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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Review | Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Sadly this left me as cold as Capote’s betrayal. 3/5 stars.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

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

The blurb: 

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

My take:

Swan Song should have been fascinating. I knew Truman Capote rubbed shoulders with the upper crust but I had no idea of the extent of his connections. He was intimate friends with New York royalty, spending years holidaying and enjoying boozy lunches with them. This book gives an insiders’ view of the lives of the very rich members of US and, to a lesser extent, European society in the 60s and 70s, and then details the fall-out when Truman screwed them over by publishing their most shocking secrets as thinly-veiled fiction.

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Review | The Date by Louise Jensen

Another fast-moving page-turner with plenty of surprises. 4/5 stars.

The Date by Louise Jensen

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

 

The blurb: Something bad has happened to Alison Taylor.

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future.

By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her. She can’t recognise her friends and family. And she can’t recognise the person who is trying to destroy her…

My take:

Apologies if this review seems vague, but I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers. As with most thrillers, the less you know before you go into this book, the better!

Having read and enjoyed Jensen’s three previous books, The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate, I went into The Date expecting a fast-moving page-turner. And that’s exactly what I got!

The Date is more of what Jensen does so well. She has her suspense formula down to a t. I think it’s probably the short chapters that make her books so hard to put down (“Just one more…”), but whatever the reason, this is another example of easy-to-read, pure book crack.

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Review | The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

This story has impressive elements but failed to grab me. 3/5 stars.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

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

The blurb: The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters – battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia – know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war – but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

My take:

When I saw the description of this book on NetGalley, it sounded like everything I could possibly want in a book. A fantasy retelling of King Lear which refocusses the story to follow Lear’s daughters? Yes, please!

(Side note: you may have noticed that everything I’m reading lately has a Shakespeare connection – this wasn’t a conscious move on my part but clearly shows my preferences!)

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Review | Mad Blood Stirring by Simon Mayo

Forgotten history revived. 4/5 stars.

Mad Blood Stirring

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

The blurb:

1815: The war is over but for the inmates at Dartmoor Prison, peace – like home – is still a long way away.

On the eve of the year 1815, the American sailors of the Eagle finally arrive at Dartmoor prison; bedraggled, exhausted but burning with hope. They’ve only had one thing to sustain them – a snatched whisper overheard along the way.

The war is over.

Joe Hill thought he’d left the war outside these walls but it’s quickly clear that there’s a different type of fight to be had within. The seven prison blocks surrounding him have been segregated; six white and one black. As his voice rings out across the courtyard, announcing the peace, the redcoat guards bristle and the inmates stir. The powder keg was already fixed to blow and Joe has just lit the fuse.

Elizabeth Shortland, wife of the Governor looks down at the swirling crowd from the window of her own personal prison. The peace means the end is near, that she needn’t be here for ever. But suddenly, she cannot bear the thought of leaving.

Inspired by a true story, Mad Blood Stirring tells of a few frantic months in the suffocating atmosphere of a prison awaiting liberation. It is a story of hope and freedom, of loss and suffering. It is a story about how sometimes, in our darkest hour, it can be the most unlikely of things that see us through.

My take:

Mad Blood Stirring is an example of what I love most about historical fiction: an entertaining and immersive way to learn more about a past event, place and people. The story picks up on a bit of “forgotten” history, or not forgotten in my case as the War of 1812 and the associated events at Dartmouth prison were all completely new to me!

The novel is incredibly well-researched and brings the past to life with vivid descriptions, conveying the horrors of confinement, particularly when disease and violence spreads throughout the jail. And, as is often the way with books “based on true events”, the most unbelievable details are precisely those which are true: the racial segregation of the prisoners, the smallpox outbreak, King Dick himself, and the prisoners putting on productions of Shakespeare.

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Review | Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

A brave, if not entirely successful adaptation. 3/5 stars.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

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

The blurb: He’s the best cop they’ve got.

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past.

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach.

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

My take:

Last year I read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a reimagining of The Tempest. This was my introduction to the Hogarth Shakespeare project for which several well-known authors have been invited to write adaptations of some of  Shakespeare’s stories. When I saw Nesbø had written a version of Macbeth I thought it was a brilliant choice. He’s enjoyed great success writing dark stories and only an author good at wrangling darkness could successfully take on the Scottish play.

Like The Tempest, I also studied Macbeth at school, so I went into Nesbø’s adaption with fore-knowledge of what was going to happen. I’ll come back to whether this was a good thing or not later in my review.

There is a lot in Nesbø’s reimagining which is ingenious. How the characters and events of Shakepeare’s play are transposed into a 1970s’ police noir is clever and well thought-out. I was particularly impressed with how the author managed to incorporate the supernatural elements of the play into a realistic genre.

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Review | Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

 Oozing Hollywood drama. 4/5 stars.

Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

The blurb: Excited to be in glitzy, glamorous Hollywood, English author, Jane Jones, is thrilled by the prospect of seeing a scene from her novel being filmed. And not just any scene. It’s a bedroom one, starring screen heartthrob, Scott Flynn.

Too bad she is accompanied by the cynical Jack Clancy, the screenwriter who has – in her opinion – ruined her story, and seems totally unrepentant.

Dazzled by Scott’s film-star presence, Jane swoons at his feet. At least, that’s according to Scott, who immediately comes to her rescue. And so does Jack.

But do they both have ulterior motives? Is Jane a mere pawn in a game between two fierce rivals?

In the bubble of La La Land’s glittering parties, hovering paparazzi, and powerful movie tycoons, Jane begins to feel adrift. She must quickly learn who can be trusted…and who can’t.

My take:

From the title, readers of Love in La La Land will probably be hoping for a tale with plenty of glitz and glamour, oodles of drama, attractive people and beautiful locations… and they won’t be disappointed! This story is a getaway, a rare chance for us “normals” to mingle with the rich and famous, just as it is for the female main character, Jane, who is an earthy Yorkshire lass out of her element in the luxurious but shark-infested waters of Hollywood.

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