Book Review: The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

French Alps, 1998
Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.
20 years later
Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.
Someone knows what really happened that day.
And somebody will pay.

When I was emailed by the publisher to see if I’d like an advance review copy of this book, I jumped at the chance – the blurb was intriguing immediately – and I was prepared to take a chance on a debut novelist, and I’m so pleased I did!

I loved this book from the start.

The story is told, flicking between the present day (the Alps, pre covid – how wonderful!) and 1998 when there was a tragedy. You don’t have all the facts up front – and it twists and turns brilliantly.

You know that the 2 stories are connected – but right up until the very end you aren’t sure exactly how. There are plenty of red herrings and teasers to keep you interested.

I don’t really want to give you too much information on the storyline – as it unfurls brilliantly! For example, you know someone dies in 1998, but don’t know who until some way through.

Similarly different voices are added to the story telling – both in 1998 and the present day – and the ‘before / after’ chapters too. I felt that really helped build the tension – and you don’t know who to trust!

My best friend from school lives in the French Alps, and so the setting was familiar, which I liked. And the horrific ski bores on holiday were also familiar!

When I’d finished the book and therefore knew who everyone actually was, I was intrigued to see if I went back to the beginning there were any clues – but I really don’t think I would have guessed some of the connections at all – it was incredibly clever!

I romped through this really quickly as I was keen to find out what happened – always a good sign with a book.

This is out at the end of October electronically and mid November as a traditional book, and I’d highly recommend it. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance review copy.

Book Review: Secrets in the Snow by Emma Heatherington

I have read and enjoyed previous books by Emma Heatherington, so when the publisher emailed to ask if I’d like to read her new book, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the blurb:

“As the winter snow falls on the small Irish village of Ballybray, Roisin O’Connor and her young son, Ben, are saying goodbye to their beloved neighbour Mabel Murphy.  Mabel lived a bold and colourful life, but the arrival of her brooding nephew, ‘blow-in’ Aidan Murphy, just makes life more complicated for Roisin.
However, in one final act of love, a message arrives from Mabel that changes everything.  And as winter turns to spring and the cold snow melts, the secrets both Roisin and Aidan are hiding must be revealed at last…”

As with Emma’s previous books, this is set in Ireland – and the main rural setting is described beautifully. It also pops to Belfast and New York – 2 cities I love – which is exciting!

I have to say the storyline is reasonably predictable – lonely single Mum dislikes new stranger – clearly they’re going to fall in love! However, there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested. And sometimes all you want to read is a nice easy romance.

I loved the relationship between Roisin and her son Ben – he was clearly her world. And the relationship they’d both had with Mabel was lovely (and I think highlights the fact it’s nice to have friends of different ages to yourself).

I kept expecting more of Roisin’s relationship with her abusive ex husband, Ben’s Dad, who had passed away to be uncovered – I even suspected she’d bumped him off – but seemingly not!

This is not a taxing read, it’s not a complicated read – but it’s a lovely, escapist, easy read – and sometimes in these difficult times, that is exactly what is needed!

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for my ARC.

Book Review: The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood

One friend and I, when we meet up, always have an agenda to make sure all topics are discussed. There is an agenda story that always amuses, where one of her bullet points was about her ex-husband being ‘somewhat unhelpful’ – paraphrased into a 4 letter word – and he then saw the agenda when dropping their son home – awks! So now the agenda tends to be on a phone. One of the standing agenda items is ‘books’ as we’re both avid readers and have similar – although not identical – tastes. Last time we met up she said how she’d enjoyed The Hungover Games – and I said I hadn’t read it yet but wanted to, and the next day it arrived in the post for me! Now that’s a fabulous friend! (And as I know some of you will be interested, she sent it from Hive – which is a British based, tax paying company who support independent booksellers!)

Here’s the blurb about The Hungover Games:

I had no idea how to commit to another human being. I could barely commit to reading a magazine, and I wrote for magazines for a living. My specialist subject was celebrities, and my own relationships made their marriages look eternal. I’d never paid a household bill that didn’t mention bailiffs, and my idea of exercise was to go and stand outside a famous person’s house and stare until I’d convinced myself that I lived in it.
But my life in LA was happy; free of care and consequence. That was, until I came down to earth – with a bump.
So this is the story of how I staggered from partying in Hollywood to bringing up a baby in Piss Alley, Dalston; how I never did find a copy of What To Expect When You Weren’t Even Fucking Expecting To Be Expecting, and why paternity testing is not a good topic for a first-date conversation.
People always said I’d find love where I least expected it. I always said they were idiots.

I liked this book from the dedication, which reads “For my mother and my daughter – thank you both for bringing me up. You might want to stop reading here though.”

The story starts with Sophie in LA and ‘accidentally’ getting pregnant – but totally, properly accidentally – in that she’d been told she couldn’t conceive naturally – not just ‘accidentally’ in a rom com kind of way.

It then follows her through her pregnancy, birth, and the first few years of her daughter’s life.

Now, I’ve folded over LOADS of pages that I thought were brilliant and wanted to quote – but actually, I don’t want to ruin the surprise – so you need to read them youself! The lovely quote Sophie’s Mum uses when Sophie tells her she’s pregnant is beautiful (even if it is actually from a newspaper article about Janet Ellis and Sophie Ellis-Bextor!!)

There is also a surreal paragraph about Bromsgrove. Now this was something Sophie talked to a nurse about at the height of labour and was surreal for them both at the time – but even more surreal as I was reading it IN BROMSGROVE!!! (I should state I don’t think I’m the person Sophie met on holiday who was from Bromsgrove.)

One section that deserves a quote is this fabulous paragraph about the current generation of new parents:

“I have watched my generation of parents turn into Lady Macbeth, out damn spot out, not letting their child have candy floss at the fair, even though said child was conceived on a three-day bender, which began at a family wedding and ended in a ditch five miles from the nearest Wetherspoons.
My generation of parents are the same people who experienced the mass marketing of coolness in the early 2000s, when cool went from something belonging to the occasional brilliant freak like David Bowie to being widely available at Urban Outfitters instead. And so we have become the Urban Outfitters hipster parents, dressing out children in blue-and-white Breton stripes and feeding them halloumi and teaching them to call their penises penises and their vaginas vaginas, no, wait, it’s vulva now. These yummy mummies and rad dads all form part of secret Hallouminati groups whose membership codes are shrouded in ancient rituals involving dried mango, colour-coded Tupperware and half-term holidays at child-friendly festivals in Dorset. Their children have been given so many books about Amazing Women in History that any of them will now eye up a new picture book warily, muttering that this one better not be about Frida Kahlo again.”

That kind of sums up the book for me – witty, dry, observationally fantastic and oh so true!

It’s also really emotional at times – it’s definitely not been an easy road for Sophie – and that is quite evident.

The other thing that shines from the pages – is Sophie’s love for her daughter and their amazing bond. Whilst the conception might not have been planned – the love just oozes out of the pages. And I’m going to have to put another quote in – because as a Mum I thought it was amazing:

“You don’t ready someone to travel into a famine zone by starving them. You prepare them by fattening them up, giving them calorie reserves so they have warmth to spare in the cold, lean times. And so I have prepared my child for an ugly world by fattening her with love…….”

As I was kindly given a hard copy of the book, I’m now going to pass it on to another friend this evening, and then it should end up in the porch lending library that one of my other friends in the village started during lockdown, and is proving to still be a big hit. The gift of a book that keeps on giving!

Book Review: Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong by Elizabeth Day

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s previous books – most recently ‘How To Fail‘ – so when I saw she had a new book out I requested a copy off NetGalley, which I was kindly granted. However, I failed (at least I was on theme!) to read this before the book came out – but I’m only a few days behind the curve!

Here’s the blurb:

“In Failosophy Elizabeth Day brings together all the lessons she has learned, from conversations with the guests on her award-winning How to Fail podcast, from stories shared with her by readers and listeners, and from her own life, and distils them into seven principles of failure.
 
Practical, reassuring and inspirational, these principles offer a guide through life’s rough patches. From failed exams to romantic break-ups, from career setbacks to confidence crises, from navigating anxiety to surviving loss, Failosophy recognises, and celebrates, the fact that failure connects us all. It is what makes us human.
 
With insights from Malcolm Gladwell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lemn Sissay, Frankie Bridge, Nigel Slater, Emeli Sande, Alain de Botton, Mabel, Fearne Cotton, Meera Syal, Dame Kelly Holmes, Andrew Scott and many, many more, Failosophy is the essential handbook for turning failure into success.

This is only a short book – and the sort that I would like to dip into again. I can see it would be of comfort in times of failure – or perceived failure – in your life.

It builds upon Day’s How To Fail memoir – summarising failings, and what can be learnt from them. It uses both her own life experiences, and those of the many people who’ve been guests on her ‘How To Fail With Elizabeth Day’ podcast – which I really enjoyed.

Some I empathised with more than others – failing at my 20s was definitely up there for me. I remember weeping on my 25th birthday as I was living on my own having split up from my first husband – and it just wasn’t where I expected to be mid decade. My ‘life plan’ hadn’t featured a starter marriage and divorce by my quarter century. Everything had sorted itself out by the end of my 20s – and I wouldn’t have got there without these ‘failures’ – which kind of sums up some of the book.

I found where Elizabeth talked about her own miscarriage – and a guest about the ‘failure’ of his son dying – really emotional to read, and incredibly moving.

I’d almost finished the book – but there was still over 10% left on my Kindle – so I did wonder what would make up these last pages. It is details that guests gave Elizabeth of the 3 failures they would discuss on the podcast with her. Some were incredibly detailed, others just brief bullet points, but I found this really interesting (I am totally a nosy cow, so both the content and style of how they’d written them appealed!)

As I said, I’d definitely read this again – and I think it would be a great present for a friend going through a tough time. (I am a big fan of giving books as gifts, much more edifying than flowers.)

A thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC and apologies for failing to review it before publication!!