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A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson - Review

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

This was the November choice, chosen by Margarate who never steers us wrong. I'm writing this before the book club meets, but I think generally the reaction to the book will be positive. We'll see though!

There are three strands to the book, which is set in 1972. First of all there's Clara. She is eight years old and lives in Solace, Northern Ontario, with her parents and older sister Rose. Rose is sixteen and just before the beginning of the book she has run away. This has happened before but she's only ever been gone for a couple of nights, not for a week or more. Clara has decided to stand in the window watching for her sister until Rose returns home, which is why she sees the man move into Mrs Orchard's house next door. She watches intently, watching him move Mrs Orchard's possessions around. She has to keep going next door because she promised Mrs Orchard that she would look after her cat, Moses, until she comes out of hospital. 

The man is Liam, and the second strand of the story is his. He is in his late thirties and he's just split up with his wife, Fiona. They lived in Toronto. Liam has been left the house by Elizabeth Orchard, a woman from his childhood who he barely remembers. Liam is an accountant, but he's quite dissastisfied with his life and ends up working for the local joiner/handyman. Everyone in the small town knows that he's arrived. The local sheriff comes to talk to him about the missing girl, but Liam obviously knows nothing but realises that the family next door - and especially Clara - are fragile

The third strand is Elizabeth. She is in hospital, at the end of her life. She was only supposed to be in for a couple of weeks, hence her asking Clara to look after that cat, but it turns out that her heart is failing and there's nothing doctors can do about it. She is reminiscing about her past, her thoughts directed towards her late husband. She goes over how they met Liam's family and how they got so attached to him that she would then leave him the house and, when she dies, most of her money.

I liked the story about Rose and Clara's naivety about the situation. I really liked Liam, who really grew over the course of the book. I didn't love Elizabeth's storyline, and I felt it was a bit obvious where it was going. I'm giving this four out of five because I mostly really liked it.

Name Upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson - Review

Sunday, November 27, 2022

I bought this book in Ireland when I was there in 2016. I meant to get to it much sooner but forgot about it, but then something reminded me so I dug it out. I was not thrilled by this book so it took me ages to read even though it's so short. It's a shame because I think it could have been so much better. 

Helen is fourteen and lives in Belfast with her Catholic mother and Protestant father. She goes to church with her father. Her mother is often ill, and her dad's family are hostile towards her. It's 1916 and World War One has been raging for two years. Helen's cousin Sandy has been injured on the front line so has been at home while he recuperates, but he's about to go back. He then goes with Helen to visit her mother's family, including her cousins Nora and Michael.

Michael wants to go and join the British army, but his parents are dead set against it. They want an independent Ireland, and don't think he should be fighting for the British. Nora is antagonistic towards Helen, which has repercussions later on in the book. 

I gave this three out of five as it really just wasn't my thing.

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell - Review

Friday, November 25, 2022

You know I read and enjoyed The Family Upstairs in August, and that I had reserved this, the sequel. It took a while to get to me from the library but once it had I picked it up immediately because I know there are other people waiting for the book in the system so I want to get it back as soon as possible. I was also intrigued to see what would happen in a sequel. I was not disappointed! This review contains spoilers for the first book, so proceed with caution!

There are three strands to this story, like the first one, but with different people. First of all we have Henry, the same as before. Henry is very selfish and traumatised from what happened to his family, but he's been somewhat settled for the last year since Lucy and the kids came to live in his flat. He loves them, even though they bring chaos to his carefully ordered life, and he loves Libby, who is still happily living in St Albans. At the end of the first book the family discovered that Phin was living on a game reserve in Botswana, and they all wanted to go and find him, but Henry discovers that he is actually in Chicago, and takes off to find him. When Lucy works out what he's done, he blocks her number and tries to avoid being found.

Linked to this strand of the story is Lucy and the kids, Marco and Stella. She is putting an offer in on a house in St Albans now that she has money from the sale of Cheyne Walk, but she lives in fear of being arrested for what she did to Michael, Marco's father and her ex husband. She and the kids follow Henry to Chicago to try to find him and Phin.

The second strand of the story is Rachel, who was Michael's second wife. We see her meet him, have a whirlwind romance, and read how everything goes wrong between them (he is abusive towards her and it's graphic, so be careful there). I can't say I LIKED this strand of story, but I did find it compelling. Michael is so horrible and keeps popping back up in her life even when they've split up. Rachel depends on her dad but is trying to make it on her own. She's quite spoilt but I liked her and her strand of story. Her life intertwines with Lucy's in France, which I loved. 

Finally there's Samuel, a detective inspector. Bones are found on the banks of the Thames and investigation finds that they are around twenty five years old but they have been in the river for only around a year. They turn out to be the bones of Birdie, who lived in Cheyne Walk with Lucy and Henry back in the day. Samuel therefore contacts Libby, who has to cover up a lot of things for her family.

This is a really satisfying book and compelling to read. I felt like it had a good ending BUT if there's a third one I won't complain. I'm giving this four out of five!

The Swimmer by Graham Norton - Review

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

I was looking on the library system for Graham's new book, Forever Home, and saw this one, which I haven't read. I wasn't expecting it to be such a small book - it's one of those short story things - but that was fine, I still really enjoyed the story and am giving it five out of five.

A woman called Helen lives in Bantry Bay in the south west of Ireland, in a house right on the coast. She lives with her sister, Margaret, who irritates her and upsets her peaceful retirement. One day, Helen is sitting in the coastal garden when a man passes her on his way to swim. He is carrying a distinctive carrier bag, and speaks briefly to Helen. She watches him swim for a while, and then she falls asleep. When she wakes up an hour later the carrier bag is still on the beach and Helen gets worried. She raises the alarm with the local barman, Pat, whose life isn't panning out exactly as he would have wanted.

Police are called and reckon the man has drowned. They identify him as Tom Shine. Margaret goes on the TV saying she spoke to the man, although that's a lie and only Helen did. Helen and Pat begin to get close, playing chess together in the pub. Then Helen goes up to Dublin and meets a familiar stranger...

This is a cute story, I liked it!

The Ministry of Unladylike Activity by Robin Stevens - Review

Sunday, November 20, 2022

So here we go with Robin Stevens' new series! When I met Robin in Sheffield in late 2019 she talked a bit about her new series, which is starring Hazel's youngest sister, May Wong. She asked one child if she knew what happened at the end of the 1930s in Europe - the answer to which of course is World War Two. So I wasn't surprised to start this book when May is aged nearly ten. She came over to England from Hong Kong in her first mystery, with her father and Rose, to drop Rose off at Deepdean. However war broke out and May and her father weren't able to return home. Instead, May has been taken to Deepdean too. She hates it. She escapes, going to see Hazel, and she manages to see something about the Ministry of Unladylike Activity in London. She heads there, where she meets Eric, who has solved crossword clues in order to get to the Ministry, and wants to become a spy. The door there is answered by Daisy, who tells them both to go away, but May also has information about someone giving information to the Nazis from a stately home near Coventry. 

May and Eric then present themselves as evacuees and manage to get themselves sent to Elysium Hall, where they meet the Verey family - old Mrs Verey, her current husband, and her five children from two marriages. Leonard was killed in the first world war, leaving Sidney, Neil, Hugh and her daughter. Her daughter has just lost her husband and moved back to the family home with her daughter Fionnuala, who is grieving very deeply for her dad. Her dad was Irish and the family toured the world in a theatre company, so Nuala is finding it hard to fit in with her English family. Her mum is grieving and is very not present in Nuala's life currently. 

May and Nuala instantly clash with each other, but eventually realise they need to work together, especially when a murder happens and they're pretty sure that it's been set up to look like an intruder. Eric is German and has had to leave all his family behind. May is missing Hong Kong deeply, and as I said Nuala is grieving for her dad and her old life. All three need each other in different ways - I liked how their friendships progressed through the book. 

This is a good first book in a new series - I look forward to seeing what happens next for the three of them. I loved the cameo from Daisy - up to her usual tricks - and wished we'd seen Hazel, but you can't have everything. I am giving this four out of five - when's the next one?! 

The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas - Review

Thursday, November 17, 2022

I read and enjoyed The Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas recently so I thought I would read other books by her, so I reserved this at the library. I liked it too so I will probably read something else by her in the future too. I do love placing holds at the library and have them conveniently arrive for me. It stops me buying so many books!

This one is about Saffy and Tom who have just moved into a house owned by Saffy's grandmother, Rose. Rose now has dementia and is living in a care home. Prior to that she lived in Bristol, so no one knew she owned this house in the Cotswolds. She passed ownership over to her daughter, Lorna, but Lorna lives in Spain with her boyfriend, so she has encouraged Saffy and Tom to move in. They are young, and pleased to be living in a house they own instead of having to pay rent. The house is a small cottage, and Saffy and Tom plan to extend to put a big kitchen on it. Saffy is also newly pregnant. Work has started on the extension when all building has to stop because a body is found. Police are called, and it turns out there are two bodies. No one has any idea who they are. 

Lorna arrives from Spain and realises that she remembers the cottage from when she was very little. She and Rose lived there for quite a few years. 

We also read Rose's point of view, told in letters to Lorna, from when she was small. She was on the run from Lorna's dad, and lived in a state of fear, hoping to avoid her past. She meets a woman called Daphne who quickly moves into the cottage with Rose and Lorna.

Meanwhile, a man called Theo falls out with his cold, unforgiving father. Theo's mother died falling down the stairs fourteen years ago when Theo was nineteen. His father is a doctor and the two have never really got on. Theo discovers a news article about the bodies found in Saffy's garden with a note saying 'find her'. But why would he know Rose or Saffy? I really liked how the two parts of the story came together. 

Rose's dementia means that she can't remember too much and she's confused and confusing in what she tells the police. I liked how this was dealt with.

Overall I'm giving this four out of five, I liked it and will get something else by the author soon!

The Haunting Season by various authors - Review

Monday, November 14, 2022

I heard of this book because my friend Janet posts some Kindle deals on Instagram every month, of books that are like a pound to buy. I don't always buy them, but this one piqued my interest so I spent 99p on it. It's still showing as 99p when I write this, so here's the link. I thought this would be a good book to read in October and I was right! I really enjoyed all the stories. 

I really enjoyed Kiran Millwood Hargrave's story which had echoes of The Yellow Wallpaper and which featured a woman who was about to give birth. I enjoyed the story about a woman fleeing an abusive husband with their child. And I liked the one set on the Jurassic Coast about a newly married man uncovering a prehistoric skeleton and believing it would make him famous. Those are the ones that stick out a couple of weeks after I read the book, but honestly I liked them all and would thoroughly recommend the book if you like gothic stories. I'm giving this four out of five.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald - Review

Friday, November 11, 2022

I can't remember where I heard of this book but there must have been a reason I heard of it, or someone recommended it to me. I requested it at the library in August, and it arrived while I was on holiday in France. The library keeps holds for two weeks before returning them, so I sent Lee to pick the book up on the day after we got back from holiday. I didn't get round to it until early October, though, by which time it was due back at the library. I tried to renew it, but the system told me the item had holds on it, so I couldnt. 

Now I actually find this impossible to believe, because of this:

This is the check out record at the front of the book, and as you'll see, the last time it was out before me was AUGUST 2000!!! I cannot believe that no one has requested it in twenty years and then two of us did at the same time?! I am pretty sure it had been in county reserves for that entire time, to be honest. Maybe it was just a bug in the system? It was weird and funny anyway!

So I can't remember why I wanted to read this, but I picked it up anyway. It reminded me of Transcription by Kate Atkinson. The characters are somewhat confusing and often referred to by their roles at the BBC - DPP  and RPD and other things like that. I had to keep reminding myself of who was who. Sam and Jeff are those two, are department heads who record sounds and programmes and other things for use at the BBC. They each have young assistants, Recorded Programme Assistants. Sam surrounds himself with young women so they will mostly care about his worries. The book is set in 1940 when bombs are raining down upon London. Violet is one of the RPAs and she becomes friendly with Lise, a new one, who then disappears. She later asks for a pass to be allowed to use the BBC's bunk room. 

The new RPA is Annie, from Birmingham, who has had an interesting life up to now. She soon falls in love with Sam. 

The book is quite short, and to the point. I liked the prose a lot, and the conversations between the RPAs. I did find it confusing in parts, but I'm glad I persevered with it as it was quite a departure for me. I'm giving it four out of five! 

Lily: A Tale of Revenge by Rose Tremain - Review

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

This book was the October choice for my book club so I bought it on eBay for just a few quid and picked it up in early October. I wasn't sure what to expect from it as I haven't read anything else by the author. It reminded me very much of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold as it's set in the Victorian era and other people in my book club said that too. 

Lily starts the book aged about seventeen, and she tells the reader immediately that she is a murderer. This did make me look at every character she encountered like 'is this who she killed? is this?!' so I thought that was an interesting way of starting a book. We go backwards and forwards in time from Lily now to her early childhood.

She was a foundling child, found in a park abandoned by her mother and left in a sack with a bag of hair in it as a token. She was found by a policeman, Sam Trench, and taken to Thomas Coram's foundling hospital. She was then fostered to a family in Suffolk, with loving parents and three older brothers. She had an idyllic early childhood there, but what she didn't realise is that aged six she would be taken back to the hospital in London and abandoned by her foster parents.

When she's there, she immediately comes up against Nurse Maud, who is cruel towards her and other children. Lily makes friends with another little girl with whom she shares a bed and the two of them escape the hospital but run into trouble and are soon dragged back there. 

As a teenager, Lily is apprenticed to a wigmaker called Belle who praises her eye for detail and becomes something of a mother figure towards Lily. She reckons she has information on Lily's real mother and Lily tries to find her. Meanwhile Sam, the officer who found her, and his wife come back into Lily's life and they want to be kind towards her to. To a point. I was totally on board with them until Sam turned totally creepy.

I liked the book, it was compelling and kept me reading. I liked Lily and wanted her to succeed and when the murder did occur I was completely on her side and felt it was justified. Some of us in the book group questioned whether the ending (which I won't spoil) was realistic or not, but I felt like she deserved some happiness! It was an interesting one to discuss and I'm giving it four out of five. 

Nothing More to Tell by Karen M McManus - Review

Saturday, November 5, 2022

You know I love Karen M McManus so I ordered this book as soon as I heard it was out, but I had to wait a while to read it because I was only reading ebooks in September. That was an interesting challenge - I did get my way through some Netgalley books which is always good. I did miss a paper book though, so I was thrilled to finally be able to pick this up. 

However, I don't feel like it lived up to Karen's previous books. I can't really explain why, but I'm writing this three weeks later and I feel like I can barely remember what it was about. I gave it four out of five stars, but I feel like it missed the mark a little bit for me. But here's what it's about:

Brynn used to live in a small town in New England and attended St Ambrose School. She had a favourite teacher, English teacher Mr Larkin. He was brutally murdered and found by three of Brynn's classmates - Tripp, who had been her friend until just before the murder, Shane, and Charlotte, who are a couple. The three of them are now at the top of the school's social pyramid, but Brynn reckons they're all hiding something about the day they found Mr Larkin. 

Brynn's family has been living in Chicago but has now moved back. Before moving, Brynn got into trouble at her old school on the newspaper, when someone posted dick pics under her name. She went viral and had to leave the paper. She is applying for an internship with a true crime podcaster and at her interview she pitches the idea of looking into Mr Larkin's murder. She gets the job and has to start looking into the case but in an undercover way. 

I didn't exactly warm to Brynn, but I can't explain why. She's a proper Nancy Drew type and a bit uptight. I liked her family and I'd have liked to see more of them. However, I would like to see Brynn again in a story if it came to it!

Tripp's point of view is given too. Tripp lives alone with his dad, who he barely sees or speaks to. His mother lives in Las Vegas, having left the family some years earlier, but then Tripp sees her and realises she's back in town. He works at a local bakery and is close to his boss there - I felt like she was a parental figure in his life which I really liked. 

I liked Charlotte as a villain - she has Brynn and keeps going up against her. I also really liked the ending and how everything came out, it was told in a good way. 

The Appeal by Janice Hallett - Review

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

I've heard quite a bit of buzz about this book and got intrigued so I bought it. I had heard that it's about a murder, and the reader can read between the lines and solve the murder. I didn't manage to do that, but I did pick up on some things which I was pleased about later. It's a really novel way to write a book as it's all told in emails/texts/other correspondence, and a lot of it is one sided, so you don't hear at all from certain people, but lots from others.

So there is a woman called Issy, who is a nurse, and who is in an amateur dramatics group called The Fairway Players in her spare time. A new woman called Sam has started working with her, and Issy encourages her and her husband Kel to join the theatre group as a way to make friends and get known in the area. They do join, and both get parts in the new play, and Issy offers to go through lines etc with them. She's a very clingy friend and it's hard to like her, even if I did feel sorry for her. 

Then there are the Haywoods. Martin is the group's director, and his wife Helen nearly always plays the leading lady in the shows. They have two grown up children, Paige and James. James and his wife Olivia are expecting twins. Paige has a little girl called Poppy, and she is diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. She begins chemo at a local hospital, under the auspices of a doctor whose name I can't remember. But she needs pioneering treatment from the United States, so the Haywoods begin fundraising for the £250,000 they need for the first round of treatment. Another of the theatre group, Sarah-Jane, heads up the fundraising campaigns. She has little time for Issy's clinginess, and wants the Haywoods to be left alone so they can all focus on Poppy.

However, several people are being very underhanded. Sam gets suspicious of the appeal, wondering if all the money is being used for Poppy and if Poppy even needs it at all. Poppy's doctor is already known to Sam, because Sam used to work with her brother on aid work in Africa, and something happened there that made Sam leave Africa. The doctor is now looking for her brother, while also telling Martin that she needs the money for Poppy's treatment immediately. There are also people trying to scam others. There's a lot of information!

The book starts with all the correspondence being given by a QC to two law students, Femi and Charlotte, with the information that a) someone is dead, b) someone is in custody for it and c) the QC doesn't believe this person committed the murder, and can Femi and Charlotte see who did commit it? He later adds some more info which I won't share but which does give the reader further insight into all the correspondents. We see Femi and Charlotte's conversations too, which steer the reader in certain directions. You don't find out who has died until over two thirds of the way through the book! 

I did like it a lot, I thought it was a really interesting way to write a book. I'm giving it four out of five and I'll definitely read Janice Hallett's other book soon! 

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