Review: The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

The Happy Ever After Playlist
The Happy Ever After Playlist
by Abby Jimenez turned out to be the feel good read I really needed. Laugh out loud funny, a little sad but completely adorable I sat down and read the whole thing in one go, smiling the whole time.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Two years after losing her fiancé, Sloan Monroe still can’t seem to get her life back on track. But one trouble-making pup with a “take me home” look in his eyes is about to change everything. With her new pet by her side, Sloan finally starts to feel more like herself. Then, after weeks of unanswered texts, Tucker’s owner reaches out. He’s a musician on tour in Australia. And bottom line: He wants Tucker back.

Well, Sloan’s not about to give up her dog without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really loves Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can’t deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There’s no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: With his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak?


MY THOUGHTS

This was very possibly a case of right book at the right time but I don’t care. I loved it and read the whole thing in one Saturday morning with the biggest smile on my face.

I had no idea when I started it that it was a sequel to The Friend Zone but while the author does recommend you read them in order the fact that I hadn’t made absolutely no difference to my enjoyment of this story. Would I have gotten more depth from knowing more of the characters’ backstory? Maybe, but it works perfectly well as a standalone.

From the very start when main character Sloan rescues dog Tucker this story is just ridiculously adorable. I loved each and every character and I adored the relationships between them. Sloan and Jason are so cute together. I loved the banter between them, especially before they meet in person. There’s a lot of teasing and flirting and sooo much chemistry. They seem to have an instant connection but unlike a lot of insta loves this one feels believable and real.

I liked Sloan a lot as a character, she’s kind, funny and tough, but Jason is swoon-worthy book boyfriend material. You could maybe argue that he’s a little too perfect or too good to be true (he’s sensitive, patient, generous, charming, funny and gorgeous) but I was more than happy to just go with it.

There was a lot to like in the secondary characters as well. I really want Kristen and Josh as my best friends, they were absolutely hilarious and sound like they’d be a lot of fun but I loved how they were always there for Sloan. They tease her, embarrass and push her but it’s clear they would do anything to protect her and want her to be happy.  The highlight of the story for me though was dog Tucker. He was a real character, stealing more or less every scene he was in.

The writing is wonderful, witty, fun and packed full of emotion. It made me stupidly happy reading it and I found myself smiling a lot. There are a few sad moments, Sloan is grieving and the new relationship is not all smooth sailing, but while I did shed a couple of tears it is an upbeat and positive story.

I also loved the song titles at the start of each chapter and yes I did listen to the play list as I was reading. Music seems to have become a much bigger part of my life during lockdown, it’s picked me up, calmed me, kept me motivated and helped me let off steam so listening to the tracks while reading really added to the whole experience (and I’ve fallen in love with a few of the tracks).

As you have probably guessed I loved pretty much everything about this story and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a bit of light relief.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan

Family For BeginnersIf you’re looking for some gentle escapism this summer I don’t think you can go too far wrong with Sarah Morgan’s Family For Beginners. With a story about love, blended families and grief it’s a bit of an emotional read but has the usual warmth I’ve come to expect. It may not be my favourite book from the author but I do think a lot of people will love it.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

New York florist Flora Donovan is living the dream, but her bubbly optimism hides a secret. She’s lonely. Orphaned as a child, she’s never felt like she’s belonged anywhere…until she meets Jack Parker. He’s the first man to ever really see her, and it’s life changing.

Teenager Izzy Parker is holding it together by her fingertips. Since her mother passed away a year ago, looking after her dad and little sister is the only thing that makes Izzy feel safe. Discovering her father has a new girlfriend is her worst nightmare – she is not in the market for a replacement mom. Then, her father invites Flora on their summer vacation….

Flora’s heart aches for Izzy, but she badly wants her relationship with Jack to work. As the summer unfolds, Flora must push her own boundaries to discover parts of herself she never knew existed – and to find the family she’s always wanted.


MY THOUGHTS

I’m a big fan of Sarah Morgan’s writing and always enjoy her books but I’m afraid this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me. It has the same wonderful and warm writing I’ve come to expect from the author, well rounded characters and a real sense of place but I just didn’t get on with the story or main character Flora. It may simply be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time but I didn’t fly through this in the way I usually do with Morgan’s books.

Over her last few books, the author has been gradually moving away from the romance and into much more relationship and family type stories and Family for Beginners takes us further along that route. There’s very little in the way of romance in this story with the focus on florist Flora who so desperately wants to find a place where she belongs, a family who will accept her. After her mother died when she was young, Flora was raised by a cold and distant aunt who made it perfectly clear she wasn’t wanted and was an inconvenience. When she meets Jack Parker, recently widowed and father to two girls, she thinks she’s found somewhere she could belong.

Unfortunately Jack’s eldest daughter Izzy is not so keen on Flora coming into their lives and trying to fix everything. She’s barely keeping it together as it is so is determined to see the back of Flora. When Jack invites Flora to come with the family on a trip to the Lake District, Izzy is not happy and neither is Claire, the family friend they will be staying with. Secrets come to light and Flora discovers more about Jack (and herself) but will there be a happily ever after?

There is a lot to like in this story, I loved the lake district setting, I loved how well rounded and real the characters felt, the relationships between them and the way they developed over the course of the story. Morgan’s writing is as always wonderful and there’s a lot of emotion in those pages. I suspect if you love reading stories about families and family relationships you’ll really enjoy this book.

Unfortunately however I found myself becoming frustrated and annoyed with it and I’m afraid it was mostly down to Flora. She is exactly the kind of character I hate reading and I just found it so difficult to relate to her. I could understand the why behind how she is and I could empathize with her but I just found her endless positivity and optimism annoying. She’s a people pleaser who tries to fix everything which is pretty much the antithesis of me. She does develop over the story but I spent a lot of my time reading this book wanting to shake her and tell her to stop trying so damn hard all of the time.

It probably didn’t help that I couldn’t see the attraction in Jack as there wasn’t a lot of time spent in developing the relationship between them. Their first dates happen off the page and they’re never really alone together. As a result there’s no spark or chemistry between them making it hard to see why Flora was so desperate for the relationship to work. Flora seems to feel sorry for him and seems more attracted to the idea of rescuing him and finding a ready made family. As for Jack, he never feels fully present in the story and I had no real sense of who he is. He’s closed off, distant and completely oblivious to the feelings of those around him. Flora keeps saying how much he sees her but I didn’t feel like he showed it in the story. Maybe though it’s just because we never get his pov.

Izzy, whose pov we do get was actually the most likeable of the characters to me. She’s an absolute mess of emotions, anger, guilt, sadness, but she felt believable and relateable. She’s grieving her mother, dealing with a lot of changes in her life and hiding a huge secret. I really felt for her throughout the story, even when she was being kind of horrible.

I did think the author did a brilliant job throughout the story of portraying the different ways people deal with loss and how the loss of her mother still affects Flora many years later. This does make it a little bit darker than some of Morgan’s other books but there are moments of light in there too to balance it out nicely. I may have shed one or two tears but I did find myself smiling in places too and I very much enjoyed the conclusion.

Overall I think a lot of people will love this story but there were a few too many things that I found annoying or frustrating for it to be a favourite.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review

Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The SwitchWarm and funny, The Switch by Beth O’Leary is the kind of uplifting book I think we all need just now. The storyline may feel a little familiar but I loved the sense of community, family, friendship and love that runs throughout. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a feelgood read.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?


MY THOUGHTS

As a massive fan of O’Leary’s debut, The Flatshare, I was ridiculously excited to get my hands on an advance copy of her new book The Switch. Unfortunately however while I did very much enjoy it, I’m not sure it quite lived up to expectations (although to be fair these were probably unreasonably high).

The story is great, the characters are likeable and it’s warm and funny and incredibly sweet. It’s pretty much a big hug in book form. However while I more or less devoured the whole thing in an afternoon, I feel it’s missing that special something to lift it from a great read to a stand out one and I have a horrible feeling that in a few weeks I’ll have forgotten all about it.

It may be that I’ve been overdosing on romcoms and contemporaries lately (they’re pretty much the only genres I can focus on right now) but I felt The Switch was a little lacking in originality. The story seemed a bit too familiar and I’ve read more than one book where different generations of women discover they have something to learn from each other.

I did love the characters and the way they developed over the course of the story. Also really loved how many older characters had starring roles. Eileen in particular was a joy to read and I thought the author did a wonderful job of portraying an older person whose body may be slowing down but whose determination and passions are as strong as ever. I loved her adventurous spirit but I also loved how she created a community everywhere she went and how protective she is of those she cares about.

Leena took a little longer to grow on me. I could certainly relate to her but I think it’s safe to say she’s a bit of a mess at the start of the story and she’s keeping a lot bottled up inside which makes her come across as uptight. I found her inability to stop and relax frustrating, I mean, who complains about being given a couple of months paid leave (and I don’t mean because you’ve been furloughed and can’t go anywhere or see anyone). She does however develop quite nicely over the course of the story and I grew to really like her.

I also loved the relationships within the novel, the friendships old and new (some of which are unlikely) and also the romance. There are quite a few sparks flying and while it is a little predictable I was happy to go along for the ride.

I maybe would’ve preferred less secondary characters so they could be developed a bit further but each and every one does have a role in the story and they do all feel authentic if a bit eccentric at times.

Overall a great read that’s perfect for a lazy day or when you’re in need of a bit of cheering up.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: Just As You Are by Kate Mathieson

Just As You Are by Kate R. Mathieson

Taking its inspiration from Bridget Jones Diary, Just As You Are by Kate R. Mathieson is a warm and funny story about trying to settle down and meet the one. It took a bit of time for the story to get going but once it did I found myself completely hooked, hoping that main character Emma would get everything she wanted. It’s not the most original or memorable story but it certainly cheered me up on a rainy February afternoon.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Emma Londstown spent her twenties travelling, and now needs to make up for lost time. All her friends are married, having babies, and settling into domestic bliss. Determined to catch up, Emma plunges herself headfirst into the online dating world, and discovers single men in Sydney are one of three things; tossers, illiterate, or nerds that work in IT (she must be sending out subtle hints in binary code.)

This story, set in the bustling city of Sydney, is a humorous, light-hearted novel for every woman who has ever wanted to find The One. With a clear underlying message – be yourself.


MY THOUGHTS

As you can possibly guess from the title, Just As You Are is a little bit of an homage to Bridget Jones Diary. It’s a warm and funny story about working out what you want from life, accepting who you are and following your dreams. It took me a little while to warm up to this story but once I did I found it a laugh out loud funny and enjoyable read.

I do think the synopsis is a little bit misleading as this isn’t really a light and fluffy read full of funny stories about online dating (there isn’t actually any online dating at all) but instead goes much wider than that. Main character Emma Londstown is returning to Sydney after years spent travelling the globe. After much nagging from her Mum and feeling left out by her friends who are all married with children she decides it’s time to settle down. She comes up with a three part plan, 1) get a job, 2) find a house, 3) meet the guy she’ll spend the rest of her life with.

Parts 1 and 2 of her plan come together quite quickly as, after a great deal of creativity with her CV, she lands a job at a top PR firm and her mother finds her a cheap (albeit dingy and damp) place to live. Part 3 however proves more difficult as the crazy hours she ends up working and limited options in the Sydney dating scene make finding Mr Right seem like an impossible task. Emma starts to wonder if she made a mistake in throwing away the number of the guy she spent an incredible night with in Fiji.

There is definitely something very Bridget Jones like about Emma. She’s constantly worrying over her weight, her clothes, her makeup. She feels left behind and lonely as her friends all seem to be focused on their own families and they can’t hang out the way they used to. She drinks too much has a terrible diet and is killing herself trying to pretend that she’s something she’s not (confident, qualified career woman who knows what she’s doing). It’s tough to read at times and incredibly frustrating as a lot of her problems are those of her own making. She’s lied her way into a job she’s in no way qualified for and keeps on lying even when well out of her depth.

Despite this, there is something relateable and likeable about her. Yes, she blunders about, says and does the wrong thing but her heart is in the right place and when it comes down to it she’s willing to work and to fix her mistakes. She’s funny and loyal and trying to be what everyone thinks she should be. I may have been frustrated with her but I did want her to succeed.

I also very much wanted her to get together with Nick as it’s clear from the start that they’re absolutely perfect for each other. Even in that one night in Fiji they have an instant connection and the scenes where they were together were the highlight of the book for me. I loved the banter between them and the awkwardness and the sparks.

So why you may be asking if I loved this so much did I only give three stars, well, in addition to there being a lot to love there were things I thought could have been better. Firstly it’s pretty slow to get going, for the first third of the book not very much happens.

I also felt like much more could have been made of the secondary characters. Other than Emma and Nick the others feel a little stereotyped and don’t make much of an impression. There’s the overbearing mother and under the thumb father, the maneating coworker, the gay best friend and the overly demanding boss. I don’t necessarily mind a stereotype but it also seemed like many of these characters had a big part then disappeared never to be seen again. Emma’s parents for example disappear as soon as she moves out of the family home. I found it odd too that Emma doesn’t spend any time with her best friend’s families.

Finally I think the story could have gone a bit deeper and had a little more emotion. Yes it made me laugh but instead of spending so much time on Emma’s job it could have dug a little more into why she felt like she had to conform. It is obvious that she’s lonely, she admits it herself, but I didn’t feel it.

Anyway, overall I thought this was a really fun read and I’d recommend to anyone looking for a light holiday (or rainy afternoon) read.

I received an advance copy of this from the publisher via Netgalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine

Bitter Falls (Stillhouse Lake #4)Despite high hopes and a very promising start I’m afraid Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine failed to wow me. It’s still a very enjoyable read and Caine’s writing is as wonderful as always but I kind of wish the story had gone in a slightly different direction.

Spoiler Alert: as this is the fourth book in the Stillhouse Lake series there may be some very mild spoilers for the previous books from here on in. If you’re considering reading the series (and you should) you may be better checking out my review for the first book here


THE BLURB

She’s investigating a cold case no one else could—by going places no else would dare.

In spite of a harrowing past still haunting her, Gwen Proctor is trying to move forward. Until a new assignment gives her purpose: the cold-case disappearance of a young man in Tennessee. Three years missing, no clues. Just Ruth Landry, a tortured mother in limbo. Gwen understands what it’s like to worry about your children.

Gwen’s investigation unearths new suspects…and victims. As she follows each sinister lead, the implications of the mystery grow more disturbing. Because the closer Gwen gets, the closer she is to a threat that looms back home.

In a town that’s closed its ranks against Gwen; her partner, Sam; and her kids, there’s no bolder enemy than the Belldene family—paramilitary, criminal, powerful, and vengeful. As personal vendettas collide with Gwen’s investigation, she’s prepared to fight both battles. But is she prepared for the toll it could take on everyone she loves?


MY REVIEW

I love Rachel Caine’s writing and I love this series but while Bitter Falls, the fourth book in the series had a very promising start I have to confess I found my attention begin to wander partway through and I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied by the ending.

There is a lot to like about it and overall this is definitely an enjoyable read. The prologue at the start for example makes for some truly chilling reading and I loved the way it introduced the reader to the cult at the centre of the story. I was intrigued by the case Gwen is investigating of a missing young man and I was impressed by the way Gwen goes about getting the information she needs.

Gwen herself remains one of my favourite characters, she’s so resilient and so fiercely protective of her family. I love her determination and her fight but also how she keeps trying to do the best for her children. Her development over the series has been wonderful to watch. I also liked the new characters the author introduced in this story, the Belldene family, Gwen’s new boss and co workers and even relatively minor characters such as the parents of the missing boy. Each and every one felt believable and well rounded and there are a few I hope will pop up again in future books.

I do feel however like the story took a bit of a wrong turn and an opportunity was missed to take things into new territory and really develop the characters. Instead of allowing the characters to do their own thing, the whole family is pulled into the case Gwen’s investigating and it becomes a repeat of the previous books.

What makes it so frustrating is that there are some intriguing routes the story could have gone down. Yes, the cult side is fascinating but I wanted to see the family dealing with every day life now that they have decided to stop running and hiding. I mean they have some serious issues, Sam is carrying a lot of guilt and being targeted by the group he started up to get revenge on Gwen, Connor is understandably suffering from PTSD and Lanny is struggling to figure out where she fits. Add to that the local Hillbilly mafia (paramilitary, criminals & drug dealers) who are trying to run the family out of town and I feel like there was plenty of other material for the story to work with.

I did love the links with the previous books and how certain storylines carry across books, it would be unrealistic if they didn’t, but sometimes there do seem to be too many coincidences and there are only so many times the same things can keep happening to this family. I also felt like there wasn’t really much character development in this story. Sam in particular feels like he’s pushed to the background, he does have an important role in the story and there are a few chapters from his pov but I didn’t feel like there was any real development or that we got to know and understand him any better which is a pity as I find him the most intriguing.

It seemed too as if there were certain threads that were left hanging and the ending felt a little bit rushed to me with many things unresolved. I don’t expect all loose ends to be tied up when reading a series but it just kind of stopped.

Overall this is by no means a bad read and there is a lots to like about it. I’m just a little disappointed that the story fell back into the familiar rather than going in the new direction I hoped for. If you’ve read and enjoyed the other books in the series I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy this one too.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Spooktober Review: The Six by Luca Veste

The Six

The Six by Luca Veste

Full of twists and turns The Six by Luca Veste is a gripping read that keeps you guessing till the very end. Also have to say a huge thank you for the 90s nostalgia, I loved it.


THE BLURB

Six friends trapped by one dark secret.

It was supposed to be our last weekend away as friends, before marriage and respectability beckoned. But what happened that Saturday changed everything.

In the middle of the night, someone died. The six of us promised each other we would not tell anyone about the body we buried. But now the pact has been broken. And the killing has started again …

Who knows what we did? And what price will we pay?


REVIEW

The Six, or “I Know What You Did Last Summer 90s Music Fest”, is just the kind of addictive serial killer thriller I love. I literally couldn’t put it down once I started it and read it from cover to cover in an afternoon.

The story follows six thirty something friends who go to a 90s music fest to try and relive their youth. They’re having a great time until the final night when tempers start to fray a little and someone ends up dead. The friends decide to cover it up by burying the body and making a pact to never speak about it again but as guilt starts to eat away at them and one of them dies suddenly a year later it seems the secret won’t stay buried.

It’s a cracking story and just the sort of twisty tale that keeps you guessing, and boy did I come up with some pretty out there theories. It doesn’t really help that the author throws in more than a few red herrings to send you down the wrong path or to point out how crazy that brilliant theory you’ve come up with is.

Pretty much the whole thing is told from the pov of Matt, one of the friends and this single pov works perfectly. Matt is not the most reliable of narrators and it’s safe to say he is not coping well with things, he barely sleeps or leaves the house and is living in a constant state of fear. It definitely makes him an intriguing and compelling character.

I also loved the portrayal of the other characters too. They are so well defined and distinctive and the way they develop and grow is perfect. It’s a real character study in how different personalities deal with guilt but it’s also a story about friendship. I think a lot of people will be able to recognise themselves and those friends they’ve had since childhood in this.

Given the characters are of a similar age to me I could certainly relate to them. I also have to say a big thank you for all of the music references, they really took me back to my school and uni days.

My only real niggles were the time line which for me felt a little off (although it’s very possible I just missed something) and that I found it a little repetitive at the start.

Other than that I enjoyed it. This was my first book from Luca Veste but it will not be the last. It’s very clear he knows how to tell a great story.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
The Bride Test
by Helen Hoang

As someone who absolutely adored The Kiss Quotient I wasn’t sure The Bride Test could possibly live up to expectations but Hoang has done it again. It’s sweet, funny and very hot. I love how she uses her own experiences and background to take a common romance trope and turn it into something so much more.


THE BLURB

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


MY REVIEW

I absolutely adored The Kiss Quotient so when I heard Hoang was writing a sequel I knew I had to read it and it did not disappoint. Just like her previous book it’s sweet, funny and hot, hot, hot. Oh and if you’re wondering if you need to read the Kiss Quotient before picking this one up, you do not (there’s a little bit of crossover but the focus is very much on different characters).

This is a story about Esme and Khai (who popped up briefly in TKQ). Khai is autistic and believes he can’t feel emotion so has no intention to ever marry or have children. His mother won’t accept this however and travels to Vietnam to find him a wife. Esme is a single mother living in poverty in Hoh Chi Min city and working as a cleaner when she meets Khai’s mom. After some persuading she agrees to travel to the US to spend the Summer living with Khai in hopes that he’ll agree to marry her.

I loved that yet again Hoang took a common trope and created something very unique and unputdownable. It’s wonderful to see non standard characters, a hero with mixed heritage and autism and a heroine who is an immigrant from a background of real poverty. The way the author draws on her own background and her family history makes this feel very authentic and she covers a lot of difficult issues with sensitivity and heart.

I loved both Khai and Esme, he’s very sweet and thoughtful but completely clueless and she’s strong and determined but feels like an outsider. The highlight as it should be however was the chemistry between them. Every single interaction between them was a joy to read and I shipped them soooo much. I loved the clash of cultures, the misunderstandings and how considerate they were of each other. They are absolutely perfect for each other, if they can just overcome the obstacles in their way.

If I had one criticism of this book it would be similar to my criticism of the Kiss Quotient in that a lot of the drama and obstacles could have been overcome if they communicated more. Khai tells Esme that he’s autistic and that he struggles with things but not once does she look into it, something I found odd considering she was trying to understand him and be what he wanted her to be.

I also felt like his family could have stepped in to explain things to her rather than leaving her thinking she was doing something wrong. I mean Michael and Stella feature briefly but not once do they speak to Esme about how they made their relationship work. It’s frustrating.

Anyway, it is still a wonderful story and it made me both laugh and cry. I can’t wait to read what Hoang comes up with next.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine

Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine
Wolfhunter River
by Rachel Caine is an enjoyable read but for me was probably the weakest book in the series so far. It still has the wonderful characters and is very readable but I did think the story was a little confused. It does however start to take main character Gwen in a new direction and I think there’s a lot more great books to come in this series.

Spoiler Alert: While there are no spoilers for Wolfhunter River as this is the third book in the series there may be some very mild spoilers for books one and two from here on in.


THE BLURB

She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out. Marlene Crockett, from the remote town of Wolfhunter, is panicked for herself and her daughter. When Gwen arrives in the small, isolated rural community, Marlene is already dead—her own daughter blamed for the murder. Except that’s not the person Marlene feared at all. And Gwen isn’t leaving until she finds out who that was.

But it may already be too late. A trap has been set. And it’s poised to snap shut on everyone Gwen loves. Her stalkers are closing in. And in a town as dark as Wolfhunter, it’s so easy for them to hide…


MY REVIEW

Wolfhunter River is the third book in the Stillhouse Lake series and while I absolutely loved the first two books I have to admit that I thought second book, Killman Creek, was the end of the story. It seemed to wrap things up pretty satisfactorily leaving me wondering whether a third book was needed and where the story could possibly go next. I did consider not picking this up (I’ve found Caine has a habit of keeping series’ running longer than they should) but curiosity got the better of me and I had to know what was next for the Proctors and Sam Cade.

Unfortunately however while Wolfhunter River is an engaging and enjoyable read it lacks the punch of the first two in the series and it feels a little muddled in places. I’ve read a few reviews describing this as a sort of bridging book and I think that’s spot on.

The story picks up not long after Killman Creek and continues some of the storylines and issues from the previous books but also starts to take it in a new direction. Gwen and her family are still facing threats from associates of her serial killer ex husband and dealing with suspicion and accusations of complicity in his crimes, Gwen and Sam (brother of one of her ex husband’s victims) are trying to figure out whether they can really have a relationship, and someone from the past is making threats against them. At the same time Gwen is receiving phone calls from strangers looking for help or advice, one of which leads her to Wolfhunter River, a small town with something sinister going on.

There’s a lot going on in the story but it still manages to feel at times like there’s not much in the way of action and it becomes a little slow in places. The different storylines don’t seem to fit naturally together and it often feel like they’re competing against each other, one elbowing its way to the fore only to be shoved aside by the other a few chapters later.

That’s not to say there’s not a lot to like about this book. Caine knows how to write an engaging story and I more or less devoured this in one go. It may be a little confused in terms of plot but main character Gwen is pretty awesome and I’ve been loving watching her, and her family, develop and grow. It’s also good to see a bit more from Sam this time around, he’s an intriguing and possibly the most conflicted character.

I did get the feeling from this book that there’s a lot more to come in this series and hopefully now that the building blocks are in place it can move forward. I’m not sure I’ll stick with it but I definitely want to read the next one.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Hands down this is one of my favourite books of the year, and yes I know it’s only April but this totally blew me away.


THE BLURB

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out. This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.


MY REVIEW

Why don’t I listen to people when they tell me I need to read something? I kept seeing review after review telling me how good this was but despite having an ARC sitting on my kindle waiting to be read I kept putting it off (given I did exactly the same thing with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo I really should have known Reid wouldn’t let me down). The thing is, this is just not the kind of book I typically go for. If someone told me I’d be giving a book set in the 70’s music scene 5 stars I wouldn’t have believed them but this just worked for me and I loved it.

There may not be much in the way of a story, they form a band, write some songs, have some arguments and take a lot of drugs, and it often doesn’t really feel like it’s going anywhere but I honestly couldn’t have cared less. There’s just something so compelling about these characters that I could quite happily read about them sitting around having a chat. They are so complex and well rounded that it’s difficult not to feel drawn to them and I came away from this story wishing they were real.

The format of this novel is a little unusual, something that I think readers will either love or find incredibly irritating. It’s written as a series of interviews with the members of the band, their friends and family and others who were around at the time but jumps around from character to character to get each of their perspectives on events in a chronological order. It reads very much like one of those documentaries you see about big famous bands where facts and key events are interspersed with the recollections of those involved (I love those programmes).

It is a little choppy at times, is a lot more tell than show, and took me a few pages to get used to it (I can understand why a lot of people say the audio’s worth getting) but it suited me. I love books that are predominantly dialogue, they just work for me, so while I felt a little distanced from both the characters and the moments, I still had a very real sense of who they were. It all felt incredibly real and completely believable, so much so that yes I did Google to check it was fictional. It was also wonderful (and sometimes funny) to get contrasting views of the same events.

I’m not sure I would really say I could relate to the characters or that I even really liked them or connected to them but they did fascinate me. You could argue some are a little stereotyped, there’s the messed up rich girl (Daisy), the egotistical and controlling lead singer (Billy), the sleazeball (I’m naming no names here) and the hot headed band member who doesn’t feel he’s being allowed to shine, but I found it incredibly easy to imagine each and every one.

Some voices and stories I did prefer to others, Karen for example as keyboard player is very much in the background as far as the band goes but had for me one of the most powerful stories and was incredibly likeable. I also liked Warren the drummer, who’s clearly incredibly talented but is so relaxed and unbothered by all of the drama, and Graham, Billy’s brother who seems happy to let his brother bask in the limelight.

It’s actually Billy and Daisy who are probably the least likeable of all. Both are battling addiction problems, are selfish, egotistical and think the world revolves around them but I will admit there’s something very charismatic about both of them and put them together and it’s down right electric. There’s so much tension and chemistry between them it’s impossible not to be captivated by them and I loved the way the dynamic between them shifted and changed.

The whole story is however enthralling and I loved every single second of reading it. Reid’s writing is magical and for me the only bad thing was the ending (and only because it was over).

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This in no way influenced my review and if you need any more convincing I bought a copy too.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party


THE BLURB

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

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 REVIEW

One of my favourite tropes in the thriller/mystery genre has always been (and probably will always be) the group of people stranded in a remote location with a killer in their midst. There’s just something so primal about it, both in terms of the way the characters when under threat revert to their base urges (fight or flight) and the genuine chills it gives me as a reader. I have always found this idea of being trapped with no way of getting help a bit terrifying and who doesn’t love a few chills in this kind of story.

Needless to say as soon as I discovered The Hunting Party was about a group of old friends snowed in at a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands with a killer among them I knew I had to read it (and not just because of the Highland setting).

So did it deliver? Well yes and no. It’s very well written and as a character study, absolutely wonderful but I felt it was a little lacking in the creepiness and tension I so badly wanted. I did really love the way in which the author portrayed the friendship dynamics within the group and the ways in which they’ve changed since they first met (well most of them) at University. They are not the same people now and despite the best efforts of some, have grown apart (and grown up) and lost the closeness they once had. They may think they know each other well but how well can you really know someone, even if they were once your closest friend.

What makes this an even better read is that these characters are for the most part, deliciously horrid. Interested primarily in appearance and position, they are self centered, vain, bullying and nasty. They may have been friends at some point (although I have my doubts) but now they’re more like competitors, trying to outdo each other with their successes. There are also more than a few secrets and grudges being held.

It’s safe to say there wasn’t a single one of them I liked. There was the odd aspect of certain characters that I could relate to or recognize in myself and I did have some sympathy for the poor lodge manager and gamekeeper who had to look after them (and had some secrets of their own) but most of my enjoyment came from watching these nasty people tear each other apart.

Where I felt a little let down however was in the murder mystery. It lacks the tension and the chills it needs to make it a truly thrilling and unputdownable read and I think this is due in part to the format. There are dual timelines running throughout, the first starting right after the discovery of one of the guests bodies (we don’t know which one), and the other a few days before as the party make their way up to the lodge. I personally was not a fan of this approach as I never felt truly in the moment and consequently there was no sense of danger.

There is definitely some mystery to it and it does keep you guessing, firstly which of these horrible people has met a sticky end and then who was behind it and why, but there was none of the killer in our midst tension from the party I was hoping for. This is probably in a large part due to the post murder events being told from the pov of Heather, the lodge manager, with the other guests (the party) barely featuring. I also found it a little silly the way in which the identity of the victim was concealed from the reader, with the author avoiding even gender pronouns so as not to reveal whether it was a man or woman.

All of these criticisms are probably starting to make you think I didn’t enjoy it but I really did. It may not have been exactly the story I was expecting to read but I genuinely enjoy character studies of unpleasant people. There’s just something fascinating about not knowing what someone will do next and Foley has created some well rounded and believably nasty characters.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who likes a more character focused mystery and doesn’t mind it not being action packed or chilling.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. All views are my own.