Book Review: Hepburn’s Necklace by Jan Moran #BookReview

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A vintage necklace. A long-hidden secret. A second chance for love.

When costume designer Ariana Ricci leaves her groom at the altar, she seeks solace at the Palm Springs home of her great-aunt, a Texas-born Hollywood legend who began her career as an extra on the film Roman Holiday. While opening yellowed, 1950s letters postmarked Italy, Ariana discovers relics from her great-aunt’s hidden past, including an intriguing necklace that Audrey Hepburn gave her during the filming of the movie.

Aching for a fresh start and the chance to resolve an unfinished story, the two embark on a journey to the sun-dappled shores of Lake Como, Italy that will illuminate secrets of a bygone era and offer second chances to each of them—if they are bold enough to seize them.

I was gifted an audiobook of Hepburn’s Necklace by the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my sincere thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I have to say, when I started listening to this book on audio, I found it quite slow going. My usual choice of audiobook  would be a thriller, as I find these quite pacy to listen to rather than read. Since I was actually enjoying the story, despite the pace being off for me on audio, I switched to the ebook version which I purchased for myself, and raced through it to the end in a couple of days.

This is a love story, told in a dual timeline and set in Italy, on the set of the film Roman Holiday and on the shores of Lake Como. For starters, I am an absolute sucker for a film set in Italy, so I was predisposed to love this book from the beginning. The author does an absolutely fantastic job of evoking all the sights, sounds, scents and flavours of Italy throughout this book. You will feel like you have had a holiday to the beautiful, fresh shores of Lake Como by the time you’ve finished, although you will be left with an unfulfillable wish to own your own historic villa on its wave-lapped shores, I warn you. If only Amal hadn’t already bagged George Clooney!

I thought the premise of setting a story around the shooting of such an iconic film was inspired, and I loved my glimpse into that world. Ruby, as the young ingenue on her first movie, away from home and falling in love for the first time, is the stuff that all great romances are made of and she is such a likeable and believable character. Jan’s exploration of the expectations placed on young girls in that period, and the pressures put on them from all sides, especially in Hollywood, makes for a really emotional and fascinating backdrop to the love story.

In the modern day, I enjoyed the visit to Italy, as I said. I found Ariana’s story, and her character, a little less inspiring than Ruby’s and, if I had a minor complaint, it would be that the book felt a tint bit unbalanced in that regard. Ruby was such a strong character though, it would be hard for anyone to emerge from her shadow. Also, the coincidences in the relationships between everyone by the end stretched credibility a step too far for me, you may feel differently.

Despite these minor niggles, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. The flavour of old Hollywood, the beauty of Italy, the strong and emotional storyline for Ruby and the complexities of family relationships, all come together to form an exciting and rewarding read. For me, it just worked better on the page than in the ear. Would make a great sun lounger read this summer, even if it is only in your back garden!

Hepburn’s Necklace is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jan Moran is a USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction. She writes stylish, uplifting, and emotionally rich contemporary and 20th-century historical women’s fiction. The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful.

Her books are also translated into German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, and other languages. Jan studied writing at the UCLA Writers Program, sailed on Semester at Sea, and graduated from the University of Texas and Harvard Business School. She lives near the beach in southern California.

Connect with Jan:

Website: https://www.janmoran.com/

Facebook: Jan Moran

Twitter: @janmoran

Instagram: @janmoranbooks

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Pearl by John Steinbeck; Narrated by Hector Elizondo #Audiobook

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‘In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind.’

The Pearlis Steinbeck’s heartbreaking short parable about wealth and the darkness and evil it can instill in even the most generous of men’s hearts.

Category 13 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge is ‘Read a book with less than 100 pages.’ John Steinbeck’s classic, coming in at a mere 96 pages, falls cleanly within this remit. (Yes, I am now doing the categories completely out of order and have yet to review books to fit categories 7, 11 and 12. They are coming, I promise.)

I haven’t read any Steinbeck novels since school, and I am wondering why because The Pearl is so stunning, in both the writing and the story itself, that I now feel like I need to go and pick up more of his work.

This is the story of Kino, his wife Juana and their baby Coyotito who live a hand-to-mouth on the shores of the Gulf until Kino, a fisherman, finds a huge and exquisite pearl that he believes will elevate his family from the cycle of poverty which traps them. He longs for opportunity and education for their son, so that he will not be prey to being kept down by their fear and lack of knowledge. However, greed and envy, the determination of those above to keep them down and the fear of the unknown of those around them, conspire to rob Kino of his dreams.

The writing is beautiful from the very first page. It is not flowery, but powerful, with the descriptions of the simple life of the fisher folk bringing their world to stark life. Their fear and panic when misfortune befalls their child, their rage when they know they are being manipulated and robbed by lack any ability to prevent it, the unfairness of their situation burns brightly on the page through Steinbeck’s prose, and leaps from their into the soul of the reader. I felt their pain very keenly and deeply, and was left with lasting pain on their behalf long after the book was finished.

Despite this being a very short book, Steinbeck manages to explore in detail the themes of evil in the hearts of man. How one person’s good fortune inspires darkness in the hearts and minds of others, and how difficult it is for people to break out from under the yoke of poverty when to do so does not serve the people who benefit from exploiting them. If this book does not make you angry, I would be very surprised.

This book is a shining example of how to write. Not a word is wasted, and the picture is painted in the reader’s mind’s eye with clarity and intensity. It is both inspiring and daunting to read as a writer, demonstrating what lofty heights are possible and making one despair of ever getting anywhere close to them.

The Pearl is out now in all formats and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” He has been called “a giant of American letters.”

During his writing career, he authored 33 books, with one book coauthored alongside Edward Ricketts, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas The Red Pony (1933) and Of Mice and Men (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece and part of the American literary canon. In the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.

Most of Steinbeck’s work is set in central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyman protagonists.

The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede; Narrated by Ray Porter #Audiobook

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When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

Category 10 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book with a vehicle on the cover,’ so I chose this non-fiction book from my TBR pile, bearing the image of a plane. I have been meaning to read The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede for a long while, and this provided the perfect opportunity, although I actually ended up listening to this as an audiobook.

No one who was alive and of sufficient maturity to understand what was happening on 9/11 will ever forget where they were when the planes struck the World Trade Centre. A day on which the evil that man was capable of wreaking on their fellow man was terribly evidenced to the eyes of the world. Well, this book displays the other side of that coin and demonstrates the love, generosity and selflessness that humans can lavish on one another at times of great need. Whilst the world reeled in the face of absolute, unbelievable horror, the airline passengers who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland on that terrible day saw the antithesis of this is the welcoming people of this tiny place.

I had never really thought about what happened to all the hundreds of planes that were in the air, bound for the USA, when the terrorist attacks caused the closing of US airspace until I came across this book but the story of what happened to those planes, or a small proportion of them anyway, is unbelievable and fascinating as laid out in the pages of this book. How the hundreds of stranded flights were handled by the air traffic controllers, then at the over-whelmed airports, then by the places they ended up, is all laid out here as shining examples of what can be achieved by good-hearted people rallying to the cause and performing amazingly under pressure. Everyone was united in the horror at what had been done in New York and determined to support people affected by showing them that goodness still existed in a world gone mad.

I have to tell you that I spent nearly the whole of this book on the verge of tears (not great when you are listening as you drive!), because all the stories are so moving. I have visited the WTC site and 9/11 museum since that awful day and seen the aftermath of the horror. It is something that will never leave me – and rightly so because it is only by remembering these things and understanding (as far as it is possible to understand such evil and madness) why they happened that we can take steps to ensure we personally act in a way that tries to ensure they don’t happen again. So, to read stories of the opposite side of the coin, that reassure you that good still exists in the world, that most people are basically decent and loving – well, it restores your faith in humanity. Given some of what is going on now and the rhetoric we see, we need reminding of this from time to time.

I really loved this book, it moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting and that doesn’t come often in non-fiction and I will definitely come back to it again when my soul needs a lift. It is strange to say that any book dealing with the events surrounding 9/11 can be uplifting, but it is definitely true of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you are feeling jaded and need reminding that good people exist in the world.

The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland is available in paperback and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in TalkThe New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.

Connect with Jim:

Facebook: Jim DeFede

Twitter: @DeFede

Instagram: @jim_defede

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Nesting by C. J. Cooke #BookReview

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A house stands alone in the woods.

Deep in the forests of Norway, Lexi finds a fresh start with Tom and his two young daughters, working as their new nanny.

The darkness creeps closer.

But Lexi is telling lies, and she’s not the only one. This family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build this house, and in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

Lexi must protect the children in her care – but protect them from what?

Challenge number 9 was ‘Read a book that is on the TBR of a Fiction Cafe Member.’ As The Nesting by C. J. Cooke was on the TBR of Charlene Mattson, and also on my NetGalley shelf, it seemed like the obvious choice. Two birds, one stone and all that. I actually listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aysha Kala, which is a great option if you are considering it. The narration was excellent.

This book is a really interesting mix of gothic fairytale, environmental parable and exploration of depression. It is dreamy and ethereal and dark and scary, and surreal all at the same time. The threads are so tightly and cleverly woven together by the author that, even by the end, you won’t be quite sure what is real and what has been a dream.

The book is told through the voices of a number of people. Troubled Lexi, running from her demons and her problems, finds herself hiding out in Norway, pretending to be someone she isn’t in an effort to find a life better than the one she has been living. Tom, battling the forces of nature in a remote Norwegian forest to balance building his beloved wife’s dream holiday home with protecting this unspoilt wilderness. And Aurelia, feeling isolated in the aftermath of her second daughter’s birth and haunted by the ghosts of the Norwegian forest. Each of them experiences supernatural events in the dark, Norwegian forest and the remote fjord, but which are real, and which are products of troubled minds.

The dive into Norwegian folklore and stories was the part that most drew me to this book, because anything along those lines fascinates me. I loved the way that the author wove them in to the narrative of the novel, and used them to make commentary on the impact of human beings on the planet and its non-human inhabitants without being preachy. It was also a clever way to explore why we are drawn to stories of darkness to explain things that we are afraid to confront inside ourselves.

Aside from these themes, this is just a cracking good story that is a compelling read. What is actually happening out there in the Norwegian forest? What is Aurelia really experiencing, and what is just a result of the problems that can afflict women after child birth that can go unnoticed and unrecognised by those around her? Is Lexi’s past going to come back to haunt her? Is Tom everything he seems to be? I was eager every time to get back to listening to the book, and it made some mundane chores seem a lot less arduous, I was so engrossed.

The Nesting is a great book for anyone who loves the gothic and the mythic, but also for anyone interested in the human brain and the things it can do for us when we are thrown off balance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will definitely be recommending it to a few friends.

The Nesting is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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C J Cooke (Carolyn Jess-Cooke) lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. C J Cooke’s works have been published in 23 languages and have won many awards. She holds a PhD in Literature from the Queen’s University of Belfast and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. Two of her books are currently optioned for film.

Connect with Carolyn:

Website: https://carolynjesscooke.com/

Facebook: C J Cooke Books

Twitter: @CJessCooke

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett #BookReview

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The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

I am so behind with the reading and reviews for this challenge but I am determined to catch up! So today I am reviewing the book I chose for the eighth category in the challenge, ‘Read a book by a BAME author’ and the book I have chosen is one of the top books from 2020, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

(For those with very eagle eyes, I have missed out category seven, I know. I had to stop reading the book I chose for that category part way through because of the demands of blog tour books and haven’t had chance to go back to it yet. It’s coming soon, I promise!)

This book is an eye-opening exploration of what it meant to grow up in the segregated south of the US in the 1950s and the practice of ‘passing,’ where light-skinned people of colour would pass themselves off as white to avoid the stigma and hardship inflicted on their community. The lengths that people would go to, the sacrifices they were prepared to make, and the consequences of these decisions that echo down the generations are all addressed in this novel with tenderness, understanding and compassion in a book that is beautiful and illuminating but deeply melancholy to read.

Desiree and Stella Vignes are identical twins growing up in the small Southern town of Mallard, where being a light-skinned person of colour is revered and those with darker-skin are shunned. Both sisters leave the town for New Orleans, but then their paths diverge. Desiree later returns to Mallard with her daughter, who has very dark skin, whilst Stella lives as a white woman, having to hide her real self from everyone around her, including her own daughter. However, order is disrupted and secrets come to light when the cousins unexpectedly meet.

This book examines in detail the idea of transformation. Aside from Stella, there are other characters in the book who start off as one thing and, through determination and force of will, morph and mould themselves into something different, all for different reasons. The author looks at how these metamorphoses are viewed by the people around them, and how being true to yourself, your identity, ambitions and desires, can alienate you from the people you love. Are these sacrifices worth it? Which course has made the person happiest in the end? What does it mean to really be true to oneself? How does it feel to hate the body you were born in? To be persecuted for merely being who you are?

The author’s writing is absolutely stunning, and I thought she explored every facet of the story and the themes with real care and deep thought, which provoked the same reaction in me, as the reader. The book is s slow, gentle but demanding read, not one which is full of action and startling event. It is entirely character-focused, which I loved but I know does not appeal to everyone. The themes addressed are complex, sometime controversial and make for an uneasy emotional reaction. It was a book that left me examining my thoughts and feelings on the issues for a long while afterwards, and I know it is a book that will linger in the back of my mind for a long while, and one I will probably return to soon. I listened to it as an audiobook – the narrator did a great job – and I fully intend to return to it again in physical format to see if there is more I can get from it.

I understand fully why this book has been the hit it has and why it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction. A memorable and accomplished novel that really rewards and provoked the reader.

The Vanishing Half is out now in all formats and you can find your copy here or at all good book shops.

About the Author

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Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller, and her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and in 2021, she was chosen as one of Time’s Next 100 Influential People. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

Connect with Brit:

Website: https://britbennett.com/

Facebook: Brit Bennett Writes

Twitter: @britrbennett

Instagram: @britrbennett

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; Narrated by Lesley Manville #BookReview

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In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ finds themselves in the middle of their first live case.

The four friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, might be pushing 80, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

It’s book three of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period. The third category is ‘A book by someone who is famous for something else.’

I have chosen The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, who is obviously better known for being the co-host of Pointless as well as presenting other TV shows. This was one of the biggest books of 2020 and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it!

I am often a little wary of picking up a book that has had as much positive hype as this had, for fear of being disappointed, but I have to say that I was charmed and delighted by this book, which gave me everything I was expecting and so much more. It is a fun, cosy crime novel, as you would expect from the blurb, infused with the humour of four OAPs investigating a crime in their retirement village, but it is also an affectionate and authentic look at what it means to get older and the challenges and obstacles that brings.

Four friends in a retirement village set up an amateur sleuthing group to mull over cold cases, details of which have, rather naughtily, been squirrelled away by a retired female Detective Inspector, who is now in a coma after a stroke. The remaining members recruit a replacement, just in time to investigate a real crime that lands on their doorstep, when a local property developer turns up dead. They employ all kinds of tricks and wiles to infiltrate the official police investigation (highly improbably, but this isn’t meant to be realistic in this regard, it is all very tongue in cheek) and exhibit some real ingenuity in cracking the case. The joy and gusto with which they embrace the investigation are entertaining to read about. Richard has created four different, realistic and absolutely delightful characters to take us through the story. They are very unlikely friends, but gel brilliantly together and I adored each of them. Man-mad Joyce, fiery ‘Red Ron,’ the ex-Union agitator, cerebral and methodical Ibrahim and Elizabeth, queen bee with a mysterious past in … well, we never quite know what it is she did, but their are hints from which we can draw our own conclusions. Age has dulled none of their faculties and, add to this their age-earned no-longer-give-a-toss attitudes and they are a force that no one can withstand, certainly not the unfortunate police officers who are given their ‘help’ in the investigation.

However, aside from the fun and games of the investigation, the book gently explores what it means to get older and the challenges that brings. Loss of partners and friends, memory loss, neglect by children, the feeling of being a burden, loneliness, being misunderstood and treated like you have suddenly become ‘less’ than you were before, are all explored here with kindness and care. Richard does not belittle or mock his characters for their ageing bodies or minds, he acknowledges that, whatever age you are, we are all the same inside and deserve the same care and respect, and that these people still have a great deal to offer society and the people they come into contact with. He offers them dignity, agency and excitement and we enjoy going along with them for the ride. He has really captured their voices, and the things that they care about (an obsession with cake being one!) and I just really loved his portrayal of them all.

This book is warm, fun, humorous, kind, enchanting, intelligent and entertaining. It was exactly the tonic I needed at the time I read it (during the grim, cold, dark January lockdown days) and left me with a warm glow at the end. I cannot wait for the second book to come out this autumn. Lesley Manville is the perfect narrator for the audiobook, she really brought the characters to life, and the audio version also includes a 45-minute interview of Richard Osman by Marian Keyes at the end, which was a bonus delight. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a bit of a lift.

The Thursday Murder Club is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Richard Osman is a British television producer and presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first and, so far, best novel.

Connect with Richard:

Twitter: @richardosman

Instagram: misterosman

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins; Narrated by Emily Shaffer, Kirby Heyborne & Lauren Fortgang #BookReview

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A girl looking for love….

When Jane, a broke dog-walker newly arrived in town, meets Eddie Rochester, she can’t believe her luck. Eddie is handsome, rich and lives alone in a beautiful mansion since the tragic death of his beloved wife a year ago.

A man who seems perfect….

Eddie can give Jane everything she’s always wanted: stability, acceptance and a picture-perfect life.

A wife who just won’t stay buried….

But what Jane doesn’t know is that Eddie is keeping a secret – a big secret. And when the truth comes out, the consequences are far more deadly than anyone could ever have imagined…. 

Time to review the second book I have chosen this year as part of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period. The second category is ‘A book with a type of relative in the title.’

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins is a book that is getting a lot of positive attention at the moment. It is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, but with enough twists to keep you guessing, even if you are a fan of the original book.

The book takes place in an affluent neighbourhood in Alabama, where appearances are everything, but nothing is what it seems to be on the surface. Tensions lurk beneath the polished facades that the residents present to the world, and cracks begin to appear once Jane arrives on the scene and upsets the order of society by taking root where she doesn’t belong. Her relationship with Eddie stirs up secrets that were previously buried and reveals facts about the disappearance of his wife that were hidden.

The book is narrated by three characters, Jane, Eddie Rochester and the missing wife, Bea, so we are getting each of their perspectives on the story, but it is impossible to know whose version of events to believe. I have to say, there were no characters in this book that I particularly liked, which would ordinarily make it hard for an author to carry me through a book with them. I normally need to have some sympathy for at least one of the characters for me to invest in a novel to the end, but I didn’t feel any here. This Jane is very different from the Jane in Charlotte Bronte’s novel and I did not warm to her at all. It is testament to how well the author has constructed the mystery through the book, because it was that and not the characters that kept me listening.

I really enjoyed the setting of the book, the descriptions of the exclusive enclave and the pretensions of the people who lived within it. The show they put on, compared to the reality of what is happening beneath, was entertaining, bitchy and authentic and had me gripped. I loved the ambiguity of the story, the way the author teases us with the different voices so we don’t honestly know who is telling the truth and who has spun their own version of it. There are also questions left hanging at the end for the reader to interpret as they will in the light of what has gone before and I think this added an extra dimension to the story.

The narrators were great, they really brought the story to life, and the book made my chores pass quickly. I am perhaps not as in love with this book as some other reviewers I have seen, but it will not disappoint fans of this type of domestic thriller, and it was an interesting, modern interpretation of a beloved book. A solid read.

The Wife Upstairs is out now in ebook, hardback and audio formats, and will be published in paperback in April and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Rachel Hawkins is the New York Times bestselling author of multiple books for young readers, and her work has been translated in over a dozen countries. She studied gender and sexuality in Victorian literature at Auburn University and currently lives in Alabama with her husband and son. The Wife Upstairs is her first adult novel

Connect with Rachel:

Twitter: @LadyHawkins

Instagram: @ladyhawkins

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Book Review: An Eligible Bachelor by Veronica Henry; Narrated by Jilly Bond

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Upstairs, downstairs… it’s all going on at the manor.

When Guy wakes up with a terrible hang-over and a new fiancée, he tries not to panic. After all, Richenda is beautiful, famous, successful… What reason could he have for doubts?

As news of the engagement between the heir of Eversleigh Manor and the darling of prime-time television spreads through the village, Guy wonders if he’s made a rash decision. Especially when he meets Honor, a new employee of the Manor who has a habit of getting under his skin…

But Honor has her own troubles – a son who’s missing a father, and an ex-boyfriend who has made an unexpected reappearance…

Being a massive fan of Veronica’s books, I thought I had read them all but – joy! – I discovered one I had overlooked and, feeling a bit down in the early, grey days of January, with post-Christmas blues and another lockdown taking force, I knew listening to it would be the perfect pick me up as I did my new year clean up.  (Is that the longest sentence I’ve ever written? Possibly.)

This book takes us back to the Cotswold countryside, location of Veronica’s earliest books, to the village of Eversleigh, where the young, handsome heir to the local manor house wakes up with a hangover and a fiancee he doesn’t really remember proposing too. Meanwhile, Honor is juggling life as a single mum down the road, pulled between spending time with her young son and trying to put food on the table. Their lives could not be more different, so we know that the author is going to find some way of bringing them together, and I settled back to enjoy seeing how Veronica was going to do it.

If you are thinking that this sounds a little ‘Jilly Cooper’ you’d be correct, and in absolutely the best way possible. This book would be absolutely perfect for anyone who loves Jilly’s books (as I do) but hasn’t got the time to listen to one of the massive Rutshire novels on audio (I listened to Riders and Rivals during the first lockdown on audio and they are 28 hours 17 minutes and 27 hours 41 minutes long respectively! Great value for an Audible credit if you have any going spare). This has the same light-hearted, romantic vibe, whilst still tackling some issues that will resonate with listeners; single parenthood, unhappy childhoods, being torn between personal desire and family duty. Plus, chuck in some fabulous descriptions of beautiful Gloucestershire countryside and you are on to a winner as far as I am concerned.

The thing I particularly loved about this book was that Veronica gives us a love triangle that is a real dilemma because there is a lot to admire about both the women involved. I love reading books featuring strong women who know their own minds and don’t need a man to solve their problems, these are the type of characters I relate to, not wilting flowers with no self-determination. There was no obvious right or wrong answer for Guy in his romantic conundrum and I had huge amounts of sympathy and affection for both Honor and Richenda. For most of the book I could not decide who I wanted him to end up with and I was going to be sad for whichever one of them was left in the cold. Within the main characters, they were all likeable and worthy of happiness, there was no obvious villain (although this is not true of the minor characters. We always need some baddies to direct our ire at, don’t we?) This is not always the case in romance novels, very often it is too easy to guess what the ending to be, and I found this book very refreshing and appealing in this approach.

This book is the perfect piece of escapism, full of warmth and humour and plenty of tension to keep the reader enthralled. The narration was excellent and complemented the book perfectly, really bringing the story to life, and the whole experience of listening to this book was a delight. I don’t often listen to romance novels on audio, I prefer thrillers in that format because the narrative is usually more pacy which works better for audio, which takes much longer to listen to than it would take me to read the book in text format. However, there are some romance authors that buck this trend, and Veronica is one of them. This book made my mucking out chores a lot more pleasurable than they normally are in a cold, wet January and I can highly recommend it to anyone looking to lift their spirits in these trying times.

An Eligible Bachelor is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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I’m Veronica – otherwise known as Ronnie – and I’m delighted you’ve found your way here!

People often ask me what kind of books I write and it’s a very difficult question to answer in one sentence. Primarily, I love to take my readers somewhere they might like to be, whether a gorgeous house in the countryside or on a seaside clifftop. There, my characters go through the trials and tribulation of everyday life, embroiled in situations and dilemmas we can all relate to. Love is at the heart of it, but all kinds of love, not just romantic: the love of friends and family, or a place, or a passion for what you enjoy (food, wine and books, in my case . . .)

I have a background in writing television drama (Heartbeat, Holby City) so that has been an influence – creating lots of characters whose lives impact on each other. Working on The Archers I was taught ‘Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; but above all, make ’em wait’!

I hope my books are beautifully written, uplifting and a little bit escapist. I’d love to know what you think, so do leave a review.

A little bit about me: I live by the sea and head to the beach every day with my dog Zelda. I love cooking and discovering new restaurants on city breaks, with a bit of yoga to offset the calories – and I’ve just bought an e-bike. My biggest writing influences are HE Bates, Nancy Mitford, Jilly Cooper and any book that has a big rambling house and an eccentric family . . .

Connect with Veronica:

Website: www.veronicahenry.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/veronicahenryauthor/

Twitter: @veronica_henry

Instagram: @veronicahenryauthor

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager; Narrated by Cady McClain & Jon Lindstrom #BookReview

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What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.

Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.

But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings. 

As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again….

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book that was a Goodreads top read of 2020.’ I have again vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones. So I chose this book, as I had it already as an audiobook.

I love to listen to Riley Sager novels as audiobooks. There is always so much action and tension in his books that they keep the narration rolling along, despite the fact that the narrators always read a lot slower than I could read them myself if I sat down with the paperback. This one was no exception, and it made me eager to get on with my chores so that I could listen to the next segment. The only drawback was that I could not use this audiobook to send me off to sleep at night as I sometimes do, it was too scary! I was afraid I would have nightmares, or frighten myself to death if I woke up in the night and caught sight of my reflection in the bedroom mirror.

The book is told in the voices of two narrators. The first is Maggie who, in the present day, returns to the ‘haunted house’ that her family fled from when she was five years old. Her family grew rich on the back of a book detailing their experiences in the ‘House of Horrors,’ but the experience has marred Maggie’s life since and, on the death of her father, Maggie returns to the house to find out what really happened back then. The second narrator is the voice of Maggie’s father, Ewan, telling the story of their time in the house as detailed in the book. But it is fact or fiction? Honestly, the reader/listener can’t really know until right at the end of the book, both stories (the one in the book, and the book itself) are very convincing. The audiobook is voiced by two different narrators for Maggie and Ewan who are both excellent and it works really, really well as a listen.

There are lots of twists and turns in the book that keep the reader gripped and guessing, right to the end. Parts of it a really unsettling, I quite often felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and, as I said, I was afraid to listen to it just before sleep. All great signs of this type of ghost story/thriller and things I have come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. If you have enjoyed his books before, you will like this one.

Yes, it’s preposterous. Yes, the ending is absolutely ludicrous. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief so far that it will feel like it is hovering over the Grand Canyon. But these are the things that make this kind of book so much fun and why this book was so popular that it ended up in the Goodreads Top Reads of 2020. It gave me everything I expected in spades and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t wait for his next book.

Home Before Dark is out now as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer. Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller that’s been translated into more than 25 languages. His subsequent novels, THE LAST TIME I LIED, LOCK EVERY DOOR and HOME BEFORE DARK, were instant New York Times bestsellers. His newest thriller, SURVIVE THE NIGHT, will be released in June.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

Connect with Riley:

Website: https://www.rileysagerbooks.com/

Facebook: Riley Sager Books

Twitter: @riley_sager

Instagram: @riley.sager

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Blog Tour: The House Mate by Nina Manning; Narrated by Helen Keeley

The House Mate Audio

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the audiobook of The House Mate by Nina Manning. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting to take part and to Boldwood Books for providing me with an audio copy of the book via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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The perfect life? …Or the perfect lie?

When Regi moves into her new house share, she’s ready for a clean slate. A new home. A new routine. A new identity…

Desperate to escape the shadow of her past that follows her everywhere she goes, Regi finds the ideal distraction in the perfect lives of others on social media.

But as innocent scrolling turns into an unhealthy obsession, Regi will soon learn that seeking perfection comes at a price…

I love to listen to thrillers in audiobook format because they always full of action and tension and they hold your interest, making whatever mundane job you are doing while listening to it just fly by. For this reason I was really looking forward to listening to The House Mate, and I did really enjoy it, with a couple of caveats.

The book is narrated by Regi, a mature student who moves into a house share with three other, much younger girls, whilst starting a foundation course at university. She is running from something in her past that is initially unnamed, but is gradually revealed throughout the course of the book. She suffers from OCD, and becomes obsessed with a ‘clean-stagrammer’ on Instagram – an obsession that gradually leans her in to trouble.

It is hard to know from early on in the book whether we can trust Regi and her narration of events. She is obviously very damaged, and she makes decisions no mentally healthy person would contemplate, so we are suspicious from the start which ramps up the tension. There are lots of hints and innuendos about violence in her past, and the narration cleverly leads us down a certain path, only to flip our perspective completely at the end. I was really surprised by the ending, which is quite a hard thing to achieve these day, given how much the domestic psychological thriller genre has been mined. The author touches on some really interesting themes and issues in the book that I don’t believe I have read about in this type of fiction book before, so that was all in its favour.

The book did have a couple of issues. I found the pacing uneven, which is a difficult thing to overcome on an audiobook rather than text which you can read faster. There was a certain amount of repetition of events which didn’t necessarily advance the plot in a couple of areas. And bits of it felt a bit far-fetched, some people might struggle to stretch their imaginations to accept that these things could happen. If you are happy to suspend your disbelief as far as necessary to enjoy an entertaining puzzle, you’ll probably enjoy this very much. If you find your pragmatism kicks in when reading to question the credibility of a plot, you might have to work a bit harder.

The author’s writing style is approachable and flows well, and the narrator was excellent. She really brought the characters to life, and her emphasis and inflection kept the story moving along evenly. I would definitely listen to other books narrated by Helen. This was a book that I needed to listen to to the end, because I wanted to know what happened, I also really liked the way that the author didn’t necessarily give us the neatly-tied-up-in-a-perfect-bow ending that might have tempted her, it made it feel more authentic in the final chapters. However, the wrap up did dump a lot of information in the last couple of chapters in a way that just enhanced how slow-burning the plot had been to this point.

A good, solid domestic thriller exploring some novel, current and fascinating topics. If this genre is your bag and you are looking for something a bit different, give it a try.

The House Mate is out now and you can get the audiobook here.

Please do make sure you check out the other reviews from the bloggers taking part in the tour for some different perspectives.

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About the Author

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Nina Manning studied psychology and was a restaurant-owner and private chef (including to members of the royal family). She is the founder and co-host of Sniffing The Pages, a book review podcast. Her debut psychological thriller, The Daughter in Law, was a bestseller in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. She lives in Dorset.

Connect with Nina:

Website: https://www.ninamanningauthor.com/

Facebook: Nina Manning

Twitter: @ninamanning78

Instagram: @ninamanning_author

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