A quick, entertaining read. If you love gossip, this is one for you! 3.5/5 stars.
Thank you to Penguin UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.
The paperback of The Fifth Letter will be published in the UK two weeks today on Thursday 23rd February. But if you can’t wait, the good news is that the Kindle Edition is already available for download.
The blurb: Joni, Trina, Deb and Eden. Best friends since the first day of school. Best friends, they liked to say, forever. But now they are in their thirties and real life – husbands, children, work – has got in the way. So, resurrecting their annual trip away, Joni has an idea, something to help them reconnect. Each woman will write an anonymous letter, sharing with their friends the things that are really going on in their lives.
But as the confessions come tumbling out, Joni starts to feel the certainty of their decades-long friendships slip from her fingers. Anger. Accusations. Desires. Deceit. And then she finds another letter. One that was never supposed to be read. A fifth letter. Containing a secret so big that its writer had tried to destroy it. And now Joni is starting to wonder, did she ever really know her friends at all?
The premise for this book is solid and intriguing. When reading the blurb, the mention of Joni’s “great” idea to get the friends to share huge secrets anonymously already had me thinking, “Well, that’s not going to go well, is it?!” So I was surprised that The Fifth Letter turned out to be a lighter book than I’d expected, although the dark undertones are certainly there. Moriarty could easily have taken this story into thriller territory if she had wanted, and the narrative walks a fine line between domestic melodrama, mystery and psychological thriller.
An atmospheric tale in need of a stronger final act. 3.5/5.
The blurb: Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.
Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.
This was my first audiobook! Or, at least, my first audiobook since I used to listen to Disney stories on cassette tapes when I was eight. And I’m very pleased to say that, overall, I enjoyed Brooklyn.
The story is highly atmospheric. The author does a great job of capturing the different spirit of a small town in Ireland and then Brooklyn in the 1950s. The story has a good range of characters, which are all brought to life by Niamh Cusack’s voice and great skill with accents (particular credit to her for being able to switch between Belfast, south-west Ireland and Brooklyn in seconds).
I doubt this is James’ best, but it was a good place to start. 3.5/5.
The blurb: When the administrative head of the Steen Psychiatric Clinic is found dead with a chisel in her heart, Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Dalgliesh must analyze the deep-seated anxieties and thwarted desires of patients and staff alike to determine which of their unresolved conflicts resulted in murder.
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from P. D. James… perhaps something more spectacular? Anyway, this is a perfectly well-written detective story. In fact, it reminded me of the two Poirot stories I’ve read, although the detective in this case – Dalgliesh – isn’t as much of a “character” as Christie’s Belgian sleuth. In fact, he’s practically personality-free, which isn’t a bad thing, as it means the focus is on the “whodunnit” aspect of the book.
I honestly don’t think she’s capable of writing a bad book. 4/5.
The blurb: Hallie has a secret. She’s in love. He’s perfect for her in every way, but he’s seriously out of bounds. And her friends aren’t going to help her because what they do know is that Hallie doesn’t have long to live. Time is running out…
Flo has a dilemma. She really likes Zander. But his scary sister won’t be even faintly amused if she thinks Zander and Flo are becoming friends – let alone anything more.
Tasha has a problem. Her new boyfriend is the adventurous type. And she’s afraid one of his adventures will go badly wrong.
Three Amazing Things About You begins as Hallie goes on a journey. A donor has been found and she’s about to be given new lungs. But whose?
I picked up this book in a local charity shop because I was in desperate need of a cheerful, lighter read. I’ve read about ten of Mansell’s books now and I’ve enjoyed all of them. So although I flicked through the first few pages before buying, just to double check I hadn’t read it before (my memory isn’t brilliant for titles and all the covers are very similar), I didn’t bother reading the blurb because I trust Mansell to entertain me with a good contemporary romantic tale and don’t feel the need to know exactly what’s going to happen.
The result of this was that I was already four or five chapters into the book and had been introduced to all the main characters and their love interests before I finally read the blurb… and was instantly on edge! In that short time I’d become quite attached to the characters and it was certainly an incentive to keep reading to find out which one of them was going to end up being an organ donor!
Mansell’s books usually present us with various heroines and heroes. This is a great tactic because you can be pretty sure that you’ll become deeply invested in at least one of the stories, if not all of them. For me, the highlight of the book was Hallie’s story. She was so likeable, I desperately wanted her to get her happy ending in terms of her health and love-life, and her story was well-paced.
Overall: another great contemporary romance from Jill Mansell. If you like this sort of thing, you can’t go wrong with any of her books!
Claire Huston / Art and Soul
Recently I read three books which I enjoyed but didn’t have enough to say about them to post a full review here. This is not a reflection on the books but rather on my lack of imagination! So here, in a few sentences, are my thoughts on the following books:
1. From Wallflower to Countess by Janice Preston. 4/5 stars.
The blurb: click on the cover image to go to Goodreads and a description of the book.
In the interests of full disclosure, I know the author of this one! Jan is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a lovely lady. This is the first book published by Mills and Boon I’ve read, although I’m not sure how I got to my age without reading one!
As you may have guessed from the cover, this is an English romance set in the Regency period. If you’re a fan of the specific genre and/or romance in general, I highly recommend you read this book. It’s extremely enjoyable, easy-to-read escapism with likeable characters. A fun read. It also features that most elusive of things: well-written sex scenes!
2. The Second Chance Shoe Shop by Marcie Steel. 3/5 stars.
Warm and sunny with a slice of cake. 4/5.
The blurb: Fay Merryweather runs her cake shop from her beautiful garden. She whips up airy sponges and scrumptious scones, while her customers enjoy the lovely blossoms and gorgeous blooms. Looking after the cake shop, the garden and her cantankerous mother means Fay is always busy but she accepts her responsibilities because if she doesn’t do all this, who will? Then Danny Wilde walks into her life and makes Fay question every decision she’s ever made. When a sudden tragedy strikes, Fay’s entire world is thrown off balance even further and she doesn’t know which way to turn. Can Fay find the strength to make a life-changing decision – even if it means giving up the thing she loves the most?
The Cake Shop in the Garden was exactly what I needed to read on a unseasonably cold, grey, wet day. This book is sunny, sweet and romantic: ideal escapism if you’re having a tough time. It’s a fun, light read which made me smile a lot and laugh out loud a couple of times too.
I did have some problems with the first-person narrator, Fay. She’s extremely kind, caring and loyal… to the point of insanity. While these traits makes her likeable, they also make her a cake-baking doormat who needs a good shake on more than one occasion.
At three-quarters of the way through the story my frustration with Fay’s incomprehensible levels of selflessness were on the verge of becoming unbearable. Fortunately, Matthews knows exactly what she’s doing and this is exactly when she hits us with a huge surprise which shakes everything up and paves the way for a satisfying conclusion. I’m still reeling from just how good a shock it is. I can’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you should know that a certain character’s actions made me gasp and say, “what a total bitch!” out loud. I had to put the book down for a second to roll my eyes and have a good huff. I promise you, you’ll be similarly outraged.
Overall: a must-read for fans of sunny contemporary romance with generous helpings of tea and cake.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul