Rebecca McCormick. Powered by Blogger.

None of This Is True by Lisa Jewell - Review

Thursday, February 29, 2024

You know I've really enjoyed Lisa Jewell's crime thrillers over the past couple of years, so when I heard of this one I thought it sounded right up my street. I searched for it at the library but it had a queue, so I put myself in it and then waited about four months for it to come through to me. But by that point it felt like a really nice present to myself! If you've read this I would love to hear your opinions on it because I'm not sure what was true and what wasn't!

At the beginning of the book two women are celebrating their birthdays. They are Alix, forty five years old, who is married to Nathan, and has two small children of like eleven and six. He earns a lot of money and she has a successful podcast. She has just finished her series about successful women and isn't really sure what to do next, and then she meets Josie. 

Josie happens to be in the same fancy restaurant that night, also celebrating her forty fifth birthday. For her and her husband Walter this is out of their ordinary as they don't generally eat at places like this restaurant. Walter is much older than Josie - like nearly thirty years older than her. They have two daughters, Erin and Roxy. They are both grown up now; Roxy disappeared five years ago when she was sixteen, and Erin still lives in the flat with Josie and Walter. There's clearly something going on with Erin but it's not clear as to exactly what. 

The two women meet in the toilets, have a brief discussion, and leave. Then Josie approaches Alix on a different day and says that she wants Alix to interview her for a podcast. Alix is intrigued and agrees to a test interview. Josie is unsettling (in fact she reads as neurodivergent, which really makes a lot of sense) but Alix is intrigued by her. Josie begins to tell the story of her and Walter - they met when Josie was just thirteen and she was groomed by him; she lost her virginity to him when she was sixteen and married him at eighteen, having her children shortly thereafter. She tells a story of him being controlling and violent, and the more they dig into her back story the more unsettled Alix becomes. But she somehow can't look away, especially when Josie makes serious allegations about Walter. 

Alix's life may look perfect on the outside, but actually things aren't what they seem. Nathan is a loving husband, but he keeps going on total benders where he drinks too much and disappears for hours. Alix is rapidly getting to the end of her tether and is considering divorce. Josie's whispers in her ears make her even more uncertain...

I was quite shocked by some of the twists and turns in the book. I also am really not sure what was true and what wasn't by the end. I'm not sure that any of the characters came off brilliantly. The podcast becomes a series with a bunch of other interviewees so right from the beginning it's obvious that something has gone terribly wrong... but what exactly? It's so intriguing. I really found it a fast paced page turned and I'm giving it four out of five!

The Last Slice of Rainbow by Joan Aiken - Review

Saturday, February 24, 2024

As I mentioned when I read The Silence of Herondale recently, I used to have this Joan Aiken book when I was very little, and absolutely loved it. It's one of the first books I remember loving, alongside Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and others like them. I can remember it living on the shelf of my cabin bed in our tiny bedroom in the first house I lived it. God knows how many times I read it. I probably still have my original copy but it will be in the black hole of my mother's loft, so I just bought it again on eBay for a few quid. I picked it up and read it straight through. It is a children's book so not very complex, but the stories really give excellent depictions of fantasy worlds and like all good short stories drag you in immediately. I loved my reread!

The only story I remembered clearly was the titular one, about a little boy who wishes for a rainbow and then ends up having to give it all away. Rainbows are fleeting! You can't posess them! That's the moral of the first story and I was wondering if they would all have morals, but they don't. Which is good, but the mid eighties were a totally different time so I did wonder. I will also say that I wondered if there would be anything in this book that we would now consider 'problematic'. I'm thinking of Blyton and Dahl, both mentioned above, both of whom I really loved, but both of whom I now wouldn't read because of their racism, sexism, anti Semitism, and so on. Honestly children's literature has moved on so far in forty years which I'm really glad about, but it does make me nervous about revisiting some of my favourite books. However, I'm pleased to report that there wasn't anything in this book that I found offputting, which I'm glad about. 

As I read, I did remember another of the stories, in which a small boy called Tim gets tricked by a stone goblin. I loved that one, too. I didn't remember any others. I did think there was a bit of an over reliance on princesses and kings and queens, but that maybe was the fashion at the time. I liked the rich worlds of those stories anyway. I also liked that not all the protagonists of the stories were 'good'. We need a baddy every now and then! Maybe then they don't get their happy endings!

In all, I would recommend this for children these days as I think it would still go down well. My copy had some really lovely illustrations in it which I liked. I'm giving it four out of five. 

1979 by Val McDermid - Review

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

You may remember that last year I read 1989 by Val McDermid, not realising that it was the second in a series about journalist Allie Burns. I really enjoyed it so I wanted to read the first one. I bought it on Kindle a while ago but had forgotten about it. But then I was on holiday in Edinbugh last week, tabling at the Zine Fest and then staying with a friend for a few days, so I decided to read something set in Scotland and this fit the bill perfectly. I really enjoyed this book but I think I liked the second one more. Like the second book, it really has a lot going on, with many plot lines. I don't think it's detrimental to the book overall, but I do wonder if it would be better to split the lines into separate novels? 

So, in 1979 Allie is working for the Daily Clarion in Glasgow. She hasn't been there very long; newly returned to Scotland from university in England and is pretty new to journalism. She is always just given the 'miracle baby' stories and isn't taken seriously by her bosses or colleagues. The miracle baby is genuinely one given to her after she and her colleague Danny witness a baby being born on a stopped train on New Year's Day on the way back to Glasgow. Allie is fed up, so when Danny suggests a story he might have she's willing go in on the investigating with him.

Danny's older brother Joseph has always been the golden boy in the family. He drives a flashy car and boasts about his high flying job with an investment company. Over Christmas he mentions something which means that the way the company works may be laundering money for rich clients. Danny starts looking into his brother's actions and asks some questions, and realises that money laundering is exactly what is happening. He and Allie start investigating, and take the story to their boss, but Danny realises he can't keep his brother's name out of it. He knows this is going to have a terrible effect on his family. 

They get the story and the credit, but at what cost? Allie starts hanging out with Rona (who I remembered as her girlfriend from the second book, so I knew where the relationship was headed) who works on the 'women's pages'. She tells Allie to keep an eye on some SNP meetings and the women involved. There is about to be a vote on Scottish devolution, and the SNP are getting antsy. While there, Allie meets three men who talk about forming a Scottish Republican Army, like the IRA, to force complete independence from England. Allie persuades Danny to infiltrate this group, and again she and Danny face danger in the pursuit of their story.

I did think the very ending of the book was a little bit anticlimatic. But maybe it is quite real in that way. The book has a lot of heart and emotion, and it's hard to not feel for both Allie and Danny in their ways. I loved the 1979 setting and all the sexism that Allie faced in her job and the way she was just fobbed off despite being a good writer and having excellent instincts. I also really liked the look at journalism at the time with all the copies of stories, the copy boys, the hierarchy of the newsroom, and all of that. There's less of this in the second one so I appreciated this look. Plus some of the stuff they had to do because there just weren't phones and computers around was totally wild. A totally different world and yet it really isn't that long ago. 

I'm giving this five out of five. Despite a couple of misgivings I did really like it. I have just learnt that 1999 is coming out later this year, so I will look forward to that! 

Heartstopper Vol 5 by Alice Oseman - Review

Saturday, February 17, 2024

It's the latest instalment of Heartstopper! Yay! I wanted to read this as soon as it came out, but it wasn't available in my library. Then it appeared, but I couldn't place a hold on it. So I asked the librarian to, and she was able to, so finally I had it in my hands! I picked it up last week, because I knew it would be an easy read while I was away in Edinburgh with my friend. I really enjoyed it and am glad I read it.

So as you may remember, Nick and Charlie have been together for a couple of years now and they've said 'I love you' to each other, and they're out to everyone important in their lives. Nick is in the sixth form so he's having to start making some decisions about his future. Meanwhile Charlie is sitting his GCSEs.

Charlie is mostly in recovery from anorexia, but it's something they both keep in mind during this book. They want to stay over with each other, but their parents aren't too sure. There's funny bits about keeping the door open and stuff. Charlie's parents say they can have a sleepover once Charlie's exams are over, which they do. They have some sexual contact and they're both really happy about it - but Nick doesn't really have friends to talk to about it so he's a bit sad about that. The sex stuff is really cute, not explicit but adorable between the two of them. Charlie is a bit anxious about his body and I'm glad that it was shown that they talked about it. 

Meanwhile, Nick says he's going to go to the University of Kent so that he can stay near Charlie instead of them having to be long distance like Elle and Tao. But he drives Elle and Tara on a bit of a road trip around some universities. He really likes Leeds Uni (and so he should, Leeds is great) but can he bear to be so far away from Charlie? He talks to Elle and Tara about his relationship with Charlie and it was really nice to see him being more open in general.

The art is as usual just really cute. I liked a lot of the little details like when they're kissing or cuddling. I liked the sort of dotty bits where at one point Charlie was like 'fine' and the picture of his face was adorable. I liked again how Alice showed text conversations between a few different people. I liked the depictions of the universities - trips that I remember well myself - and I liked how Nick really grew in this book in particular. In all I'm giving this five out of five because I love them, and I'll be really sad to say goodbye to them in Vol 6! 

The Lost Man by Jane Harper - Review

Sunday, February 11, 2024

This was the February book choice for my book club and as usual it wasn't something I would have ever looked at twice I don't think. But I was incredibly intrigued by it so picked it up at the beginning of February. It took me a week to read because at the beginning I didn't really get it and was taking ages to read just a few pages. But then something clicked in and I realised it was all coming together and a lot of hints had been there to guide you into realising what happened. I raced through the last third. 

So, the book is about a family who live in the middle of the outback absolutely miles away from anywhere. Nathan is the protagonist of the book. Right at the beginning he is driving with his son to the stockman's grave, which is on the Bright cattle station, which is huge. It's in the far south east of the property, which isn't too far from the road that runs north/south. Nathan's property is much smaller, and is to the southern border of the Bright ranch. He struggles to run it, for reasons that become clear. Nathan's son Xander is sixteen and is visiting from Brisbane for Christmas. Nathan's ex, Jacqui, left him like a decade ago and is remarried, and they don't get on, but Nathan misses his son and wants to bridge the gaps between them. 

They arrive at the grave alongside Bub, Nathan's youngest brother. There they have been told is the body of the middle brother, Cameron. A police officer and a nurse, Steve, turn up to investigate the death. Cameron's car is found about ten kilometres away, on a rocky outcrop near where the north/south road meets the east/west road, which leads, in three hours' drive, to the local town, Balamara. Cameron could have walked away from his car, but why? He clearly had no supplies with him and has died from the heat and dehydration from being exposed near the grave. There are no injuries on his body. When they find the car, they realise he could have kept himself going for a while if he had stayed close to it - he had water, food, first aid, fuel - all the things that the whole family needs to keep in their cars in case they get stranded or something. So why would he walk away? And why was he at the grave?

Nathan and Xander head back to the Bright house and don't go back to Nathan's. There a few people also live. There's Liz, the men's mum. Her husband Carl was killed in a car accident and his grave is on the homestead. He was a nasty and abusive person and throughout the book we learn some of the horrific things that he did to Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. There isn't much of a gap between Nathan and Cam so they grew up together, but there's then a decade between them and Bub, so he had a different experience of childhood. 

There's Ilse, Cameron's widow, and their two children, Sophie and Lois, who are like eight and five or something. Ilse is Dutch and she was a backpacker in the area and actually she had a bit of a thing with Nathan to begin with, but then he got into trouble in the town and she met Cameron, not realising they were brothers. Nathan clearly still holds a thing for her and tries to not be around her too much. Sophie has hurt her arm on her horse, which is one of the many things that becomes significant later. 

Harry also lives on the site, in a cabin. He is a ranchhand, and has been there since before Nathan was born. He's dependable and reliable, but he was heard arguing with Cameron shortly before his death. Then there are two backpackers from England, Simon and Katy. Katy is supposedly teaching the girls and Simon helps on the station. They are obviously weirded out that their boss is dead, and don't really know what to do. 

Nathan has been living a really lonely life because he is a pariah in the town. I won't spoil why but I think this will be an interesting discussion at book club as to whether we think he was justified or not. He finds it hard to be back in the cradle of his family, but he does want to know what happened to Cameron. 

The book has a really gothic feel to it. The isolation and the heat all conspire to add insecurity and fear to the book. It's oppressive. The Bright house seems dark and oppressive throughout the whole thing, looked upon as it is by the grave of Carl Bright. The isolation is just loopy - the spaces involved are just incomprehensible to my English brain. There's a map in the book which did really help. 

I really liked Nathan and wanted him to succeed. I did guess what the outcome might be as I was racing through the final third and I was glad I got it! I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by Jane Harper in the future. 

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan - Review

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

After I read another Claire Keegan book at the beginning of the year, I mentioned her on my book club WhatsApp, and Helena brought this book along for me to borrow. It's tiny - just forty seven pages long - so barely a novella really. But it is a good little story and as with her previous book there's a lot in what isn't said. 

So anyway, Cathal is probably about thirty-five ish - it's not stated and honestly he seems older, but he talks about wanting children with his fiancee, which gives a certain age range I think - and he's at work one Friday afternoon and everyone is being overly nice to him. His boss tells him to go home, but he doesn't; instead he stays until 5pm as usual and gets the bus home from Dublin to Arklow as usual. He starts to think about his relationship with Sabine, who was German or something - not Irish, anyway - and to whom Cathal was engaged. I think he did love her, but he was quite particular and was also quite resentful of the amount she spent on food ingredients to cook. Honestly it didn't sounded like he treated her brilliantly and, in fact, they have broken up and this day was supposed to be their wedding day.

I liked the book and am giving it four out of five! 

The Household by Stacey Halls - Review

Saturday, February 3, 2024

You know I've read and enjoyed a couple of others of Stacey's books, so when I saw this on Netgalley I requested it straight away. I am so thankful to Bonnier Books for granting access to me! This book will be published on the 11th of April, so only a couple of months away. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

The book blends reality with fiction in a really brilliant way. One of the things we talk about at book club a lot is about when or where or if it is possible and ethical to write books about real people. My overarching feeling is that it's fine if it's long enough ago, if the people in question don't have heirs and relatives who are still alive. For instance, writing about Queen Victoria likely doesn't matter now, but writing about Queen Elizabeth II would have different ramifications. I know other people may have different lines here but that's where I am on it. I actually really wish I had chosen this for a book club book because I think we would have loved it. I've told everyone to read it!

So apparently in 1847 Charles Dickens and a woman called Angela Coutts put a load of money in to open up a thing called Urania Cottage. It aimed to take 'fallen women' who had been in prison or involved in prostitution or whatever, and train them up, out of the eyes of everyone else, for a life in service. The idea was to get them away from the problems and temptations of their former lives, and reform them into 'good' women. This was a real place and it really did do some of these things! Angela Coutts was a very wealthy heiress and she is one of the main characters in this book. Charles Dickens is also in it but barely appears, which I think was a good shout for the author. As Angela is much less well known it's easy to shape her into a character the reader cares about. 

Angela lives in a huge mansion near Regents Park and is accompanied by her old governess, Mrs Brown, and her husband, Dr Brown. Angela appears to live a charmed life - she is rich, she throws parties, she is fond of a duke who keeps rebuffing her offers of marriage (who, as I read later, is supposed to be the Duke of Wellington, but he's not named as such in the book). But she has a stalker, Richard Dunn. He has done many things to scare and threaten her and has spent time in prison for it, but at the beginning of the book he is released and Angela has to live under the threat of him again. She has police guarding her, but she's obviously still worried. 

She gets involved in Urania Cottage. The matron, Mrs Holdsworth, is stern but fair. Some of the first 'inmates' are Josephine and Martha. It's not exactly a prison, but there are very strict rules. The women are given a lot of luxuries, though, and lots of education and some freedoms. 

Josephine has been in prison - due to poverty - and there, has started a relationship with a woman called Annie. They are both offered the chance to go to Urania Cottage, where they will be trained to be servants, and from there, they will be deported to Australia to start lives there. It's a pretty good deal and Josephine jumps at the chance. Another woman there is Martha, who has spent time in a Magdalen Laundry, although her specific circumstances aren't spelt out. She is desperate to get back in touch with her sisters, Mary and Emily, but she can only find Mary. She enlists the help of Mrs Holdsworth's son, Frank, and also that of the home's chaplain, Mr Bryant. 

This is a really twisty and turny book and I was so intrigued to find out where it would go. I didn't guess a lot of the twists which was great and I was really pleased by them, they felt satisfying. There's a lot of characters which would be my only critcism, but the book also has a lot of scope so a lot of the characters are needed. It's a really interesting look at poverty in the middle of the 1900s, too, and I also really liked the descriptions of London and bits that are now definitely London but weren't then, like Shepherd's Bush. It felt like very really settings. 

In all I'm giving this five out of five as I really liked it. Thank you for the access, Bonnier Books! 

Blogger news


Most Read