Review: The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

71Q4ZW2zDpLWhat I Thought:

What a great premise: an old house in a bleak and windswept dale, with the middle taken out because it’s haunted! On the back of the fantastic These Dividing Walls comes another blinder from new author Fran Cooper.

Once again this is a character-driven book rather than plot-driven, and by character, I include the weather, the dales, Yorkshire itself. Londoners Jay and Simon decide to buy an old and rundown house in the middle of nowhere to get away from the rat-race. While at once enamoured with the rugged beauty and solitude of their new home, what they hadn’t banked on was the hostility of the locals, all of whom seem to have secrets of their own.

The small cast of characters all add something to the tale and the narrative is so immersive and emotive that I found it easy to empathise with all of them in some way, even the not-so-savoury characters. Despite living in Yorkshire myself (although not a tiny village in the back end of nowhere like this one) I had never really appreciated how someone who has grown up in a place like this and hasn’t been able to get out could view incomers from down south who chose to live there with suspicion and contempt.

Although there are some apparently spooky goings-on, it’s more of an atmospheric tale than a ghost story. I found the prose so impressive and beautiful at times that I wanted to read slowly to savour each sentence.

Verdict:

The perfect book to curl up with on an autumn/winter evening, by fire and candlelight. The Two Houses has turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommended!

 

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Blog Tour – An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

That title! That cover! As a lover of crime and psychological thrillers, could anything possibly scream “READ ME!” any louder? So when I was invited to take part in the blog tour for this book, I jumped at the chance.

91Qq+Y4xssLWhat I thought:

An exclusive hotel in a picturesque and secluded part of the Catskills in the middle of winter in the snow. A small group of guests, who have never met each other before, arrive for a weekend of luxury, forgoing mobile networks and WiFi in order to relax and recharge their batteries. What could be more perfect they think. Until an ice storm hits and the electricity goes down, that is, and the body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the grand staircase…

I love a good locked-room mystery, and the blurb for this book sounded very Christie-esque which gave huge appeal  (indeed there is even a nod to the author herself, as one guest finds a Christie novel on her bedside table). The remote and cut off location, the group of strangers, many of whom seem to have something to hide, the undercurrent of mistrust and the body count mounting up… what could be more perfect?

If I was to have a slight gripe, it would be that there wasn’t quite enough tension for me. Guests are dropping like flies and there is no way out, yet I never really got a sense of pure fear (which I expect I would have felt had I been there in the hotel). Well written though it was, the middle part of the book didn’t entirely live up to the promise of the first part, I felt. The ending though… now that I enjoyed. I love it when I’m blindsided by a reveal and this one did just that. It actually left me with a big smile of satisfaction on my face.

Verdict:

Gripping, page-turning, moreish. This is a pacy thrilled, despite the desolate setting and small cast. A read-in-one-sitting type of book. Enjoy!

 

Why not head over to the other blogs in this tour and see what they have to say about it too.

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Review: Dear Mrs. Bird by A J Pearce

Image result for dear mrs bird aj pearceWhat I Thought:

It’s 1940 and Emmeline Lake’s dream is to become a Lady War Correspondent. After going for an interview with a newspaper, being offered the job, telling everyone she knows, Emmeline arrives for her first day only to realise that there has been a huge mistake. Instead of pounding the rubble of Blitz-ridden London she has actually been employed to work with their Agony Aunt, the formidable Mrs. Bird,  and will spend her days sifting through letters for her column “Henrietta Helps”. She soon learns, however, that not all (in fact, most) letters don’t ever make it to the paper as they are  (deemed “unpleasant” (any containing intimacy, unhappiness or divorce among other topics are a definite no-no). Emmy, bored and frustrated by all the poor people she can’t help, decides to secretly answer some of the letters, and not realsing the impending chaos that will ensue.

Dear Mrs. Bird is a quirky, fun read. It’s filled with likable (and some not so likable) characters who manage to navigate their way through the war and still find things to be cheerful about. Yes, it’s a light and breezy book but there are some difficult to read parts that I thought the author managed incredibly well and with great tenderness.

Verdict:

A charming book that should appeal to many. A lovely read with a lightness of touch which I thoroughly enjoyed.

NB/ I received a copy of this book from Picador to read in return for my honest review. Dear Mrs. Bird will be available to purchase in the UK on 05/04/18. 

Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Image result for leila slimani lullabyWhat I Thought:

“The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” That is the first line of this book. I was horrified and hooked. We know right from the start that there is no happy ending and we also know who is guilty. What we want to know is why.
Lullaby is shocking because it’s the nanny who has harmed the children. Louise is the perfect nanny: quiet, conscientious, and always going above and beyond what’s required of her role. She makes herself invaluable to a mother who is desperate to get back to work and find the person she once was. In fact, Louise is so perfect that the parents find themselves prepared to overlook certain things that become increasingly odd, all for the sake of peace and keeping her in the role so they can fulfill their own needs outside o the children. Lullaby explores the dynamics within a family unit and also those of gender, race and class.
This is no ordinary domestic noir: the book is short in length, has short chapters and has prose that is precise, clipped and even blunt, but not a word is wasted. However, from what was such a promising start that lured me straight in it gradually went downhill for me, with an ending that was particularly frustrating.

Verdict:

Despite there being lots to like about this book, I became more confused towards the end as to what drove Louise to do what she did. In fact the more we learned about Louise’s past the more confused I became as to why the hell she did what she did. Well written and I liked the style but I got no closure from this book and it left me with a sense of being duped.

Review: The Fear by C.L. Taylor

Image result for the fear c l taylorWhat I Thought:

This is one of those read-in-on-sitting type books: short chapters, alternating viewpoints, past and present narratives. All the ingredients of a gripping page-turner.

Lou Wandsworth had an affair with her Karate teacher, Mike, when she was fourteen, which ended when they were arrested in France. Eighteen years later, Lou has been unable to move on properly with her life; with short-lived relationships having become her staple and a past that even her best friend doesn’t know anything about. But it’s not about to stay like that for much longer. After her Father’s death, Lou has to move back to her childhood home which exposes not only long-buried feelings but also the revelation that Mike may be up to his old tricks with 13-year-old Chloe Meadows.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Lou attempts to bring Mik to justice after all these years, but what neither of them reckons on is there being someone else in the mix who is just as out for revenge.

Verdict:

A gripping, fast-paced read that will have you questioning what is really going on and a race to the end to see if just desserts are served after all.

 

NB/ I received a copy of this book from Avon Books in return for an honest review. The book is launched in the UK on 22/03/18.

 

Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Image result for sapiensWhat I Thought:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a book with over 500 pages about humankind over the last several million years may be dry and inaccessible. Not so with this book. It is a feast for the brain! Harari has made a very complicated subject easy to understand because of his way of writing, which is engaging and clear.

Sapiens really challenges you and makes you think. For example, Harari provides some intriguing arguments about how we were all duped by the Agricultural Revolution which turned us into farmers when we evolved essentially to be hunter-foragers. We tend to assume that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward – when actually, according to this book, it was more akin to a great disaster.

Likewise, he analyses the Cognitive Revolution which allowed mankind to develop a consciousness about life and to believe in “phenomena” such as religion and culture. The role of empires and capitalism are thoroughly discussed, and Harari gives some interesting ideas on why it was that a then-comparatively backward Europe came to dominate the globe. This I found fascinating, as we learn that while Europeans were out exploring and conquering, China and India and other great nations sat complacently back, only to find themselves at the bottom of the new pecking order.

Sapiens themselves won out over other varieties of early human (Neanderthals, Denisovans etc)  and evolved into a supreme species by first wreaking havoc on other large species as they spread across the globe and then outthinking others, engaging in shared fictions (religions, limited liability companies etc). This may make us feel powerful or triumphant but, believe me, it makes you ashamed too.

I could not put this book down. It was a refreshing respite from the majority fiction that I usually read and gave my brain a damn good work out too. Trust me when I say you will view yourself and those around you very differently once you’ve finished.

Verdict:

A fascinating, gripping, sometimes jaw-dropping read. It’s accessible without being patronising. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Review: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

Image result for ella blackWhat I Thought:

Seventeen-year-old Ella Black has a stable and relatively happy life. Most of the time. When she’s not painting or hanging with her friends, she is trying to hide the ‘bad’ side of her personality, Bella, as Bella makes her do and say things that Ella never would. All good until one day, out of the blue, her parents pull her suddenly out of school and whisk her away to Rio de Janeiro with some flimsy excuse that Ella doesn’t believe for a minute. Determined to find out what’s really going on, Ella searches through their things and discovers that her entire life has been a lie. Hurt and confused, Ella runs away, but it appears she can’t outrun the truth.

My issues with this book are many but mainly centred around Ella herself: the fact that she behaved younger than her apparent years, was bratty and spoiled and fell head-over-heels in love with someone she had never even spoken to are just some of those. The bit I had been keen to read more about was her alter-ego Bella, but even she disappeared once they arrived in Rio. Rio? The fact that Ella’s parents whisk her off there was never really explained either, it was just all very odd. As was the fact that she managed to land on her feet and get out of scrapes with remarkable speed and ease.

I read to the end was to find out what happened but unfortunately, it was a big let-down. The cover is misleading for a start, and I still couldn’t understand Ella’s actions enough to get any kind of closure. I’m left feeling a bit cheated.

Verdict:

I am a fan of Emily Barr’s books but I really can’t recommend this one I’m afraid. I know I’m not the target audience but I still know a good book when I read one and I hate to say it but this ain’t one of ’em.

 

NB/ With thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.