Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The House Swap – Rebecca Fleet

Psychological Thriller

Now the thought of strangers staying in my house when I’m not there isn’t one that appeals on any level but for Caroline and therapist husband Francis the house swap gives them an opportunity to take a cheap break in Chiswick, close to London. So they make a folder of important information and leave their Leeds apartment to be enjoyed by a stranger in their absence.

Francis and Caroline leave their young son Eddie with her mother and drive to Chiswick and the boxy house which will become their base for exploring museums and the like in the big city for the next week. As they walk inside the lack of personal possessions is immediately apparent. Who’d live in a house like this?

This is a domestic thriller and as such a portrait of a marriage under an enormous amount of strain. Francis has suffered with an unspecified addiction while Caroline, the breadwinner, cook, bottle washer and parent, eventually snaps and starts a lurid affair with a younger colleague. The affair is hot, as are both Caroline and Carl, her paramour and the sections of the book set in the past are full of sex and the excitement of new passion. Caroline believes the lies she tells herself and her enjoyment of the attention in contrast to her empty marriage is very well done. But all this is in the past, two years before the trip away. So when Caroline notices things that remind her of times passed and she becomes spooked, as you would.

This is a good debut novel although not suitable for those readers who need to like or admire the characters. I would have liked to know more about the background to Francis’s addiction but as The House Swap is mostly told from Caroline’s point of view, we hear her thoughts on him but little of what makes him tick (when he’s not out of it on whatever pills he’s addicted to) In fact the woman who seemed most ‘real’ was the intense neighbour but that is probably because we know Caroline is hiding, from herself as much as Francis.

What The House Swap does really well is to shine a spotlight on how one person’s behaviour can cause a ripple effect, and it does it well. It’s also a lesson in how lack of communication can cause huge issues that can’t be overcome without a level of trust.

Caroline has only just made herself at home before a neighbour introduces herself and becomes a little bit keen to spend time with her which is just odd considering she’s only staying for a week.

There is plenty of intrigue that kept me turning the pages of this novel which is the ideal beach read. After all we all like to peek behind someone else’s curtains, even if the thought of the favour being returned makes us recoil in horror. The plotting is accomplished so even though I could think of various ways the storyline could play out, I wasn’t right in any aspect at all.

I’d like to thank the publishers Transworld who allowed to me read a copy of The House Swap before publication on 3 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Rebecca Fleet for an entertaining read.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Death in the Stars – Frances Brody

Crime Fiction

Set at the time of the solar eclipse in 1927 with a cast of variety hall entertainers we are treated to a splendid mystery of the death of one of their number. Coming close on the tails of two other accidents Kate Shackleton has the job of unravelling the truth.

This is only the second of the Kate Shackleton series I’ve read, this episode being number nine in the series, but so well-drawn are the key characters that I feel I already ‘know’ them well. Kate is a business-like as usual ably supported by former policeman Jim Sykes and her housekeeper cum investigator, Mrs Sugden. Kate is ahead of her times in running her own PI business but not so far out of it that she comes across as unrealistic, there is no doubting that we are in the 1920s.

With show business being the backdrop to this novel we are treated to fabulous singers, ventriloquists, dancers, comics and acrobats all performing under the watchful eye of Trotter Brockett the man in charge of the whole shebang. Being of a cautious nature when Selina the star of the show is invited to watch the eclipse at Giggleswick School in Yorkshire he gives his permission on the proviso that she is back in time for a rest before the evening show. Selina invites her co-entertainer Billy Moffatt to accompany her and asks Kate to arrange transport, by helicopter no less. Selina is from an Italian family who are big in the ice-cream business and is a fantastic singer drawing crowds to the kind of show that is beginning to feel the threat of the moving picture especially as rumours about that soon the pictures will be accompanied by sound. Anyway the helicopter ride to Giggleswick is to follow a party at Selina’s house which is full of showbiz glamour and the trio joined by journalist who are attending to write a piece and to take pictures of the momentous occasion set off. Sadly tragedy strikes and Kate is employed to find out what happened, and of course why.

Although this is definitely at the cosy end of the crime fiction genre, it isn’t all lightness, jokes and fluff. The historical details set this apart with an appearance in this book of soldiers who fought in WWI and the injuries physical and mental that they returned with. But don’t fear not, there is a solid mystery, complete with the obligatory red-herrings to keep the reader entertained as Kate turns down blind-alleys in a bid to find out if the suspicious death that occurred on her watch was murder or not.

With more than a nod to the Golden Age writers the ending is spot-on in its execution with all the panache you’d expect from a showbiz tale which gave this reader no end of satisfaction even though, for once, I’d worked out (or luckily guessed) which of the many colourful characters should be in the hot seat for thorough questioning.

I was very grateful to receive a copy of Death in the Stars from the publishers Little Brown and this review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Frances Brody for thoroughly entertaining me with her latest Kate Shackleton story.

First Published UK: 5 October 2017
Publisher: Little Brown 
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US


The Kate Shackleton Series

Dying In The Wool: 2009
A Medal For Murder: 2009
Murder In The Afternoon: 2012
A Woman Unknown: 2013
Murder on a Summer’s Day 2013
Death of an Avid Reader 2014
A Death in the Dales 2015
Death at the Seaside 2016
Death in the Stars 2017

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

The Other Me – Saskia Sarginson

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction

This wasn’t the book I expected but oh my, it was so much better! I expected a tale, similar to other ones I’ve read this year where the protagonist has changed her identity because she is either hiding from someone or something, and to an extent that is exactly what this story is about, but it tells a tale much deeper than that, truly exploring how we identify ourselves and illustrates how events in the past have very real consequences in the present.

Klaudia is the only daughter of Otto and Gwyn Meyer and we first meet her in the 1980s as she starts secondary school where her father is the caretaker. Having been home-schooled by her religious mother surrounded by the religious figures her father carves out of wood, Klaudia struggles to socialise, something not helped by the fact her father is a figure of fun and called a Nazi by her classmates. Saskia Sarginson paints a realistic picture of a teenage angst without it ever feeling melodramatic and so when Klaudia finds some evidence that seems to suggest that the name calling isn’t just childish taunts, but may have roots in reality, her reaction was entirely believable.

Klaudia leaves home in the 1990s, she moves to Leeds and becomes Eliza Bennett, named on the spur of the moment in honour of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett. She leaves behind the taunts that had followed her through her teenage years and reinvents herself, but she can’t quite forget the suspicions she has about her father’s past and is in no hurry to return to the claustrophobic home in London.

Interspersed with Klaudia’s and Eliza’s stories we have the story of Ernst, Otto’s brother. Ernst’s tale begins in the 1930s in Germany. Ernst and Otto were foundlings, taken in by the Meyer family living a bleak life, one where they aren’t treated as family but more as servants despite being young boys. We follow Ernst as life in Germany is changing with fascism on the rise and proving your ancestral line is a requirement of staying safe.

Earlier this month I made a comment that a book spoke to me, this one did too and I understood why when I got to the afterword. The author tells us she was informed that the father that she’d never met was a Dutch Jew and how that made the Holocaust all that more personal. My paternal family were also Jews who came to England from Amsterdam and like the author, I’ve always been aware that but for the decision of my ancestors to move to the East End, I may not be here at all. I’ve been to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam and read through the names of those who died in the concentration camps and seen my family name, which only became anglicised in the late 1930s, listed numerous times as were the other surnames that crop up in my family tree. The author wrote this book after considering how she would feel about this period of history if her father had been a German Nazi rather than a Dutch Jew. Coincidently the same thoughts were running through my head as I read this book, and that is the randomness of reading, you just don’t know when that special book that feels personal will appear.

This book really moved me and although I had some sympathy with Klaudia/Eliza, the character I really grew to love was Ernst. If you want to find out why, well you’ll have to read the book!

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but having rooted around in the cupboard which houses a pile of unread books, I found a copy of her debut novel The Twins which was one of the Richard and Judy choices back in 2013 and this will be now promoted to a place on an actual shelf.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Little Brown Book Group who allowed me to read a copy of this book in return for my review. The Other Me is already available to read as an e-book with the physical copy being published on 13 August 2015.