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...And A Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne - Review

Sunday, February 26, 2023

I read the first book of Holly's Spinster Club series way back in 2015. (Am I Normal Yet? reviewed here). But I've never read the others. I may own one of them! I'm not sure. But I have had the spin off novella ...And A Happy New Year? on my wishlist since forever, and then I got it from my Secret Santa. I was pleased, but I had forgotten the ins and outs of the first book. No matter, because there's enough explanation in this book to remind a reader, and probably for someone with no knowledge at all to read and enjoy the book. 

So there's Evie, who was the main character in Am I Normal Yet? She has suffered from OCD and is now studying at university just a few miles away from the girls' home town. She is doing really well now. She has a boyfriend, Oli, who also has mental health problems, and unfortunately, he has relapsed. He has been unable to leave the house for several weeks and has been really clingy with Evie and asking a lot of her. She's obviously worried sick, but she knows she can't get sucked down into terrible thought patterns. She doesn't really know what to do. She feels like she can't talk to her best friends about it, so she doesn't. 

Amber is doing her art foundation year at a nearby college, so she hasn't gone away to university like Lottie has. She feels a bit left behind because of that, but she has applied to an art college in America, and has been accepted. I don't know her story as I haven't read her book, but her mum lives in California and has been very absent from Amber's life. She also met a boy, Kyle, at a camp in America. Where she is going to college, in the north east, will be really close to him. She can't wait! But she hasn't told her friends yet - partly because she's worried about upsetting Evie, and partly because Lottie feels so remote from her. 

Lottie is at university in London and on the face of it, she's loving it. She has a column about feminism in the paper, and she's found a political party to join. But she hates her housemates, who to her seem like proper 'basic bitches' and who seem to talk behind her back. Her boyfriend Will is also in London, at a different university, but there seems to be something wrong between the two of them, too. She feels like she's alone. 

Amber is having a New Year's Eve party. Her dad and stepmum are away. Kyle is over from America, winning everyone over with games of beer pong. Lottie gets ridiculous drunk and ends up being put to bed for a bit. The novella is told from all three of their points of view, and I really liked how that worked. There's just enough info here for this to be a very cute book. I'm giving it four out of five.

I will say that as it was published in 2016 UK YA has moved on massively, and it felt a bit like reading anicent history while reading it! But it is still really good.

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter - Review

Thursday, February 23, 2023

I got this book from Harper Collins via Netgalley, so thank you very much to them for granting me access to it. I received an electronic copy of the book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

I've read all of Cara Hunter's previous books - reviewed here - and so far they've all concentrated on DI Adam Fawley and his team. I thought Murder in the Family was the next in the series, so was surprised when this started and it turns out to be a standalone! I'm not complaing though, Cara is an excellent writer and I was soon caught up in the story.

The book isn't told in prose, instead it's told in script. The idea is that the scripts form eight episodes of a TV show about an unsolved murder. We also get some viewer comments and some newspaper reviews of the show. But otherwise, we are in script mode, where several people keep revealing things about the murder. Everything is done very much to make good television, so there's lots of drama and cliffhangers for episodes to end on. I found it quite easy to read. I did think there were some errors, but I am assuming those will have been ironed out in the final edits. 

So, the mystery concerns Luke Ryder. He was 27ish, Australian, and married to a woman over a decade older than him. She, Caroline, had been previously married and has three children - Maura, Amelia, and Guy. Guy is the director of the TV show, wanting to shed some light on the tragedy that devastated his family. He was ten years old at the time of the murder. Luke was supposed to go out with his wife, Caroline, to a drinks party, and Guy's grandma was supposed to babysit. But Luke decided to babysit. Caroline took her daughters to the cinema, then went to the party. Caroline now has dementia so can't be interviewed. It's twenty years later and Guy is an acclaimed filmmaker. His sister Maura is interviewed, but Amelie isn't. There are copies of text messages between the two of them which prove they're hiding something. Maura came home from the cinema early, and she found the body. But what is she hiding?

Then it turns out there was someone arrested that night. A black man called Martin was found in the garden of the (massive) house and arrested as he had a small amount of drugs on him. Police thought he might have been dealing to Luke. He is now a journalist... and just happens to be one of the people on the TV show. 

The others include a lawyer, an ex Metropolitan police officer, who was involved in the original case, an ex USA police officer, and more. They're all pertinent to the investigation, in ways that are shown throughout in absolutely brilliant fashion. And is Luke Ryder even who he said he was...?

I enjoyed the book and read it quickly. I'm giving it four out of five.  

Murder in the Family will be published on the 6th of July 2023. 

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou - Review

Monday, February 20, 2023

So this was my friend Ceri's choice for our book club in February. She works in tech and has a background in health, so actually this book was right up her street. I read the blurb and thought, well, okay, I'll give it a go. I wasn't thrilled by the prospect of it, but then I started reading it... 

I have heard of Elizabeth Holmes, but only because I knew she had just been convicted of something and was sentenced to a long stretch behind bars. Other than that I just knew nothing about her, so went into this totally blind. I didn't realise her conviction was related to the company she started up, which is documented in this book. I opened her Wikipedia page when I had just started this book and was shocked to find that she is only a couple of weeks younger than me! But then I shut the page because I didn't want to spoil myself for the book. Now I've finished it I'm reading things about her and I want to watch the miniseries that was made about her. 

So basically Holmes said that she had developed a blood testing system that could test for a whole battery of problems in patients using just a few drops of blood from a finger prick test, as opposed to a vial of blood drawn from a vein (eg in your elbow). She wanted to develop tiny devices that would do this that people could keep in their houses, she was obsessed with them being small like the sizes of iPods. She managed to secure millions and millions of dollars in investments for this, and she had people on her board like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz. But within the company, there were scientists and engineers and software developers who were worried about the technology and the overselling that Elizabeth was doing. She ruled the company with an iron fist and her much older boyfriend Sonny regularly fired people with no warning. Ex staff would be made to sign iron clad non disclosure agreements. 

But eventually people blew the whistle, and John got a tip off and started investigating. He wrote a blistering piece about the company. Elizabeth retaliated with legal stuff. And so on, until the company finally collapsed and Elizabeth was charged with fraud. It seemed to me throughout the whole thing that she never had an actual product to sell. She managed to sell something that sort of worked but was a warped version of something else. Lee, my partner, is a software developer and I kept reading things out to him because I understand a little bit about testing etc just from his job, and Theranos just did none of that. It is utterly bonkers. There's so many little bits where it's just boggling, and then there's the fact that she managed to get Walgreens and Safeway to buy into her scam, all the while that her data didn't stack up and she had bad results on her blood tests etc. 

I was compelled to keep reading and I can't wait to see what everyone else thought. I am giving this five out of five, I really found it fascinating! 

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths - Review

Friday, February 17, 2023

It's the last Ruth Galloway book! Noooo! I knew this was coming some time last year, so I ordered the hardback book as I knew I would want to read it as soon as it came out, instead of waiting for the paperback. It arrived on the 31st of January and I picked it up the day after because I was just so desperate to see what happened to Ruth, Nelson, their relationship, and of course all their colleagues and friends. I inhaled this book in two days. Part of me didn't want it to end but, you know, all good things must come to an end. Plus I know that Elly has other series on the go that she probably wants to concentrate on, and that I already like. I have been reading about Ruth and Nelson for so long that it was like saying goodbye to friends, but it was in such a good way.

Plus of course there was the question over Ruth and Nelson's relationship. In the last book, The Locked Room, the world is in lockdown for Covid and Nelson's wife Michelle has taken their young son George and gone off to Blackpool to stay with her mum. Ruth and Nelson have had an on and off thing for years, including the conception of their daughter, Kate, who in this book is in her first year of high school. Nelson broke lockdown in the previous book to stay over with Ruth and Kate, and at first in this book this looks set to carry on. But will they get their happy ever after? I'm not spoling anything, of course. 

So, the mystery. Some builders are refurbishing a building in Kings Lynn that has been several things over the years, including a cafe called the Green Child almost twenty years ago. One of the builders uncovers a whole skeleton behind a false wall. Ruth is called in to date the bones, but she realises they are modern and that they've been kept in fabric somewhere. Nelson and co discover the bones are those of a missing woman called Emily, who went missing at Easter 2002. She was a student at Cambridge, but from Norfolk, and she had been on an archaelogical dig just before her disappearance. She was with her charismatic tutor, Leo Ballard, and a few other students, and Michael Malone, known as Cathbad, who is a close friend of both Ruth and Nelson. He is suffering from Long Covid in this book, and tells the same story about Emily that everyone else did. However, he lates goes missing - does he know more about the crime than he's letting on? And can Ruth and Nelson find him before it's too late?

Meanwhile, Ruth's job at the university is under threat - the university is threatening to close down the archaeology department entirely. She's getting her things into order, including her relationship with her new found half sister, and has to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life, and who with...

I enjoyed the mystery and the fact it was a cold case, and that it brought Cathbad under suspicion, and that it brought a lot of things from the first book back. It feels like a good ending to the series. I'm giving this five out of five. 

You can see all my other reviews of Elly's books here

Heatwave by Victor Jestin, translated by Sam Taylor - Review

Monday, February 13, 2023

I picked this book up in Waterstones a few weeks back, because I was intrigued by the premise of it. I started it at the end of January, and it just took me a couple of days to read because it's not very long, it's a novella really. I don't often read books in translation but every now and then I do, and I always really enjoy them when I do. I did feel like here there were a few phrases that seemed to have been translated a little oddly, but mostly I liked it.

The book is set in France, in Landes in south west France, on the type of campsite where I spent an awful lot of my formative years so could imagine perfectly. While the book is obviously set in pretty much present day, which is obvious due to the use of mobile phones/camera phones, it has a feeling that it could be set basically any time from the 1970s until now. It's got a real timeless feeling, like you might be at the campsite forever, every summer, for the rest of your life. 

So, the story. Leonard is a shy seventeen year old, plagued by body insecurities and the fact that he can't seem to talk to girls. He is on holiday with his parents, his fifteen year old brother, and his younger sister. Oh and their dog, Bubble. At the beginning of the novel Leo watches as Oscar, a popular boy, strangles himself to death on the ropes of a swing. Leo doesn't try to help, and doesn't then raise the alarm when Oscar has died. He then decides to bury Oscar's body in a sand dune on the beach. It's late, and all the parties have finished, so no one sees him do it. Leo goes to bed, ready for his family's last day at the camp.

On the Saturday, Leo feels immediately guilty over Oscar, feels Oscar's body calling to him, and feels awful throughout the day. He talks to two girls, one of whom was kind of having a thing with Oscar. He speaks to Oscar's mum, who is not at first alarmed by Oscar's disappearance, but who reports him missing later on. The book is set over twenty four hours and I really liked it. I'm giving it four out of five. 

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings - Review

Friday, February 10, 2023

I bought this book on Kindle when it was only 99p or such, back in November 2022. I picked it up in late January. My grandma died and when I'm stressed I always find it difficult to read anything hard, so I tend to pick up crime fiction because I find it easy to read. I did find this book easy but unfortunately I didn't enjoy it very much. It's funny how that can happen, isn't it. I felt like I had read this book before, or something very similar to it. It just felt a bit trite and cliched. 

So, the bulk of the novel is set in 1986. Tamsyn lives in St Just with her mum, Angie, who is struggling to keep the family afloat, her brother Jago, and their grandfather, who is dying of silicosis thanks to his work in the mines for years. Tamsyn and Jago's dad, Rob, was drowned one evening in a storm five years ago when he, as a lifeboat volunteer, went out to try to rescue some people in trouble. Tamsyn has never got over this, and she is obsessed with her dad's last afternoon, when he took her up to the Cliff House, a big white house overlooking the bay, and they broke into the garden and swam in the pool. Because of this, she spends her time spying on the new owners of the house from a vantage point a little bit away, armed with her binoculars. 

Max and Eleanor Davenport are out of towners who have bought the house as a holiday home. On the surface, their life looks perfect. They're both beautiful and spend most of their time sunbathing and drinking cocktails on the patio. Angie, Tamsyn's mum, is their cleaner, so Tamsyn can steal a key and let herself into the house when they're not there. She does this on one occasion and finds Edie, their daughter, there instead. She is a year older than Tamsyn and has been expelled from her fancy school. She dresses goth, she gave herself a tattoo, and Tamsyn quickly becomes obsessed with her. 

Edie kind of does want to be friends with her, but it's obvious that she is very broken and quickly tires of Tamsyn and strings her along. Edie also has a huge crush on Jago, who has been hired to paint the fence. It is clear things aren't right between Eleanor and Max, too, and that Eleanor has substance abuse problems.

Interspersed with the main narrative are bits set in 'the present day' which I assumed from the beginning were from Tamsyn's point of view, but it's not obvious who she means when she talks about 'we'. The resolution of this did miss me a bit, I didn't feel it rang true particularly. 

I am giving the book three out of five because it just seemed so cliched and like something I had read before. It also didn't ring quite true for me that it was set in 1986. There was nothing particularly anachronistic and out of place, but it just felt wrong. 

Emily Bronte Reappraised by Claire O'Callaghan - Review

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

At my book club in January Gina offered me her copy of this book to read and I thought it looked really interesting so I took it and picked it up only a couple of days later when I was away in Helmsley celebrating my birthday. I really liked it, so much so that I used a voucher I had to buy the similar books in the series about Charlotte and Anne. 

I guess I had a rudimentary knowledge of Emily. I have been to the Bronte parsonage in Haworth a few times and I've picked up knowledge there. I've never read Wuthering Heights (I'm not much of a Classics fan, sorry...) but I do know stuff about the sisters and I really liked the drama about their lives from 2016, which was called To Walk Invisible. In fact I had mentioned it to someone not long before reading this book, because I felt in it that Emily was doing a lot of the hard work in the house and just rolling her eyes and going 'oh for god's sake' at everyone else. The author here actually said basically the same thing in the end of the book when she mentioned To Walk Invisible and said how good it was.

So, saying that, I didn't know a lot about Emily's life and especially parts of her life outside of her sisters (and their brother Branwell, to a lesser degree). This isn't a straightforward biography as such - instead it looks at contemporary depictions of Emily, for which the sources are Charlotte, who was biased of course and who sometimes seems to have been jealous of Emily, and Mrs Gaskell, a friend of Charlotte's, who never actually met Emily herself (Emily had already died by the time Charlotte met Mrs Gaskell). It also looks at Emily 'fake news' which I found very amusing. This is a cute little book, I read it quickly and was really interested in it. I am looking forward to reading the books about Charlotte and Anne too. I'm giving this five out of five. 

As a side note, now I'm 39, I have officially outlived all the Bronte siblings... wow. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Review

Saturday, February 4, 2023

I bought this book ages ago and then picked it off the shelf when I was in the back bedroom recently. It's a great book, highly recommended by me! 

The book is set during World War II in Occupied France. It starts just before the occupation, when Isabelle has just been expelled from another school. She is an impetuous eighteen year old and she heads to Paris, where her father lives. However, he, as usual, wants nothing to do with her and sends her off to stay with her sister south of Tours. However, the Nazis are moving in around Paris and as Isabelle is moving south she gets caught up in bombing outside Tours. She finally arrives at Le Jardin, where her sister Vianne lives.

When the girls were fourteen and four, their mother died. Unable to cope with them and his own grief, their father sent them away to live with a relative at Le Jardin. Vianne, fourteen, quickly met Antoine, eventually falling pregnant and losing several babies before having Sophie, who at the start of the book is around eight years old. Antoine has been fighting for France and is in a prisoner of war camp when war breaks out; he remains there for the entirety of the novel. 

Isabelle has, as I've said, been expelled from several schools. She is fiercely anti war, and when a Nazi soldier billets with the family at Le Jardin she rebels against him from the start. The sisters have been estranged for a while due to their grief, their estrangement from their father, and just basically due to their different tempremants. 

Vianne is a teacher and still working under the occupation, so each day Isabelle must stand in long lines in their small town of Carriveau to get their rations. The Nazis and the French police who work with them are well fed and cared for, but the citizens quickly start to starve and run out of household items. Isabelle meets some Resistance fighters and becomes a courier of messages between Carriveau (which is very close to the border with Free France) and Paris. She comes to an uneasy truce with her father.

Meanwhile Vianne is trying her hardest to survive, especially with a Nazi living in her house. Now, I sort of had a problem here because the first Nazi, Beck (I think!), is portrayed as quite nice, and I'm generally against that. He gets parcels to Vianne's husband for her, and later, when there's no food, he provides food for Vianne and Sophie. Contrasted with the SS officer who comes later, he's portrayed so much better... But does he deserve it? I don't think so. 

Vianne's best friend Rachel has two children, and is Jewish, so as the Nazis hone in on first foreign born Jews and then all Jews, life becomes dangerous for them. And then Isabelle is getting more and more involved with the Resistance.

There's also some small parts of the book which are told in the first person, in which an old woman living in America is invited to Paris for a commemoration of people who helped people escape the Nazis. It's not entirely clear which sister it is, so you have to wait until the very end of the book to find out exactly what happened. 

As I said, this is a brilliant book and I really enjoyed it. I feel like although I've read a lot of books set in Central and Eastern Europe during World War II, I haven't read a lot set in Occupied France and I really enjoyed that, I liked the portrayal of how people were not only trying to survive, but trying to help those directly under threat. I'm giving this five out of five 

The Silent Suspect by Nell Pattison - Review

Thursday, February 2, 2023

This is the third book in the Paige Northwood series - you can see my reviews of the other two here on my blog - and I had preordered it as soon as I had read #2 as I really like the series. I had actually ordered this book way back in December 2020, wow! I finally got around to it and I'm glad I did. I really like Paige as a character and I like the setting in the Deaf community and in Scunthorpe which obviously does affect how people behave as there's a lot of poverty there. 

So if you're not familiar with the books, Paige grew up as the only hearing person in her family, with Deaf parents and sister, Anna. Their parents are dead now, and Anna lives with Paige. Paige works as an interpretor for D/deaf people, and has previously become involved in police investigations because of her work. It's been quite quiet for her recently though - she has been doing regular work with Sasha, who is a Deaf social worker, so Paige is her interpretor. She's also been seeing Max, who she met in the first book, for about a year. 

Right at the beginning of the book, Paige and Max are out on a date when he asks her to move in with him. She's quite shocked and unable to respond when she gets a phone call from a Deaf person, Lukas. He is one of Sasha's clients so he's not a total stranger to Paige. He's distressed, and signing to her that there's a fire at his house. Paige rushes across, finding the house on fire, Lukas escapes, but it turns out his wife Nadia was in the house and is now dead. Paige goes with Lukas to the hospital, where he tells her that he knows who killed his wife. But later, he clams up, refusing to say who set the fire, even when he is arrested for it and for Nadia's murder.

Paige can't act as his interpretor again as she's a witness to the fire, and has to give a formal statement and so on. However, Sasha doesn't think Lukas would have started the fire and wants to prove his innocence. While he had had his problems, he had been doing a lot better, was in love with Nadia and forging a strong relationship with his teenaged son. Sasha and Paige start to investigate the couple to see what they can come up with - Lukas had borrowed money off a local gym owner, and Nadia had run into some problems at work. Paige obviously ends up in danger!

I liked this book, I thought it was consisten and kept my interest. I'm giving it four out of five.


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