Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Review: Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty specialises in big family dramas that are a little bit darker than they first appear and always have a strong mystery at the core. I've read and loved both Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers, but I think Apples Never Fall is my favourite so far. 

The story is set in Australia and centres around the Delaney family. Thirty years ago, Joy and Stan were moderately successful tennis players but when their children were born they gave up the circuit and switched to running a training academy. While each of their children inherited their talent, none of them were good enough to take it further. The very competitive Troy is now a wealthy trader. Logan, who makes a point not to compete at anything any more, teaches business studies. The youngest, Brooke, forever playing catch-up, has recently opened her own physiotherapy practice.  Only Amy remains a free spirit/problem child - depending which parent you ask!

This is one of those stories where if the characters had just sat down and talked through their problems with a family therapist, this would have been a very short, dull book! And if Joy had not vanished without trace at the start of the book, with husband Stan soon touted as the main suspect, all the Delany's simmering and festering tensions would never have rocketed to the surface. As the police begin their investigation, each character is forced to re-examine their past, and how their family relationships - and tennis! - has contributed to how they've shaped their lives. 

Apples Never Fall is an incredibly clever, twisty family drama with brilliantly drawn characters that feel very true-to-life. Liane's skill is such that whichever viewpoint I was reading, that person became my favourite character - until the next scene! If the epilogue seems longer than one would expect, keep reading for a jaw-dropping finish! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Apparently there is a TV series on the way. I can't wait!

Apples Never Fall will be published in the UK on 14th September 2021.

Thank you to Liane Moriarty and Michael Joseph (Penguin) for my copy of this book, which I received via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Posts:

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Review: A House Through Time by David Olusoga and Melanie Backe-Hansen

I loved watching the BBC television series, A House Through Time, presented by David Olusoga. I adore history and finding out about old houses, and had assumed this book tied into that with perhaps a little bit about how to go about researching the history of your own house. Although the first chapter does give lots of tips on how to do this, A House Through Time is pretty much what the title suggests - a social history of housing from Roman times to the present date. There are also a few references to the houses that featured in the TV series, where relevant.

Reading this book felt a lot like sitting in a time machine, watching as houses were built, knocked down and built over again. We moved rapidly through the medieval period, got slightly bogged down with Victorian slums, before speeding up again through the 20th century. The book is packed full of quirky facts - who knew that chimneys weren't invented until the 1200s? - and the fascinating lives of the people who influenced trends (both good and bad!) in house building.

Although A House Through Time was not quite what I was expecting, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Of particular interest to me was the section on the Victorian 'villas' (I grew up in one and this book explains a lot!), the back-to-back slums that my ancestors lived in, and how the cancellation of brick tax meant builders could go mad with different patterns and ornamentations. I had often wondered why this became a trend!

Recommended for anyone who loves old houses, history, and would like to research their own house's history.

Thank you to David Olusoga, Melanie Backe-Hansen and Pan Macmillan for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Review: Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas (#7 The Ravenels)

I love Lisa Kleypas's historical romances. They are perfect escapism. This is number 7 in The Ravenels series but it can easily be read as a standalone. When characters from earlier books pop up, it is fully explained who they are.

Devil in Disguise is about Lady Merritt Sterling, a strong-willed widow who is running her late husband's shipping company. London Society has been dying to catch her in a scandal but so far she has been too clever to provide them with one. Then she meets Keir MacRae, a whisky distiller from a remote Scottish island, and all her plans disappear like smoke. 

Devil in Disguise is definitely going on my favourites pile, right up there with Love in the Afternoon (#5 The Hathaways) and Devil in Winter (#3 The Wallflowers). I loved that Merritt is such a strong, independent character, running her own business (would we have accepted anything less from Lillian's daughter?) I absolutely adored Keir, who is not an aristocrat but a working class Scot trying to get his head around the strange customs (and language) of the upper class English. It makes for some very funny moments. As well as a scorching (literally) romance there is also a mystery - someone wants Keir dead, the sooner the better.

It took me a chunk of the book to realise that Merritt's mother is Lillian from It Happened One Autumn (#2 in The Wallflowers series). Despite being a Ravenel book, other characters from The Wallflower series also appear, including Marcus and Sebastian. While it was lovely to see how these characters were getting on, I felt that too much time was given to Sebastian. There were even scenes and chapters written from his viewpoint. Now, I do love Sebastian. He's one of my favourite Lisa Kleypas characters, but he is also a very strong character and this was supposed to be Kier's story.  

Despite that, Devil in Disguise is utterly fabulous and I am sure the author's fans will love it, along with anyone who loves escapist historical romance and authors such as Julia Quinn and Tessa Dare.

Thank you to Lisa Kleypas and Piatkus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related posts:

Friday, 23 July 2021

Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager

One of the best thing about Riley Sager is that each of his novels is a slightly different spin on crime fiction. Whereas Home Before Dark was a spooky suspense, Survive the Night is a cat-and-mouse thriller.

Movie-addict Charlie's way of coping with her parents' deaths is to turn stressful situations into a classic film inside her head. She has pills to prevent these hallucinations but the latest traumatic event in her life has her throwing them down the drain. Big mistake. Because when she decides to abandon her studies and return home, she accepts a lift from a fellow student who isn't quite who he seems to be. It doesn't help that as her suspicions grow, and her stress levels rise, her mind begins its favourite trick of putting a sinister twist on the most innocent of actions. Or maybe her mind isn't playing tricks at all. Maybe she really should be worried...

Survive the Night is an extremely clever thriller that mixes Charlie's fantasies with reality. If the main character isn't sure what is going on, the poor reader doesn't stand a chance! Although I was led up the garden path on a few occasions, I did guess the ending fairly quickly. There are lots of fabulous twists on the way, including the jaw-dropping epilogue. There is also a nail-biting finale and lots of classic film references for movie buffs, and pop culture references for those of us old enough to remember the 90s (er, hem...).

A fabulous read, great fun and thoroughly recommended! I can't wait for the film!

Thanks to Riley Sager and Hodder & Stoughton for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Posts:

Final Girls by Riley Sager
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Review: Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda

I'm a huge fan of Megan Miranda's twisty mysteries and was thrilled to receive an early copy of her latest, Such a Quiet Place, about the small tight-knit community of Hollow's Edge. The kind of place that when something bad happens, it's easier for the residents to believe a newcomer is guilty rather than suspect one of their own.

Two years ago, Ruby Fletcher was convicted of the murders of Brandon and Fiona Truett on the testimonies of her friends and neighbours. Freed by a mistrial, Ruby is back and expecting to slot right back into her old life - much to the horror of her old 'friends', including housemate Harper. Why on earth has Ruby come back? Is she out for revenge? Or is it possible that she was innocent all along?

I enjoyed this slow-burn, claustrophobic murder mystery where the tension tightened as each clever twist was revealed. It perfectly captured the spirit of a small community working together to create a safe and pleasant neighbourhood for everyone. There's a Neighbourhood Watch, an online community board, and parties where everyone brings something for the BBQ. Hollow's Edge is a terrific place to live. Except everyone has security lights and cameras, and they obsess about each other's movements and actions. They think they know each other. They think they know each other's secrets...

This is one of those stories where everyone is a potential suspect so no one can be particularly likeable. Even Harper donates Ruby's belongings to a charity shop the moment she is convicted! I didn't guess the final twist, but I did miss the dash of romance I'd come to expect from Megan Miranda's previous novels. Such a Quiet Place should appeal to fans of domestic suspense and small town mysteries, and authors such as Ruth Ware and Lisa Jewell.

Thank you to Megan Miranda and Corvus (Atlantic Books) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Posts:

Monday, 12 July 2021

Review: The Man Who Died Twice (The Thursday Murder Club #2) by Richard Osman

I loved the first book in this series (The Thursday Murder Club). When I was offered an early read of this book by the publisher, I think I may have screamed with excitement!

In a peaceful retirement village, four friends meet up once a week to solve cold crimes. In this story, their leader, Elizabeth, has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake and he needs her help, but as the bodies begin to pile up, Elizabeth enlists her friends (Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim) to help find the killer - before the killer finds them!

Like the first book in the series, The Man Who Died Twice is a jaw-droppingly surreal, achingly funny, jolly good murder mystery. Imagine a mash-up of Miss Marple and James Bond, with a gleeful dash of Tarrantino. There are priceless diamonds, house-proud mobsters, sarky drug dealers and two not-remotely hapless police officers - who have long ago learnt to just go with the flow whenever the Thursday Murder Club are involved. 

Strangely, it is the surreal parts that seem the most realistic. My favourite character (apart from Elizabeth; I can SO imagine Helen Mirren playing her) is Bogdan. I love the way he just goes along with whatever the Thursday Murder Club suggest, as though it is all perfectly normal. And his crush on (uh uh, no spoilers!) is adorable.

One of my favourite reads this year. Would suit fans of character-driven cosy crime and authors such as Elly Griffiths (The Postscript Murders).

The Man Who Died Twice will be published on 16th September 2021.

Thank you to Richard Osman and Viking (Penguin Books) for my copy of this book, which I received via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Posts:

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Review: The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

I love Lisa Jewell. She's one of my favourite authors. When I read The Family Upstairs, I had thought nothing could top it - but I love this book even more. It has everything: strong characters, a claustrophobic mystery, a gothic house, creepy teenagers - and a cute dog! It's the kind of book you have to read faster and faster because you're really worried about how it's all going to end!

The Night She Disappeared is told over two timelines by multiple viewpoints. In 2017, Tallulah goes on a date with her boyfriend Zach, leaving her baby with her mother Kim. The next morning Tallulah still hasn't come home. Kim discovers that Tallulah and Zach were invited to the local big house, Dark Place (which already has a sinister reputation), but when Kim calls around the owner says that all the teenagers left after the party. Kim knows Tallulah would never willingly abandon her baby. So where is she? 

Then two years later, when everyone but Kim has moved on with their lives, a crime writer called Sophie spots a sign in the local woods that says 'Dig Here'...

The Night She Disappeared is a clever, twisty mystery that doesn't let up on the suspense or tension for a second. I particularly loved the character of Kim, who refuses to give up hope that her daughter will be found, even though all the evidence is to the contrary. Tallulah's friend, Scarlett, is an intriguing character, and I loved the spookiness and legends of Dark Place. Fans of Lisa Jewell will love it. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thanks to Lisa Jewell and Cornerstone/Century/Random House UK for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related posts:

Monday, 21 June 2021

Review: The Secret Path by Karen Swan

Karen Swan is one of my favourite authors, so I was thrilled to receive an early copy of this book

The Secret Path has two flawed but fascinating main characters. Alex, who admits he is prepared to do anything (no matter how morally reprehensible) if he believes it is the right thing to do, and Tara, who has always found it hard to trust anyone. The start of the story shows how Alex cruelly betrays Tara's trust, leaving her miserable and embittered. Skip forward ten years and Tara has worked hard to create a career for herself as a doctor, away from the influence of her loving family's toxic wealth. When her father invites her to his home in Costa Rica for a special event, her first instinct is to decline. Unwilling to hurt him, she decides to take her friends because she knows they will enjoy the holiday. Once there, the young son of an old friend becomes ill and Tara volunteers to trek through the jungle to find the cure. Unfortunately, the only person available to act as Tara's guide is her old enemy Alex...

I found myself still thinking about this book several days after finishing. I've always enjoyed stories with complicated, flawed characters - you know, the ones who make you yell 'No, I can't believe you did that!' at the book. Alex exists in his own world with his own moral code and hurt Tara so badly that ten years later she still hasn't recovered. When they meet again, to say they have a lot of unresolved issues and tension is an understatement. The descriptions of the jungle (and the wildlife and the insects) are so fabulous you can almost hear the rain dripping from the lush vegetation; you'll certainly be reaching for the mosquito spray.

No one does destination fiction as well as Karen Swan. The jungle setting and lovers-to-enemies trope reminded me of that old film, Romancing the Stone - there is also an action-packed finale. Refreshingly, Tara is not a trust-fund princess and is quite capable of surviving in the jungle on her own. Finding her way through it, however, is a different matter!

The Secret Path is one my of favourite reads this year. Karen Swan's fans will love it, along with anyone who loves destination fiction and a cracking good story.

Thank you to Karen Swan and Pan for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Posts:

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Review: Down by the Water by Elle Connel

I downloaded this book because I'd read the blurb and somehow assumed it was a ghost story (boy appearing from nowhere in a photo, etc) but it's a psychological suspense!

A group of friends arrive at an isolated Scottish castle for a weekend hen party. They haven't seen each other since university and there are still secrets, tensions and old grudges simmering away beneath the surface. Their holiday starts off well but begins to go wrong when they are trapped for an extra few days and the food mysteriously runs out. Strange things happen, they squabble amongst themselves, but then one finds a diary that could explain everything...

I have mixed feelings about this story. The writing is good, the author is great at creating a creepy atmosphere and there is that constant feeling of menace. You just know Bad Things are going to happen. The characters are mostly horrible, particularly Georgie. I was hoping that if this was one of those books where they all got killed off one-by-one (it isn't), then she would be the first to go! While the second part of the story is a cracking read, the first part was a little too slow and I did have trouble working out who-was-who because of all the characters.

I would recommend this story to anyone who loves slow-burn suspense and books like The Hunting Party (Lucy Foley) and In a Dark, Dark Wood (Ruth Ware).

Thank you to Elle Connel and Wildfire (Headline) for my copy of this book which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I downloaded this book after reading the blurb as the cover was not available at the time. I love stories based on folk tales and fairy tales (particularly ones I am not familiar with) and this sounded right up my street.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a re-imagining of an event in medieval Hungarian history, woven with strands of Hungarian and Jewish folk stories.  Evike lives in a pagan village, hidden in a forest, the only one of its inhabitants without some kind of magical power. This is blamed on her father being an outsider: a 'Yehuli'. When soldiers from the Holy Order of Woodsmen arrive to claim a seer for the King, the villagers are only too happy to offer Evike up rather than lose one of their own girls.  But on the march back to the capital, the woodsmen are attacked by various supernatural forces and soon the Evike and the Captain are the only ones left. To survive, they will have to learn to not only trust each other, but work together.

Although I loved all the folk story and historical stuff, The Wolf and the Woodsman was a bit too gory for me! In order for a character's magic to work they had to use blood sacrifices, which usually involves blood-letting or the loss of a body part. I was uncomfortable with the parallels with self-harm and couldn't help wondering that if you had to sacrifice a finger every time you wanted to do a spell, what happened when you ran out of fingers? While the gore meant this read like an novel aimed at adults, by contrast the romance was a bit teenage-y and I'd have preferred more ambiguity about Gasper's character, rather than the too-early flagging that he's A Nice Guy Really.

Recommended to fans of grittier YA fantasy and books such as The Bear and the Nightingale (Katherine Arden).

Thank you to Ava Reid and Del Rey/Cornerstone for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.