, the failures, the second chances. But what made her disappear so suddenly from her public life and, most importantly, can she find her way back? Amazon

There was no question about the book I would choose to star as my top read of 2018 – Us Against You by Fredrik Backman is a stunning follow up to Beartown (originally published in the UK as The Scandal). The beauty of this book is the truths that are woven into the story of a small town on the downward slide. The characters are complex with ‘bad’ people doing good and good people doing things that hurt others – I know of no other author who can create such a rich array of characters that reflect real life and create a mesmerising tale for us to meet them in.

I think these two books are among the most quotable of modern books, there are truisms that are expertly woven into a story that will have you experiencing tragedy one moment and wondering at the strength of character of another the next. Everyone in Beartown has a story to tell and Fredrick Backman tells it to us with the love of his creation illuminating the world even when its facing destruction.

Blurb

Beartown is dying . . .

Tucked in a forest in the frozen north, Beartown’s residents are tough and hardworking. They don’t expect life to be easy, but they do expect it to be fair.

Which is why the sudden loss of their hockey players to the rival town of Hed hurts. Everyone needs something to cheer for in the long winter nights. Now they have nothing.

So when a new star player arrives, Coach Peter sees an opportunity to rebuild the team – to take on Hed and restore Beartown’s fortunes. But not everyone in town sees it his way.

As the big game between both towns approaches, the rivalry turns bitter and all too real. Once the stands rumbled with threats to ‘kill’ and ‘ruin’ each other, but the residents didn’t mean it. Now they do.

By the time the last goal is scored, someone in Beartown will be dead . . .

Us Against You is the story of two towns, two teams and what it means to believe in something bigger than yourself. It’s about how people come together – sometimes in anger, often in sorrow, but also through love. And how, when we stand together, we can bring a town back to life. Amazon

How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Us Against You – Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Last year I read a book about hockey. I made the point that I don’t like hockey but I did love the book called at that time The Scandal but now better known as Beartown. I will leave you booklovers to imagine my excitement when I heard there was to be a follow-up book and even greater pleasure when I was able to turn the pages of Us Against You.

We are back in Beartown primarily to see how a town that lives for its hockey is getting on after the shocking events in the first book. Do not read this book if you haven’t read the first one because you will be missing out on a very special experience indeed.

“The greater the mistake and the worse the consequences, the more pride we stand to lose if we back down. So no one does.”

I’ll be honest, there isn’t one big event in Us Against You and because of that it confirmed to me that Fredrik Backman’s strength is in his characters. Beartown might be small but it is full of characters of all descriptions and yet this author has loving created many of them so well that you will be drawn to those that maybe in real life you simply wouldn’t take the time to get to know. Of course the delight for me was meeting up with some old favourites.

Top of the list is Peter Anderssen the General Manager of Beartown Hockey team who has held onto his position until now but there are moves afoot to only have one hockey team in the region and that honour looks like being conferred on Hed – so it is the Bulls against he Bears. In the way that life often goes, the instant drawing up of direct competition means that hatred spreads in its wake as passions are roused to even higher levels.

“The worst thing we know about other people is that we’re dependent upon them. That their actions affect our lives. Not just the people we like, but all the rest of them: the idiots.”

We therefore have Peter’s wife Kira still struggling for her time to shine in her career, his daughter Maya and his son Leo. We see the old hockey coach and the boys who played hockey who mainly switched teams to Hed. Interesting to see how that plays out over a summer when hockey isn’t played, it’s planned. Switch scenes to the five uncles sat in the Bearskin pub where Ramona is still a steady presence in a changing world.

“At some point almost everyone makes a choice. Some of us don’t even notice it happening, most don’t get to plan it in advance, but there’s always a moment when we take one path instead of another, which has consequences for the rest of our lives. It determines the people we will become, in other people’s eyes as well as our own.”

Enter the snakelike politician Richard Theo who decides to use hockey although he seems to like the sport just as much as I do to win. Winning is more important to Richard than anything else it seems and his snaky dealings could make him a pantomime villain but again, the author has given him just enough depth that I was able to resist hissing every time he appeared.

“Lies are simple; truth is difficult.”

I loved this book, perhaps not quite as much as The Scandal but a great deal. I think these books are among the most quotable of modern books, there are truisms that are expertly woven into a story that will have you experiencing tragedy one moment and wondering at the strength of character of another the next. Everyone in Beartown has a story to tell and Fredrick Backman tells it to us with the love of his creation illuminating the world even when its facing destruction.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin UK for allowing me to read a copy of Us Against You ahead of publication on 14 June 2018. A beautiful read of ordinary lives which had me cycling through the entire range of emotions. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 14 June 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (May 13)

I hope you my UK readers had a fab and sunny Bank Holiday Weekend last week. I decided to take a few days off blogging to enjoy the sunshine and devoted my time to learning a new knitting technique which meant watching YouTube videos, a lot of muttering (well actually swearing) but I eventually cracked it. I can know brioche stitch in two colours!

Thanks to Margot at Joyfully Retired giving me a handy tip to pretend a famous storyteller had come to visit to tell my their story, I have also mastered listening to audio books – she was right pretending there is someone there made a difference to my concentration and I am now converted and have another scarf well underway! I’ve now had to add an extra tab (and colour) to my excel spreadsheet to keep a count of audio books too!

Anyway I returned to blogging to find that WordPress had altered the font which confused me for a while but I expect I’ll get used to it and with a renewed enthusiasm for a month of reading before I go on my holiday.

This Week on the Blog

I have reviewed three books, two of which are due to be published on 17 May 2018, even better they were all really enjoyable!

My first review was for Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell, set in 1950s New York this tale in the world of publishing gained the full five stars from me.

I then reviewed my copy of The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings; a dark gothic tale set in Cornwell in the summer of 1986.

My final review of the week took me to Brighton with The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson, a dark tale from this accomplished author.

This Time Last Year…

I was reading one of my favourite books of 2017 – The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins was both engaging and memorable as I immersed myself into a story of a book about a book. There is always something absolutely irresistible in a this device, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters, a plot that is underpinned by meticulous timing so that I became bound up in Olivia’s fight for her reputation long before I understood why she was needing to fight in the first place.

You can read my full review here, or click on the book cover.

Blurb

You have the perfect life . . . How far would you go to protect it?

Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.

Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.

As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything. Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

Well my self-imposed ARC ban in April is over and I have some lovely new books to share with you all.

First up is one that I was longing to read, and I have to confess I requested my copy at the end of April but hey rules are meant to be broken!

Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys is the second historical novel by this author (aka Tammy Cohen) with a stunning cover to be published on 26 July 2018.

Blurb

1948: an English housewife trapped in a dull marriage escapes to the South of France to claim a mystery inheritance. But rivals to her unexplained fortune begin to emerge, and now they want her out of the way …

She didn’t have an enemy in the world…
until she inherited a fortune

London 1948: Eve Forrester is trapped in a loveless marriage, in a gloomy house, in a grey suburb.
Out of the blue, she received a solicitor’s letter. A wealthy stranger has left her a mystery inheritance but in order to find out more, she must travel to the glittering French Riviera.

Eve discovers her legacy is an enchanting villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea and suddenly, life could not be more glamorous.

But while she rubs shoulders with film-stars and famous writers, under the heat of the golden sun, rivals to her unexplained fortune begin to emerge. Rivals who want her out of the way.

Alone in paradise, Eve must unlock the story behind her surprise bequest – before events turn deadly…

Reminiscent of a Golden Age mystery, Fatal Inheritance is an intoxicating story of dysfunctional families and long-hidden secrets, set against the razzle-dazzle and decadence of the French Riviera. Amazon

I also was lucky enough to be approved for a copy of The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware which will be published on 28 June 2018.



Blurb

When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life… Amazon

I also have a copy of Us Against You by Fredrik Backman which is the sequel to The Scandal which I adored. Us Against You will be published on 14 June 2018.

Blurb

Can a broken town survive a second tragedy?

The follow-up to the international bestseller Beartown. A small, broken town sits on the edge of a frozen lake surrounded by a forest, its wounds still raw from a tragedy that tore its fragile community in two. Beartown has lost its way. Now the cold and dark that surround the snowbound town creep in, and so do new conflicts and tensions.

What was once a friendly rivalry with the neighbouring town is beginning to turn sinister and Beartown braces itself for another tragic blow. How far will the people of Beartown go to preserve their reputations for a second, deadly time?

Us Against You is a spell-binding exposition of small-town life in all its flawed complexity. NetGalley

tbr-watch

Since my last post I have read 6 books and I have gained 5 the TBR has fallen by one to 178
Physical Books – 112
Kindle Books – 49
NetGalley Books –16
Audio Books –1

 

 

Since my last post I have two thirds of a  token so it looks like I will be able to have a small treat for my holiday reading as I’m 1 2/3 of a book in credit!