Book Review: Friends and Liars by Kaela Coble

Friends and Liars

It has been ten years since Ruby left her hometown behind. Since then she’s built a life away from her recovering alcoholic mother and her first love, Murphy. But when Danny, one of her estranged friends from childhood, commits suicide, guilt draws Ruby back into the tumultuous world she escaped all those years ago.

She’s dreading the funeral – and with good reason. Danny has left a series of envelopes addressed to his former friends. Inside each envelope is a secret about every person in the group. Ruby’s secret is so explosive, she will fight tooth-and-nail to keep it hidden from those she once loved so deeply, even if that means risking everything..

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This is a story about a group of friends who call themselves “The Crew”: Ruby, Ally, Murphy, Emmett, Danny.  The story starts with Danny’s suicide, which proves to be the catalyst to call Ruby back home after 10 years away. Ruby is the only one who has spent time away, living in places like London and New York, basically cutting all of her friends out of her life. After his funeral, it comes to light that Danny has left individual letters for the crew, exposing a secret specific to each person. Continue reading

Book Review: Romancing the Rogue by Erica Ridley

When the new earl inherits, poor relation Miss Rebecca Bond must wed immediately or be out on her ear. The only man she’s ever loved is summoned to hear the will—but he already rejected her so soundly that they haven’t spoken in years. Yet who better than a rakish Viscount to teach her how to snare a gentleman who appreciates her charms?

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North Barrows, regrets nothing more than the lost friendship with the one woman who treated him like a man, not a title. Fate has given him the perfect pretext to win her forgiveness—even if it means having to matchmake her to someone else. But now that she’s back in his life, he’ll do anything to convince her to choose him instead…

This story was first featured in the Vexed anthology.

I’ve read several of Ridley’s books before so I am pre-approved on Netgalley for many of her books on the site.  This is a relatively short book, with a very limited cast of characters.

Continue reading

#BookReview: The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

Book Review of The Fire Child

When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.

But then Jamie’s behaviour changes, and Rachel’s perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the spectre of his late mother – David’s previous wife. Is this Jamie’s way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatized than she thought?

As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie’s outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife’s untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie’s words:

‘You will be dead by Christmas.’

From HarperCollins, via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

This book has clear inspiration from Du Maurier’s Rebecca in that the second (named) wife is stepping into the shoes of a recently dead previous wife. Whilst I was part way through I realised it also has marked similarities to Tremayne’s previous book The Ice Twins – husband away a lot, nervous insecure wife with secrets that come out late in the book, child behaving oddly, bleak and isolated house and landscape taking on a life of it’s own.  I started to worry that Tremayne was possibly a one trick pony – the names may change, but the fundamental story remains the same. To an extent this is true: whilst the Rebecca-esque presence of the previous wife is a change, as well as David’s need to continue the family name, the fundamental structure is very similar to The Ice Twins (to the point I could predict what one of the final surprises would look like).

That apart, the execution of the story in itself is excellent, with plenty of spooky events; the odd behaviour of Jamie, David and Rachel; the question over who is sane and who isn’t; the fact that all adults are lying to each other and themselves resulting in a level of fear and mistrust that only adds to the stress. The mines and shafts have their own lives that dominate the surrounding area and people.

Both The Ice Twins and The Fire Child are excellent books in and of themselves, but reading both has left me a little deflated with The Fire Child in its underlying sameness to the previous book.  I know authors and publishers are under the pressure to keep recreate a book that has previously been successful, but this is the first in a long time that I’ve found a book *too* similar to a previous book.  So I would recommend that people read one or the other book – then leave a long time before reading the next one. I am, unfortunately, now less excited for the next book by this author in the fear that it could be the same story again.

 

 

Crime Fiction Lover has also written a review of this book, and makes some suggestions as to other books you might want to look out for if you enjoyed this book or the setting.

Here is the review from Classic Mystery, who also manages to provide additional information as to the author (information which is outrageousl vague on sites like Goodreads!)

#BookReview: The Hotel on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill

The House on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill

Mulberry Hotel, perched on a clifftop above a sweeping bay, was once the heart and soul of pretty seaside town Mulberry Bay. Run by the Harte family for years, the place itself is almost as beloved as cheery landlady Anna.

The hotel was also once home to thirty-something sisters Eleanor and Penny, and while youngest sister Penny still lives close by, it’s been some time since Elle has visited. But following a family tragedy, Elle is forced to return from her busy London life and reassess her past.

When it becomes apparent that the hotel is in dire straits, Elle and Penny are unprepared for the reaction of their father, Ned, He steadfastly refuses to give up the family legacy, revealing that he’s given up something equally precious once before. Startled by their father’s surprising revelation, the sisters unite, with the local community behind them, in their efforts to save the hotel – and, in the process, heal the fractures in the Harte family.

Paper copy, won in January 2016 as one of a number of books from the publishers Simon and Schuster.   I don’t normally read “beach read” books (don’t ask me why), but it was heading into June, so what better time to read it eh?  It took me only a couple of days to read it, and there are plenty of subjects to be covered: The death of the mother; recovering from near financial ruin; being true and accepting of yourself; finding the real you, and the mending of the past. There are loves lost and (sometimes) won.

On the whole, the story was fast paced and decent enough. There were a couple of things that disturbed me slightly but didn’t stop me finishing the book, or getting an overall nice feeling from it. Things like: taking a taxi from Dublin airport to the village in Wexford (a two-hour journey at the best of times) – I suspect this is to show Elle was still in shock over the death of her mother, but really?  This seems to be a short lapse in behaviour, as Elle barely dwells on her mother (in life or death) for the rest of the book. Penny, however, is the opposite, in that she finds her mother’s diaries, and it brings her closer to her father, racking up some bills in the process (that never really gets explained as to how she pays for her purchases).

However, like I said, I still finished the book, and my “issues” are minor. I can see why this author is popular and it is a good addition to the “Beach Reads” group of books. If you like this style of book, then I would definately recommend it.

About this author

International #1 bestselling author Melissa Hill lives in Dublin and is one of Ireland’s most popular contemporary fiction authors.

Her page-turning, contemporary romance stories are published worldwide and translated into 25 different languages. Her titles are regular chart-toppers in Ireland and internationally and SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S (aka A GIFT FROM TIFFANY’S) became one of Italy’s 2011 Top Ten bestselling books overall. One of her recent titles is currently in development with a major Hollywood movie studio

#BookReview: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible Curtis Sittinfield

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

From HarperFiction via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

I’ve read Sittenfeld books before, most noticeably her story Sisterland, so when this book came on offer, I jumped at the chance….I love Pride and Prejudice, I’ve read variants before, I’ve read Sittenfeld before, what can go wrong?!

Well, the basic premise of P&P remains the same, though this is very much a modern retelling with modern situations. The “girls” are much older (Jane and Liz are nearing 40, but still, the biological clocks are ticking very loudly), there’s reality TV, IVF, pre-marital sex, casual “hate” sex, adultery, debts and swearing on all sides.  There’s also plenty of other topics covered. It’s probably best not to think of this as a “sequel” or “retelling”, more an “inspired by” – the purists are certainly going to be offended!

There are plenty of nods to the original, but with modern updates, many of which put things from the original in context. Darcy’s income in the original is £10,000 a year, which sounds stupid now, but when I first read P&P, it was put in context at £6million.  In this book, the house alone (thanks to some prudent work by Liz on the internet) is valued at over $55 million, and that doesn’t take into account Darcy’s salary as a Brain Surgeon.

All the major plot points are there: Katherine De Burgh; the dreaded cousin Willie who ends up with BFF Charlotte; the mad mother (with a shopping fetish); the father rapidly running out of money, and refusing to confront the issue; the elopement (yes, it happens and there is a spin).

So: A bold take on a classic, which I think Sittenfeld manages to pull off. It’s modern enough that people who haven’t read the original won’t be put off (did it need some one from the colonies – hahahahahahha  – to cut through all the Regency Manners?). whilst having enough nods to and structure from the original to hopefully placate all but the hardcore obsessives.

About this author

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of Eligible (out now!) as well as the bestselling novels Sisterland, American Wife, Curtis SittenfeldPrep, and The Man of My Dreams, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Curtis’s writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Vanity Fair,Time, Slate, Glamour, and on public radio’s This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently lives in St. Louis, MO.

#BookReview: The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

the silent hours

An epic, sweeping tale of love and loss inspired by heartrending true events in the Unoccupied Zone of wartime France.
The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically; Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

I received this direct from the Publishers (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review.  This book has multiple voices, spanning approximately 10 years around WWII in German Occupied France.

It ranges from the mute Adeline, mother of Isabelle, who is staying in a convent following the war. She submits to ongoing tests by French and English doctors in an attempt to find out why she does not speak. We get to hear via Adeline’s dreams there was a trauma she witnessed during the war. Her failure to speak, and also a failure to commit to becoming a nun, frustrates the Mother Superior, and there are thinly veiled threats about moving Adeline away.

Isabelle is a teacher, whose brother Paul gets called up then captured. The two write letters to each other, but we’re never quite sure they reach each other. The one where Isabelle confesses to be in love with (and pregnant by) the Jewish banker Sebastian definitely doesn’t reach him. For Isabelle, being unmarried and pregnant to a man her mother doesn’t remember meeting makes life in the small town very difficult.

Sebastian is Jewish, and he and his father are bankers. Sebastian is out one day visiting Isabelle and he returns home to find his parents have disappeared. He spends some time living rough (he is one of the German Spies that Tristin believes is living in the run down shack outside of town), but it becomes too risky for both him and Isabelle for him to stay, so he slowly makes his way to England.

Tristian is a young boy who sees the war through the eyes of the child he is – the uprooting from Paris to this small village, wondering whether the small boy Simon will ever come back to school – and not understanding references to “those people”, whether Pere Noel will find them this Christmas etc.

There’s a mix of letters and narratives in different voices, chapters are short (often a page long, and rarely dated, even letters) and there is a build up of the mystery as to what happened in the town and why Adaline is now mute. It all comes to a tie together at the end, where even the English doctor treating Adaline seems to have a vested interest in what happened in the village. The central mystery is dealt with in a few short chapters, told in present tense, and in retrospect with Adaline finally letting the walls down on her grief.

For a debut novel, I thought this was very well done, and finely executed. It did take me longer to complete than usual for a book of this size which generally tells me that whilst I liked the book, I didn’t love the book enough to not put it down until I finished.

 

#BookReview: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

at the edge of the orchard

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard is a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

I received At the Edge of the Orchard from the Publishers (Penguin Random House), via Edelweiss, in exchange for a review.

This is told in multiple voices about the Goodenough family, where we initially find them living in the Black Swamp trying to make a space for themselves. James is trying to grow trees, especially the Pitmaston that he remembers his father and grandfather growing. Sadie, his wife, hates the swamp and frontier life, and it becomes a battleground – Sadie the drunken slut who has lost most of her children, and hates the man she’s with and the trees that he looks after more than his wife.

The story jumps back and forth between 1838 and 1853, when the youngest son, Robert, ends up on the west coast of the US, near San Francisco, having been roaming and doing odd jobs for the previous 18 years. It’s a long time before we get to find out what he’s been running from, and what happened to his family since he left the Black Swamp (much of which is told in the form of his letters to his family and from his sister Martha).

In working his way west, Robert has done many a job, including mining for gold, and doing building work for the railroads, but he always seems to come back to trees – a source of fascination for him as a person, and for the British people specifically, who are going through their mania of collecting the unusual plants from all over the world. It’s only in Martha’s letters to Robert that we find out what happened to the family after he left, and we get an inkling of who the father of Martha’s baby is (and what Really Happened to brother Caleb).

After nearly 20 years of separation, Martha tracks Robert down – no mean feat in a country where there is no internet, phone, telegraph, cars, planes etc and where information can be years out of date. There is no Panama Canal, so it can take months to get from one side of the US to the other, never mind the other side of the Ocean.

Robert gets to be astounded by the strength of character of not only his sister Martha but of his part-time girlfriend Molly, both of whom are willing to travel across country (and internationally) no matter the cost.  In his part time landlady Mrs B., we also get an indication of the strength of character of businesswomen who have taken their own life into their hands and live it on their own terms.

Having spent so much time alone and wondering around the country, it is the arrival of both Martha and Molly to see Robert – each with their own surprise – that makes Robert reconsider what he’s been doing the last few decades and where he wants to go next. Suddenly he realises the whole world is available to him.

With Robert and Martha’s parents, we also get to see how harsh Frontier life can be, especially for women who don’t want to be there, and will do everything – bar actually leaving – to make their life worthwhile, even if it makes them and everyone around them miserable.

The multiple voices and narrative mechanisms were employed well and stopped the book from dropping into a dark despair (the family unit was not a good place to grow up in, and both Robert and Martha did well to get away).

I have read several books by Tracy Chevalier before in particular: The Last RunawayThe Lady and the Unicorn, The Virgin Blue

Additional Reviews of this book from around the web

The Independent Newspaper

The Jewish Chronicle Online

Historical Novel Society

Kirkus Reviews

About this author

Having been born in Washington DC, USA, Chevalier moved to London after graduating from Oberlin in 1984. She’d studied for a semester in London and thought it was a great place, so came over for fun, expecting to go back to the US after 6 months to get serious, but is still in London, and still not entirely serious.