Review | The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

One for anyone in need of an uplifting story. 4/5 stars.

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

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

The blurb:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly-imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window.

My take:

This book serves up everything you’d expect from the blurb and cover, and sometimes it’s great to get exactly what you were hoping for.

Bibliotherapy is actually a thing, and this is the sort of story I would prescribe to anyone who needed cheering up. The Flatshare is a fabulous happy hug of a book in which dragons are slain and everything gets wrapped up nicely. If that sounds like the sort of uplifting read you need right now, I wouldn’t hesitate in seeking this book out.

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Review | Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

A deftly-handled tale about stories and storytellers. 4/5 stars.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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

The blurb: A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science?

My take:

As the title gives away, Once Upon a River is a story about stories. I think the main reason it’s so successful as a good yarn is the effort that has gone into creating atmosphere. The author is particularly successful in conjouring up the damp, sometimes murky conditions of the riverside, which makes an evocative setting for scurrilous and possibly supernatural events. The use of the third person narrator also works very well as it’s in keeping with an oral narrative tradition which includes fairytales and myths.

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Recipe | Piñata cupcakes using condensed milk

Fun colourful cupcakes with a surprise sweetie centre made using condensed milk.

How to make Piñata pinata cupcakes recipe made using condensed milk and hidden sweeties and multicoloured icing

Recently I made flapjacks using a recipe which only required half a tin of condensed milk. I wondered if I could use up the rest of the tin by making cake. Unsurprisingly there are lots of condensed milk recipes on the Carnation website, where I got this recipe for piñata cupcakes.

The resulting sponge is light, fluffy and delicious. I’ll definitely be making these again!

Ingredients (makes 12 piñata cupcakes)

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Recipe | Flapjacks using condensed milk

Gorgeous chewy flapjack with the added sweetness of condensed milk.

Making flapjacks with condensed milk simple recipe uk

I suddenly wanted to bake something using condensed milk… not sure what prompted that! I haven’t made flapjacks for ages and wondered if there were flapjacks recipes out there featuring condensed milk. I found the one I used at The Pink Whisk.

Ingredients (makes 16-24 slices of flapjack)

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Recipe | Lemon bars, an easy tray bake

Make these delicious lemon bars from an easy tray bake recipe.

Lemon bars tray bake easy recipe uk

These lemon bars are lovely. The base is light and crumbly. The upper lemon layer separates on baking into a tangy lemon curd and a sweet meringue top.

I found the original recipe for these lemon bars at allrecipes. However I upped the amount of lemon juice and flour in the lemon layer and added lemon zest.

Ingredients (makes 16-20 lemon bars depending on how big you cut them)

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Review | The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

A solid series opener. 3/5 stars.

the house on half moon street by alex reeve

Thank you to Bloomsbury, Raven Books and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: The start of an enticing new historical series set in Victorian London; introducing Leo Stanhope: a transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future

Leo Stanhope. Avid chess player; assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret.

For Leo was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. But knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – and unable to cope with living a lie any longer, he fled his family home at just fifteen and has been living as Leo: his secret known to only a few trusted people. But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.

My take:

I’m partial to stories set in the Victorian period, a mystery and original characters, and The House on Half Moon Street promised all three.

The descriptions of Victorian London are very successful. The details are excellent, and the passages which conjour up the dingier, fogbound parts of the city were particularly evocative.

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Recipe | Valentine’s oreo chocolate bark

Go on! Overload with chocolate for Valentine’s Day!

Valentine's oreo white and mint chocolate bark pink swirl easy uk recipe

You don’t really need a recipe to make chocolate bark because it’s as straightforward as you would expect. Melt chocolate, pour it out, sprinkle with the toppings of your choice, leave to set and that’s it!

I decided to put some oreo biscuit in the base of mine for flavour and a nice crunchy texture. I used Love Hearts, mini Haribo hearts and some heart-shaped sugar sprinkles for the topping, but you can use your favourites.

Ingredients (these quantities make a lot of chocolate bark! The pictures below will give you an idea of just how much. You could halve these amounts if you want to make a small batch)

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Review | The Last by Hanna Jameson

A gripping story let down by its final act. 4/5 stars.

The Last by Hanna Jameson

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

The blurb:

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

My take:

This is certainly an attention-grabbing scenario! You may read the blurb and think, “yeah, but how real will the story seem?” The answer? Scarily so. Maybe it’s because the narrator is a historian and attempting to record everything as factually as possible that makes the narrative feels very realistic. The reactions of all the characters to the end-of-the-world scenario are believable and as varied as they are. The hotel guests are an interesting mix of nationalities and personalities which makes for some dramatic clashes. Also, obviously, being cut off from the world with winter setting in and food supplies dwindling puts pressure on everyone that has to boil over in places.

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Review | Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha

A tough, moving story about learning to live with loss. 4/5 stars.

Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha_cover

Thank you to the author and Inanna Publications for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel.

In the wake of tragedy, if a fresh start is possible for Kavita? Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy,

My take:

From reading the blurb, you’ll appreciate this isn’t an easy read. Side by Side is an unflinching look at loss and, more specifically, survivor’s guilt and the maelstrom of emotions experienced when losing a loved-one to suicide.

However, this is not a depressing book. The story is structured in three acts entitled Fall, Crawl and Rise. As this makes clear, while you’ll reach a point where things look rather bleak for the main character they do eventually start to get better. And although the story is tough, it is definitely worth sticking with, as it’s wonderful to see how Kavita grows through her darkest moments of grief and emerges stronger and wiser.

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Review | The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

An ambitious murder mystery. 3/5 stars.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

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

The blurb: During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

My take:

I was excited to read this as it looked like an interesting combination of some classic murder mystery tropes with darker thriller elements. Perhaps I went in with inflated expectations because sadly I was left disappointed.

I appreciate that the author is trying to take a different approach to a classic murder mystery problem. Like many “closed suspect pool” mysteries, the story starts with the discovery of a body, leaving the characters and us to work out who the murderer is. The Hunting Party runs another mystery in parallel to the “whodunnit” by also keeping back who the victim is until confirming the identity of the deceased at about the 80% mark. Continue reading…