Book Review: Trust Me by T. M. Logan #BookReview

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TWO STRANGERS. A CHILD. AND A SPLIT SECOND CHOICE THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.

The chance encounter

Ellen was just trying to help a stranger. Giving a few minutes respite to a flustered young mother sitting opposite her on the train. A few minutes holding her baby while the woman makes an urgent call.

Five minutes pass.

Ten.

The twist

As the train pulls into a station, Ellen is stunned to see the woman step off the train and rush away down the platform, leaving her baby behind.

Then she discovers a note in the baby’s bag, three desperate lines scrawled hastily on a piece of paper:

Please protect Mia
Don’t trust the police
Don’t trust anyone

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Anyone who has read any of T. M. Logan’s previous novels will know what to expect when they come to his latest book, which is the unexpected. King of the unreliable narrator, prince of the unexpected twist, the only thing you can be sure of in a T. M Logan is that you can’t be sure of anything until you have turned the final page.

So, the title of his latest book, Trust Me, is very apt, because you never know who you can trust in this story including the main protagonist, Ellen. Everyone has hidden motives and deep-seated desires driving them on in certain directions, not all of which are obvious from the beginning. Good luck weaving your way through the maze of this novel.

The book starts off with a fascinating premise right from the beginning. A distraught mother asks you to hold her baby for a moment while she takes a call. Then she never comes back. What would you do? Would you do what Ellen does? Chances are you wouldn’t, because Ellen isn’t like you or I, and she has her own particular set of circumstances that are driving her on. The situation she finds herself in with the baby is the culmination of a perfect storm in her life, and puts her in a dangerous situation that she could never have anticipated. There were times when I was shouting at the book, open-mouthed at the decisions she was making, but still understanding why she did it. The author has created a character that is out of the ordinary but very sympathetic at the same time, I really enjoyed reading her.

Like all of this authors books, there is intrigue and secrets and double-dealing. What I found different from his previous books was the pacing. This book is absolutely full of action from start to finish which was very refreshing and made me turn the pages at double speed. Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the more internal, personality-based thrills of his previous stories, but it was really great to see something different from this writer, showcasing his versatility. Definitely not the case of resting on his laurels and repeating what had proved successful before. I love authors who are willing to take risks and chances in their work.

This is a thriller with a great premise and interesting protagonist which really delivers on its promise and kept me glued to it from start to finish. Perfect for devouring in a single sitting on a sunny afternoon, on a sun lounger or garden chair, it will whisk you away from the every day and take you on a rollercoaster ride.

A really great read that might be my favourite yet from T. M. Logan and has definitely cemented him as one of my favourite psychological thriller writers.

Trust Me is out now in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats and will be published in paperback on 5 August and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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TM Logan’s thrillers have sold more than a million copies in the UK and are published in 19 countries around the world including the USA, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Greece and the Netherlands.

Tim’s brand new thriller, TRUST ME, begins when a woman is asked to look after a stranger’s baby on a train – only for the mother to vanish. When she looks in the baby’s things, she finds a note that says: ‘Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone.’ TRUST ME is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook.

His previous novel, THE CATCH, is about a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. Terrified that his cherished only child is about to marry a man who is not what he seems, Ed sets out to uncover the truth – before it’s too late…

His thriller THE HOLIDAY was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback top ten. THE HOLIDAY takes place over a sweltering summer week in the south of France, as four best friends see the holiday of a lifetime turn into a nightmare of suspicion, betrayal and murder. Tim’s debut LIES was one of Amazon’s biggest selling e-books of 2017 and was followed by 29 SECONDS in 2018.

Tim was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. He 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

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Book Review: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin #BookReview

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An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.

Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

Every so often a book comes along that affects you so powerfully that you can’t stop thinking about it, and it lives on in your mind and your heart long after you have turned the last page. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one such book. It’s a really surprising thing to say about a book that deals with terminal illness in a young person, but this book is warm, uplifting, powerful and even joyous in places and it is definitely going to be one of my books of the year.

Lenni is an absolutely extraordinary character. Seventeen-years-old and living in hospital, in the end stages of a terminal disease, you would think she would be a person for whom your main emotion would be pity. However, Lenni is not someone who allows that. She doesn’t feel any for herself, and she is so fierce, forthright, determined, sparky, generous and full of life, that you simply can’t feel it either. I absolutely adored her right from the beginning of the book, until the end; fell so deeply in love with her that the book broke me apart as her story unfolded. But pity, no, that was not one of the things I was left feeling. She is probably now one of my favourite ever characters from a novel.

Add then to this scenario, Margot, a fellow hospital resident. Margot is 83 and has lived a full, rich, long and surprising life. Her friendship with Lenni may seem odd at first but, as the story develops, you realise these two have a lot in common and have come into each others’ lives at a time when it is just what the other person needs most. The relationship between them is so honest and genuine and absolutely beautiful that even thinking back on it now it makes my heart swell with love and joy. For these two people to have found each other at this moment… I completely believed it and revelled in the pure truthfulness of it.

As well as Lenni and Margot, there are a host of other wonderful characters in the book that aid the two of them, who are also full of life and personality and fantastic to read. Lenni’s relationship in particular with the hospital chaplain who is close to retirement is a highlight of the book and gorgeously developed. This author has a sharp eye for personality and a real skill in getting it on to the page and I have real admiration for her writing.

As well as Lenni and Margot’s relationship in the present, the book also revisits events from the pasts of both characters, so we really get to know them and understand why they have ended up where they are, needing to make friends in each other. Obviously Margot’s past is longer and more detailed that Lenni’s, and it is really wonderful thing to follow, exploring a genuinely believable life, and full of human emotion – all the pain, joy, grief, loss, excitement and confusion that pepper every life. I thought the concept of the paintings was a unique and clever way to explore these aspects of the book, the whole thing hung together perfectly.

If I had a small niggle about the book, it would be in the behaviour of Lenni’s parents. As a mother, I can honestly say that, of either if my children were in the same position, there is not a cat in hell’s chance that I would do as they do, and I don’t know anyone who would. I understand the motivations that the author gave them for behaving the way they do, but I just could not buy into it. Maybe there are people who would behave this way, but I think it is outside the norm and took a greater suspension of disbelief to accept than I am capable of. However, this did not detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the book and no one should let it put them off because it is fairly insignificant to the course of the story.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is an absolute gem of a book that I think everyone should read. It delighted my soul, I’m sure it will do the same for you. Uplifting, moving and full of hope, I absolutely adored it.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lenni and Margot took me seven years to write and I’m very excited that their story is now reaching readers here on Amazon.

Before I started working on writing fiction full-time, I spent my days in academia, writing things that nobody wanted to read (not even my mum!). I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics but I don’t use the title ‘Dr’ on official documents because I’m scared of being asked to help in a medical emergency and having only a thesis on linguistics to help.

I like to write at night and I like to be alone when I do. When I’m not writing, I can be found trying to be funny in various improv groups or watching my recently-adopted cat sleeping under my desk.

Connect with Marianne:

Twitter: @itsmcronin

Instagram: itsmariannecronin

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Book Review: The Castaways by Lucy Clarke #BookReview

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A SECRET BEACH.
A HOLIDAY OF A LIFETIME.
WISH YOU WERE HERE?

THINK AGAIN…

It should be like any other holiday.

Beautiful beaches.
Golden sunsets.
Nothing for miles.

You’ll never want to leave.
Until you can’t…

This is one of those books you want to pick up when you have a delicious stretch of uninterrupted reading time ahead and you want to really lose yourself in a book that is going to transport you to another time and place and keep you glued to the page. Don’t pick this book up if you only have little snippets of reading time because, believe me, once you get into this book, you won’t want to put it down.

The book is told from the alternating viewpoints of two sisters, Lori and Erin, and two timelines. Lori, in the then, and Erin, in the now. The main driver of the book is the mystery of what happened to the plane and the people who were on it, but it also explores family dynamics, survivor guilt and what priorities in life drive us to do the things we do. This elevates it beyond a simple thriller to a much more interesting and thought-provoking read.

The author’s imagining of how it would be to be involved in a terrifying accident that leaves you stranded in a remote place with people who are strangers, the descent into barbarism and self-interest, how suspicion and paranoia develop, and what the removal of the comforts and trappings of society reveals about our basest needs and desires, feels real and frightening. You will find yourself stranded on that isolated island with them, going through all the things they are feeling. It really is an immersive read in this respect and it felt like the author had taken herself to that place while she was writing, it came across as authentic (as far as someone who has never been marooned can judge anyway!)

On the other hand, being inside the mind of family, back home in safety and a ‘normal’ life is not much more comfortable. The grappling with not knowing what has happened to your loved one, feelings of guilt at not having been with them and constantly tortured by the last things you said to each other before they disappeared. How the lives of survivors can be destroyed as much as the missing, despite the fact that they seems to be carrying on as normal on the surface. It is a fascinating delve into how the ripples of disasters spread far beyond the people involved and echo down the years, especially where there are no answers as to what happened.

The way the author slowly reveals the details of what happened to both the reader and the family members left behind keeps the tension elevated and the reader eager to turn the pages. The book did not end at all how I expected, and I was fully satisfied with how the book panned out by the time I closed the back cover on the story. I feel like the author has crafted a very taut, well-plotted, fully imagined thriller with characters that remain true to themselves to the end. An extremely rewarding read.

The Castaways is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and will be published in paperback on 8 July. You can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lucy Clarke is the bestselling author of six psychological thrillers – THE SEA SISTERS, A SINGLE BREATH, THE BLUE/NO ESCAPE, LAST SEEN, YOU LET ME IN and THE CASTAWAYS. Her debut novel was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and her books have been sold in over 20 territories.

Lucy is a passionate traveller and fresh air enthusiast. She’s married to a professional windsurfer and, together with their two young children, they spend their winters travelling and their summers at home on the south coast of England. Lucy writes from a beach hut.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: http://www.lucy-clarke.com/

Facebook: Lucy Clarke Author

Twitter: @lucyclarkebooks

Instagram: @lucyclarke_author

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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: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely #BookReview

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Two teens–one black, one white–grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins–a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan–and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team–half of whom are Rashad’s best friends–start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

It’s category five in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge, ‘Read a book by two authors.’ For this category I have chosen the award-winning YA novel, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Dealing with a subject matter that has been at the forefront of media attention over the last twelve months due to the killing of George Floyd, this would be a great book to give a teen who wanted to read something that grapples with issues that they see in the news in a way that is approachable but also makes them think and try and understand the tensions that arise after such incidents.

The book is told from the dual viewpoints of Rashad, the victim of the violent act, and Quinn, his classmate and friend of the brother of the policeman involved in the arrest. Quinn is very torn between loyalty, and the tensions that arise in his school as everyone begins to take sides. It is a very effective way to present the different perspectives on the events of the book and to see how people are pressured to taking a stand for one side or another, and how the tension spreads quickly through a community. The subject is dealt with very sensitively, and it really brought the reality of the fallout from these events home in a way that we can all relate to.

The book is emotional and difficult to read in parts, but these are issues that need to be brought into the open and discussed in the light, even if that makes us uncomfortable, so I would highly recommend this as a book you can give to young people in your life as a way of introducing them to the topic and giving you a jumping off point for discussion. I am certainly going to be encouraging my teenage daughters to read it as another step in the conversations I have already had with them following the events of the last twelve months.

The writing between the two authors is seamless, you wouldn’t know it was co-authored if you hadn’t been told, but I am sure the input of both made this book the balanced and considered telling of the story that it is. A great and important read, especially for the young adults it is aimed at.

All American Boys is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. He’s also the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include StampedWhen I Was the GreatestThe Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as YouFor Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. He lives in Washington, DC.

Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

Facebook: Jason Reynolds

Twitter: @JasonReynolds83

Instagram: @jasonreynolds83

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Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love StoryThe Gospel of WinterTradition, and The Other Talk. His work has been published in ten languages; received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award; has twice been awarded Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association; and has been a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives in New York City.

Connect with Brendan:

Website: https://www.brendankiely.com/

Twitter: @KielyBrendan

Instagram: @brendankiely

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Book Review: A Favor for a Favor by Nat Chelloni

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“Forget favors given; remember those received.” – John Wooden

A time for love can’t be more deadly…

Julia Leonardi thought she put her past behind her. The widow of a mobster, all she wants is to steer clear of the criminal elements. Then she meets Domenico Bonacci…

Dom is handsome, charming, and intense. The world knows him as a prominent businessman, but Julia sees him as everything she fought to escape.

Once the scion of a powerful Mafia family Dom left the world of organized crime after his father’s death. And he swore he would never go back.

No matter how hard she tries, Julia can’t seem to ignore the powerful spark of attraction between them and her growing feelings for him. But when Dom’s shady past catches up with him, the two forbidden lovers find themselves trapped in a deadly game.

Will Dom renege on his vow and lose the woman he loves, or he will manage to break free of his past for once and for all?

This wouldn’t be the kind of book I would normally read, romantic suspense is not a genre I read much, but it is good to go out of your comfort zone every now and again and I do like to support debut authors, so I thought I would give it a try.

The main protagonist is Julia, the daughter of a Mafia boss who was married and widowed young due to a feud between underworld gangs and has since turned her back on that world, determined never to suffer that heartbreak again. However, when all your family are connected, it is hard to escape that world completely. Then she meets Dom, the son of a murdered don who also claims to have left that world, but Julia isn’t sure and is resisting her undeniable attraction to him.

The book starts off in dramatic form with their first meeting, and the initial impressions I formed of Dom weren’t great. In fact, if I hadn’t been mindful of the genre I was reading and determined to keep an open mind, I might have walked away quite early because he is everything I hate in a man and the thought of him being a love interest to anyone was off-putting. The author does include a trigger warning for this part, and I can see why it is needed, but I ploughed on and it turned out that first impressions can be deceptive. Dom did grow on me, although I’m not sure I ever got completely past his initial behaviour.

There are lots of great characters in this book, and lots of action. It was interesting to read a book set in an alien world, and see all the tensions and relationships that are involved, see how matters are negotiated and resolved. I could sympathise with Julia’s dilemma of being attracted to a man but resisting because she isn’t sure of his lifestyle, and I think this played out well. There is a lot of sexual heat in the book between the two main characters, which is well written and believable. If you enjoy this type of book, and this type of relationship, I think this book will work well for you.

The book has a few problems. Some of the pacing was a little uneven, and it did plough some of the same issues repeatedly, but overall I enjoyed it as a step outside my comfort zone. After my initial baulking at Dom, I was gripped by the story and wanted to know how it ended. I can’t tell you it has been the book that converted me to a romantic suspense groupie, but then I’m not sure that book exists, because it is just not my bag. However, it is a really excellent debut, I would not have known this was a first book if I hadn’t been told, and I’m sure fans of the genre would be delighted with it.

A Favor for a Favor is out now and you can buy it in paperbook or ebook here.

About the Author

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Nat Chelloni is a TV personality, a screenwriter, a film critic, an avid book reader across all genres, and now a published author of a debut novel A Favor For a Favor. Nat’s overactive imagination and a passion for storytelling have finally found an outlet.

Connect with Nat:

Facebook: Nat Chelloni

Twitter: @natchelloni

Instagram: @nat.chelloni

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Book Review: The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean

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He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .

How do you write a review of a book like The Last Thing To Burn? It has been seeming like an impossible task to put down in words the feelings I have about this book and yet, review it I must because word of this book needs spreading far and wide so that as many people as possible read it. I’ve yet to come across anyone who has read this book who hasn’t been blown away by it, and I am no different. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most outstanding books I have ever read.

When I was thinking about writing this review, I was so overwhelmed by the idea of having to put down on the page my complex feelings about it, I joked with a fellow blogger that I was just going to try and sum up a reason for someone to read the book in a single line, and spare myself the pain of trying to communicate with my inadequate words anything more. I still think I could make you want to read this book with that single line, so here it is:

I have never hated anyone, in real life or in fiction, as much as I hate the antagonist in this book.

You see, you want to know why now, don’t you? Why is he the worst person I have ever come across? Well, pick up the book and find out and, by the time you have finished, I know you will agree with me. This person is stone cold evil in a way you will probably have never read about before, and the author will stun you throughout by peeling back more and more depths to his sadism as you go through the book and think you have already plumbed the depths to which a human can sink. The most terrifying part of it is, the plausibility of the scenario. This is no wild flight of fancy where Will is writing a really obvious piece of fiction for entertainment. This book is so horrifying because you know that this could absolutely happen, is likely happening somewhere in this country. That is what makes is so disturbing.

If you are now wondering why you should read a book that I have described as something horrifying and disturbing, I will tell you. On the flip side of cruelty and depravity, this book explores the power of love and the resilience and determination of the human spirit in its face. Brought as low as a human can go, subjected to inhumanity that is too horrible for most of us to think about on a daily basis, inside the protagonist is a spark that the antagonist has not managed to quell. There is life and there is fight and, where that exists, there is a glimmer of hope. This hope, and this evidence of humanity and dignity in the face of adversity that seems insurmountable, is what will keep you glued to the pages. It is what will make you invest in and care for the protagonist as much as you loathe the perpetrator of her misery and will her to prevail. And you will be desperate for it, desperate to know if the human spirit will triumph in the end. You won’t know, but you will hope, and hope and hope as you frantically turn the pages and read until your bath water is cold, and your daughter comes to check you haven’t drowned and all of your chores go undone until you know, one way or another, what will happen. Thank goodness that this book is only 250 pages long, because you will absolutely have to, as if YOUR life depended on it, start and finish this book in a single sitting.

This is a man who really understands women, and you can tell that from the way he writes ‘Jane.’ There are things in this book that this woman goes through that would make most men blush to talk about and yet Will writes about them, and her reaction to what happens to her, as if these are things he has experienced and understands intimately. Honestly, this was one of the things that really struck me, just how truthfully, compassionately and empathetically he writes the experience of this woman, so that she is totally real to the reader. If you really stand back and look at it, it is an astonishing accomplishment.

I still don’t think I’ve done this book justice, but I have done my best. Just read this book, it is an unbelievable piece of literature. One of my writer friends, who finished the book just last night, talked this morning about having to ‘pull herself out of his world,’ and I can relate completely to that statement. This is a completely immersive piece of work that takes you entirely out of your world and plonks you directly into the life of someone else, until that is all you can think about. And, even when you have finished, you still won’t be able to stop thinking about it entirely for weeks afterwards. I already knew, on 10 January when I finished this book, that it would be one of my Top Ten Books of 2021. Scrap that. it might be in my Top Ten books of all time. Just read it. Even the title is absolute genius.

We Begin At The End is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here. It will be available in paperback in December 2021.

About the Author

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Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.

DARK PINES, the first in the Tuva Moodyson series, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2018, was shortlisted for Not the Booker prize, selected for Zoe Ball’s TV Book Club and named as a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. THE LAST THING TO BURN is his first standalone novel.

Connect with Will:

Twitter: @willrdean

Instagram: @willrdean

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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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Book Review: We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker

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Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.

Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.

Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.

Murder, revenge, retribution.

How far can we run from the past, when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?

How to begin to review this book? I don’t know how I’m going to do it justice, to be honest. It was my first read of the year, and I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to write this review for almost three weeks. There is so much I want to convey about my feelings, and not the words to do it adequately. Still, I can put it off no longer, so here we go.

This book is ostensibly a thriller, spanning a period of decades, and it works extremely well purely on that level. Thirty years ago a murder shook a small town to its foundations and had lasting consequences for everyone closely connected with the case, and down into the next generation. It has robbed Duchess Radley and her brother of a stable family life, and of police chief, Walk, of his best friend and peace of mind. And now the man convicted of the crime is about to be released from prison and return to Cape Haven. This is the catalyst for massive upheaval in the community and a new spate of disturbances that affect all the main players all over again to devastating effect.

The plot of the thriller is complex and surprising, with twists and turns you will not see coming, but it offers more than a straight forward mystery. We are shown the wider consequences of crime, the cause and effect, the life-altering repercussions it has for so many people, not just the victim and perpetrator. How it changes people, rips apart families, ripples through a community as a whole, and is felt for many, many years after the events took place. It is such a considered approach to telling the story of crime that you have to admire the author’s skill, and it rewards the reader with a more cerebral experience than you might usually expect. It will provoke a lot of ruminating on the nature and consequences of both crime and the way we punish criminals in anyone who chooses to take a considered approach.

But this book is so much more than a simple thriller, and it is in the development and examination of the characters that the true beauty and appeal of this book lies. Chris Whitaker has created real people here who will not only get under your skin, but also into your heart and will haunt your thoughts for days, even weeks, after you have finished the novel.

The story is told by two people. The first is the police chief, Walk. As a boy, he was best friends with the person accused of killing Sissy Radley. Thirty years later, he is the chief of police in Cape Haven, faced with having to integrate a murderer back into the life of a town that doesn’t want him, look out for his great friend, Star Radley, when her sister’s killer is released, all the while not being able to reconcile the idea that his childhood friend is a murderer. This is a man at war with himself, torn between his job and firm sense of justice and responsibility to the town, and ingrained loyalty to his childhood companions. Walk’s struggle permeates every page of the book. We watch as the battling sides of his conscience inform his actions, and the impact that has on other players in the story. We ask ourselves constantly is he is doing the right thing. What would we do in his position? Is life always as black and white as we comfortably view it from a distance? Of course, it isn’t and we live that struggle through Walk’s eyes throughout the book. It is such a clever and impelling mechanism for conveying ideas and issues for the reader to grapple with.

The other narrator is Duchess Radley, niece of the murder victim and a girl whose life has been shaped entirely by events that pre-dated her birth and over which she has no control. The murder of her aunt has made her who she is, pre-ordained her circumstances and opportunities, even though she never knew her, and it is monstrously unfair.

Duchess Radley is the most extraordinary character I have ever come across in a novel. I can’t think of another who has affected me so profoundly as she has. She has completely wormed her way into my psyche to the point where I was feeling every single emotion she was going through. As a consequence, parts of this book almost cracked my heart in two. We get to see what has created this  bravado shell she puts up against a world that has been against her since the day she was born, but we also get to see the terrified child underneath, the beautiful love she has for the little brother she protects like a fierce momma bear, and her longing for someone to take her burdens from her shoulders, but her suspicion of a world, and people, who have failed her at every turn before. It is so beautiful and honest but totally soul-destroying at the same time. No child should be in this position, the world asks too much of her, and yet her resilience is amazing. We know there are children in the world suffering in similar ways, and it is shameful. The author has created in Duchess one of the most perfect and memorable and truly successful characters that has every really lived on the page and I know she will stay with me for a long, long time.

This is a book, ultimately, about love and loss and consequence. About family and friendship and the bonds we build with people throughout our lives in different ways, and how strong those bonds can be in the face of adversity. And about sacrifice. About what we are prepared to give up to protect the people we love most in the world and allow them to thrive, no matter what the personal cost to ourselves. It is the most extraordinary feat of novel-writing and I urge everyone to pick up a copy as soon as you can. You won’t find a much more rewarding and moving reading experience anywhere.

We Begin At The End is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Chris Whitaker is the award winning author of Tall Oaks and All The Wicked Girls. Both books were published to widespread critical acclaim, with Tall Oaks going on to win the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.

His latest novel, We Begin At The End, is available now.

Chris lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

Connect with Chris:

Website: https://chriswhitaker.com/

Twitter: @WhittyAuthor

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Desert Island Books: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Desert Island Books

Following on from my earlier post, I now have my twelfth and final, personal Desert Island Book. If I am ever pressed to nominate my favourite book of all time, this is my choice. The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Why do I love this book so much? Oh, for so many reasons. Firstly, its protagonist is one of my two favourite heroines in English Literature (the other, in case you are wondering, is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing) and the one to whom I most closely relate. In fact, if those who know me had to pick out a character from literature that I most resemble, it would be Flora Poste. Flora hates messes, as I do, and she loves to organise people, as I do. Bossy, you say? I don’t think so, just sure in her own rightness, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, I don’t think I am as chic, crafty or quick-witted as Flora turns out to be in this book, but one can dream.

Secondly, the cast of characters in this book are perfectly drawn, and every one is delightful, in their own peculiar way. Morose cousin Judith, over-sexed Seth, faux-hippy Elfine, fire-and-brimstone preacher Amos, Flora’s sensible friend Mrs Smiling who collects brassieres as a hobby, fecund maid Miriam; every one of them is pitch-perfect. Best of all is Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a tiny tot, and has used the trauma as an excuse to rule the family with an iron fist ever since. After all, ‘there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,’ and nothing can ever be allowed to change that, especially not Robert Poste’s child. The standoff between young but wily Flora and stubborn Great Aunt Ada is one of the greatest battle of wills ever written, and it is a joy to read.

The book is just beautifully pitched and executed in every single respect. Apart from the characterisations, the pastiche of romantic but doom-laden writing of other authors of the time is a wicked delight to read – I defy you to read her deliberately purple prose and not giggle – and the way she leaves some of the biggest mysteries of the book unanswered, to be speculated over and debated down the years, is just brilliant. There are a million tiny and subtle comments, asides, observations and conversations to delight over. The part where Flora is explaining the process and merits of the use of birth control to the randy serving girl, who then repeats it to her mother, is a perfect example, and one of my favourites. Over and above all else, this book is hilarious, sharply witty and oh-so-clever. I delight in every reading anew, and this is why it would accompany me to my desert island. It is a book that never fails to cheer my soul.

I am a person who does not often watch TV or movie adaptations of my favourite books, because I have too often been disappointed. I haven’t watched recent adaptations of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for this reason. This being said, the version of Cold Comfort Farm starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling and Rufus Sewell as Seth is absolutely brilliant. It really portrays the story and the characters exactly as I imagine them, and it maybe the only adaptation of one of my favourite books that I love as much as the novel itself, so if you don’t have time to read it, maybe give it a watch instead. I am sure you will end up loving it as much as I do.

Cold Comfort Farm is available to buy in all formats here.

About the Authors

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm. A witty parody of the pastoral fiction written by authors such as D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, it won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais in 1933 and established her literary reputation. Gibbons also wrote 22 other novels, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940) and Starlight (1967), as well as three volumes of short stories and four poetry collections. She died in 1989, aged 87.