‘Little Lovely Things’ by Maureen Joyce Connolly ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A mother’s chance decision leads to a twist of fate that is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Claire Rawlings, mother of two and medical resident, will not let the troubling signs of an allergic reaction prevent her from making it in for rounds. But when Claire’s symptoms overpower her while she’s driving into work, her two children in tow, she must pull over. Moments later she wakes up on the floor of a gas station bathroom – her car and her precious girls have vanished.

The police have no leads and the weight of guilt presses down on Claire as each hour passes with no trace of her girls. All she has to hold on to are her strained marriage,  a potentially unreliable witness who emerges days later, and the desperate but unquenchable belief that her daughters are out there somewhere.

Little Lovely things is the story of a family shattered by an unthinkable tragedy. Played out in multiple narrative voices, the novel explores how the lives of those affected fatefully intersect, and highlights the potential catastrophe of the small decisions we make every day.

Thank you to Maureen Joyce Connolly, Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for the chance to read and review this book.

It’s a normal, chaotic morning for Claire Rawlings. A medical resident, she faces the regular stress of all working parents to get her young children Andrea, 4, and 15-month-old Lily, ready and out of the door on time. This particular morning she seems to be having an allergic reaction so she takes medication and tries to ignore the pounding in her head. As she drives she is overcome by her increasing symptoms so pulls over to use the bathroom of the gas station. All of a sudden she awakes to find the open door locked and her car containing her precious daughters has gone. The police, an ambulance, and her husband, Glen soon arrive. The stranger she had first alerted to their disappearance even drives to search for them in the direction he saw the stolen car take off. But it is all in vain, there are no clues and both the car and her children appear to have vanished into thin air.

Moira Kelly and Eamon O’Neil are Irish Travellers. They were banished by their clan and finding it increasingly harder to survive being so isolated. On their way to breakfast they spot Claire running into the bathroom. Telling themselves she’s a drug addict undeserving of her children, Eamon decides to steal the car along with the two girls much to Moira’s horror. She demands he takes them back but not only is it against their culture for a traveller woman to order her man what to do, but he holds a secret over her that she is in fear of him exposing. He decides they will take them to a secluded cabin and orders her to drive with the girls in the trunk of their own car so that they aren’t discovered.

Claire lives in limbo as time passes without clues or witnesses. Eventually a witness comes forward with a devastating discovery. Jay White is freshly out of prison, making him an unreliable witness and most of his tale is dismissed by the police. As the years pass they try to move on but the tragedy haunts them, with Claire and Glen living separate lives. The kidnappers live in constant fear of what they did that day being discovered. As they live their lives what none of them foresee is how their fates will converge years later in unexpected ways and how their decisions that day will affect all their lives for many years to come.

The story was narrated by Claire, Moira, Andrea and Jay, which gave us an insight into how not only the parents and one of the victims are affected by the events, which are points of view often explored in these kinds of stories, but also the thoughts and experiences of the kidnappers and a witness. As a mother I had a lot of empathy for Claire but I will admit my immediate reaction on reading that she went to the bathroom without her children made me wonder what on earth she was thinking. This in no way means I thought she deserved to experience every parents worst nightmare, she certainly didn’t, but I did think there were steps she could have taken to at least make what happened less easy for Eamon. I thought her grief and guilt were well written, as was how her marriage was affected by the tragedy. Moira is a hard character to like. I empathised with her in the beginning:  being in an abusive relationship and the heartbreaking things she had gone through in life. I also admired how she at least tried to get Eamon to return the girls. But after that all trace of empathy for her disappeared and I found her chapters hard to get through as she was such a vile character. I do think this was necessary though as without it the story wouldn’t have had the same trajectory and you don’t really want to like the person who’s taken two children. Her traveller background did provide an insight into how she would justify and do things that are unthinkable to a lot of people, something that would have been missing from her character without that. The character I liked most, and I didn’t expect this, was Jay. He had a life mired by tragedy and the scene where he makes his discovery is heartbreaking and raw. You see the goodness in him. Also as someone fresh out of prison a lot of people wouldn’t have tried to help like he did. Seeing how much it all affected him years later endeared me to him too. He was genuinely a man trying to change his life, live right and do the right thing whenever possible. Andrea’s chapters were some of the funniest and most heartbreaking to read. The way she was written when she was taken was fantastic and the scene where she thinks she’s been swallowed by a monster when she’s in the trunk struck me as exactly how a four year old would think in that situation and her terror at realising she’s been taken is heart-rending. The tenacity, intelligence and feistiness she possesses were perfect for her character.

Little Lovely Things is a readable psychological thriller filled with tension and drama from the start. Many times it is very raw as we are given an insight into the darkest moments in people’s lives. From the start of part 2 I was sure I knew how the story would end and it turned out that just like my expectations for much of this book, while I was partially right the author also surprised me with the many twist and turns it took . A great book for anyone who enjoys this genre.

Out April 2nd.

‘The Night Olivia Fell’ by Christina McDonald ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A search for the truth. A lifetime of lies.

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother wants to get: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the dark bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heartwrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: how well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?

I was unprepared for how heartbreaking this book would be, for the tears that flowed in the final chapters; something that hasn’t happened in a few years. There was an overwhelming sense of sorrow and the futile hope that the inevitable ending would change. An amalgamation of mystery, suspense, psychological thriller and tragedy, this is a book you won’t forget.

Abi Knight is woken one night with the call all parents dread: her 17-year-old daughter Olivia is in the hospital, brain dead after falling from a bridge. When the doctor tells her that they are only keeping her alive because of her unborn baby Abi is stunned. She had noticed her daughter wasn’t herself lately, and had even wondered if it was more than teen moodiness, but she was totally unprepared for this.

When the police rule the fall an accident Abi is incensed. To her it is obvious Olivia was pushed: she has bruising on her wrists and the charm bracelet she never took off is missing. With her pleas are falling on deaf ears the grieving mum begins to investigate herself, unaware she is now on a path that mean she will have to confront her greatest fears.

As Abi investigates, she realises how little she really knew about her daughter’s life, including her knowledge of the secret Abi has always tried to hide. Olivia was conceived during a passionate, clandestine relationship. So, with her former lover’s threats ringing in her ears for 17 years, Abi spun a web of lies about his identity, never considering her daughter doubts what she’s been told. When she discovers that Olivia had uncovered the deception and was secretly trying to find out the truth about her father, Abi is terrified. Thankfully she’s being helped by victim advocate Anthony who has the right knowledge and connections she needs to prove who hurt Olivia that night before time runs out.

This book started off to me like any other thriller. I was riveted by the prologue and loved the imagery used by the author. It felt like there was a movie reel playing in my mind as I read. The different language used depending on whether it was Abi or Olivia narraTing was perfect. Abi read exactly like a loving, devoted mother who was also a little overbearing, controlling and neurotic. She clearly has her daughter’s best interest at the centre of every move she makes and while her decision to tell lie about Olivia’s father proves to be the wrong choice, it is one that you can understand her making as a young, frightened girl. Her own past is marred by tragedy and parental abandonment and you can see how this has lead to her going to extremes to live her life as Olivia’s mum and nothing more. Her anguish as she tries to find the truth, grieve her daughter, face her past and find the strength she needs to possibly raise the grandchild who may not survive. In Olivia’s chapters I felt like I was reading narration by my own teenagers. You could tell Olivia was a bright, sensible girl who just wanted her mother to lay off the helicopter parenting and give her a bit of freedom. When she was struggling with the realisation her mum had lied to her all her life it was heartbreaking as you saw her lose her faith in the one person she’d always relied on. The chapter where Olivia narrated the fall was harrowing for me, particularly when she describes her feelings of slipping away. It took the air from my lungs and was a reminder of the unnecessary tragedy of the loss of a young girl’s future.

The final chapters of this book and the epilogue were the most emotional for me. The writing was beautiful yet full of heartbreak. But there was also a joyfulness as Abi learned to love and live even after losing the daughter who had been her whole life for seventeen years. I felt a kinship with Abi as my own “baby” is just turning 15, two years younger than Olivia, I was a single parent for most of his life, and my own history meant I had to protect him from his father most of that time. Unlike Abi I chose appropriate truths and he knew who his father was,although I do understand why Abi made the decisions she did with Olivia’s father being an illicit relationship. The indescribable loss Abi felt when learning her child wasn’t going to wake up tore me in two. A life was taken far too soon and not only was it Olivia’s future that was stolen, but a part of many other people’s too.

The questions raised in the synopsis were the crux of this novel: how well do you know your children? How well do they know you? For me, it was a reminder that as our children get older we know them less and they know us better. When they’re young they don’t leave your side for a minute, there’s no privacy. Who they are is transparent and they often tell us their secrets without realising it. As they become teenagers our children become an enigma, a stranger made of our own flesh. They tell their secrets to their friends, have whole sides to their personality that are hidden.They start to carve out their own path and find their place in the world. Teenagers also suffer from the delusion that they know best and that adults are just out to ruin their fun or make life difficult. They forget we were once that age and my own teenagers are regularly shocked we know their next move or true motivation. I now find myself sounding like my own parents did all those years ago: ‘We were your age once you know’, or ‘You’ll understand when you’re a parent’. Such a cliche! But our children are having the opposite experience to us. When they were younger they thought their parents knew everything, could do no wrong, had life figured out and existed solely as their mum or dad. Now they are seeing through the illusion and realising we had lives before they were born, that we are our own person with a life separate to them, that we have faults and make mistakes, and we have no idea what we’re doing half the time. Some, like Olivia, find out their parent has lied to them their whole life and questioning everything they thought they knew.

The Night Olivia Fell is a sensational debut novel. The author had the perfect mix of suspense, drama, tragedy, heartbreak and joy that made this a book I would highly recommend.

Out now on kindle.

Out in paperback 7th March.

‘Closer Than You Think’ by Darren O’Sullivan ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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He’s watching. She’s waiting.

Having barely escaped the clutches of a serial killer, Claire Moore has struggled to rebuild her life. After her terrifying encounter with the man the media dubbed The Black-Out Killer, she became an overnight celebrity: a symbol of hope and survival in the face of pure evil. And then the killings stopped.

Now ten years have passed and Claire remains traumatised by her brush with death. Though she has a loving and supportive family around her, what happened that night continues to haunt her still.

Just when things are starting to improve, there’s a power cut, a house fire, another victim found killed in the same way as before.

The Black-Out Killer is back. And he’s coming for Claire.

Thank you to Netgalley, HQ Digital and Darren O’Sullivan for the chance to read and review this book.

“The one who lived”. That’s what the media called her. But Claire Moore doesn’t feel like she’s living. It’s been a decade since she survived the night that she was supposed to become the victim of a serial killer. A night that killed her husband. Still struggling with the guilt of not dying too, afraid to be in the bathroom alone, plagued by nightmares of that night and a fear of someone coming for her once again, Claire is a virtual prisoner. On the rare occasions she leaves her house she is terrified of every noise she hears and person she sees. But she wants to live again so in an attempt to lay her ghosts to rest she heads back to the place her life was destroyed and to visit her husband’s grave for the first time since his death. Not only that but on the advice of her mother she starts a slow building relationship with a man named Paul who is patient and understanding of her trauma. Maybe she can finally enjoy life again. If only she could shake the paranoia she’s being watched…

But what Claire doesn’t know is she isn’t paranoid, there is someone watching her. The same man who tried to kill her ten years ago is watching and he doesn’t like what he sees. She’s forgetting him and the lesson he taught her. He writes her chilling letters but never posts them, waiting for the right time for her to read them. The letters detail his obsession, his disappointment, his promises that they will meet again soon and that this time she won’t get away. But first he has to make her remember him. What better way than by killing again in the exact same way he did before; striking fear not only in Claire, but the general public once again.

This book was narrated by both Claire and the elusive killer, who’s name we don’t know for almost all the book. I think having the killer narrating as well as including the letters he was writing helped the tension of the book. When the book starts the world thinks The Black-Out Killer is dead so without the chapters from the killer it would seem like Claire, who is constantly on edge and frightened of every little thing, was being paranoid and it would have been easy to get sick of her character, despite the empathy I felt for what she’d been through. But as we knew he was still alive and plotting her demise once more, there was apprehension every time Claire left the house, or thought she was being watched or heard a suspicious noise in the house and I felt like telling her to be even more cautious many times as we knew she was right to be worried, but just not in the way she knew of.

I did like both of the main characters and, yes, I’m aware it’s a little strange to like a serial killer, but I liked that he was intelligent and had clear motivations for what he did, albeit very twisted and misguided ones. His obsession with Claire seemed to be something he couldn’t shake, a weakness as it were. The conflicting duality of his personality: a killer who delighted in his task, and relished the pain and terror he inflicted, bu then also held himself to a strict reason for each victim being chosen and vetting process, rather than simply killing for fun, was captivating. Claire was also a great character. Her agoraphobia, unhealthy coping mechanisms and fear of trust were understandable of someone who had gone through what she did. The reason it could have become annoying is very often she was overreacting to things but when you know she’s in mortal danger and is actually being watched by the killer you are glad she isn’t blase about things. The thing I loved most about how Claire was written was the fantastic description of her anxiety and panic attacks. I too suffer from them and after reading this book I will forever see them as “icy fingers playing” or “the icy hand that rested in my chest.” I’ve never read such a vivid and accurate description of how it feels.

I liked that I was never quite sure if my suspicions of certain characters were correct while reading this book. There were people who rang alarm bells but I always had this nagging doubt that this could be “him”. However absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the big reveal and I was in awe at the final twist the story took before leaving me to rethink everything I had just read. A brilliant thriller from an author I will certainly be reading again.

Out March 15th.

 

 

‘The Book of Essie’ by Meghan MacLean Weir ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story, of the seventeen-year old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.

Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolised and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges and emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage — and a ratings-blockbuster wedding?

Meanwhile Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Seventeen-year-old Esther “Essie” Hicks knows no other life than being on TV. Star of Six for Hicks, a show that follows her fundamentalist family. The show has been airing since before Essie was born which along with her family’s extreme religious views makes her an outcast at school. But Essie is about to shock them all: she’s pregnant.

It is decided that Essie should be married as soon as possible so her mother, Celia, begins looking for a suitable husband. Roarke Richards, a football star in the year above, is the approached after he’s been deemed the perfect candidate and preparations soon begin.

After an interview to discuss her plans after graduation, Essie offers the journalist, Liberty Bell, a series of exclusive interviews covering her upcoming marriage. Though she’s taken aback by the offer, after all Essie has only minutes ago declared she was seeing her first boyfriend, Libby accepts the offer. But as we later learn Essie has her own motives for offering her the deal.

As plans are made for a wedding special that will boost the ailing show’s ratings, we learn more of Essie’s plan, watch as she and Roarke become closer, and find out dark secrets about her family that would tear them and their media empire apart if revealed.

I had heard that this book took an honest look at what it was like to grow up in religious fundamentalism, but other than that I had no idea what to expect. We first meet Essie when she’s eavesdropping on a meeting between her mother and some of the people who run their show as they discuss her pregnancy. When she dropped her bombshell she knew that any decisions made would not be hers. Like every other decision throughout her life it will be made by the people she’s listening to, only this time Essie has a plan to steer things into going her way. With the inevitable decision she should be married made, Essie drops the breadcrumbs to lead her mother to the “right” candidate and, as Essie hoped, it is decided that she should marry Roarke Richards, a football star a year older than Essie. His parents are invited for a meeting where a proposal is made by Celia and her team. Roarke is aghast when his parents first tell him of the idea and is adamant he would never marry Essie. But after she takes him aside at school she wins him over, though it still isn’t clear why she chose him and what her full plan is.

Part of Essie’s plan involves tracking down her sister, Lissa, who left the family when she was 18 and hasn’t been back or spoken to them since. To do this she enlists the help of journalist Liberty Bell, who is well known for the blog and podcast she had as a teenager, and the book she wrote preaching her religious doctrine, which included homophobia. She was raised in what she now realises was a cult and still carries guilt over the death of her twin sister, Justice, when they were children. At 21 Libby had her eyes opened and used the money she’d made from her book to fund her escape from the cult. But her past still haunts her and limits the jobs she can get as a journalist, which is how she ends up interviewing Essie about her plans after graduation one afternoon. But I couldn’t help but wonder if Essie was also looking at Libby as someone who could help her find a way out of her life. There’s no one more perfect for helping her escape than someone who has fled a similar existence themselves.

Whilst reading this book I was struck by three thoughts: that I’m in love with the name Essie, this book reminds me of the Duggar family, and that I’m glad my eyes were opened to indoctrination and the faults of some organised religion. While my own experience wasn’t of fundamentalism, I do know how easy it is to believe in things blindly because it’s all you’ve ever known and how hard it is when you begin to question that. The way this book highlights extreme religion, religious indoctrination, and the misuse of religion, all without judgement of those who believe without question and don’t take part in the murkier aspect of things, made it very relatable and will no doubt educate a lot of people. Faith and religion isn’t bad, but using those things to control, exploit, abuse or incite hatred is. And is those things that this book is critical of. Essie exhibits tremendous bravery in her plan to bring the terrible truth out of the shadows while knowing it is at a huge personal cost. I thought her character was well-written, though there were times I didn’t like her decisions but often these things were borne out of inexperience through her age or upbringing.

The Book of Essie covers numerous topics such as religion, fame, family, and motherhood. It is also a story about independence, being true to yourself, and standing up for what is right. The story was readable and though I wouldn’t describe it as ‘gripping’, it did hold my interest. even though I guessed the dark secret early on I enjoyed reading how Essie dealt with it and the choices she made. I was completely surprised however when her full intention for having Libby involved and was on captivated as this part of the story as it unfolded. This is a great debut novel that shows how you can break free of your past and find happiness in who you really are.

Out Now.

January Wrap Up

I feel like I say this about every month, but how are we at the end of January already? In some ways Christmas seems an eternity ago but in others I feel like I blinked on New Years Day and then it’s the 31st.

So how has everyone’s reading been this month? Despite illness that prevented me from reading for over a week I’ve still managed to read 14 books this month. Seven of those books were from NetGalley, I read two on Kindle Unlimited, one was the monthly read with #OurLittleBookClub and three others. I loosely plan my reads each month (I’m a mood reader) and out of the ten I planned I read seven.

It’s been a month filled with unputdownable books. I love it when almost all my reads that month are enjoyable, exciting and memorable and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Life’s too short for rubbish books!

  1. ‘The Lie’ by C. L. Taylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I’d heard that this author wrote fantastic thrillers but this was my first time reading any of them. Full of unexpected twists and turns this gripping thriller is told in dual timelines as we try to find out who Jane Hughes really is, what happened in her past that she’s running from and who is sending her messages threatening to expose her secret. It was full of anticipation and though I tried desperately I had no idea who had been tormenting Jane until it was revealed. Out Now                                                                                    
  2. ‘In Safe Hands’ by J. P. Carter ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This book is the first of a new crime series and I am so excited for the next installment. DCI Anna Tate and her team investigate the kidnapping of nine children from their nursery one summer morning. The situation is made all the more urgent when they discover that one of the children taken has Cystic Fibrosis and could die without his daily medication. Eventually the kidnappers get in touch demanding a ransom and threatening the lives of the children if they aren’t paid. This was a thriller full of heart pounding suspense. Out Now.
  3. ‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Imagine if you could lock up your secrets and forget your pain. In this magical book apprentice binder Emmett Farmer finds that you can do just that, though he’s not sure if it’s right. I found that my interest wavered for most of part one but that part two redeemed the book and I fell in love. It is an enchanting tale about family duty, dark magic, love against the odds, lies and self discovery. You haven’t read anything like this before. Out Now.
  4. ‘Verity’ by Colleen Hoover ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Wow! This breathtaking thriller was enthralling and genuinely terrifying. I can’t believe the author has never written this genre before and I’m going to need her to write more! The story follows struggling writer Lowen Ashleigh as she embarks on the task of finishing the final three books in the bestselling The Noble Virtues series. The author of the series, Verity Crawford, is unable to finish them after an accident that left her almost catatonic. Whilst looking through her office for Verity’s notes and outlines Lowen comes across a manuscript for the author’s autobiography. What is on those pages is more shocking and disturbing than any book she’s written and as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy Crawford, Verity’s husband, deepen she begins to justify to herself that he should know what his wife is really like. The ending to this book had my jaw on the floor and I am still shocked by it. This is a must read for any thriller lovers out there. Out Now.
  5. ‘No Exit’ by Taylor Adams ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Student Darby Thorne is forced to take shelter from a storm in a rest stop with four strangers. Whilst braving the weather to try and get a signal to call her dying mother she sees a young girl in a crate inside the van parked next to her car. What follows is a heart-stopping ride as Darby tries to figure out who kidnapped the girl, who she is and how to rescue her without endangering their lives. All on a night where there is no help coming and she has no idea who she can really trust. Out Now
  6. ‘The Day of the Accident’ by Nuala Ellwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Maggie Allan wakes in a hospital room with no recollection of how she got there. She is told she has been in a coma for ten weeks following a car accident that claimed the life of her daughter Elspeth. In a further blow she is told her husband, Sean, disappeared just after the funeral three weeks ago. Her world as she knew it now gone, Maggie is determined to find regain her memory and discover the truth about the accident and find her husband. A gripping thriller with a multilayered plot, this book was hard to put down. Fans of thrillers will love this story full of twists and turns and shocking revelations. Out 21st February.
  7. ‘Call Me Evie’ by J. P. Pomare ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I’d been highly anticipating this strange but addictive debut thriller. Evie is being held captive by a man who claims she did something terrible. But Evie is sure she did nothing wrong. And Evie isn’t even her real name. We are told the story in two timelines: before and after the night something awful happened. I found the book very confusing at first, but I think that was because the character was confused and we were reading from her perspective. The story soon became clearer and I was hooked. I devoured the book in one sitting. It is cleverly written and keeps you guessing until the end. Out 18th April.
  8. ‘The Book of Essie’ by Meghan MacLean Weir ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – ‘Six for Hicks’ is a reality TV show that follows  17-year-old Essie Hicks and the rest of her fundamentalist Christian family. When she falls pregnant panic ensues before it is eventually decided that she will be married to Roarke Richards, a senior at her high school. As they sell their love story to the adoring public they are interviewed by Liberty Bell, a reporter with a famous conservative history of her own. As the wedding approaches, Essie tries to find out why her older sister left and hasn’t been in touch since, tries to decide how much she can trust those around her with the secrets her family is trying to hide, and learns if she has the courage to both be who she really is and stand up for what is right no matter the personal cost. This debut novel reveals the truth of growing up in religious extremism and what it takes to break free. Out now.
  9. ‘What Happens in France’ by Carol Wyer ⭐⭐⭐.5 – This hilarious novel follows Bryony as she takes part in a new game show as part of a plan to try and find her sister, Hannah, who went missing thirty years ago. Byrony, her teammate Lewis and their fellow castmates, who are made up of colourful characters such as Oscar and his Instagram-famous dog, and Jim who is the epitome of everyone’s ideal lovable Grandad, are put through their paces in a variety of challenges as they battle for the top prize. But her goal isn’t the prize money, it’s to raise awareness of Hannah’s disappearance and hopefully find her at last. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It made me laugh and is perfect if you want to read something lighthearted. Out Now.
  10. ‘My Lovely Wife’ by Samantha Downing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The first words that come to mind to describe this book are consuming, riveting, dark, twisted, and unforgettable. Narrated by Tobias who lives with his wife, Millicent, and their two children, this is a thriller about a seemingly normal family with a dark secret. Tobias thinks he knows the worst things about his wife and trusts her implicitly. But as a serial killer haunts their town he learns he doesn’t know Millicent at all. My review for this jaw-dropping thriller will be posted on release day. Out 2nd May.
  11. ‘Jar of Hearts’ by Jennifer Hillier ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 –This was my first read by Jennifer Hillier but it won’t be my last. This is not a thriller for the fainthearted but if you can handle dark, gruesome scenes then you will love this spectacular story about Geo who is trying to rebuild her life after serving time in prison for her role in the death of her best friend, Angela, fourteen years ago. Angela’s killer, The Sweetbay Strangler, who was Geo’s boyfriend at the time,  escaped from prison a few years before her release. Now bodies are turning up killed just like Angela was and it seems her former boyfriend isn’t done with Geo just yet. Out Now.
  12. ‘The Husband’s Secret’ by Liane Moriarty ⭐⭐⭐ – This was the January read for #OurLittleBookClub19 . If you discovered a letter your husband wrote asking you to read it only in the event of his death but he’s still alive, would you open it? That’s the dilemma faced by Cecilia when she finds such a letter in her attic one day. A letter that if opened will have repercussions not just for Cecilia and her family, but others too. I had high hopes for this book. I enjoyed the narrators’ inner monologues, the symbolism of the Berlin Wall and loved the epilogue, but sadly the book generally fell flat for me. The plotting was all over the place, it lacked tension and just didn’t seem believable that these characters would make life changing decisions in the space of a few days. The group overall rated the book 3⭐ Out Now
  13. ‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker⭐⭐⭐.5 – A mysterious sleeping sickness envelops a small Californian town in this unique and mesmerising book. As the sickness spreads you are hoping for answers to be found quickly and waiting to see if people will wake. The book started out poetic and magical but lost some of it’s charm as we got further into the story. This was partly because some of the mystery disappears as we know the characters, but also I think because I was unprepared for how philosophical this book would be. A beautifully written book that I enjoyed but felt a little unsatisfied with. Out 7th February.
  14. ‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  – I read this book as a buddy read and thank goodness I did because I really needed to talk about the whole thing! This book was fantastically written, eerie, genuinely scary at times and absolutely phenomenal. I’ve literally just finished this an hour before the month ends and am still reeling from the ending. So, I will gather my thoughts and post a review in the next few days. Out Now.

Choosing a favourite has been harder this month than ever before with so many wonderful books. The books I’ve enjoyed most this month are ‘Verity’, ‘No Exit’, ‘Call Me Evie’, ‘My Lovely Wife’, and ‘The Silent Companions’. It is impossible for me to decide between ‘My Lovely Wife’ and ‘The Silent Companions’ so I will call January’s Book of the Month a tie between the two.

What was your favourite book this month? Have you read any of the ones I read this month? Comment below and let me know.

Thank you to NetGalley, Avon Books UK, Harper Collins UK, Penguin Books, Penguin UK, Michael Joseph, Little, Brown Book Group UK, Canelo and Simon and Schuster UK Fiction for the chance to read and review ARCs.

‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker ⭐⭐⭐.5

At first they blame the air.

It’s an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried by the wind. A strange haze is seen drifting through the town that first night, the night the trouble begins. It arrives like weather, or like smoke, some say later, but no one can locate any fire. Some blame the drought which, for years, has been bleeding away the lake and drowning the air with dust. Whatever this is, it came over the town quitely: a sudden drowsiness, the closing of eyes. Most of the victims are found in their beds.

One night in an isolated college town south of the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her bedroom, falls asleep–and doesn’t wake up.

She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roomate cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry the girl away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital.

The second girl falls asleep, and a third, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads the town.

Gorgeously written, The Dreamers is a breathtaking novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within human life–in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK Fiction, NetGalley and Karen Thompson Walker for the chance to read and review this novel.

“She looks like an ordinary girl sleeping an ordinary sleep.”

The town of Santa Lora, California is enveloped by a mysterious illness known as the “sleeping sickness”. It originates in a dorm in the town’s college when a freshman comes home and falls asleep on her bed still wearing the clothes she’d gone out in. When she’s still sleeping almost 24 hours later her roommate calls an ambulance and she’s taken to hospital where baffled doctors try to figure out why she won’t wake. Then, another girl won’t wake up and the doctor’s start to worry.

Rumours are soon abound and local journalists begin to report on the events. But people aren’t overly concerned, it seems to just be something happening at the college on one dorm floor, no need for panic. As a precaution the students on that floor are isolated and monitored while the other students are evacuated; an overreaction in their opinion. But then others start to fall asleep and can’t be stirred. Specialists are called in, and the sleep specialists confirms the sleepers are dreaming. But other than that the only thing they know for sure is it is highly contagious. They begin to monitor everyone possibly exposed but it does nothing to slow the spread of the sickness, and soon extreme measures are taken to try and isolate this strange affliction to the small town.

“But isn’t every sleep a  kind of isolation? When else are we so alone?”

When I started this book I was immediately enthralled by the poetic way in which it is written. The author has a distinctive style that is haunting, graceful, and breathtakingly beautiful. My mind was full of images of young ladies laid like Sleeping Beauty, but this time a Prince’s kiss couldn’t save them. The fascinating story was cryptic but in a way that made me want to read on and see where it would take me. I was invested in the people of this small town and eager to know what the sleeping sickness was, hoping a cure would be found before too many were affected.

Unfortunately, I found that as the book went on not only did the writing lose some of its magic, but the charm of the story faded a little too. Some of it was inevitable as we became more familiar with the illness and the characters, but it felt like the story wasn’t sure itself where it was heading anymore. I also felt like there was no real conclusion and I was left feeling dismayed that none of the things that were hinted at early on were included. You are left puzzling what you’ve read and there was a lot of philosophical references that influenced the direction it took. I wasn’t expecting these and think it made the story require more contemplation than my brain was able to handle at the time.

“Not everything that happens in a life can be digested…Some images never leave the mind.”

The Dreamers is a unique, mesmerising, enchanting, memorable book that can be abstract at times and has a serene air that rarely leaves, even though there is tension in the moments it is needed. The unsatisfying ending only meant a lower rating for me and I would still recommend this book, especially if you want to read something that’s completely different.

Out now.

‘The Husband’s Secret’ by Liane Moriarty ⭐⭐⭐

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At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read.

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died….

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble upon the letter while your husband is still very much alive…

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything – and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other –  but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses – and ultimately ourselves.

Cecilia Fitzpatrick is in the attic looking for her piece of the Berlin Wall to show her daughter, Esther, who’s currently obsessed with that particular point in history. When she knocks over some shoe boxes of paperwork she is surprised to find a letter addressed to her in her husband’s hand that says it should only be opened in the event of his death. Unnerved and curious, she takes it with her from the attic and racks her brain to think why John-Paul would have written it. What did he need to tell her so badly upon his death that he couldn’t tell her while alive? With no answers in mind she then ponders her dilemma: whether or not to open the letter. As Cecilia does this you inevitably consider what you’d do in her position, beginning a theme of this novel where you will ask yourself that question many times as the characters face life changing situations and decisions that may initially seem black and white, but are actually coloured multiple shades of grey.

The book is narrated by three very different women: Cecilia, a woman who, like her house and children, is always perfectly put together, she’s very active socially in her children’s school and the local community and runs a successful business. Cecilia is happily married and prides herself on perfection and order. Then there’s Rachel, a widow who works as St Angela’s school secretary, is still grieving the death of her daughter, Janie, many years ago to the point where it has almost become her identity. She barely leaves the house except for work and finds joy in the days she cares for her young grandson Jacob. Finally we have Tess, who’s come back to Sydney to stay with her mother after her husband and cousin have announced they are in love. Socially anxious she tries to avoid talking to the other mothers and is desperately trying to find a way to come to terms with the bomb that was dropped into her life and put the pieces back in some kind of order.

As I started reading I was intrigued and thought the women were relatable characters. Though I probably related most of all to Tess I found it was her storyline I had the least investment in and, if I’m honest, I didn’t understand the reason for having her as a narrator rather than a secondary character. While some of that did become clearer, I still think the book could have been as good, maybe even better, if it had just focused on Cecilia and Rachel. Also, while they were relatable and at times I had empathy for them, I didn’t like any of the protagonists. They all became increasingly unlikeable as the book went on and I found Tess particularly aggravating at the end.

Throughout the book there are many references to, and facts about, the Berlin Wall. It starts off as simply being Cecilia’s middle daughter’s latest obsession and her reason for searching the attic. But not only does her daughter keep bringing up the wall, there are also facts mentioned at other points and sometimes we will be told what some of the characters were doing at that same time. I realised that the symbolism was each character was facing their own Berlin Wall of sorts; a time of division in their lives and the choice to knock it down and rebuild their lives or allow it to remain standing and plod along. I thought it was an interesting choice and I enjoyed learning more about the history of the wall as I was just ten when it came down and only really remember that aspect of it.

I wanted to love this book. The synopsis sounded exciting but for me the book fell flat. I guessed the secret very quickly but that wasn’t something that impacted my enjoyment. For me it was that once the secret was revealed, which is quite early on in the book, the small amount of tension that had been there dissipated, the plotting was all over the place and it was a chore to reach the end. I read this book as part of my book club and one of the readers said something that I feel sums up how I felt about this book: it seemed purposeless. An issue I had was the timescale: the whole book takes place over just one week. These characters are trying to come to terms with things that have rocked their whole world and make life changing decisions, something that doesn’t happen quickly. Yet we were expected to believe they did so over the course of less than a week. I’m not going to give any spoilers but I didn’t like the final decisions any of the characters made or the tone the book ended on before the epilogue. It felt too cliched, syrupy sweet and there were no real conclusions.

There were some things I did really enjoy about this story, for example I liked the character’s inner monologue and how that drove the story. I also liked the chapters written from Janie’s perspective the day of her death as they made her a real person, someone we cared about so we felt the tragedy of her death along with her family.  But the thing I enjoyed most of all was the epilogue. If the whole book was as beautiful, emotional and amazing as that I’d be writing a very different review. The “sliding doors” aspect in relation to Janie’s death was haunting and tragic as we see what could have been. I felt like it enforced one of the book’s themes which was that secrets have far reaching consequences and every decision we make has an impact on others besides ourselves and can set us on a completely different and unexpected course in life.

Her Husband’s Secret was an okay book but I don’t think I’d recommend it. The author is highly regarded so I think if you’re going to pick up one of her novels then it is best to start with a different title.

Out Now.