Review | Relatively Strange (Strange series 1) by Marilyn Messik

A captivating blend of the everyday and extraordinary

Relatively Strange by Marilyn Messik book cover

Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-copy of her book.

The blurb:

“I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension.

Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

But in a world of uncertainties, one thing’s beyond doubt – this hero stuff really isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it, is what she wants and if that means smothering her instincts and adjusting her expectations well, so be it. At least she’ll then know should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be through choice, not chance and to suit herself. Isn’t it a fact though that just when you think you’ve got yourself sorted, life turns round and bites you?

My take:

I’m not sure I’ve ever come across such a perfect book title! And that’s possibly because I haven’t read anything quite like Relatively Strange before. I struggle to describe it, but I think the best I can do is to use a Marvel analogy (and I appreciate I may lose those of you who have no interest in superhero comics or movies, sorry!). Imagine an X-Men character with all their amazing powers, born into a “normal” London-based family in the 1950s, wrote an amusing, highly-personal memoir covering episodes from the first twenty-something years of their life. That’s close to what you get in this book, although it still doesn’t do it justice!

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Review | The Festival Murders (Francis Meadowes 1) by Mark McCrum

A good start to a new mystery series. 4/5 stars.

The Festival Murders by Mark McCrum

Thank you to Black Thorn for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

At the start of one of the English summer’s highlights, the annual literary festival in the pretty little country town of Mold-on-Wold, famous critic Bryce Peabody is found dead in his bed at the White Hart Hotel. At first it seems as if fifty-something Bryce might have succumbed to a heart attack, but the forensics team soon uncover evidence of something more sinister.

Bryce had made many enemies in the past, with his scandalous private life and scathing reviews. Could it be that one of the many writers he insulted in print has taken a bitter revenge? Or perhaps there’s a more personal reason? Unable to help himself, crime writer Francis Meadowes, who is also staying at the White Hart, is drawn into a role he knows only from his own fiction, that of amateur detective.

My take:

This is an entertaining whodunnit. Francis Meadowes gradually becoming the centre of the story, in the role of crime-writer-turned-sleuth, worked well because it gave him a plausible reason to know the details of police procedure. When pondering the circumstances of the murders he tries to imagine they are in one of his plots, particularly when it comes to drawing up a list of suspects. This reminded me slightly of Castle – if any of you are familiar with that TV series – although Francis is far more low key and self-effacing than Richard Castle!

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Review | This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Strange and beautiful. 5 stars.

This is how you lose the time war by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone book cover

I got a copy from my local library. Please use your library as much as you can!

The blurb:

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

My take:

This book contains so many elements which appeal to me: it’s essentially an epistolary novel while also a sci-fi tale of time travel multidimensional malarkey and an improbable romance struggling to survive against the odds.

The result of this genre mash-up is beautiful, poetic, epic… I run out of adjectives! And this short but perfectly formed book is a particularly staggering achievement given that it’s a collaboration between two authors, one that is completely seemless.

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Review | Gone (Dr Bloom #1) by Leona Deakin

A promising series opener which sadly faded towards the finish. 3/5 stars.

Gone by Leona Deakin book cover

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

The blurb:

Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read:

YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME.
DARE TO PLAY?

The police aren’t worried – it’s just a game. But the families are frantic. As psychologist and private detective Dr Augusta Bloom delves into the lives of the missing people, she finds something that binds them all.

And that something makes them very dangerous indeed.

As more disappearances are reported and new birthday cards uncovered, Dr Bloom races to unravel the mystery and find the missing people.

But what if, this time, they are the ones she should fear?

My take:

Gone is the opening installment of a new series which features an intriguing heroine. And Dr. Augusta Bloom comes as a breath of fresh air if you feel you’ve read about enough brilliant detectives with apparently obligatory issues with drink, drugs or family. The good doctor is instead a PhD psychologist, specialising in psychopathy, who collaborates with the police and, all in all, appears to be a fairly together individual who is still good at her job!

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Review | The Family by Louise Jensen

Another suspense-packed page turner from Louise Jensen. 4/5 stars.

The Family by Louise Jensen book cover

Thank you to HQ for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.
 
But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.
 
Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

My take:

I’ve read and reviewed all of Louise’s previous books (The Sister, The Surrogate, The Gift and The Date) and I’m very pleased to say that in The Family she has produced yet another page-turner. In fact, trying to find something original to say has proved almost impossible as this book is more of her winning formula. Safe to say: if you have enjoyed all/any of her previous psychological thrillers, you should put The Family on your Christmas list!

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Review | Bone China by Laura Purcell

Another creepy dose of gothic madness and melancholia. 4/5 stars.

Bone China by Laura Purcell book cover image

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last…

My take:

I’ve read and enjoyed Purcell’s previous two books. The Silent Companions is a masterclass in creating an oppressive atmosphere and a big spooky house for characters to rattle around in. I didn’t feel The Corset was quite as successful, but it was another entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns. Continue reading…

Review | The Girl Who Used To Be Me by Lynn Forth

Another dose of literary sunshine. 4/5 stars.

The Girl Who Used to Be Me by Lynn Forth book cover

Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-copy of her book.

The blurb:

After a passionate fun-filled affair, Kate is abandoned by Rob, her first love.

Six years later, she is stuck in a dead-end job and trapped in a toxic relationship.

She escapes to the Costa del Sol where she meets flamboyant Reen with her bright clothes, her sparkling eyes and a penchant for pink plastic flamingos.

Kate falls for Troy, Reen’s sexy son, and embarks upon a new phase of self-discovery. Is she finally becoming the girl she longs to be?

But when Rob comes back into her life unexpectedly, what will she do?

My take:

I enjoyed Lynn Forth’s first two novels – Love in La La Land and Love, Lies and Café au Lait – very much and so was delighted to be asked to read and review her latest book: The Girl Who Used to Be Me.

Her first two books whisked us away to Los Angeles and Nice, and this time we’re given more sunshine as the main character, Kate, escapes to the south coast of Spain. In fact, this is a great example of the cover of a book setting the tone perfectly for what you will find inside, and who doesn’t want to be with that girl overlooking a beautiful beach, arms outstretched to the sun?

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Review | The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

An entertaining thriller if you let it take you along for the ride. 3/5 stars.

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

The blurb:

Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives–and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

My take:

This is a page-turning thriller which would be an ideal book to take with you on holiday. If you read it quickly, focussing on the plot and seeking to know what will happen next, I’m sure you’ll find it an entertaining mystery with sci-fi elements and a great way to pass a few hours. Each short chapter attempts to set up a cliffhanger to carry you across to the next and most of the time these are entirely successful.

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Review | Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

A well-constructed thriller/mystery with a relevant message. 3/5 stars.

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker book cover

Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group, Sphere and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Sloane, Ardie, Grace and Rosalita have worked in the same legal office for years. The sudden death of the firm’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Each of the women has a different relationship with Ames, who has always been surrounded by whispers about how he treats women. Those whispers have been ignored, swept under the rug, hidden away by those in charge.

But the world has changed, and the women are watching this latest promotion for Ames differently.

This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.

Sloane and her colleagues’ decision to take a stand set in motion something catastrophic and unstoppable: lies will be uncovered, secrets will be exposed and not everyone will survive. All their lives – as women, colleagues, mothers, adversaries – will be changed for ever.

My take:

Whisper Network is a well-constructed mystery/thriller which feels very ‘now’ in that the plot revolves around issues of sexual harrassment in the workplace most recently brought to greater public attention by the #metoo and #timesup movements.

In this vein I thought the profession of the characters was a particularly canny choice: you’d think that if anyone would know how to deal with workplace harrassment it would be a group of highly-qualified lawyers. That these women face much the same barriers and ‘crap’ (conscious decision to use a fairly polite word there) upon entering and then once established in their profession makes you realise just how much the system is rigged against women no matter how high they manage to climb within it.

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Review | The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods by Emily Barr

The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods by Emily Barr book cover

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

The blurb:

Arty has always lived in the Clearing, a small settlement in the forests of south India.

But their happy life, hidden from the rest of the world, is shattered by a terrible accident. For the first time in her sixteen years, Arty must leave the only place she’s ever known, into the outside world she’s been taught to fear.

Her only goal is to get help from a woman called Tania, who used to live in the forest, and the Uncle she knows is out there, somewhere. As she embarks on the terrifying journey, pursued by an enemy she can’t fathom, Arty soon realises that not everyone is to be trusted.

She’s looking for answers, but what she’ll learn from Tania and Uncle Matthew is a shocking truth about her past.

Everything is changing too fast for this girl who came out of the woods, and is she running into a trap…?

My take:

Following The One Memory of Flora Banks and The Truth and Lies of Ella Black, Emily Barr is back with The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods and another tale about a girl on the cusp of womanhood who finds herself out on her own in an extraordionary situation.

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