Tag: Four and a Half Stars

I Know You by Annabel Kantaria

Taylor, who is a complex, intense and manipulative character, has recently moved from California to Croydon and as her husband works, she is lonely and friendless. She joins a walking group and fixes her sights on Anna, another similarly aged woman who is also expecting her first baby – perfect friend material. More characters come into play as she joins a book club set up by one of her neighbours.

Interspersed through the chapters is an unknown narrator, a media stalker who knows intimate details which give creepy and sinister overtones throughout the book. We don’t know who is being stalked – it could be Anna, it could be Taylor – and I love that it keeps us on our toes wondering who is going to have their life devastated. This is a thought provoking read of what we give away about ourselves on social media. We trust our friends in what they see but what if one of your followers goes rogue?

I’ve read several books by Annabel Kantaria and I’ve enjoyed all of them. She’s a brilliant plotter and knows how to tell a rich, fulfilling and flowing story. She’s definitely an author I look out for.

Secrets of A Serial Killer by Rosie Walker

Zoe is a typical teenager – loves her mum, obvs, but wants the freedom to dress how she wants and go out with her mates, schoolwork can wait. Helen and Tony are divorced with Zoe living with Helen and going to her dad’s some weekends. It’s Tony’s turn to have Zoe but she’s quick to eat her evening meal, fiddle with her phone and run off out saying she’ll be back at 10.30pm – only she doesn’t come back. Zoe has met up with her boyfriend and gone to a pub to meet her friend Abby and Abby’s boyfriend, but Abby is being her usual controlling self and gets Zoe talking to a guy at the bar who plies them with drink.

Helen is shocked, stunned that her daughter is missing and that little seems to be happening with the police to get her back. She doesn’t yet realise that she holds a vital clue, but something is niggling her mind, like picking a scab, that someone knows something of Zoe’s kidnapping.

The chapters when Zoe tells her story are harrowing yet exciting. We all love the gory bits, and this book is quite graphic and gory in places. (There’s no nasty sex or rape scenes if that bothers you). Zoe is a likeable character and I felt sympathy and compassion when reading about her.

There is also an aside story of two young cousins, daring each other into doing scary things and visiting the nearby lunatic asylum which closed several years ago. Both stories run parallel and then intertwine to give a semi-conclusive ending.

Secrets of A Serial Killer is cleverly plotted and very well written. It flows well and we get a good back story to each character so we know their personality and understand their thoughts. I would definitely recommend this book and I look forward to more from Rosie Walker.

Epitaph by Anita Waller

I’ve only recently been introduced to Anita Waller’s books and this is just my second, but I’ve been bitten by her bug and will be reading more.

This one is written as a stand-alone novel but does have some of the same characters as in the Kat and Mouse series. These characters have also made me want to read that series starting at the beginning with Murder Undeniable.

Wendy and Doris have an unusual holiday planned but as family secrets start to surface, their plans go awry. A body is found in the river but it’s clear that death came before she hit the water. As more and more people are connected to the dead young woman, all with airtight alibis, Doris and Wendy work together to separate the wheat from the chaff and solve the murder.

Set in and around Sheffield and the Peak District, Epitaph is written with tenderness and wry northern humour. A cleverly plotted murder mystery with charming characters who will get under your skin.

She Did It by Mel Sherratt

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Mel Sherratt is a crime, police procedurals and psychological suspense writer, and if you’ve not read any of hers before, She Did It is a great stand-alone one to start with.

She Did It

The two main protagonists, Tamara and Ester, are both liars and have their own agenda but for different reasons. Tamara runs a publicity business but is broke, lonely and needs to prove herself to her parents. Ester is aggressive, devious, a thief and murderer and Tamara wants to be best friends. The two women are poles apart in class and wealth but while the two rub along well together, there’s no denying that they each know their place. There’s never a dull moment following Ester wearing wigs and disguises, as she picks pockets to fund herself. But then there’s the small question of a gun and dead body.

This is an absolutely riveting read, one I couldn’t put down. It felt special, like the first time I read a Martina Cole.

 

 

 

Between You And Me by Lisa Hall

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I love a good twist in a book, getting that ‘WOW’ moment when everything flips on its head is better than a bar of chocolate for me. Between You And Me has the best twist I’ve read for a long time, so much so, I had to go back and re-read the last couple of chapters just to make sure.

Between You And Me

This is a psychological thriller based around domestic abuse. To outsiders Charlie is charming, but in reality is a dominating manipulator and Sal gets the brunt of anything that Charlie doesn’t like. This only happens behind closed doors in their own home, and when Charlie begins to use Maggie, their daughter, as a bargaining tool, Sal has had enough and schemes to leave, taking Maggie too.

Tension is high all the way through, there’s never a dull moment, the reader always wondering what Charlie will mete out next on Sal. Lisa Hall is a great writer and I can thoroughly recommend all her books if you like a taut, gripping read.

 

 

 

 

Have You Seen Her by Lisa Hall

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Laurel goes missing on Bonfire Night under the noses of her mother Fran, and nanny Anna.

Have You Seen Her

Immediately tension is high as the evening’s organisers and then police are called in to search for the little girl. It quickly becomes clear that Anna has something to hide about a previous nanny job and is frightened of being recognised by the press and having her past dug up. There are also obvious problems with Laurel’s parents’ relationship, Fran and Dominic, who struggle to hold it together in front of the police. This is a story of every parents’ nightmare.

There are revelations, twists and red herrings at every chapter end and the pace is quick and exciting. Lisa Hall is a great writer and I can thoroughly recommend all her books if you like an edge-of-your-seat read with massive twists.

 

 

# Me Too by Patricia Dixon

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Once again, Patricia Dixon has created a topical story using believable, everyday characters.

Me Too

The female lead character, Billie, wanted to travel the world but at the last minute her more grounded boyfriend Stan, decided to stay at home – Billie went anyway, and with the events that followed, she bitterly regrets that decision.

While Billie was away, Stan moved on with his life and Kelly entered his home and life. Within a year, Stan was in prison for the rape and assault of Kelly. Billie is devastated but finds it difficult to decide who is telling the truth. Stan’s letter gives his version which Billie so wants to believe, but then Kelly is equally believable so who does she trust? There were so many red herrings, twists and turns that I didn’t know who was telling the truth.

Patricia Dixon has the knack of writing about friendly, lovable characters and giving them a topical, realistic issue to deal with. She explores the impact on not only the characters’ lives, but those of family and friends around them. I’m never disappointed with a Dixon book and always look forward to the next.

 

Liars by Anita Waller & Patricia Dixon

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Liars

Some dual writer partnerships work really well – husband and wife team Nicci French, Greer Hendricks & Sara Pekkanen – and this Waller-Dixon is seamless and flows beautifully. I know Patricia Dixon‘s writing very well but have only read one of Anita Waller‘s books, both are accomplished writers in their own right, and I guessed quite early on who wrote which character.

Wendy and Nell have been friends since primary school and know each others deepest secrets.

Nell travels Europe for work and they write to each other constantly, that is until and Wendy marries a man who Nell knows is a creep and a womaniser and Wendy’s letters become sparse and formulaic. When Nell returns to Sheffield, Wendy’s husband is unexpectedly nice to her until she’s due to fly back to France and then shows his true colours when he brutally attacks her, both verbally and physically.

There is suspense, intrigue, love and friendship, as well as the odd murder or two. The mix of psychological/crime writer with romantic suspense writer works really well to give softness and reality to quite nasty, sometimes vicious, characters and situations. Very much recommended.

 

34 Days by Anita Waller

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34 Days

Anna is in an unhappy marriage. Ray is not a kind person, and now that her children are grown up she decides to take back control of her life. On the day of her 35th wedding anniversary, she packs her bags and leaves her home and Lincoln for good.  Ray is furious but believes she will go back to him after a few days but, as she finds herself a modern apartment in a new town, she starts to feel safe and joyously elated. Then Jenny, her daughter-in-law, drops two bombshells which rocks Anna to her core.

This is a serial killer thriller like no other. I’ve never before read such an impacting and unique storyline – family secrets past and present, murder to hide murder – and I rushed through the book needing to know whether Anna and Jenny’s secret, their lives, were safe.

Anita Waller is a fabulous writer. She creates friendly, believable characters and puts them in monstrous situations. This is the first of her books I’ve read, but now I’ve discovered her I have several earmarked for the top of my reading mountain.

Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

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Rules For Perfect Murders

I’ve been meaning to read Peter Swanson’s books for a while and this is a perfect introduction to his clever plotting and unique writing style. Each of his books are stand alone stories so you can start with any book.

Malcolm Kershaw owns a bookshop called Old Devils which specialises in crime and mystery novels. He loves classic crime and he once listed his eight favourite murders on the bookshop’s website, ones he thought were impossible to solve. It seems there is a link between some recent deaths and the perfect murders listed by Malcolm.

This is a cleverly plotted whodunnit style crime novel. It’s written in first person which I really like, it gets you inside the head of the character, and I found the whole book to be gripping, fast moving and very entertaining.

 

 

The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré

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The Girl With The Louding Voice is a debut novel rich in culture and has an amazing character, Adunni.  It’s written in the style of a rural Nigerian girl speaking in a very basic form of English which is quick and easy to slip into and sometimes comical to read.

The Girl With The Louding Voice

Adunni is a fourteen year old girl from a small village in Nigeria. Following the death of her mother, the family becomes poorer and her father negotiates a husband for her in exchange for the ‘bride money’.  She becomes the third wife of an older man and is trapped in a life of servitude instead of getting the education she so wants.  Being a spirited and brave girl she escapes her husband and then taken to Lagos to be housekeeper in the wealthy household of Big Madam and her lecherous husband.  At first excited going to the big city, she quickly realises she has been trafficked and will not be paid any wages.

This is a powerful and emotional story of female injustice and slavery, yet ultimately is a story of believing in yourself, that you can achieve whatever you want in life.

I have one hardback copy of this book ~ brand new and unread ~ available to purchase here.

A Bit Of A Stretch by Chris Atkins

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Chris Atkins was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud and tax evasion. He’s not the stereotypical prisoner we’re used to hearing about – he doesn’t do drugs, in fact he doesn’t even smoke, he’s middle class and got a degree at Oxford – and as a way of coping with prison life he writes down a little about each day.

A Bit Of A StretchHis diary of life inside Wandsworth is both fascinating and horrifying and makes for compelling reading. There are ways of climbing the hierarchy system and being an educated man, Chris is able to get close to the top. This enables him to avoid twenty-three hour ‘bang up’ like most of the other prisoners and have a few comforts like a duvet, his own clothes, a kettle and use of the library.

Chris has written an honest account of his time in Wandsworth, sometimes negative about the system, often positive about his outlook. He doesn’t make excuses for his wrong-doing and we see the raw emotion of losing his family, especially his young son. It’s well executed, a real eye-opener, and I found it very difficult to put down.

 

Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis

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Jane Davis is one of the best self-published authors out there and her books are all well worth reading. Smash All The Windows is Jane’s ninth novel and is the winner of The Selfies Best Self-Published Work of Fiction Award 2019.

Smash All The Windows

The story is of a disaster in an over-crowded London underground. The crowded escalators keep moving down onto fallen people at the bottom. People are piling on top of one another and the weight and lack of oxygen is too much to bear. Someone must be to blame – or should they? Is there any such thing as an accident? It’s Friday evening and everyone wants to go home, but should they have been stopped from entering an already too busy station?

Jane has written from the perspective of several victims on their way to the disaster and also from family members struggling to understand, live with, and survive the death of their loved ones. She is an extraordinary and intelligent writer who writes sensitively of a fictional disaster which has echoes of the real-life Hillsborough disaster.

 

 

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The Confession by Jessie Burton

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After the enormous success of The Miniaturist and The Muse, this is the third novel by Jessie Burton. The Confession is a wonderful story but, apart from the beautiful writing, don’t expect it to be anything like The Miniaturist.

The Confession

The book fluidly moves between the dual narratives of the early 1980s and present day. Rose was abandoned by her mother Elise, as a baby and was brought up by her father. Rose is obviously curious about her mother and after a little heart-to-heart with her father, he gives the name of a well known author Constance Holden, as being in a relationship with Elise in the 1980s. Rose uses duplicitous means to get a job with Constance to hopefully find out more about her mother. The book goes back to when Elise first fell under Connie’s spell and follows their relationship to America where Rose was born.

This is a powerful story of complex relationships, emotions and feelings, incredibly well told in the richest of literary words by Jessie Burton.

 

I have one hardback copy of this book ~ brand new and unread ~ available to purchase here.

 

By Jessie Burton

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

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Beautiful Bad is truly one of the most psychological of psychological thrillers. The story builds and builds, goes back in time several years from the day of the killing, returns to the day of the killing, goes back a few weeks before the day of the killing, and all this back story really intensifies the suspense.

Beautiful Bad K

The book starts with the police entering the house after a distressing call to 911. There is so much blood inside that there has to be a body – we don’t know who is dead until close to the end of the book, it is just referred to as ‘the killing’. We are taken back to when Jo and Maddie were best friends and both had a love of eastern bloc countries, their languages and the cultures. Jo lives in Macedonia and Maddie lives in Bulgaria but they get together, often in dangerous travelling situations, as often as they can. The two girls meet a group of men, including Ian, who they party and drink with and this is when the friendship starts to go awry.

Ian is working in security for army officers, escorting individuals and companies in war torn areas of the middle east and Africa. He is clearly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, drinking astronomical amounts of vodka and doesn’t seek professional help. Ian and Jo have some history, possibly a relationship, when Maddie isn’t around, and later when Maddie and Ian are married, she still doesn’t know why Ian and Jo hate each other so much.

The past story meets with present time and all secrets are laid out to be shouted about. I thought the description of their lives in the eastern bloc countries was intense and fascinating. The tension and suspense was high throughout and I loved the twisted turnaround ending.

 

The Passengers by John Marrs

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The Passengers

Set in the very near future where driverless cars are the norm, eight cars have hijacked their passengers and are taking them on a course set for collision in two and a half hours time.

Each chapter introduces a new major character (there are no minor characters here) who we learn a little about up to the point of them being locked in their cars. Each character is then written in rotation and find that they are not all they first seemed. As I was reading, I kept thinking that in in a few years time as driverless technology progresses, this could be reality. I found it to be very gripping with authentic characters and plotline.

John Marrs is an excellent weaver of realistic fantastical stories and I can thoroughly recommend all his books – ‘The One’ is a particular favourite of mine.

 

John Marrs

 

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Sleep by C.L. Taylor

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C.L. Taylor never fails to grip you from the very first pages.  

Sleep

The opening chapter is a killer! Then, Anna is driving three work colleagues back to London in atrocious weather, just following the rear lights of the car in front because conditions are so poor. One of them feels ill and wants to open one of the back windows. This knocks Anna’s concentration and before she realises what’s happening, the car spins out of control and rolls. On waking in hospital, Anna comes to realise that two of her passengers are dead and one has serious life changing injuries. As Anna recovers, she has the feeling that she’s being watched and followed. Scared, having just broken up with her boyfriend and needing a new start in life where nobody knows who she is, Anna takes a job as a hotel receptionist on the remote Scottish island of Rum. The holidaymakers are flaky and flawed and as a storm comes in, Anna realises that whoever was following her in London is still following her now.

Sleep started off like her novels usually do – normal, believable characters but in unusually tense situations – but once it got going, Anna is put in an isolated situation with a new group of characters. It reminded me very much of an Agatha Christie style whodunnit with red herrings throughout and only a limited number of people out to get Anna.

C.L. Taylor is brilliant at creating suspense, that nail-biting, seat-of-your-pants thriller that keeps you turning pages. I’d recommend any of her books.

Cally Taylor

 

 

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The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

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This is one amazing book!! I was first attracted to this book because I saw a clip on BBC TV that after actually flying one of these early machines, Rebecca Mascull went away and re-wrote all the flying parts of the book. It looked so very interesting and I just had to read it. The story roughly covers a period of ten years from 1909 when Auntie Betty arrived to the Dobbs family, and is set mainly in the Humberside and Lincolnshire areas.

The Wild Air

Della Dobbs is a quiet child, doesn’t speak if she can get away with it, and has a father who ‘chooses’ to be an invalid and doesn’t care for his girl offspring. When Auntie Betty arrives from America, Della’s interest is piqued by Betty’s talk of America and, in particular, kite flying. In those early days, Della and Auntie Betty make their own kites – simple ones, box kites and introduce more strings. The strange little boy on the beach is fascinated by the two women with kites and Dudley quickly forms a friendship with Betty and Della. For years, Della and Dud correspond while Dud is away at school and Della grows up and moves on to aeroplanes.

Della is an absolute inspiration to young women. She never gave up in learning to fly, no matter how tough the male aviators and mechanics made it for her. As war approaches, the men go off to fight and the women are expected to do the jobs left behind. Della is hugely practical, a mechanic in her own right, and begins to be taken seriously in a man’s world.

There’s so much to this book that it’s difficult to put in words, without giving the whole story away, just how fabulous the characters are and how the weaving of each of their own stories fits into Della’s life.

There’s love, tragedy and death packed into this fabulous story, and is enjoyable whether you have an interest in flying or not. It’s superbly written and very well researched. 

I would certainly, without a doubt, read anything written by Rebecca Mascull.

Rebecca Mascull

 

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The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin

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Review by Alice

The Peculiar Peggs

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods is about a town called Suds where children have been disappearing for a long time. Poppy arrives in this town to live with her grandma, who makes her follow these strange rules and soon she befriends the weird Erasmus. The two children team up and try to solve the mystery of the disappearing children.

The Peculiar Peggs is a book, that shows that imagination with an eerie atmosphere can make an excellent combination. This is definitely not your average ‘two kids team up to solve a mystery’ there are so many more layers to unpeel that just keep getting better and better!

I think this book can be for anyone because although the main characters are two innocent children, it’s so much more dark and creepy than you ever anticipated.

 

Viking Wolf by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

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Viking Wolf

This is the second instalment of the Viking Warrior series, Viking Thunder being the first. Viking Wolf carries on where Viking Thunder left off and opens towards the end of the crossing by boat from England to Erik’s homeland. Elswyth and Faline took the decision to leave their village where both had bad memories and nothing to stay for, and joined the Vikings on their ship home.

Elswyth meets Erik’s brother and feels a shiver of danger, not wanting to be left alone with him. On Erik’s home turf, Elswyth feels that she is looked down on and not to be trusted by his kin folk. She slowly makes friendships when sickness sweeps the village but is mistrusted by some. There is plenty of Viking folklore, lust and eroticism to keep the reader entertained, with the story moving at a good pace and a touch of fantasy giving a very satisfactory ending.

As with each of Emmanuelle’s books, this is very well written and edited and I look forward to the next in this action-packed Viking series.

 

First in the series: Viking Thunder  Viking Thunder 2

Four by Andy Jones

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An intimate story of three friends when a new lady joins to make the foursome. We are first introduced to Sally, a GP, who is married to Alistair. Their marriage is taking a bit of a battering and they are attending marriage counselling in an effort to save their marriage. We then meet Mike who has recently divorced and has a little girl who has emigrated with her mother. He used to be at university with Sally and were a little more intimate than Alistair knows about, and also now works with Alistair. Faye is a young actress and is introduced by Mike to Sally and Alistair after she has just performed a part as a naked schoolgirl on stage. Faye is flirtatious and after an evening of drink, drugs and a dare game called ‘never have I ever’, the couples swap and end up sleeping together.

Four

The main theme of the book is the analysis of what that one reckless night has done to each of them individually and as couples. Then, about half way through the book, there is an unexpected twist which has further connotations.

I found the book to be well written and delved deeply into areas I’d not thought about. It felt realistic and the characters were all believable. There was tension throughout because of the embarrassment felt by each of them in the cold light of day. It was refreshing to read a male author’s viewpoint of some very intimate and emotional situations and I will certainly look out for more by Andy Jones.

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

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Helena is a confident and successful business woman heading her own department in an international make-up company. Then Ashley is interviewed and taken on and everything goes out of kilter.

The Rival

The story is told in a present day and back a year or so style, and although I felt that sometimes the timeline wasn’t quite clear (only realising we’d gone back/forward after a paragraph or two,) it worked well to show how quickly Ashley was taking over and Helena was spiralling down with pregnancy, childbirth and depression.

Both main female characters had their faults, pushy, deceptive, unfaithful etc., and the author making them both unlikeable at times made them feel realistic, more true to life, just a bad combination when they got together.

I thought the book was well written and well plotted, it had a couple of unexpected twists at the end and I enjoyed it very much.

 

Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany

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Best Kept SecretA powerful and impacting story of how Cadence struggles with work and bringing up a toddler after her marriage falls apart, and turns to the bottle to help her cope with life. Only it doesn’t, it devastates her life in the most sobering way possible when her husband finds her passed out from drinking with their son in the room, taking him away and filing for custody of four year old Charlie.

From sinking so low Cadence, with help from her sister and alcoholics’ meetings, lifts herself from the depths of despair to fight to gain the right to see her child.

A raw and emotionally charged story portraying the destructive effects of alcohol.

Amy Hatvany

 

 

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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

 

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I love Karin Slaughter’s writing style and how she’s developed and matured over the years, from her early days of the Grant County series and through the Will Trent series. Pieces of Her is her fourth full length standalone novel. It’s cleverly written over two timelines thirty-two years apart which are not at all confusing, you won’t get them mixed up, although the plotline itself is quite complicated.

Pieces of Her

In the first chapter we meet Laura who is undergoing chemo for breast cancer, and her daughter Andrea, at a restaurant chatting about Laura’s illness and that Andrea should move out of the family home and get a place of her own. Andrea’s life is stale and stagnant and needs something to give her a push to the next chapter in her life. While they are chatting, a gunman opens fire on people around them and Laura is caught in the gunfire. Andrea is like a frightened rabbit and can’t move from behind her mother and is almost shocked into a stuttering silence when Laura speaks with the shooter and one of them ends up dead.

Andrea’s life then takes off in a completely different orbit as she tries piecing her life together, questioning her mother’s past and now facing much danger. The story goes back to events over thirty years ago and we start to understand the events then with what is happening in Laura and Andrea’s life today.

This is a fast paced crime story, sometimes graphic and gory but always gripping. At times it’s heart stoppingly intense and fast paced with chases and danger at every turn.

 

Karin Slaughter

 

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They Don’t Know by Patricia Dixon

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I’ve read all of Patricia Dixon’s books and I’m struck each time by the warmth of her writing. She oozes love and care for the characters she’s created, and in turn they give friendship and reality to the story.

They Don't Know

There is a short prologue which relates to a time near the end of the book. We then start chapter one with Daisy, who lives in France with her parents, leaving the family home to go to university in Manchester, England. She’s an astute girl but is also shy and very nervous about the whole university process and getting accommodation. During the wait in the long queue she meets Adam, who is also a little nervous, but after a few minutes of small talk they hit it off and it’s obvious they will become good friends.

There is also a little back story of Adam and his brother Ryan which fills in their personalities and why each are like they are – quite different but both troubled. Once all three meet up, they become a solid force to be reckoned with, nothing will ever break them.

Adam is a good looking lad, and when Fliss can’t get him to be her boyfriend, talk about him being gay is spread around. Adam is hurt about the false and personal allegations and confides in Daisy his true feelings and unusual sexual orientation.

This is a very moving book; there is love, emotion and deep friendship as well as a dreadful tragedy which rocks them to the core. The character description is exquisite, you can picture what each of them look like. They feel so real and have definite individual identities. This is a love story with a difference, and I adored the references to songs, especially Kirsty MacColl’s They Don’t Know.

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One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

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Amber and Vicky are best of friends until Vicky does something unthinkable and illegal. This is a tense and chilling tale of what started off as Vicky leaving the house for ten minutes while her baby was asleep, but unforeseen circumstances ricochet her life off into a catastrophic direction.

One Little Mistake

 

Amber now has a serious hold over Vicky and she takes full advantage of taking over or ruining everything that is important to Vicky’s life.

There is a back story from eighteen years earlier which fits together perfectly with the final third of the book.

One Little Mistake is well written, precisely plotted and perfectly paced. There’s never a dull moment and the anticipation of what Amber will do next is nail biting. A great debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more by Emma Curtis.

 

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

4 and half 1

 

I’ve read each of B.A. Paris’ books, starting with the amazing Behind Closed Doors, and feel that I know her style and will never be disappointed. Bring Me Back is no exception and from the very beginning I was sucked into the night when Finn and Layla pulled in at a lay-by in France, and when Finn returned to the car Layla was gone. Finn was suspected of her murder but without a body he was allowed to return to England.

Bring Me Back

Twelve years later he is about to marry Ellen, Layla’s sister, when there are sightings of the presumed dead Layla around the town. Finn becomes more freaked out when Russian dolls are left by his house and car which only has meaning between Finn, Ellen and Layla.

B.A. Paris creates a level of suspense which continues throughout the book. Just as you think one part is solved, another unknown pops up. I changed my mind so many times during the book of what happened to Layla and though that felt annoying at the time, it smacks of a good plot.

 

 

Now You See by Max Manning

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Max Manning has created a modern serial killer who likes to upload photos of his victims moments before and after their deaths. He is always one step ahead of the police and taunts them with his messages and following on Twitter.

Now You See

Chief Inspector Dan Fenton is in charge of the investigation but things become personal when his daughter’s nanny is targeted by the killer.

Blake’s ex-girlfriend is the first to be murdered and is a prime suspect for no reason other than being the ex-boyfriend. When Fenton finds himself thrown off the case, he and Blake set out to catch the killer.

This is quite a clever concept, well written, very fast paced and kept me guessing to the end who the killer was.

Anna by Amanda Prowse

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Anna is the first of two books making up a whole love story, Theo being the second. Having only read Anna (for the moment) I would say that this is a complete stand-alone story in itself, there is no ‘cliffhanger’ and you don’t need to read the two together, but reading Theo might make you change your mind about the balance of their relationship.

Anna by Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse has a natural and easy to read style of writing, is a master at crafting relationships and interactions within family life, and I therefore found Anna a delight to devour. This is quite an unusual concept to have two books written about the two protagonists of the one love story. I can only think of one other book I’ve read in which half the book was written in the viewpoint of the female and flip the book over to read the same story from the viewpoint of the male, so depending on which order you read them, you may have differing views of the main story.

Anna’s story is set over three decades so we get snippets of Anna as a child with her mother, during and after tragic circumstances leaving her in a children’s care home, her working life and her time with Theo. Anna is a lovely well balanced and grounded character despite sad circumstances surrounding her upbringing. She is a character you can like and warm to, she feels like your friend. I love the way Amanda Prowse has given her weaknesses as well as strengths, which brings Anna to life in a very real way. She has a great little coping mechanism for when things get too much for her or if feelings of anxiety are becoming overwhelming, The Alphabet Game, in which she goes through the alphabet listing things around her or how she is feeling to give herself thinking and breathing time – not a bad one to use in our everyday life.

There are some interesting characters to meet along the way – Jordan was the best thing that came out of the disaster of living with her aunt and uncle, and angry Shania becomes one of Anna’s best friends.

I was so pleased when Anna and Theo first met, I’d been anticipating the moment from the very beginning, and felt that they gave off good natural vibes for a long term relationship. It’s not a smooth ride though, and I will definitely be reading Theo to understand his life and hang-ups and hopefully see that they do eventually get a happy ending.

Anna & Theo

Amanda Prowse

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The Perfect Girlfriend

4 and half 1

If you like a tense story of a manipulative, bunny-boiling stalker then this is the book for you.

The Perfect Girlfriend

The book opens with a short prologue of Elizabeth as a child on the day her little brother, Will, died while he was in her care. We then very quickly move on to present day when Elizabeth, who now uses her middle name, Juliette, is coming to the end of her air steward training. This isn’t her preferred career choice, no, this is solely to facilitate her obsessive stalking of her ex-boyfriend, Nate, who is a pilot. Their relationship finished several months ago but Juliette just can’t let him go. He doesn’t know it yet, but he soon will.

Juliette changes work rosters to enable her to crew on the same flights as Nate, and when he is away she lets herself in to his apartment knowing how long he will be away for, and snoops, takes photos of private documents and even stays overnight. She is scheming, devious and intelligent with it.

Nate is the brother of Belle, Juliette’s school friend who was more of a mental bully than friend, and Juliette being a little unhinged has kept track of both of them to mete out her revenge.

Juliette is a fabulous character, I loved her neurotic, unbalanced personality and she makes for great reading. This is Karen Hamilton’s debut novel and I think she has done a great job of creating a seriously flawed yet likeable character in Elizabeth/Juliette. Her writing keeps you on your toes all the way through the book – I wondered where some of the crazy situations were going and was never disappointed when Juliette’s intentions were revealed. The pace is fast, is never dull, and has just enough description to let us realise what devastation she has caused. The only slight disappointment was the ending, I wanted more, more of the life all the main characters were leading. I’d got used to Juliette’s scheming ways and I didn’t want it to end.

 

The Secret Mother by Shalini Boland

4 and half 1

I’ve read all of Shalini Boland’s earlier thriller style novels and I must say that she has a great knack of creating suspense and getting your heart racing.

The Secret Mother

Tessa Markham arrives home to find a little boy in her house who insists on calling her his new mummy. Her automatic reaction is to call her estranged husband, Scott, who she is secretly hoping to get back together with. Scott gives her short shrift and implies that she might have ‘taken’ a child and because of her mental state forgotten what she’s done. Tessa has had a terrible few years following the death of one of her twins at birth and then the remaining twin son died at age three. She is in a sad place after her split from Scott and it’s easy to say that she is emotionally unstable.

We feel the emotional heartache of Tessa’s situation with the police seriously thinking she has abducted the child and the pressure is exacerbated by the media camping outside her house and workplace once the story hits the headlines. She does get a glimmer of a lifeline from the most unexpected of people, but at the same time I was screaming ‘don’t do it’ as she pursued this lifeline.

This is one of those books that you don’t want to put down, it really is a page turner and the suspense got my heart racing reading in bed – not a good time. I woke with the story so far in my head and couldn’t wait to get into it the next day. Parts were a bit predictable and I did have a suspicion of the ending, but this didn’t distract from the need to find out for myself how it ended.

Shalini Boland

 

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A Very English Scandal by John Preston

4 and half 1

This is quite a fascinating and almost unbelievable story of Jeremy Thorpe’s rise to leader of the Liberal Party. It is told over a few years at the height of Thorpe’s parliamentary career, through to his self inflicted, reckless demise.

Told in the main from the perspective of Peter Bessell, this is an absolutely riveting story of the dangers of homosexuality by a member of Parliament at a time that it was illegal. Being illegal, any whisper of homosexual behaviour was open to blackmail and, in this case, led to attempted murder.

A Very English Scandal

Jeremy Thorpe obviously had a charm and charisma among his Party members and constituents which back in the 1960s and early 1970s would not be easily visible to viewers on television news programmes or radio reports.  The book starts roughly at the time that Thorpe met his nemesis, Norman Scott (or Joliffe as he was in the beginning.) Norman Scott seemed to be under Thorpe’s spell, yet at the same time he appeared to be a sponger, always going back to the moneyed man when he was broke with the same excuse of the missing National Insurance card – why didn’t he speak with the relevant employment office of the time and request a new card for himself? Once the ‘get rid/murder’ words had been spoken, there was an unease that they were truly meant – they were, but because this was so unbelievable from an MP I wasn’t sure that the intent was the actual killing of someone.

The highlight of the book is Part 4, set later in 1979, in which the court case takes place. We are introduced to George Carman QC representing Thorpe, and Judge Peter Taylor. The summing up is so biased that it is embarrassing, giving further validation of the accusation of an establishment cover up.

I thought it was alarming the ease of which money intended for the Liberal Party disappeared to Thorpe’s private funds, and that corruption was probably rife in those days. It is also disturbing that there were known cover ups which have since come to light from that time of Jeremy Thorpe, Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith who seemed to have been well acquainted, were reported and covered up.

The book is well written in a sensible chronological, almost diary form in parts, which makes for easy flowing reading. If this were fiction, readers would say it was too far fetched to be believed. A really good memoir of politicians without the politics.

 

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

 

4 and half 1

The Art of Hiding is a stand alone novel (not part of any series) and is a beautifully written, very emotional story of loss, family coming together and seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

The Art of Hiding

Nina is watching her son, Connor, play rugby at his very expensive school. She’s a step away from the other parents because she doesn’t quite fit in. She has the stylish clothes and drives the right car but she isn’t one of them. At that moment, she gets a phone call from a hospital doctor informing her that her husband, Finn, has been involved in an accident and to get to the hospital right away.

Devastated Nina’s life starts crumbling around her. The place she calls home, the cars, jewellery – all of it, is a castle in the sky. With little more than the clothes she could pack in a box, she and her two boys flee to her childhood town, right back at square one with small pokey rooms and cast off furniture. But, she has her sister Tiggy living close by.

Nina and Tiggy learn a few home truths about each other and Nina’s sons, Connor and Declan, learn to live without the luxury of modern accessories. Life is hard, really hard, but Nina is strong and has to pull this off because she has two boys relying on her. There is an unwritten cloud of suspicion hanging over Finn’s accident and it’s interesting to see how much mother and son think along the same lines but neither will actually say it out loud.

Amanda Prowse has a lovely way of dropping values and morals into her stories and focuses on the importance of family, love and happiness. She puts life into perspective and her characters get to take a good look at themselves for what they have and what they are. Yes, there’s a lot of sadness and grief in this book but by the end there is a feeling of accomplishment and promise.

Amanda Prowse

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Poppy DayA Mother's StoryThe Food of Love

 

 

 

 

The Idea of YouAnnaTheo

 

 

 

 

 

Things We Never Said by Nick Alexander

four-and-a-half-stars

The book opens with the prologue at the aftermath of Catherine’s funeral.  It is a little bit sad but it is a good opportunity for the reader to be introduced to the main characters – Sean, April and Maggie.  After everyone has left the wake, Sean, now a widower, is visited by his neighbour and friend, Maggie, just to check on him and also leave him a simply wrapped cardboard box.  Sean later opens the box to find that Catherine has left him twenty-nine numbered envelopes, each containing a photograph and a cassette recording of her memories of the time the photograph was taken.  The first instructs him to open the envelopes at weekly intervals.

Things We Never Said

The chapters of the book start with a short description of each photograph of the weekly opened envelopes, and then the verbal contents of the cassette which Catherine recorded during her final weeks in hospital. We go back to the beginning of Catherine and Sean’s relationship when they first met at a fairground and hear from Catherine her first hand impression of meeting Sean. The following chapters give milestone markers of their marriage, the birth of their daughter, April, and various parties and workplace memories – some of which even Sean had forgotten about.

I thought this was a very clever, if not quite unique, way of telling the story of an, at times, troubled marriage through snapshots of memory. Although the premise sounds depressing, it has very uplifting and amusing moments. It is written with emotion and sensitivity and also shows how father and daughter come to terms with the loss of wife and mother in different ways.  I am ashamed to say that this is the first book by Nick Alexander I have read, but it won’t be the last.

 

Nick Alexander

 

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The Half Life of Hannah     The Bottle of Tears     The Other Son

The French House     The Photographer's Wife     Things We Never Said

 

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shrive

four-and-a-half-stars

The Stars Are Fire is a tragic fictional story based on real events in Maine, east coast of America, in 1947. This is a sophisticated story of love, loss, tragedy and striving against all odds to do the best for your family.

The Stars Are Fire

Grace is in a fairly loveless marriage with Gene. They have two children but they weren’t conceived in the raptures of which Grace’s friend, Rosie, talks about, in fact, Grace hardly dares believe that bedroom relations can be pleasurable. Times are very hard in spring 1947, and Grace’s only happiness is spending daytimes chatting with Rosie, sharing the odd half grapefruit which was difficult to come by. There has been nothing but rain for weeks and everything is sodden and muddy until, all at once, it isn’t. The sun shines, the ground dries up and it continues like this until everything is tinder dry. With the drought, the inevitable fires start and when one night Grace and Rosie’s husbands go off to help put out the fires, the two women have to abandon their homes and rush to the waters edge to keep safe. When only one of the husbands returns, there are tough days ahead, both emotionally and financially.

Shreve’s writing style is quite fine, always beautifully written, and I think you have to have read two or three of her books to really appreciate the subtlety and nuances which seem to speak louder than the written word. Her books are not particularly gripping or un-put-downable, but do have a certain intrigue and sophistication, and I found those qualities in this book.

Anita Shreve

 

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The Pilot's WifeStrange Fits of PassionLight on Snow

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Sonata by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

four-and-a-half-stars

Italian Sonata is the second volume in Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s noire trilogy, the first being The Gentlemen’s Club. This one is a full and complete story in itself but to get the most from the characters, particularly Maud and Henry, I would advise you to read The Gentlemen’s Club first.

Italian Sonata 1

Italian Sonata is set in 1899, mostly at a castle on cliffs high above the sea near Sorrento, Italy. Henry fell deeply and unconditionally in love with Maud in The Gentlemen’s Club and this book follows straight on, travelling through Europe for Maud and Henry’s honeymoon. Henry’s sister, Cecile, at the insistence of Maud, accompanies them on their honeymoon. Part way through their European tour, Cecile stops off at the ‘Castello’ for a few days to give Maud and Henry time and privacy on their honeymoon. Little does naïve Cecile know that she is a sexual pawn between debauched Lorenzo and his promiscuous sister. The Castello holds its own dark secrets and before long Cecile is out of her depth.

Emmanuelle’s writing is impeccable. She writes beautifully and poetically of places, people and, of course, erotic sex scenes.  She uses different language depending on the scenes – sweet roses and moist petals for loving scenes, and thrusts, clenches and aggression for brute sex.

This noire series is a work of art.  The eroticism, especially in The Gentlemen’s Club, is second to none and, unlike many other books of the erotic genre, Emmanuelle’s have a great storyline.  There is a good sense of time and place with the countries of Europe being accurately and beautifully described, and the dark, gothic feel of the castle, the clothing and smells, puts you right back to the turn of the Victorian century.

The Gentlemen's Club 1Italian Sonata 1

 

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Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker

four-and-a-half-stars

Without feeling like a text book, this is the best and most detailed story of a narcissist I’ve read.  It goes into great analytical detail of what a narcissist is and what their needs, feelings and insecurities are.

Emma In The NightSisters, Emma and Cassandra Tanner, have been missing for three years. Many presumed they’re dead until Cassandra turns up on her mother’s doorstep.  Cassandra was not the favoured child as her and Emma were growing up and their narcissistic mother, (Mrs Martin to her daughters!) without laying a finger on them did and said some cruel things, things which play on the mind, make you learn to think like they do, act like they do.  Therefore, when Cassandra returns after being missing for three years, she plays her mother like a fiddle – drip, drip, little bits of information, mentally torturing her mother.  Only Cassandra knows the truth of the missing years but Dr Abby Winter has worked most of it out and is one step ahead at the crucial time.

The chapters alternate between Cassandra (Cass), written in first person, and Abby, written in third person, and give points of view of the ‘missing time’ from Cass and the development of the police investigation from Abby. I really liked the personal, up close chapters written in first person and they were complimented by Abby’s third person view.

If you really like to psycho-analyse, this is the book for you.

Wendy Walker

 

 

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All Is Not ForgottenEmma In The Night

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler

four-and-a-half-stars

From the very first words of this excellent debut by Liz Lawler, we feel the chilling horror of Alex’s realisation of what’s happening to her. She slowly wakes to the sounds of beeps and metal instruments but is still in the grips of anaesthesia to be clear what’s being done to her. She’s an emergency room doctor at the hospital and is comforted by the familiar sounds. She’s thinking hard – what can have happened to her, has she been in an accident? As she looks down, she sees that she has a green operating gown on, her thighs are up and calves in stirrups, her arms are velcroed down and her head in blocks with a neck collar, all holding her still.

Don't Wake Up

Then the only person in the room with her, a doctor, tells her there’s nothing wrong with her. Alex is seething at her treatment, then the doctor tells her to shut up or her lips will be stapled together. Terror runs through her veins, this obviously isn’t a real doctor and she’s being held on an operating table in a compromising position at the mercy of this person. From here on, the story becomes a real page turner. It becomes very clear in the first few chapters that Dr Alex Taylor isn’t believed. She claims she was kidnapped and possibly raped, but all examinations of her show nothing has happened to her body. She is so frustrated by her situation – she knows this was real, it really happened to her but no one will accept it as true.


When another young woman turns up at the emergency room in strange circumstances, and then yet another close to dead actually in Alex’s parking space outside her home, things really start hotting up. What is the connection? Have they got similarities with Alex’s unexplainable experience?

Alex’s personal life is pulled apart, her past, her relationships and her mental state. The characters are well drawn and the hospital emergency room and procedures feels very real. I just felt that the story was a little bit too far fetched – all the pieces fell in front of Alex, but it does make a very good fast paced read, perfect for lovers of chilling thrillers and suspense.

 

The Friend Request by Laura Marshall

four-and-a-half-stars

Remember the peer pressure at school? You were a nice person really, but those popular girls you so wanted to impress and be part of, they made you say and do things you didn’t want to do; do things you knew you shouldn’t do. That’s just how Louise feels in trying to be best friends with gorgeous and popular Sophie. Then Maria, the new girl at school who quickly became Louise’s best friend, she disappears after a party, falls off a cliff into the sea. No body was ever washed up or found.

Friend Request

Twenty-six years later, Louise gets a friend request into her Facebook account from Maria Weston, coinciding with a school reunion in a couple of weeks time. From chapter 2 we go back to 1989 when the group of teenagers were at school and what started as mild bullying and peer pressure started. The two timelines neatly explore the girls personalities and the back timeline answers questions and gives explanations of the present timeline.

I found much of the book to be quite gripping. The question on both the characters and the readers mind continues through to almost the end of the book – is Maria Weston alive and has she come back to seek revenge? There are lots of tense moments, never any dull ones, and the telling of the story, the plot, is very well thought out and realistic. I can hardly believe that Friend Request is Laura Marshall’s debut novel, she reads like a seasoned author. I can only expect that future works will be even better.

laura-marshall

 

 

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One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

four-and-a-half-stars

This is a great mystery/crime story aimed at young adults but can be enjoyed by anyone from teens upwards.  I can just remember my teens and I often read Young Adult, I love the fresh originality with a touch of fantasy after some of the more heavy going women’s fiction I read, although this one doesn’t have the fantasy element.  What I did have a little ‘difficulty’ or issue with, was the very American-ness of the writing – lots of ‘dudes’, characters who are ‘pissed’ without a drop of alcohol being consumed, and the young dude’s non-English names (Cooper, Ashton, Addy, TJ.) – if you can get passed that, then the story is quite original and rather gripping.

One Of Us Is Lying

The opening chapters find five teenagers getting detention at a privileged school, Bayview High.  Three are unlikely to step out of line but one, Nate, is often found in detention.  The three unlikelies rightly feel annoyed that they are suffering a detention because they all think that mobile phones (cells), which aren’t allowed in class, were planted on them.  The fifth, well, he ends up dead.  With only those four present in the room this is a really intense twisty turny who-dun-it style story.  For most of the book I honestly couldn’t make up my mind who the culprit was, then it started to dawn on me. I’m not usually very good at guessing endings to books and whether you do or don’t guess correctly is of little relevance.  It’s the journey to the end which is important and this was one very clever telling of quite an original story.

The chapters take turns with the characters and we get to know and love each of them well.  The characters are well developed and each have their complexities.  There’s never a stuttering moment and can honestly say that my interest was kept at a high level all the way through.  Karen McManus has created an amazing debut and I think One of Us Is Lying will be loved and talked about by teenage readers.

Karen McManus

 

 

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The One by John Marrs

Four-and-a-Half-Hearts

 

This book seems to be a re-naming of A Thousand Small Explosions by the same author, so if you’ve read that one, this is not a new book.

This is a fabulous read, I couldn’t put it down. Just imagine that a gene had been discovered which tells who your perfect life partner is, The One who is for you. You may be perfectly compatible with others but to get The One is a match made in heaven, gives off a thousand small explosions.

The One

We start with fairly short chapters introducing six random subscribers to Match Your DNA, an international company matching your DNA with one other somewhere in the world.  We very quickly learn a little about the lives and ‘getting together’ of Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Amy, Ellie and Nick.  Most have taken the test and are with their perfect partner and others are curious to see who their perfect partner is even if they are with someone at the moment. 

Each of the characters’ lives are interesting and different, Christopher, for example, is a serial killer and we follow him through his murders and also his love life, while Ellie, who set up Match Your DNA, is scared of anyone getting too close because they may only want her for her billion pound fortune.

The premise of the story is quite thought provoking in many ways – if you’re happy and in love with one person would you jeopardise that love for a perfect match? Would you cheat on your perfect match in the likelihood they will take you back because your love is so deep? The chapters of each character are fairly short so there isn’t a moment of getting fed up with one or another character, and each are lovely and easy to fall back into. For a book about love and finding happiness there’s also a lot of sorrow and pathos. Some perfect matches are dying or seriously ill, but John Marrs has a wonderful compassionate way of writing so that even the sad parts are engaging and thought provoking.

This is the first book I’ve read of John Marrs and was so impressed that I have just purchased another of his books. He has a good fluid way of writing and I would have thought that this book has a degree of enjoyment for everyone.

John Marrs

 

 

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Baby Love by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

4 and half 1

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. Emmanuelle de Maupassant is known for her writing of erotic fiction and I wasn’t expecting too much ‘steam’ with the book being about the pregnancy of the main character. Well, even with a heavily blossoming tummy you can have a lust or two with hunky Italian lotharios hanging around!

Baby Love

Baby Love is written in the style of a diary and also uses text and phrasing as if you had written your own diary, cutting out all the ‘me’s and ‘I’s which are obvious really.

Delphine’s husband is good looking and good in the sack, he knows it as well as Delphine . . . and so does the lady next door! It’s terrible timing when at Christmas, Delphine finds herself pregnant and husbandless.  I’m sure we’ve all made the wrong choice of bloke somewhere along the line and can feel for the bleak outlook of her life. I loved Delphine as a character, she didn’t deserve the hand she’d been dealt, and I sympathised with her situation.  Delphine has hit rock bottom when her well meaning sisters come to the rescue and cause more hilarity at the spa they’ve booked the three of them into.

Overall, a very good and funny story with moments of pathos. The wry outlook on life and the ironic humour makes this a well worth satirical read.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant

 

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