Friday, 30 June 2017

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I'm a bit late to the party with this book. I remember my friends raving about it when it first came out, and I kept meaning to read it but somehow never got around to it. Then I saw the TV series advertised on Sky and thought I'd watch that instead - and had to give up after one episode because I found it so boring! Yet my friends had loved the book! So when I had another chance to download it, this time I said 'Yes, please!' I'm so glad I did!

The story is about a group of women who live in an Australian beach town called Pirriwee (in the TV series it was set in America). They have young children who have started at the local school. Despite their apparent 'perfect' lives, they all have very real problems. Madeline is struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter. To tell you Celeste's secret would be a bit of a spoiler, but you'll work it out for yourself. Jane's reason for constantly moving house comes out a bit later.

The story starts with a death on school Trivia Night. Was it murder? The police think so, and each chapter ends with a statement from one of the characters about what they think has happened and who they think is guilty. The reader doesn't find out anything until the end, not even the name of the victim, but to be honest I didn't care who was murdered or why! I was having far too much fun reading about the lives of these fascinating women!

The strength of the book is in the horribly realistic characters. I recognised myself, my friends, the mothers at my children's school... All the rivalries, misunderstandings, petty jealousies... The way a small, insignificant incident can be twisted and blown out of proportion. In some ways the mothers behaved more like children than their offspring! By turns hilariously funny and desperately sad, the dialogue is full of classic one-liners - but the real skill of the author is her ability to observe and recreate everyday life, and yet make it so relatable and entertaining. I am in awe.

In theory, I should have hated Big Little Lies. I prefer escapism in the books I read and tend to avoid anything with a domestic setting or serious issues. So it just goes to show, you should always try reading something out of your comfort zone!

One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Liane Moriarty, Penguin and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Review: Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

I have not read Mary Kubica before but I have heard good things about her books, and when I saw this one it sounded right up my street. Nick and Clara Solberg appear to have the perfect marriage. Nick has his own dental practice and Clara has just given birth to their second child, Felix. But Clara's life is shattered when Nick is killed in a car accident. Also in the car at the time was their young daughter, Maisie. When Maisie starts talking about a 'bad man', Clara wonders if the car crash wasn't an accident after all. But who would hate Nick enough to kill him?

The story is told from Clara's point of view, as she investigates the accident by talking to Nick's work colleagues and anyone who might have witnessed the crash, but we also have Nick's version of the events leading up to his death. It is a clever story and well-written. No one really has the 'perfect' life, and Nick and Clara are no exception. I enjoyed how each layer was peeled away to reveal the real people beneath, and I liked the character of Nick and how he felt his control over his life was slipping away from him. Clara's story, told in the present, was desperately sad, as she came to terms with the death of her husband.

While there was a lot about this book I enjoyed, it wasn't really me. It would suit someone who is more into family dramas and psychological suspense. I prefer stories with a little more humour (although it would have been inappropriate here!) and, while there was the mystery of Nick's death to solve, I did feel disappointed with the ending. I don't normally give star ratings to the reviews on my blog (I leave that for Amazon and Goodreads) but I would like to emphasise that I would give this book a solid four stars; anything less would be unfair, as it was well written and had engaging characters. I also enjoyed trying to guess who the murderer was - which I didn't get right - something else I always like!

So, recommended if you like your murder mysteries to be psychological and domestic, but perhaps not if you prefer them to be a little more traditional.

Thank you to Mary Kubica, HQ and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review: The Faithful by Juliet West

I loved the cover of this book and the plot intrigued me. I don't read many books set in the 1930s and it's a period that I don't know much about. I had heard of Oswald Mosley and the blackshirts, and I thought it an interesting choice of background for a novel, so I couldn't wait to read the book.

The story starts in West Sussex in 1935. Sixteen year old Hazel has been mainly left on her own for the summer with just the family housekeeper for company. Lots of opportunity for mischief! Her father has gone to live and work in Paris with his mistress, and her mother keeps flitting off to London with her married lover. Hazel's family are well-to-do and they live in a big house with only an old flint wall dividing their garden from the beach. When Hazel sees a group of people in uniform set up camp on the beach she is fascinated. These are Oswald Mosley's 'blackshirts', the British Union of Fascists, and when Hazel sees them parade through the town she thinks they are very glamorous.

Tom, a young working class lad from Lewisham, feels differently. He is at the camp with his parents, who are attracted to Oswald Mosley's party because of the apparent anti-war stance, but he is already starting to question the blackshirts' politics. And then he meets Hazel.

The Faithful is a coming-of-age story, about two young people who make choices and then have to live with the consequences of their actions. Because the characters were so engaging I found their story completely gripping. It is very well written and I loved all the descriptions of Sussex at the height of summer and the period detail about the 1930s - although I did find myself wincing every time Hazel lit up yet another cigarette! From my 21st century viewpoint, I also found it hard to understand why Hazel continued her association with the blackshirts after she realised exactly what they stood for. But I could appreciate she had a good reason, which I won't go into because of spoilers.

The story is divided into three parts. Part one ends just before a pivotal event, and part two continues a year after that event. It was not hard to guess what that event was, and I would have preferred to have read about it as it happened, rather than have it hinted at later in the story.

Beside Hazel and Tom, the other viewpoints are Hazel's rather selfish mother Francine, bitterly seeing her youth slipping away from her and, by contrast, Tom's mother Bea, who would do anything to protect her son. They are both flawed characters, which I always find interesting and, like their offspring, they both made choices that would affect the rest of their lives. I did feel that Francine's story could have been developed a bit more, and there were a few other issues/questions I'd have liked to have seen resolved at the end.

But I did really enjoy reading The Faithful and would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves reading historical fiction. It would probably appeal to fans of family sagas too. I'm planning on lending my copy to my mother, who loves this kind of thing - but she had better let me have it back!

Thank you to Mantle/Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

This book felt as though it had been written just for me! It has all the ingredients I love in a story - an old murder, family secrets, flawed characters - there is even a spooky old house located on a private island. Perfect!

Forty years ago, Meg Ashley's mother Frances became an overnight sensation when she wrote a cult horror novel called Kitten. (Think female Stephen King and the success of 'Carrie'). Since then, Frances Ashley has become an extremely wealthy, much-loved author. Unfortunately, Frances is also a complete megalomaniac and a terrible mother. A clue to their relationship is that whenever Frances phones Meg, a picture of Ursula from The Little Mermaid pops up on Meg's screen!

The person Meg is closest to is Edgar, her mother's literary agent, who has become almost like a father to her. So when Edgar dies, and her mother simply jets off to marry yet another in a long list of husbands without telling her, it is the final straw. Offered a huge sum of money to write a tell-all account of growing up with Frances Ashley as her mother - and the true-life murder that inspired Kitten, Meg accepts, packing her bags and heading off to the private island of Bonny (Georgia, USA), intending to solve the decades-old murder. Will her plan go horribly wrong? You bet!

One of the things I liked best about this story is that it is clear Meg is being manipulated - you want to shout at the book, 'No, don't do it!' - but who is doing the manipulating? Frances's bitter assistant, who arranges Meg's book deal? Doro Kitchens, the woman Frances based the character of Kitten on all those years ago? The handsome Koa, Doro's employee, who has his own reasons for being on the island? Or even Frances herself?

Another thing I loved about the story was that I couldn't work out who the murderer was, not even at the very end! And there was a final twist I didn't see coming.

It's hard to categorise the genre - another thing I liked about the book. Part psychological suspense, part classic romantic suspense, part gothic. There is a murder mystery and a hint of the paranormal - and the end seemed to come straight out of an 80s scream queen movie. It reminded me of Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson, with a bit of Stephen King, but although it gets a little bit bloody towards the end (and slightly over the top - just hold on and enjoy the ride!), it is not really gruesome.

Anyway, I loved it. It's one of my favourite reads this year and I've already downloaded the author's earlier book, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls.

Thank you to Emily Carpenter, Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

And thanks to Chelsea Humphrey at The Suspense is Killing Me - it was her fabulous review which made me desperate to read this book!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review: The Debutante's Daring Proposal by Annie Burrows

I've had a bit of a rough week and was in the mood for some pure escapism, so when this popped up on my Kindle I was delighted. 

The Debutante's Daring Proposal is a historical romance set in Regency England. The story is about two childhood friends, Edmund and Georgiana, who are now grown up. Edmund is the Earl of Ashenden and Georgiana is about to be launched on Society. They grew apart after Edmund was sent away (for his health) to the Scilly Isles, but now he's returned and Georgiana wants to ask a favour. If he would agree to marry her, she could stay in the village she loves and wouldn't have to marry a stranger.

Edmund's first inclination is to say 'no'. He feels he no longer has anything in common with this brittle society miss, but then he has a change of heart. Perhaps he could act as match-maker and find Georgiana a husband? Right ... What possible flaw could there be in that plan?

As with all Annie Burrows's books, I loved the humour, much of which is derived from the witty dialogue and misunderstandings between the two main characters. I particularly loved Georgiana who, despite the best efforts of her step-mother, is still a tomboy at heart - when we first meet her she is up to her ankles in mud. Edmund's friends, who give him lots of 'helpful' advice are also entertaining.

The Debutante's Daring Proposal is a sweet, romantic story, with no sex scenes until the very end, and I'm sure anyone who loves historical romance will adore it. 

Note: The story is #3 in a series called Regency Bachelors#1 was Lord Havelock's List and #2 was a novella called Governess to Christmas Bride, but you don't have to have read them to enjoy this story.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Review: The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig

I absolutely loved this book! Wickedly funny with brilliant characters, I could hardly bear to put it down. The story is about Lottie and Quentin Bredin, who are forced to uproot from London and settle in the wilds of Devon because they can't afford to divorce. Dragged along for the ride are Lottie's son Xan and their young daughters, the precocious Stella and good-natured Rosie. Most of the humour comes from the shock of exchanging their lovely home in the city for an old farmhouse, which is damp and overrun with mice (and, on one occasion, a large rat). Worse still, there's barely any mobile phone signal or Internet. And then the Bredins find out exactly why the house was so cheap to rent  - and what happened to the previous tenant ...

The joy of this book is in how the characters deal with (or, in some cases, don't deal with) adversity. Lottie is a control freak, trying desperately hard to keep her family from going under while utterly devastated by Quentin's serial infidelity. Quentin is a self-obsessed idiot, who spends the first half of the book trying to claw his way back into the London elite, gatecrashing the parties and clubs where he used to reign supreme. Unfortunately he never spent much time being nice to people on the way up, so they are all quite gleefully watching him get his comeuppance on the way down.

Pampered teenager Xan, who has failed to get into Cambridge and sulkily refuses to consider an alternative university, has a horrible shock when he finds out they can't even afford Netflix and he is forced to get a job at the local pie-making factory. (After reading about his adventures, you'll probably never want to eat a ready-made pie again!)

The story is told from each viewpoint over the course of a year, with the addition of Sally, a local midwife, who first meets Quentin when his car forces hers into a ditch. Despite this, Sally becomes good friends with Lottie and we also see village life from her more sensible perspective.

The plot skillfully covers the harsh realities of divorce, caring for elderly parents, trying to fit into a new community, poverty, infidelity and infertility. Despite the humour, the story was a little dark in places, particularly with regards to the mystery of the previous tenant - and exactly what happens to that meat before it ends up on your table as a Sunday roast. 

My favourite characters were Xan, who was the first to realise what a sheltered life he'd been leading, and his step-father Quentin - even though Quentin was so horrible: "Without selfishness, I'll have a life of misery and boredom."

The Lie of the Land is one of my favourite reads this year. Recommended if you love cleverly written stories about eccentric characters, with a bit of humour and a mystery thrown in. I'll definitely be seeking out more of Amanda's books!

Thank you to Amanda Craig, the Little Brown Book Group and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (The Rokesbys Book 2) by Julia Quinn

Julia Quinn is one of my all-time favourite authors. I've read every one of her books. I love her big-hearted characters, who are usually part of lovable eccentric families, and the fabulous witty dialogue between heroes and heroines. But unfortunately I'm not really feeling her new Rokesby series.

It is 1779. Cecilia Harcourt has been living an isolated life in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, with her widowed father. She lives for the letters she receives from her brother Thomas, who is a soldier fighting for the British in the American War of Independence (I think! My American history is a little hazy and the book didn't make it clear). When she receives a letter saying Thomas has been wounded, in the same week her father dies, she decides to head to America to be with him - only to arrive and discover he is nowhere to be found.

In the meantime, Thomas's friend, Edward Rokesby, has woken up in a hospital in New York, to find three months of his life missing and Cecilia claiming to be his wife. Surely he'd remember if he was married?

I have read very few historical romances set in this period in America, so I was really looking forward to learning more about that time. There was also Edward's missing three months and the mysterious disappearance of Thomas - was or wasn't he a spy, etc. Instead, all of this fizzled out and the main part of the story is about Cecilia and Edward's relationship. Which was fine; this is a romance after all. But I had been expecting a little bit more ...

Julia Quinn's style of writing, her characters, her witty dialogue; they are all here and as brilliant as usual - five stars. But the lack of historical detail and plot was more of a three. Averaging out at 4 stars.

Recommended for anyone who loves romantic comedies set in the past, and for fans of Eloisa James. If you've never read Julia Quinn before, I'd suggest you start with her famous Bridgerton Series - The Viscount Who Loved Me and An Offer from a Gentleman are my favourites. Although my all-time favourite is one of her stand-alones: The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review: The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

The beautiful cover of this book caught my eye first, and when I found out it was about Arbella Stuart I could not resist downloading it. I adore reading historical novels and I knew a bit about Arbella from watching a documentary about her a few years back.

Arbella was a fascinating person, the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (who was sister to King Henry VIII), and so therefore a possible heir to Queen Elizabeth I. As such, Arbella was used as a pawn by those who wanted power, including her own family, when she just wanted to read, write, and ride her horse. 

The story is told from two points of view: Arbella's, as she looks back on her life, and a woman called Ami, who was friends with her at Court. It dawned on me about halfway through the book that Ami might also be a real life historical figure, and after a bit of Googling I discovered she was Aemilia Lanyer, a well-known poet.

Although Ami's life was interesting, I would have rather read more about Arbella! I loved the descriptions of Arbella's childhood and her relationship with her formidable grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, and how she grew up at Hardwick Hall, which was famous for being 'more glass than wall'. I felt so sorry for Arbella as she longed for a normal life as a wife and mother, away from all the political intrigue.

I could have done with a family tree at the front of the book, or perhaps a list of characters. Although I thought I knew a fair bit about history, I did become confused as to who was who. Characters were introduced as though I should know who they were and I spent a lot of time on Google, resulting in a few spoilers!

But the story was very well written and I did enjoy reading it. It would probably appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory and anyone who enjoys Tudor/Stuart history mixed in with a bit of fiction.

Thank you to Elizabeth Fremantle, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.