Book Review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Dirty Little Secrets

I am part of a book club which is mostly on Facebook.  A subset of us occasionally meet up IRL – but mostly we just share books we’ve read online.  Now a large number of groupies had read this book – to the point that I had total FOMO and had to purchase it, even without reading the blurb, as I trust their judgement on books!

But for you – here is the blurb:

“Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

It is a great book – and, as expected, I did really enjoy it!

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Olive or a different person who lives in the gated community or one of the 2 police officers investigating the case.  It twists and turns and you can quite believe that any of the residents were responsible for Olive’s demise.  There are lots of ‘dirty little secrets’ out there!  The residents are all very different with their own issues and all are written really well – even if none of them are particularly likeable!

However, Olive is definitely not likeable – although I did feel sorry for her at times.

I really liked the relationship between the 2 detectives as well.  The older bloke nearing retirement – and the up and coming younger female cop – who clearly had secrets in her past too.

The pace builds and builds and kept me keen to read on to find out what had happened.

Overall a good read – and I’d definitely look at books by this author again.  As with most recommendations from the book club – a winner!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley’s previous work – both her epic historic novels (The Invitation and The Book of Lost and Found), and her last one, which was a crime thriller called The Hunting Party. So when I saw she had a new one out I’m not embarrassed to admit I kind of begged on Twitter for an ARC – and the publisher and Netgalley were kind enough to grant my wish!

Here is the blurb:

“On a remote island, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.
All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .”

From the outset this book had a feel of The Hunting Party – both in terms of content (middle class people in a remote destination) and style (each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view – and it flicks between time periods, so some of it is in the build up to the wedding, and some is from when the body is found).  But it is just as brilliant as Ms Foley’s previous book – so why mess with a format that was a best seller!?

This time the setting is a remote island off the Irish coast which is allegedly haunted – and as with all of the author’s previous work – the geographical descriptions are wonderful, along with the wild weather and both really evoke the feeling of being there.

There are huge twists and turns – and you’re never quite sure who you should be rooting for.  For a long time any of the characters could have been the victim or the killer!  I have to say that Hannah (who was the plus one of the bride’s male BFF) was my favourite character – possibly because she was a mother off the Mum leash for the wedding – something I can totally empathise with – and I also suffer horribly with sea sickness!

Some of the coincidences are a little far fetched – but I guess that often happens in whodunnits like this – and it didn’t spoil the book for me at all.

The chapters build in pace, seemingly getting faster and faster (although perhaps that was just my excited reading?!) – and very cleverly, the final line of a few of the chapters near the end is the same. So smart.

I don’t want to give any spoilers on the victim or the murderer – but it’s good!

As with all of Lucy Foley’s books it’s incredibly well written in terms of language, but also in terms of plot intricacies too, which I really enjoy – I don’t like being spoonfed a storyline.  Well done to Ms Foley – and I suspect a fabulous editor – on ensuring no plot holes in something so complex.

I suspect this will be a big hit on the 2020 bestsellers list – so get in early and pre order a copy now ready for its release!

 

 

Book Review: The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me

My friend Sally (co-incidentally the name of the main character in the book but not the same person!) recommended this very highly, and it had sat on my Kindle for ages – but I finally started reading it a few days ago – and devoured it super quickly (which is always a sign of a good book!)

Here’s the blurb:

“Sally is an incredible singer, but nobody has ever heard her. The thought of singing in public fills her with dread.

But then something happens one summer which changes everything.

No longer able to hide in the shadows, Sally must return home to London to fulfil a promise she cannot break – to share her voice.

But just when she’s ready to start her new life, a beautiful man turns up on Sally’s doorstep with a sheepish smile and a mysterious hand-written message.

How did he find her and why is he here?

Does he hold the truth to what happened back in New York?

And will she still have the courage to step into the spotlight?”

The book jumps between the present day and historic stuff – Sally’s childhood – and then the previous year – but this all flows really well, and just adds to the momentum of the story.

What made me laugh is quite early on you learn about 7 year old Sally’s obsession with opera.  Now, we took our kids – including the then 7 year old – to a ‘Great Opera Hits’ show at the Sydney Opera House on 1 January 2019.  About 30 seconds into the first aria, she asked if she was going to understand any of it – and I had to confess she probably wasn’t going to! It was definitely not the panto at Birmingham Hippodrome!  TBH the kids managed the first song – and the husband and I lasted until half time (sorry, football reference – the interval!)  so none of us got to hear Nessun Dorma. The photo below sums up our 7 year old’s view of opera!  Anyway – I digress……..

I really enjoyed the whole book. You are rooting for Sally throughout.  Her relationships with family / friends / colleagues / teaching staff are all thoroughly explored and are all quite complicated, but written about beautifully.

I was keen to keep reading and therefore finished it in record time.  You desperately want to know what happened in New York last year – and you know it must be really serious – but it’s not obvious what it was until quite late in the book (no spoilers here) which is great.

All of the characters are interesting – and not ‘typical’ – which is refreshing.  I think my favourite was Julian’s Mum – I want to be like her when I grow up!

My only issue with the whole book is late on it’s made obvious Sally’s family are Villa fans (back to football references)  Now, I would suggest (as an Aston Villa fan myself) that people from Stourbridge are much more likely to be West Brom or Wolves fans! But this is a minor transgression that I can forgive I’m sure.

This is a fantastic book – and I will definitely be looking at other books by Lucy Robinson – or Rosie Walsh, which is her real name and who she writes as now (and isn’t a neighbours character!)

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

 

The Music Shop

The other week I was ‘post checking’ for my parents whilst they were on holiday.  Much like my mother, I can’t let a situation go unexplained – so bear with! I spotted this book in their hallway and asked if I could borrow it.  Mum explained it wasn’t theirs, but my Dad couldn’t read it at the moment because of an eyesight problem he has, and their friends were in no rush to have it back – so it was fine for me to borrow it.  (#neverknowinglyunderexplained)

I’d read previous books by Rachel Joyce – so thought it would be a lovely, pleasant read on holiday.

Here’s the blurb:

“1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …”

I really enjoyed this from start to finish.  As with Rachel Joyce’s previous books, it’s really well written – and a lovely escapist read.  The fact that it talks about music was also great – as I’m a huge fan of lots of genres of music.

Frank is the main character, and his relationship with Ilse is the centrepiece of the story – but there is a whole host of ‘chorus’ parts that are wonderful.  A tattooist, two undertakers, a Polish baker, the Saturday boy, a café waitress – to name but a few.  The interactions between them all are beautifully observed and feel very real – you are rooting for the whole band of them.

Some of it is just lovely, and some is really moving.  I did weep a couple of times – particularly at the end.  Whilst set in 1988 – and then more recently – it does show how the British High Street has changed over the decades too.

The Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah is fundamental to the story line and is a piece of music I love (randomly, Alexa decided to play it for me the other evening which was lovely!)  I was rehearsal pianist for a production of it way back when I was in sixth form – and because the tenor section were rubbish, I had to bang out their notes – so consequently that is the part I always end up singing along #randomfact

I was not wrong in my expectations, and this is a lovely, escapist, pleasant read – in a world where more of those are needed!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

I loved Josie Silver’s previous book – One Day In December – so when the publisher emailed to ask if I wanted the secret Netgalley link to her next book, I jumped at the chance!

Here’s the blurb:

“Two love stories. One Impossible Choice.
Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’ve been together for almost a decade, and Lydia thinks their love is indestructible.
But she’s wrong. Because on her 27th birthday, Freddie dies in a tragic accident.
So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob ’til her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to live her life well. So, enlisting the help of his best friend and her sister Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world and starts to live – perhaps even to love – again.
Then something unbelievable happens, and Lydia gets another chance at her old life with Freddie. But what if there’s someone in her new life who wants her to stay?
A heart-breaking, uplifting story for fans of PS I Love You and Me Before You, this gorgeously romantic novel will make you laugh, cry and remind you of what a wonderful gift it is to love and to be loved.”

 This is such a clever book. I was going to say a Sliding Doors type premise – but it’s cleverer than that (and Lydia isn’t Gwyneth Paltrow)

Very early on in the book Freddie is killed – and Lydia’s life is changed forever – or is it? She has a portal back into her old life where the accident didn’t happen (this isn’t as weird and far fetched as it sounds – and flows really well in the storyline I promise!)

The relationships between Lydia and all of the other characters – family, friends, colleagues are all beautifully written and cleverly nuanced. Whilst less than major parts – her workmates are just lovely – and so caring when she goes back to work.

It also really makes you think about what would happen if a tragedy didn’t happen. (On a personal level, my mother in law passed away after a long fight with cancer a few weeks after I met my husband. She knew I existed – but she was too poorly for us to meet. I often think about how different for all of her family life could have been if she hadn’t died so young.)

Anyway – back to the book before we all get over emosh.

 It’s fabulous, and I really enjoyed it. I kind of guessed the ending-ish. But it twists and turns to get there, and you’re never quite sure what will happen next.

A couple of times Lydia seems to make crazy decisions – but it just pushes the storyline forwards in a new way.

Overall it’s a great book – and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Book Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

Messy Wonderful Us

 

“One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy. 

Allie has lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.

Beside her is her best friend since schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up.

But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, Messy, Wonderful Us is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.”

 I saw this on Netgalley and it sounded interesting, so when the publisher emailed to ask if I wanted to read it, I said ‘yes please!’

Whilst I’ve not read anything by Catherine Isaac before – I had read and enjoyed books in her previous life as Jane Costello (not sure why she’s changed her writing name – I may have to Google it and find out!)

Early on in the book Allie discovers a family secret – which threatens her whole existence – and the book is basically the fall out from this, and her uncovering the truth.

It twists and turns – and the chunk in Italy is just beautiful. I’ve never been to Lake Garda (although have been to nearby Lake Como) but it really evokes the feeling of being there.

I liked Allie – and Ed – and their relationship is really interesting. The age old ‘can men and women really be platonic friends’ is looked at from a new angle. Their relationships with others were also explored in depth.

Some big juicy topics are covered throughout the book – which are really thought provoking and written about very well.

My only slight niggle with the whole book was the sections about Allie’s work in medical research. I am sure they were really well sourced and completely factually correct (in fact the acknowledgements at the end would back that up) but I felt they were too detailed and broke up the flow of the book. I am a total geek and love learning new and scientific stuff – but probably not in the context of a novel.

But I am sure I’m being over picky – and it didn’t ruin the book as a whole, which was a really good read. I romped through it at pace as I was so keen to see how it all played out.

It’s out next month, and I would definitely recommend it.

Book Review: I Wanted You To Know by Laura Pearson

I Wanted You To Know

I read ‘Missing Pieces’ by Laura Pearson a while ago and really enjoyed it – so when I was offered the chance to read an advance review copy of Ms Pearson’s most recent book, I accepted it immediately.

Since reading Missing Pieces I have followed Laura on Twitter – and so knew she’d been through a breast cancer diagnosis whilst pregnant with her second child.  That personal experience has clearly been the driving force for this book.

Here’s the blurb:

“Dear Edie, I wanted you to know so many things. I wanted to tell you them in person, as you grew. But it wasn’t to be.
Jess never imagined she’d be navigating single motherhood, let alone while facing breast cancer. A life that should be just beginning is interrupted by worried looks, heavy conversations, and the possibility of leaving her daughter to grow up without her.
Propelled by a ticking clock, Jess knows what she has to do: tell her daughter everything. How to love, how to lose, how to forgive, and, most importantly, how to live when you never know how long you have.
From best-selling author Laura Pearson comes her most devastating book yet. Honest, heart-wrenching, and emotionally raw, I Wanted You To Know is a true love letter to life: to all its heartache and beauty, to the people we have and lose, to the memories and moments that define us.”

This book is absolutely, brutally, brilliant.

I cried A LOT reading it – and Laura doesn’t shy away from the shittiness of breast cancer at all – but it’s not all doom and gloom.  The relationships between Jess and her daughter / mother / best friend / father / ex boyfriend / best mate’s brother are all explored beautifully.

I guess I empathised most with Jess’s BFF Gemma.  One of my best friends had her own breast cancer journey a couple of years ago – and I was the one trying to be a supportive friend.  Admittedly I didn’t have to take care of a newborn like Gemma does in the book – but we did borrow her son as our 5th child for a week to take him away for half term.  It’s the balance of trying to keep things ‘normal’ whilst still recognising that things are never going to be normal ever again.  The letters Jess writes to Edie also made me really emotional – as there were many things my friend was scared she wouldn’t see – her daughter smashing her GCSEs and A-levels and turning 18, her son going to his Middle School prom and starting High School – all the type of things Jess addresses in her letters to her daughter who isn’t even a year old at the time.

Just like ‘Missing Pieces’ a dysfunctional family is central to the storyline – and written about so well – and you could totally empathise with lots of the characters (and want to punch others).

This is not a fun, easy, light hearted read – it really does make you think about being grateful for what you have RIGHT NOW – and speaking up for that, telling people what you think – and not waiting until it’s too late – or almost too late.

Whilst it made me do big snotty crying, I still really enjoyed this book – and a huge thank you to Netgalley for my ARC.  I know there will be people where this is a bit too close to home – and I’m not sure whether it would be a good or bad thing for someone in a similar circumstance to read it.

Most of all, and very selfishly, I’m bloody chuffed that my friend didn’t have to write letters to her children like Jess did………

 

 

 

 

Book Review: So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter

So Lucky

I LOVED The Cows, Dawn O’Porter’s last book – and when I saw my friend had been sent an advance review copy of Dawn’s new book – So Lucky – I literally BEGGED to borrow it!  And I have to say there is now a queue of others who want to – as everyone in our book club adored The Cows.  In fact we’re all slightly obsessed with Dawn O’Porter and think she would be a very welcome attendee at our next book club meeting (where essentially we just sit in the pub drinking, discussing books we’ve enjoyed and going off on massive tangents. #Emilysweirdlipsdream)

So the minute I received it (pushed through my letterbox awaiting my return from holiday – how’s that for service – and the perfect post holiday pick me up!) I cracked on with reading it.

Here’s the blurb:

“I’M A MOTHER
I feel like I’m failing every day
I HAVE A CAREER
I have to shout to make myself heard
I’VE GOT THE BEST FRIENDS
Sometimes I feel so alone
I LOVE MY BODY
I don’t know who I am beyond it

Sometimes it looks like everyone is living their best life.
Everyone, except you.
But no life is perfect, everyone is fighting a private battle of their own – it’s just a struggle to say it out loud.
Fearless, frank and for every woman who’s ever doubted herself, So Lucky is the straight-talking new novel from the Sunday Times bestseller.
Actually, you’re pretty f****** lucky to be you.”

 

And boy was I not disappointed – it’s brilliant!

It reminds me a lot of The Cows – and that’s not a bad thing at all.  It tells the story of 3 women – Ruby, Beth and Lauren – and initially you don’t know how they’re all going to interact – but you just know that the stories are going to intertwine in a really clever way – and that’s exactly what happens.

Whilst the story is based on the 3 lead characters – it deals massively with their interactions with other people – as wives / lovers / mothers / colleagues / daughters / daughters in law / friends – and is brilliantly portrayed. Particularly the parental relationships are very raw / sad / emotional / beautiful – but all very different.

None of the characters is perfect – each has their own issues and things they’re dealing with, which isn’t what they project out to the world – which is kind of the point of the whole book.

Now I do need to issue a disclaimer at this point!  One of the characters suffers from horrible piles for a very specific reason.  I need to point out that my horrible piles, which I have blogged about before, are definitely not caused by the same thing……

The use of social media posts for one of the characters is very clever – and the comments by her followers underneath (and their Insta handles) are fabulous.

There are unusual topics covered in it – but that added to the quirkiness of it – and Dawn is never going to write a ‘vanilla’ book (I make that sound like I’m her mate, rather than just a stalker of her Instagram stories…….)

I really enjoyed how the book ended – it wasn’t predictable at all for any of the characters, which I thought was great. It’s witty, funny, clever and all wrapped up in some #girlpower – a fabulous combo.

It’s out on 31 October 2019 – which, let’s face it, could be an incredibly difficult day (don’t mention the B word) – so I would suggest pre-ordering this so you have something to distract you for a few hours, you won’t regret it – in fact you’ll be #SoLucky.

(I appreciate that I am an utter knob with that last line………)

 

 

 

Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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I was approached by the publisher to read this new book by bestseller Mary Bethe Keane as I’d apparently reviewed similar books in the past.  It already had decent reviews on Netgalley – so I downloaded a copy.  It then sat on my Netgalley bookshelf for ages whilst I read other things!  I was motivated to start it on holiday as the Netgalley publication date was quoted as 8 August 2019 – today – but that doesn’t actually appear correct, as it’s got loads of Amazon reviews now too!

Here’s the blurb:

“A gripping and compassionate drama of two families linked by chance, love and tragedy
Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours.
Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.
It’s left to their children – Lena’s youngest, Kate, and Anne’s only child, Peter – to find their way to one another. To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and by the terrible tragedy that will engulf them all.
A tragedy whose true origins only become clear many years later . . .
A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so.
A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love.”

This is an epic story covering 40+ years of two families and their intertwined lives.  Big stuff happens (I won’t give a spoiler, don’t worry!) that impacts everyone massively.

You get to know the various family members – but it really centres around Kate and Peter, with everyone else ensemble members.

Whilst I wanted to read on and find out what happened – it was all a bit dull and slow moving.  I kept waiting for something exciting to occur – but I kept waiting!

I guessed what the title of the book referenced  – but expected it to be a direct quote – but it wasn’t quite – which just seemed odd (or badly edited?)

Maybe I’m just not a literary fiction kind of girl – and I am sure some people will really enjoy it – but it just didn’t really float my boat.

But thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for my advance review copy!

 

 

 

Book Review: Rewrite The Stars by Emma Heatherington

Rewrite The Stars

I enjoyed ‘A Miracle On Hope Street’ by Emma Heatherington last year – and this is another offering by her with Christmas themes (although only loosely).  I was lucky enough to be offered a free copy from Netgalley in return for an honest review (and it wasn’t until the end and the mention of Bradley Cooper gifs (I was surprised it wasn’t David Beckham to be honest) that I remembered my friend was the author’s editor!

Here’s the blurb:

“It’s never too late to say I love you…
A stunning Christmas romance for fans of Josie Silver and Jojo Moyes
From the moment they meet one December day there’s something between Charlotte Taylor and her brother’s best friend, Tom Farley. But Tom’s already taken and Charlie has to let him go…
It’s another five years before their paths cross again only a secret from the past forces Charlie to make a choice. She promises herself she’ll never look back…
The years pass and Charlie moves on with her life but she can never forget Tom. He’s always there whispering ‘What if?’.
Can Charlie leave the life she has built for one last chance with Tom? Or is the one that got away not really the one at all…?”

I really enjoyed this!

Charlotte / Charlie and Tom’s paths cross over the period of the book – starting at a one off meeting and then progressing.  Some of this happens at Christmas – but that’s not a massive feature of the book (so don’t think you need to save it until the festive period to properly appreciate it or anything, I was fine reading it by the pool in the sunshine!)

Whilst the Charlie / Tom relationship is the main thread running through the book – and who doesn’t love a ‘the one who got away’ story – their relationships with other people are also really well developed.

It’s set it Ireland in a number of different rural and city locations – and they are described really well and evoke the differing vibes of the geographical areas.

It weaves historic information in with present day so that the whole back story is eventually unravelled.  I did guess some of it – but that didn’t detract from the book and wanting to finish reading it.

Occasionally I did want to punch Charlotte and tell her just to be honest – but I guess that might not have been such a twisty and turny book!! Overall it was a lovely easy read and I’d recommend it.