Review | Home Stretch by Graham Norton

An involving tale of shame, secrets and acceptance. 4/5 stars.

Home Stretch by Graham Norton book cover

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

The blurb:

It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony a group of young friends, including bride and groom, drive out to the beach. There is an accident. Three survive, but three are killed.

The lives of the families are shattered and the rifts between them are felt throughout the small town. Connor is one of the survivors. But staying among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as living with the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him. Travelling first to Liverpool, then London, he makes a home – of sorts – for himself in New York. The city provides shelter and possibility for the displaced, somewhere Connor can forget his past and forge a new life.

But the secrets, the unspoken longings and regrets that have come to haunt those left behind will not be silenced. And before long, Connor will have to confront his past.

My take:

This is Graham Norton’s third novel and I was really pleased to get approved for an eARC after having read and enjoyed his previous two books: Holding and A Keeper.

As in his first two books, the action in Home Stretch mostly revolves around a small community in Ireland. However this time Norton has been more ambitious as the characters’ stories grow to span over 30 years and 2 continents.

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Review | A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Loved it. Can’t wait for the next installment. 5/5 stars.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik book cover

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

The blurb:

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

My take:

I’ve previously read and thoroughly enjoyed both Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and gave them both 4 stars. But with A Deadly Education she’s finally done it and pushed me to a rare 5-star review!

The Scholomance – the setting for A Deadly Education and arguably its biggest character – is a magic school/school of magic that does its best to kill the students trapped inside. Staying alive is their incentive to learn. There are no teachers, no adults at all in fact, just a load of kids getting along in a life and death struggle until the survivors “graduate”, which involves running a final gauntlet to the school exit through a tunnel of horrific monsters.

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Review | Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford

A promising murder mystery overwhelmed by character study. 3.5/5 stars.

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford book cover

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

The blurb:

Unassuming Yorkshireman, Arthur Skelton, is one of the most celebrated and recognisable barristers in the land. His success in the high-profile Dryden case – ‘the scandal of 1929’ – catapulted him to the front pages of the national newspapers. His services are now much in demand and, after careful consideration, he agrees to defend Mary Dutton.

Dubbed ‘The Collingford Poisoner’ by the press, Mary is accused of poisoning her husband after years of abuse. Together with his trusted assistant, Skelton digs deeper and discovers that secrets and lies run deep in the Dutton family and all is not as it appears.

My take:

I enjoyed this story, especially its varied and colourful range of characters, the often witty dialogue, and the way it dealt with the intricacies of the intersection of law and politics. I also liked that it wasn’t entirely London-based and the period details were terrific, you can tell there’s a lot of careful research behind the writing.

However, from the first couple of chapters I thought I was in for a thrilling investigative mystery, but that isn’t really what the book turns out to be. While Skelton’s detective work does take us down a few dead ends and yields some revelations, I felt that the book becomes more a character study than murder mystery.

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Review | What Are Friends For? by Lizzie O’Hagan

A modern take on Cyrano. 3.5/5 stars.

What Are Friends For by Lizzie O'Hagan book cover

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

The blurb:

Eve doesn’t have time for dating, but having watched her best friend and flatmate have her heart broken one too many times, she reluctantly volunteers to play her Cupid.

Max is too much of a hopeless romantic to find the algorithms of online dating anything other than clinical, but he lives with his romantically-challenged best friend who desperately needs his advice.

And after all, what are friends for?

As Eve and Max become more involved in their best friends’ relationship, they quickly realise there is a fine line between instruction and imitation, especially when they find they can’t stop thinking about their best friend’s date…

My take:

The premise of this book is great. It’s a modern-day take on Cyrano de Bergerac, and the use of text exchanges between the lovers is engaging and lively. The settings for the dates were well-described, and there was a pub that I – and probably most book-lovers – would love to visit. Aside from the romantic relationships, I particularly enjoyed the friendships, especially seeing a close friendship between two men (Max and Tom) depicted in first person.

However, I would warn those looking for a rom com, this is really more a story about friendship and dealing with loneliness, self-doubt and grief than a light love story.

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Review | The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

An enjoyable cosy mystery with great characters. 4/5 stars.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman cover image

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

The blurb:

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

The four friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

My take:

I was delighted to get a review copy of this book and overall I really enjoyed it. However, I do think the blurb is a little misleading: the “before it’s too late” line gives the impression that everyone at the retirement community is somehow in mortal peril or this is some sort of thriller. And it most definitely is not!

This is a cosy mystery which is more about the retirement village residents than the whodunnit. I enjoyed the focus on the older protagonists as they have all had interesting lives and are still making the most of their time. Elizabeth in particular is fascinating, and it was great how we find out bits about what she’s done in the past and are left to come to our own conclusions about exactly what her fomer line of work was.

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Review | Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

An intriguing collection of murder mysteries in a clever frame. 4/5 stars.

Eight Detectives Alex Pavesi book cover

Thank you to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

All murder mysteries follow a simple set of rules. Grant McAllister, an author of crime fiction and professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out.

But that was thirty years ago. Now he’s living a life of seclusion on a quiet Mediterranean island – until Julia Hart, a sharp, ambitious editor, knocks on his door. His early work is being republished and together the two of them must revisit those old stories: an author, hiding from his past, and an editor, keen to understand it.

But as she reads, Julia is unsettled to realise that there are things in the stories that don’t make sense. Intricate clues that seem to reference a real murder, one that’s remained unsolved for thirty years.

If Julia wants answers, she must triumph in a battle of wits with a dangerously clever adversary. But she must tread carefully: she knows there’s a mystery, but she doesn’t yet realise there’s already been a murder…

My take:

In Eight Detectives we are given a series of seven short murder mystery stories strung together by a unifiying narrative device.

And I liked the unifying device, as Julia and Grant talk about the book he wrote years ago, very much. It was clever and intriguing, including the use of mathematics to explain the various permutations of the plots. When the final twists are revealed (and there are quite a few!), I was impressed by just how much work had gone into the small details needed to set them all up.

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Review | Knife Edge by Simon Mayo

Perfect mini-series material. 4/5 stars.

Knife Edge by Simon Mayo book cover

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

The blurb:

My take:

Knife Edge has a great premise for a contemporary political thriller. The protagonist arrives at work one morning to find that 7 of her colleagues have been murdered and no-one in the office knows why or whether they’ll also be targetted. In fact, one of the tensest scenes in the book is early on when the main character – Famie – and two of her colleagues are using London public transport to get home and don’t know whether anyone/everyone around them might be planning to kill them.

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Review | The Girl You Forgot by Giselle Green

A great set-up leads to an emotional rollercoaster. 4/5 stars.

The Girl You Forgot by Giselle Green cover image

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

The blurb:

When Ava’s partner Will is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, the doctors give Will one chance to survive – an operation which means he will lose his recent memory. Ava begs him to take the chance, sure that she can cope with Will forgetting her. After all, they have something very special to live for.

But they are also keeping a heart-breaking secret, and if Will loses his memory, Ava will have to carry that secret alone.

Can they rebuild their love from scratch or will their secrets and past come between them? Will Ava really be a stranger when Will wakes up – or does the heart never really forget…

Giselle Green returns with a heart-breaking, deeply moving story of love, loss, and what it really means to be alive.

My take:

I read and enjoyed Dear Dad by Giselle Green back in 2016, so was delighted to have the opportunity to read her latest book, The Girl You Forgot.

The set-up here – explained without spoilers in the blurb above – is terrific. The heroine, Ava, has an almost impossible dilemma: can she continue to lie to the man she loves while regaining his love and trust?

I will apologise at this point for my review being fairly brief, but I do think your enjoyment of this book will be much greater the less you know about the secrets to be revealed throughout the story, so I’m going to do my best to avoid any and all spoilers. I’m following my usual policy: if it’s in the blurb, it’s fair game. Otherwise I’m keeping quiet!

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Review | The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven

Unbelievably charming. 5 shining Hollywood stars.

The Moon's a Balloon by David Niven - autobiography cover

The blurb:

One of the bestselling memoirs of all time, David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon is an account of one of the most remarkable lives Hollywood has ever seen.

Beginning with the tragic early loss of his aristocratic father, then regaling us with tales of school, army and wartime hi-jinx, Niven shows how, even as an unknown young man, he knew how to live the good life.

But it is his astonishing stories of life in Hollywood and his accounts of working and partying with the legends of the silver screen – Lawrence Oliver, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and dozens of others, while making some of the most acclaimed films of the last century – which turn David Niven’s memoir into an outright masterpiece.

An intimate, gossipy, heartfelt and above all charming account of life inside Hollywood’s dream factory, The Moon’s a Balloon is a classic to be read and enjoyed time and again.

My take:

I don’t read as much non-fiction as I feel I should, particularly biography and autobiography. So I was stepping outside my comfort zone when I picked up David Niven’s autobiography, taking a chance on it mostly because I’ve always found him charming in films (A Matter of Life and Death is one of my favourites).

And I’m very glad I made the effort because The Moon’s a Balloon is absolutely cracking. “Gossipy” doesn’t do this wonderful series of tales justice. Niven does apologise in the introduction for the name dropping that is to follow and he is not building up false expectations. Every time you think he can’t possibly name a bigger star, he does. Then when he can’t name anyone further up the pecking order of Hollywood royalty he’s rubbed shoulders with, he drops in real royalty and chats with Winston Churchill just for fun.

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Review | Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen by Greg Jenner

As meticulously researched as it is entertaining. Top stuff! 5 stars.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner book cover

The (much shortened by me for the sake of brevity) blurb:

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. DEAD FAMOUS is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.

My take:

I don’t read anywhere near as much non-fiction as fiction. This is simply because I can never read it as quickly and I often find my attention sliding away from the page. However, I really wanted to read Dead Famous because I’m a fan of Greg Jenner, particularly his BBC Podcast, You’re Dead to Me (it’s on BBC Sounds, please check it out, you won’t be sorry).

Jenner excels at making history accessible, entertaining and often funny. I chuckled many times while reading Dead Famous and once laughed out loud at such volume I made my kids jump! (It was at a particularly hilarious pun, if you’re wondering).

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