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

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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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Book Review: Wall Of Silence by Tracy Buchanan; Narrated by Moira Quirk #AudiobookReview

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Her children have a deadly secret. Can she uncover it before the police do?

Melissa Byatt’s life in Forest Grove seems as perfect as can be: a doting husband, three loving children and a beautiful house in a close-knit community. But appearances can be deceiving.

One evening, Melissa arrives home to the unimaginable: her husband lies stabbed on the kitchen floor, their children standing calmly around him…. With horror, she realises that one of them is to blame. But which one? And why would they attack their own father?

Her loyalties torn, in a split second she decides to protect her children at all costs – even if that means lying to the police. But when someone in the neighbourhood claims to know more than they should, Melissa discovers that some secrets are beyond her control….

Can she find out the truth of what happened before the rumours spread? And can the family unite to escape the spotlight of scandal – or are none of them as innocent as Melissa insists?

There was something about this book that I absolutely loved, above and beyond what I normally feel about this kind of psychological thriller. The bad news for you and this review is that I am still trying to work out exactly what it is that made it stand out for me so much!

I think a big part of it was the setting. I really loved the idea of an idyllic community set up in the heart of the forest, where everything is supposed to be perfect, but actually is beset with exactly the same problems as everywhere else because, as we know, people are people, wherever they choose to settle themselves and, wherever people live together, tensions are bound to arise.

Actually, the author has drawn a brilliant premise here because the citizens of this community, or many of them at least, believe they are a cut above everyone who lives outside their haven, and this makes them a self-satisfied and judgemental bunch who are quick to criticise and ostracise anyone who doesn’t toe the community line. Tracy evidences this really cleverly with use of the community Facebook group to display people’s inner characters and feelings. After all, people are far less guarded online than they are face to face. It gives a really good sense of the different factions within the community and how the battle lines are drawn as the town works through the shocking events surrounding the Byatt family at the heart of this story.

The author has drawn some brilliant characters in this book, focusing on Melissa Byatt as the main protagonist, and she is a thoroughly sympathetic character. I could easily put myself in her shoes as a mother and try and imagine what I would do in her position. I am not entirely sure I would make the same decisions she did, but I could understand why she did what she did, and feel for her as events played out. This story has tons of drama and plenty of shocks and surprises to keep the story moving along engagingly and I was completely engrossed in the story. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was another one that I found myself wanting to listen to so badly that I was seeking out tasks that allowed me to indulge myself.

This is an engrossing and shocking family-based thriller with an original and shocking premise, a marvellous sense of place and a searing examination of inter-personal relationships in a fairly closed community. I enjoyed it very much and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of book.

Wall Of Silence is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Tracy lives in Buckinghamshire, UK with her husband, little girl and (very naughty) dog, Bronte.

She travelled extensively while working as a travel magazine editor, and has always been drawn to the sea after spending her childhood holidays on the south coast visiting family – a fascination that inspires her writing.

She now dedicates her time to writing and procrastinating on Facebook.

Connect with Tracy:

Website: https://www.tracy-buchanan.com

Facebook: Tracy Buchanan Author

Twitter: @TracyBuchanan

Instagram: @tracybuchananauthor

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Book Review: The Catch by T. M. Logan; Narrated by Philip Stevens #AudiobookReview

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She says he’s perfect. I know he’s lying….

He caught me watching and our eyes met. That was when it hit me. 

There was something not quite right about my daughter’s new boyfriend….

The doting father.

Ed finally meets his daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. Smart, successful and handsome, Ryan appears to be a real catch. Then Abbie announces their plan to get married.

The perfect fiancé.

There’s just one problem. Ed thinks Ryan is lying to them.

Who would you believe?

All of Ed’s instincts tell him his daughter is in terrible danger – but no one else can see it. With the wedding date approaching fast, Ed sets out to uncover Ryan’s secrets, before it’s too late….

I really enjoyed listening to T. M. Logan’s book, The Holiday last year as an audiobook, so I thought I would give his latest title a try the same way, and I had an equally enjoyable experience.

The book is told mainly in the voice of Ed, a seemingly over-protective father who is not happy when his only daughter brings home a new boyfriend, whom Ed does not trust from the beginning. The situation immediately worsens as Abbie announces they are going to get married, and in a very short space of time, and Ed goes into overdrive, trying to get dirt on Ryan to stop the wedding. But is he paranoid, or is there something in his suspicions?

Other voices chime in throughout the book, Ed’s wife Claire, his daughter Abbie, but we are mainly in Ed’s head. The author’s writing is very clever because, even though we can hear every thought process behind Ed’s suspicions of Ryan and his consequential, erratic behaviour, we still can’t be sure if he is right or if he is just prey to underlying, unresolved issues he has that are making him so protective of Abbie and so determined to get rid of Ryan. I honestly was not sure who to believe until very near the end.

The opening teaser chapter was genius, because we know something bad is coming and this keeps the reader on edge throughout, but we don’t know who is responsible until right at the end. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through this, taking my dog for extra long walks to give me more time to listen and get through the book!

This book really put my emotions through the ringer. Some of Ed’s behaviour is cringe-inducing and, although you can kind of understand why he feels compelled to do it, you can also see the car crash consequences that are approaching as a result and are mentally shouting at him to stop and look at what he is risking. This book is not a relaxing read in the slightest!

The last few chapters actually did have me shouting, because the final actions of the book are unbelievable, even though they have been coming throughout, and the author ramps up the action right at the end until my nerves were stretched to breaking point. Even though I had suspected what the outcome of chapter one might be, I still couldn’t actually believe it until it happened. I was wrung out like a wet dishcloth by the end of the book, and my poor dog was exhausted. A fantastic, tense and thrilling read. The audio narration was absolutely brilliant, and I can highly recommend that as a medium, if you have the patience to listen through it to find out what happens!

The Catch is out now in paperback, audiobook and ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bestselling author TM Logan was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. His thrillers have sold more than 750,000 copies in the UK and are published in 19 countries around the world including the USA, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Greece, Romania and the Netherlands.

His debut thriller LIES was one of Amazon UK’s biggest ebooks of 2017 – winning a Silver Award at the Nielsen Bestseller Awards – and was followed by his second standalone, 29 SECONDS. THE HOLIDAY was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback Top 10, as well as hitting the #1 spots on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and Kobo.

His brand new thriller for 2020, THE CATCH, is about a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. THE CATCH is out now in paperback, ebook and audio, published in the UK by Bonnier Books.

Tim lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children, and writes in a cabin at the bottom of his garden.

Connect with T. M. Logan:

Website: https://www.tmlogan.com

Facebook: T M Logan Author

Twitter: @TMLoganAuthor

Instagram: @tmloganauthor

Book Review: Strangeways by Neil Samworth; Narrated by Jonathan Keeble #AudiobookReview

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A jaw-dropping account of life as a prison officer in one of the country’s most notorious jails. 

Neil ‘Sam’ Samworth spent 11 years working as a prison officer in HMP Manchester, aka Strangeways. A tough Yorkshireman with a soft heart, Sam had to deal with it all – gangsters and gangbangers, terrorists and psychopaths, addicts and the mentally ill. Men who should not be locked up and men who should never be let out. 

Strangeways is a shocking and at times darkly funny account of life in a high-security prison. Sam tackles cell fires and self-harmers and goes head to head with some of the most dangerous men in the country. He averts a Christmas Day riot after turkey is taken off the menu and replaced by fish curry and stands up to officers who abuse their position. He describes being attacked by prisoners and reveals the problems caused by radicalisation and the drugs flooding our prisons. 

As staffing cuts saw Britain’s prison system descend into crisis, the stress of the job – the suicides, the inhumanity of the system and one assault too many – left Sam suffering from PTSD. This raw, searingly honest memoir is a testament to the men and women of the prison service and the incredibly difficult job we ask them to do.

When I was in the final year of my law degree, I wrote a dissertation for my Criminology module on the treatment of prisoners with mental health issues by the criminal justice system. To help in my research, my boyfriend’s father (eventually to become my father-in-law), who was then Governor of HMP Lincoln, took me to the prison so I could interview their resident medical professionals and access material in the prison service library. He also gave me a tour. I never expected it to look like the set of Porridge, but it did, except a lot less fun. I have never been in such an intimidating place in my life, before or since, and the impressions it left on me are still with me 25+ years later.

I now have a couple of other friends and family members who work within the prison service, and hearing stories of their working lives brings back those impressions, and this audiobook did the same thing. Anyone who thinks that prison life is cushy, for either inmates or staff, needs to read or listen to this book, and their illusions will immediately be shattered.

Neil Samworth is a man after my own heart, a no nonsense Yorkshireman the like of whom anyone who spends any time in our beautiful county will have come across, and his writing is presented in the same fashion. The narrative is blunt and honest and pulls no punches and I found it absolutely fascinating, horrifying and upsetting in equal measure. He starts with some background into his life and career before he enters the prison service (which made me think our paths may have crossed during my visits to Hanrahan’s in Sheffield during my youth!) which is a useful grounding to get to know him and understand his perspective when he begins to talk about Strangeways.

Everyone has heard of this prison, it is notorious, particularly for the riots which occurred before the author’s time there. It is an old prison, one of those we imagine how prison is, if and when we ever think about it. Lincoln prison was the same, not one of the new, recently purpose built facilities and I think this is important, as it reflects the way they are run and the way the prisoners are managed and behave, and Samworth touches on this in his book. He is extremely honest about the conditions, the prisoners, the officers and management, and the Government management and funding of prisons over the years. I found his bluntness about every aspect of the service, criticisms of all sides where due, refreshing and believable. If you really want an insight into the Prison Service, here it is. It certainly chimed with everything I had already seen and heard from people I know who worked inside.

There are parts of this book that will break your heart, particularly for the people who have to work in this difficult environment, with some truly awful people and in terrible circumstances day after day. They, on the whole, deserve our attention, care, respect and thanks for what they do. You need to listen to books like this, and then ask yourself if you would be prepared to do this job, to deal with the things they have to deal with day after day and what it would cost to entice you to do it. Then ask if these people are suitably cared for and rewarded. You may well be surprised at how you feel afterwards.

The book isn’t a story as such, the narrative is a little disjointed and it is sometimes hard to see why it was ordered the way it was, but if you can get past that, it is definitely worthy of your attention. I have to warn you, there is quite a lot of slang and swearing in the book, violence, drug use and some extremely unpleasant episodes. That is the truth of life behind bars for everyone involved, unfortunately. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator was absolutely perfect for the text, I would highly recommend the audio version.

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

About the Author

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Neil Samworth worked as a prison officer in Strangeways, now HM Prison Manchester, for eleven years between 2005 and 2016, before an unprovoked attack by a prisoner left him physically injured and suffering from PTSD. His book Strangeways: My Life as a Prison Officer consists of his diary from this period.

Connect with Neil:

Twitter: @SamworthNeil

Instagram: @samworthneil1