Review | The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning

A cracking yarn retold for today. 4/5 stars.

The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning cover

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Beautiful, brilliant, ruthless – nothing can stop Becky Sharp.

Determined to leave her poverty-stricken roots behind her, Becky Sharp is going to take every opportunity offered to her to climb to the top. Whether it’s using her new BFF Amelia Sedley to step up into the rarified world of London’s upper classes, or seducing society’s most eligible bachelors, Becky Sharp is destined for great things – at any cost.

From London to Paris and beyond, the world is there for Becky’s taking – even though some people are determined to stop her along the way…

My take:

Vanity Fair (1848) is one of my favourite books, so I jumped at the chance to read The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp.

This is a fun retelling of Vanity Fair in a contemporary context. Free from all of Thackeray’s more (perhaps) long-winded sections, the story zips along, honing in on what makes the original book so brilliant – Becky Sharp – and refocusing the narrative so we’re under no illusions as to which character is the star. That said, just like in Thackeray’s version, Manning’s Becky is also made to earn her time in the limelight, leaving the other characters, and us, slack-jawed in her wake.

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ARC Review | A Keeper by Graham Norton

Irish Gothic is alive and well. 4/5 stars.

A Keeper by Graham Norton

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

A Keeper will be published on 4th October 2018.

The blurb: The mystery of Elizabeth Keane’s father is one that has never been solved by the people of Buncarragh – not for lack of speculation.

Her mother Patricia had been assumed a spinster, until she began dating a mysterious man from out of town, and within months had left Buncarragh and had married. Less than two years later, Patricia was back, with a new baby in her arms, but no new husband by her side and unbendingly silent about her recent past. A secret she would take with her to her grave.

Now, as Elizabeth returns to the village after her mother’s funeral, bringing with her her own regrets and wounds, she finds a thin pile of ribbon-bound letters at the back of a wardrobe that may at last hold the key to her past.

My take:

I must apologise if this review comes across as muddled. I’m trying incredibly hard to avoid spoilers as I think you’ll get the most from this book if you go in knowing as little as possible, as I did.

This story is a fascinating mix of a present day thread which seems all too familiar – someone coming home to deal with the estate of a dead relative and unearthing family secrets – and a past thread which made me think “WHAT?!” more than once. I have to be vague to avoid spoiling it, but this past part of the narrative is brilliant, moving flawlessly from a sweet, if slightly unusual romance, to something more sinister but not altogether unexpected (the seeds of doubt are sown subtly, but they’re there).

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Review | The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Everything you’d expect from Poirot, if that appeals to you! 3.5/5 stars.

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: The world’s most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot – the legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket—returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in 1930s’ London.

My take:

It hasn’t been long since I read an original Poirot story and so I can confidently say I’m impressed with how convincingly Sophie Hannah imitates Christie’s style. I also like that she gives us more narrative viewpoints than you get in most classic Poirot stories. We get to see events from Catchpole, Poirot and a few of the minor characters’ POVs and it’s a great way to drip feed us information as the puzzle pieces slowly slot into place.

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Review | All That Was Lost by Alison May #AllThatWasLost

Love hurts. 4/5 stars.

All That Was Lost by Alison May Cover

I’m delighted to be on today’s stop of the Blog Tour for All That Was Lost by Alison May. The book was published on 6th September and you can get your own copy at Amazon UK.

Thank you to Legend Press and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of the book.

The blurb: In 1967 Patience Bickersleigh is a teenager who discovers a talent for telling people what they want to hear. Fifty years later she is Patrice Leigh, a nationally celebrated medium. But cracks are forming in the carefully constructed barriers that keep her real history at bay.

Leo is the journalist hired to write Patrice’s biography. Struggling to reconcile the demands of his family, his grief for his lost son, and his need to understand his own background, Leo becomes more and more frustrated at Patrice’s refusal to open up.

Because behind closed doors, Patrice is hiding more than one secret. And it seems that now, her past is finally catching up with her.

My take:

As you’ll have seen from the blurb, the central character in All That Was Lost is a medium. This made me slightly worried going in as I have serious issues with anyone who exploits the grief of others to make money. That Alison May manages to make Patrice sympathetic is a real achievement, one made mostly through some well-timed flashbacks to her youth in the 1960s.

The 60s storyline is interwoven with present day events and was my favourite part of the book. This is probably because I’m a sucker for excellent period detail but I also loved the adult world of hypocrisy and secrets surrounding the young Patience which is cleverly revealed as she gradually becomes aware of them.

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Review | The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams (The Universe After #1)

Good ideas, interesting characters, but a few too many battles for me. 4/5 stars.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax – a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Kamali, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning…

My take:

Wow, but does this hit the ground running! The story starts as it means to go on, throwing us into the deep end of events without much explanation as to what’s happening or how the status quo came about. Not that we’re given time to ponder those questions anyway, as it’s pretty much all action from page one.

As you always hope for with sci-fi, the world-building is good and the characters are an interesting mix. The author makes the most of the intergalactic setting and gives us humans, aliens and AI either rubbing along or trying to blast each other out of the sky. I particularly like that the main character is a world-weary female soldier whose gender is irrelevant. What is relevant is that she’s extremely good at her job; her skills and knowledge are so central to her identity we don’t even find out her name until late in the book.

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Review | Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Glittering fantasy rooted in the real. 4/5 stars.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Thank you to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village.

Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike.

Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.

My take:

I jumped at the chance to read Spinning Silver after being impressed by Novik’s last novel: Uprooted. Everything I enjoyed about that book is present in her latest offering, and with Spinning Silver I think she’s improved on many of the strengths of her previous story.

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Review | The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

A creepy mystery filled with family secrets. 4/5 stars.

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Thank you to Random House UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb:  When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…

My take:

With her latest book, Ruth Ware brings us a different angle on the disappeared person mystery. Rather than a professional or amateur sleuth digging to uncover the truth, our investigator is Hal, a young woman attempted to con her way to an inheritance.

Fans of mystery tales will get into and feel at home with this story quickly because it contains so many familiar elements from other stories in the genre. For example: the Agatha Christiesque large house, an extended family gathering and a will reading. There are also knowing touches of du Maurier, with one of the characters actually saying that the spooky housekeeper is a bit Mrs Danvers! The author exploits these features to keep us guessing, setting us up for the story to go in one direction before swerving off in another.

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Review | Believe Me by JP Delaney

Entertainingly twisty. 4/5 stars.

Believe Me by JP Delaney

Thank you to Quercus and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: A British drama student, in New York without a green card, Claire takes the only job she can get: working for a firm of divorce lawyers, posing as an easy pick-up in hotel bars to entrap straying husbands.

When one of her targets becomes the subject of a murder investigation, the police ask Claire to use her acting skills to help lure their suspect into a confession. But right from the start, she has doubts about the part she’s being asked to play. Is Patrick Fogler really a killer… Or the only decent husband she’s ever met? And is there more to this set-up than she’s being told?

And that’s when Claire realises she’s playing the deadliest role of her life…

My take:

This review will be short and spoiler-free.

Last year I enjoyed JP Delaney’s debut: The Girl Before. It was creepy, well-paced and entertaining, and Believe Me is even better. This is a smooth, quick read which is so engrossing you won’t want to put it down.

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Review | Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

An atmospheric mystery rather than horror yarn. 4/5 stars.

Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Thank you to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

Have you ever played two truths and a lie?

Emma has. Her first summer away from home, she learned how to play the game. And she learned how to lie.

Then three of her new friends went into the woods and never returned . . .

Now, years later, Emma has been asked to go back to the newly re-opened Camp Nightingale. She thinks she’s laying old ghosts to rest but really she’s returning to the scene of a crime.

Because Emma’s innocence might be the biggest lie of all…

My take:

Last year I read and enjoyed Riley Sager’s Final Girls but struggled with the book’s pacing. The first two thirds seemed to feature little more than the characters dithering about getting themselves into trouble unnecessarily before the blistering final third went a long way towards making up for all the preamble. Last Time I Lied doesn’t suffer from the same issue. The action is evenly paced. The chapters tend to alternate between the present and the past incident when Emma’s three cabin mates went missing. The present day narrative gets going quickly and the relevant events from the past are dripped in nicely to keep things moving forward and ramp up suspense.

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Review | The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

More melancholy love story than lost-letter mystery. 3.5/5 stars.

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

Thank you to Penguin UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, William Woolf is one of thirty letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers.

When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’ his work takes on new meaning. Written by a woman to a soulmate she hasn’t met yet, the missives stir William in ways he didn’t know were possible. Soon he begins to wonder: Could William be her great love?

William must follow the clues in Winter’s letters to solve his most important mystery yet: the human heart.

My take:

The premise is possibly the most captivating element of this book: William’s job as a sort of lost letter detective is brilliant. The couple of times he manages to reunite parcels with their intended recipients were the highlights of the story for me. In fact, I could have read an entire book just about his parcel/letter sleuthing! And William’s particular obsession – people who address letters to supernatural entities such as God – was fascinating and a great choice. However, rather than taking centre stage (as I would have liked), the Lost Letter Office is just one backdrop to the over-arching story of William and Clare’s troubled marriage.

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