Summer at the Cornish Café by Phillipa Ashley #BookReview

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Demi doesn’t expect her summer in Cornwall to hold anything out of the ordinary. As a waitress, working all hours to make ends meet, washing dishes and serving ice creams seems to be as exciting as the holiday season is about to get.

That’s until she meets Cal Penwith. An outsider, like herself, Cal is persuaded to let Demi help him renovate his holiday resort, Kilhallon Park. Set above an idyllic Cornish cove, the once popular destination for tourists has now gone to rack and ruin. During the course of the Cornish summer, Demi makes new friends – and foes – as she helps the dashing and often infuriating Cal in his quest. Working side by side, the pair grow close, but Cal has complications in his past which make Demi wonder if he could ever truly be interested in her.

Demi realises that she has finally found a place she can call home. But as the summer draws to a close, and Demi’s own reputation as an up and coming café owner starts to spread, she is faced with a tough decision . . .

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I hate to say this but after reading a few really great romance novels this one felt a bit meh. Personally I felt that the love story lacked some real romance.

Demi and her dog Mitch are out of a job thanks to the town’s villain Mawghan and they’re sleeping rough until her one and only friend tells her that Cal Penwith is looking for hired help with restoring the holiday cottages at Kilhallon Park. She gets the job and while they’re working hard side by side Demi starts to fall for this moody handsome man. He’s still visiting his ex-girlfriend a lot though, even though she’s engaged now, so Demi comes to the conclusion that she needs to tamp down her feelings for him even if that’s easier said than done.

Summer At The Cornish Café was a nice read about big dreams with a bit of will they/won’t they get together but there was no real tension or attraction building between them. I felt it was mainly a one-sided thing from Demi‘s side. Saying that Cal is an enigma is almost an understatement. There’s really no telling what was going on in his head or what he was feeling (almost like a real dude so points for being realistic but also very frustrating at times). He’s also keeping the past three years he spent abroad under lock and key and it’s clear that something traumatized him but unfortunately I never found out what it was. It was only after I finished the novel that I discovered this was the first one of a trilogy so that will probably play its part in the sequel. Unfortunately Cal didn’t really grow on me and I didn’t see his appeal because I simply never really got to know him. I think I prefer the dog Mitch (I still don’t know what breed he is though) who is a lovely steady presence in the novel too over him.

I enjoyed reading about the restoration and the lovely Cornish setting but as you might already suspect, I won’t be continuing with this series.

I received a free paperback copy of this novel in a giveaway. This is my honest opinion.

The Other Guest by Heidi Perks #BookReview

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Laila and her husband arrive for a week’s holiday in Greece in desperate need of a reset.

As Laila sits by the pool she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the other family staying in their resort.

Em has no idea who Laila is, or that she has been watching her and her teenage sons and husband so intently.

Five days later their worlds will be blown apart by a horrifying event.

Laila thinks she knows the truth of what happened. But in telling Em what she’s seen, she stands to lose everything she holds dear.

And what if she’s got it wrong?

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I was very excited (maybe a bit too excited) to read The Other Guest so it’s a bit surprising that I found this an okay read, nothing wrong with it really, but there just wasn’t enough in it to get me really excited about it. I did enjoy the holiday setting in a lush 5* resort on a Greek island and Leila’s people watching. It felt oddly relatable although I don’t think – I hope not – I’m that much into it as Leila.

Aside from being absorbed by the dynamics of a family of 4 (mum, dad and two teenage boys) and a couple of newly-weds who don’t seem to act very much in love, Leila also has her own relationship struggles, a relationship that feels strained from the start. It didn’t help of course that James decided to spend their money on this getaway while they need money for another round of IVF. Leila’s desire to get pregnant is something that weighs on them and defines this couple in the story.

One morning she finds out there’s been a tragic accident. When the police start to question everyone she asks herself if she should come forward with some information she gathered. But then they’d probably ask her how she knows this and that could be a problem… Bottomline is that everyone who needs to speak up is keeping their lips sealed. It was quite frustrating at times. On top of that Leila’s husband is acting a bit weird too, he seems to want to check out and get away as fast as possible. I felt there were a few dodgy persons in this limited cast of characters but there was nothing that I could effectively use to make any progress in eliminating them. The author clearly tried to steer me in one direction and I did have a lot of questions but even so if it’s too obvious I’m having none of it so I kind of rejected the suggestion on that basis.

All in all the story stayed a bit too long on the same level for me to be fully gripped and challenged. The last part of the novel was therefore also the most enjoyable part. I actually loved the reveal of another twist more than finding out the whodunit. A big part of the novel is building up to the reveal of course and it just fell a little flat when I found out the truth.

Overall nothing bad can be said about this one, it had all the ingredients that I love but it just didn’t come into its own. I hope I wasn’t too severe, I didn’t mean to be, but I believe her other novels are stronger. This author is capable of writing very twisty and unexpected scenes so I hope to discover all of that and more in her next novel.

I received a free ecopy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley. This is my honest opinion.

The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen | Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough #Audiobooks

AudioBookReviews

TheGoldenCouple

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Wealthy Washington suburbanites Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem to have it all—until Marissa is unfaithful. Beneath their veneer of perfection is a relationship riven by work and a lack of intimacy. She wants to repair things for the sake of their eight-year-old son and because she loves her husband. Enter Avery Chambers.

Avery is a therapist who lost her professional license. Still, it doesn’t stop her from counseling those in crisis, though they have to adhere to her unorthodox methods. And the Bishops are desperate.

When they glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.

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star three and a half / 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars_1457015877_81_246_96_2

I really enjoyed listening to Karissa Vacker and Marin Ireland, the narrators of this audiobook. Karissa takes on Marissa’s voice and Marin is Avery’s in this story. That way we hear from Marissa and her husband Matthew who seek Avery’s unconventional therapist’s support. Marissa fears her husband’s reaction about her infidelity so she confesses in the presence of Avery and hopes she can give them the tools to overcome this and stay together.

Avery knows Marissa is holding back something and is determined to find out what it is. She likes to dig in deep and her methods are unorthodox but thorough. I loved hearing from Avery and she was the most interesting character of the novel.

There is a lot going on in both Marissa’s life and Avery’s lives which make this audiobook anything but dull. There are some interesting side characters too who add to the story in Marissa’s bubbly shopping assistant and Avery’s love interests Derek and Skip. There is also an undercurrent of danger and threat that seems to be related to the complaint Avery made in name of a client, another plotline in the story, but when I found one plotline slowly seeping into the other, I questioned even that and I couldn’t wait to see how everything was related to each other.

There was absolutely nothing I can put my finger on that made me like but not love The Golden Couple. Even if it’s not my favorite title from one of my favorite authors, it was still entertaining and cleverly crafted.

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Insomnia

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In the dead of night, madness lies….

Emma can’t sleep.

Check the windows….

It’s been like this since her big 4-0 started getting closer.

Lock the doors….

Her mother stopped sleeping just before her 40th birthday, too. She went mad and did the unthinkable because of it.

Look in on the children….

Is that what’s happening to Emma?

Why can’t she sleep?

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I loved reading Behind Her Eyes in 2017 and Cross Her Heart in 2020 so this was the author’s third book for me. Insomnia definitely leans towards Behind Her Eyes with the story hung up on one shocking twist. Even though I’m not a fan of unrational things I could get behind what she had planned all along so I didn’t feel cheated in the end. My patience was pushed to the limit at the beginning however and I have to congratulate myself for seeing it through.

This was one of the biggest slow burner novels I have read in the last years and it was only at 40% into the story that the first big exciting thing happens that pulls the story open and presents at least a mystery I could perhaps get my head around more. Up until that point Emma Averall is having weird thoughts, she has numbers in her head, she recites certain words (which will stick in your head too by the end of the book!) and there are a few other strange things happening that remind her of her childhood. She’s worrying about her 40th birthday coming soon because her mother went crazy on her 40th birthday and she wonders if the same is happening to her. The author doesn’t give anything more to cling to so despite all this weirdness I felt a little bored at times and I didn’t feel as much tension as was probably intended. Thankfully a suspicious death marked the turning point and I became more interested in Emma and her family from thereon.

I didn’t really feel the connection with Emma but that didn’t deter me from my goal to find out the truth. Emma is an unreliable narrator so during the whole story I was left wondering if she really did have mental health issues and whether she had anything to do with this death. I didn’t want to believe so but there was always some degree of uncertainty. The author seemingly enjoyed keeping her readers in the dark, only ramping up the craziness a few notches as the story progressed so, much like Behind Her Eyes, I had to wait till the end for it all to make sense.

You have to undergo this story and wait for the surprise but if you do hang in there is a great twist waiting for you in the end.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton #BookReview

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Three impossible crimes

Two unlikely detectives

One deadly voyage

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is set to face trial for a crime that no one dares speak of.

But no sooner is the ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. Strange symbols appear on the sails. A figure stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered. Passengers are plagued with ominous threats, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft.

Then: an impossible murder.

With Pipps imprisoned in the depths of the ship, can his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes solve the mystery before the ship descends into anarchy?

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star three and a half / 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars_1457015877_81_246_96_2

Well I certainly ventured out of my comfort zone reading this. If you would have told me I would read a story set on a ship called the Saardam sailing under the Dutch East Indian Company and drawing on trading adventures in the 1630s, I would have laughed. But I loved Turton’s debut novel so much (my review here) that I was curious and I wanted to give it a chance, and by giving it a chance in I mean I even bought the hardback (and I never buy hardbacks) because I believed the 552 pages could only be fully appreciated between a hard cover.

Overall I can say that I enjoyed reading The Devil and the Dark Water but I didn’t love it as much as I loved this author’s debut novel. In all fairness I don’t think anybody can deliver such a mindblowing job twice though.

The author did try to make his second book intriguing by introducing quite a big cast in his new novel too. The names and professions of the key players were listed before the first chapter which was a good idea to start with (and I absolutely loved the map of the ship drawn inside the book flap) but while I was reading I noticed there wasn’t much other than their professions to distinguish the different characters (Guard Captain, Governer General, Chamberlain, boatswain, Chief Merchant, Captain) and I struggled a little to figure out what each of them did on that ship exactly and Drecht and Vos for example seemed interchangeable so after a while I tried not to think too deeply about the who’s who.

I did love Arent Hayes and Sara Wessel. The governer general’s wife was undaunted and brave and a perfect partner in crime for Hayes. There was a great balance between both of them while they worked on trying to figure out more about who the leper was who warned them that the ship would never reach its destination, what this mysterious folly was (I did feel frustrated at times that it was shrouded in so much mystery for sooo long) and where it was kept and if ‘Old Tom’ really was on the ship.

I enjoyed the mystery but the revelations came quite late so I liked the last part of the novel where all the answers were finally revealed most of all. The author is skilled at working a complex plot and it gave me little vibes of Agatha Christie in the end so that certainly made me appreciate it.

I survived this quite well I think so even though it’s not a favourite I will keep an eye out for his next novel.

I bought a hardback copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward – The Housemaid by Sarah A. Denzil #AudioBookReviews

AudioBookReviews

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This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter, Lauren, and his cat, Olivia, in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve come across this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think….

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Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this or maybe it was because of the animal cruelty (of birds) described in the first chapters of the novel but it wasn’t a good start and it ended up being quite a challenging audiobook, even though I quite liked the narration. The Last House on Needless Street was soooo weird for sooo long! I really struggled in the beginning and if it hadn’t been because I had already heard so much about it and seen this novel on favorite lists I’m not sure if I had continued. But perseverance is my middle name (ahem) so I’m happy I finally know the secret of this book. The plot is original although it went very slowly and didn’t make much sense at times what was going on. There are three voices in the novel and Ted Bannerman is this strange guy who lives in a delipated and boarded up house next to a forest. Olivia the indoor cat loves Ted and makes observations now and again. Then there’s Lauren, Ted’s daughter, who isn’t always there but when she is her moods are often eratic. I had guessed the clue of the story early on but not the exact extent of it, how encompassing it would turn out to be. In the end the author made it even more difficult with the stairs, the basement, the colours of the rugs and it almost became a bit too much to digest. I like seeing things in my mind but it was impossible to conjure up how this would look on screen or in real life.

I understand why so many readers praise it and talk about it so much because it really is special and the idea behind it – as the author explains in the afterword – is great but if you ask me if I want to read/listen to it again then the answer is no.

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The Housemaid

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Housemaid wanted.

Skills required: discretion, and the willingness to go the extra mile.

It seems like the perfect job. Great wages, accommodation provided and all located within the walls of Highwood Hall, a stunning stately home owned by the Howard family. Not many little girls dream of becoming a maid, but this is an opportunity for me to get back on my feet. And for me to revisit my past….

But I soon realise I’ve made a mistake. The strict housekeeper, Mrs Huxley, watches my every move, emerging from the shadows when least expected. Lord Howard’s son, Alex, takes an interest in me, and as a former addict, I find myself drawn to him because I know he’s bad for me. There’s a general atmosphere of unease at Highwood Hall, from the narrow tunnels laced throughout the sprawling house, to the abandoned north wing, rumoured to be haunted. It’s easy to imagine the secrets hidden within these walls, like the secrets I hold close.

On my first day, I receive a mysterious package. I open up the pretty gift box to find a miniature doll version of me trapped inside a dollhouse. In this scene I’m dead, lying in a pool of red paint at the bottom of the perfectly recreated staircase. Someone sent this threatening diorama to me, but who even knows I work at the hall? And what do they want?

I know only one truth: my perfect job is turning into my perfect nightmare.

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I enjoyed The Housemaid in the format of an audiobook. The narrator Sophie Rundle spoke with clear pronounciation and had a pleasant voice and I’d certainly not mind listening to her again in the future.

The story takes place in the present but I sometimes really felt I was transported to the Victorian era and the modern references almost felt out of place. I did get used to this unusual blend and I became fascinated quite soon with the strange diorama that turned up on Ruby’s first day. Who was it from and what was its purpose? Did someone want to see her gone before she had even started? There were definitely strange things going on in that house and it was all very atmospheric.

I really enjoyed the first three parts of the book but I found it harder to enjoy the final part. The characters were interesting and believable, but then at the end it all seemed a little far fetched to me. There were some shocking truths in the end that I hadn’t entirely seen coming so there is that but it unfolded as if someone had pulled a plug and there was not enough explanation to make me believe what I read. I think I would have liked it more if Ruby had found out more gradually so the pacing would have been more consistent with the rest of the novel and motives and thoughts could be more developed so it would sound more believable.

All in all it was not a bad novel per se and I see the potential of this author’s writing so I might give another novel a go in the future if I have the opportunity.

The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh #AudioBookReview

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I have held you every night for 10 years, and I didn’t even know your name. We have a child together. A dog, a house. Who are you?

Emma loves her husband, Leo, and their young daughter, Ruby: she’d do anything for them. But almost everything she’s told them about herself is a lie.

And she might just have got away with it, if it weren’t for her husband’s job. Leo is an obituary writer, and Emma is a well-known marine biologist, so when she suffers a serious illness, Leo copes by doing what he knows best – reading and writing about her life. But as he starts to unravel her past, he discovers the woman he loves doesn’t really exist. Even her name is fictitious.

When the very darkest moments of Emma’s past life finally emerge, she must somehow prove to Leo that she really is the woman he always thought she was….

But first, she must tell him about the love of her other life.

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star three and a half

The Love of My Life is a novel with plenty of surprising twists and turns. The beginning is a little slow but really hooked me once Leo discovers his wife told a lie and dives headlong into the unknown by reaching out to people he didn’t know of but she’s been in contact with. Who is Jeremy Rothchild and why is his wife Janice missing? What does Emma have to do with it? You’d think this is a story about cheating but maybe it’s something else, I’m not saying more, my lips are sealed. In any case it’s not Emma herself but Jeremy who informs Leo about Emma’s history, and flashbacks to a time when Emma came into their lives show what Emma went through when she was in her twenties. The heart of the story is tragic and it will probably tug at your heartstrings too in the scenes set in the past.

I enjoyed the story but I was hoping so hard for a re-do of The Man Who Didn’t Call, this great impossible love story between a man and a woman, and being so different it didn’t entirely live up to my expectations. I loved her first novel so much and while there is definitely love in this story too, and an impossible, yearning love even, the love between the couple of main characters, Leo and Emma, isn’t what I call epic. When I think of a romance novel this isn’t what I’m thinking of and for me this falls more under contemporary fiction, a family history, drama.

So, apart from this novel feeling as a different type from her debut novel, my enjoyment was also tempered by the narration. The story is told in his (Leo) and her (Emma) voices and Leo’s voice was pleasant enough to listen to, the male voice was measured and calm but the female narrator stressed every other word in a sentence and I like audiobooks with attention to intonation but this was too much for my liking. I didn’t enjoy the other voices she did either, she gave Leo in her parts in the beginning a very deep and slow voice but that wasn’t how the other narrator presented his character. Also her child’s voice for Ruby wasn’t a young voice that sounded innocently cute or angelic, but rather annoying. I know several blog friends who love listening to audiobooks narrated by Imogen Church so I think it’s just a personal thing for me and if you’re interested in this novel you should not refrain because of this.

I received a free digital copy of this audiobook from Macmillan UK Audio via Netgalley. This is my honest opinion.

Of dog walkers and yoga retreats: Sleeping Dogs Lie by Samantha Downing | The Getaway by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen #AudioBookReviews

AudioBookReviews

I chose two short novellas (around 2 hours of listening time each) because I love reading books written by these authors and I wanted to see if their audiobooks would be equally brilliant.

SleepingDogsLie

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Shelby works as a dog walker in northern California, and she’s just finished up her bi-weekly trip to the park with a husky named Pluto. When she brings him back to his house, she finds his owner – Todd Burke, a well-known local businessman and founder of an organic supplements company – lying on the bathroom floor, dead. A detective arrives on the scene. As she interviews Shelby, the body is inspected by a medical examiner, and more cops search Todd’s home, it becomes clear that the victim’s life was less picture-perfect than his clean-cut persona might lead you to believe.

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If you love animals you’ll enjoy listening to this audiobook. I normally give novellas a miss but I fell for the mention of the author and the dog in Sleeping Dogs Lie. The author managed to create an entertaining mystery about the murder of a husky’s owner. Pluto seemed like a goofy and affectionate dog, especially with his interest in neighbouring little doggie Daisy. I didn’t expect the dog and his dog walker to be so front and center of the story but I loved that it revolves around them. Pluto’s owners had joined custody, his neighbour wanted him to leave his dog alone and threatened to kill Pluto…  So who killed Todd? Detective Grady tries to make sense of it all. There are a few suspects but I totally didn’t expect this outcome. Great twist and motive!

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TheGetaway

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Prepare yourself for a transformative experience. Sometimes, life’s setbacks contain hidden gifts. Here at Lakewood, you’ll find the space to unwrap them.

A weekend at the Lakewood Retreat is exactly what Chloe Powell needs. Freshly unemployed after her boss loses a reelection campaign, the former press secretary desperately wants a break from the bustle of Washington, DC. A flier posted at her yoga studio leads her to the getaway, which looks amazing: Organic meals, celebrity testimonials, and a serene private property within driving distance of the city.

It’s so perfect, in fact, that Chloe’s barely bothered by the intensely personal questions she’s asked in her application, or the unnerving social experiments her enigmatic host, Sebastian, imposes on her once she arrives at his remote cabin. But when a mysterious new guest shows up, Chloe can no longer suppress her rising panic: This place is not at all what it seems.

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star three and a half

Another duo that knows how to deliver unexpected twists. Unfortunately, for some reason and especially knowing what this author duo is capable of, I expected more from it. It started off really good, I was hooked at the start and alarm bells went off as soon as Chloé arrived at the retreat. There was that unsettling feeling where you can’t put your finger on what is wrong exactly hanging in the air and possible scenarios were trying to take form in my head. When another guest finally arrives it became clear what was going on but I didn’t feel as excited with this twist as I should have been. The tension was ramped up in the end and I did cheer Chloé along. This was ok but you’re not missing out if you haven’t listened to this.

I downloaded these audiobooks from Audible for free, as part of my membership. Do let me know what your thoughts were if you have listened to these audiobooks in the past!

Olive by Emma Gannon #BookReview

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Independent.
Adrift.
Anxious.
Loyal.
Kind.
Knows her own mind.

OLIVE is many things, and it’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made, boxes to tick and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. And when her best friends’ lives start to branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, Olive starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.

Moving, memorable and a mirror for every woman at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.

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star three and a half / 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars_1457015877_81_246_96_2

This is a story of friendship between a small circle of friends, namely Olive and her 3 best friends, Bea, Cecily (Cec) and Isla. Along the line they make different life choices so the plotline is told over a number of years, one timeline is where she and her friends are 22 years old and another at the age of 32 or 33. At 22 Olive and her friends lived parallel lives, but since then they have all spread their wings so to say and while they still meet at their favorite Italian restaurant on a regular basis and have vowed to stay friends and to always be there for each other, it is proving difficult to hold their unison intact ten years down the line. Bea is a mother of three children, Cec – who was the wild one, the disorganised one – is pregnant of her first child and Isla is waiting for another round of IVF. She desperately wants a child but it’s not happening. The odd one out is Olive and she feels that way too. She doesn’t want to have children and her relationship of 9 years fell apart because of it. With her friends all so busy and focused on babies she has trouble finding a listening ear and would they understand at all if she did tell them?

Even though I received a free copy of this novel in a giveaway, I was drawn to this novel immediately. I’m single now but I had two relationships of 11 years (it’s a magic number it seems) and neither relationship resulted in offspring. My first love didn’t want children and I was happy with our life, we enjoyed it to the fullest and I also didn’t want it to change. The second time I was older and slightly more open to it but decisions were made (snipsnip) so having a child was never going to happen.

So I welcomed the thought of a novel about choosing not to have children because it really is something that still is something of a taboo. When are you starting a family? No children yet? WHY NOT? I heard it a lot over the years and it makes me feel as if I need to defend myself over and over again. I was curious how Olive was going to experience her life choice and I expected that I’d be able connect with Olive and feel a kinship there.

While we’re in the same boat, Olive still has a slightly different mindset and while I can see positives and negatives for myself as much as others Olive seems to have more of a one track mind. I found Olive’s reactions to be generally speaking mostly negative, it’s not because you don’t choose children that you can’t enjoy being around them for a while (she’s horrified at the thought of having to babysit them even hypothetically). She certainly doesn’t acknowledge the joy a child can bring at all. Olive accuses her friends of not being there for her but is she there for them? She also wants their bubble to stay EXACTLY the way it was. People evolve though and nothing stays the same, I find it pretty amazing that they still managed to meet up at their restaurant with everyone’s busy lives, that alone takes dedication if you ask me, but Olive doesn’t realise this. She came across a bit naive on that part and a bit self-centered although she comes to realize this too and does make amends towards the end of the story.

What hit me the most though is that she finally finds other women who choose to live childfree (a different term than childless) after she wondered if she was the only person feeling that way but then she decides not to write an article about it for the magazine .dotcom that she works for. I didn’t understand this at all and I never found out what was in the article she ended up writing either. The ending did surprise me in some ways. It was mainly a happy surprise that Olive had changed enough by then that she was more accepting and understanding of her friends.

Pfew sorry for my long piece here where I had a lot to say about Olive. Overall a decent debut about friendships for life and the different angles of the life altering choice of motherhood.

I received a free hardback copy of this novel from the publisher via a giveaway. This is my honest opinion.

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl #BookReview

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A seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity leads a PI and his ex-con assistant on a murderous trail, in a sophisticated, riveting historical Nordic Noir thriller set in interwar and prohibition-era Norway.

Oslo, 1938. War is in the air and Europe is in turmoil. Hitler’s Germany has occupied Austria and is threatening Czechoslovakia; there’s a civil war in Spain and Mussolini reigns in Italy.

When a woman turns up at the office of police-turned-private investigator Ludvig Paaske, he and his assistant – his one-time nemesis and former drug-smuggler Jack Rivers – begin a seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity.

But all is not what it seems, and when Jack is accused of murder, the trail leads back to the 1920s, to prohibition-era Norway, to the smugglers, sex workers and hoodlums of his criminal past … and an extraordinary secret.

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star three and a half

Kjell Ola Dahl was a totally new author to me so I went in with an open mind, even though I was a little unsure about the type of novel it was. It turned out The Assistant is quite the varied type and it is everything you think – or hope – it might be. Nordic crime? Check! Spies and lots of action? Double check! An intriguing mystery delivered in a historical setting? Why yes that too!

The Assistant contains at first chapters shifting between 1924 and 1938, and ends in 1962, but it all starts in 1924 where Jack Rivers is a driver for a man called Arvid Bjerke. He not only transports passengers but is also a runman delivering illegal cans of liquor to village shops. In the very first pages Jack is actually trying to avoid being arrested as he tries to outwit ‘the cop from hell’ Ludvig Paaske in a breathtakingly dangerous scene. Twenty pages later though with a time jump to 1938 Paaske isn’t a cop anymore but a private investigator and Rivers is quite suddenly his sidekick. It is all quite matter of fact with no explanation what happened in between so that only intrigued me more to find out how they got from sworn enemies to allies.

Good teamwork is certainly necessary when a woman asks them to investigate her husband, only to bring danger on themselves as soon as they start trailing the husband. I was invested in this novel from the action-packed opening till the earth shattering ending. In between I followed a treacherous path of twists and red herrings. This is one of those novels that were it a movie you better not look away if you want to keep up with what’s happening. There’s robbery, betrayal, narrow escapes and plenty of action and two women as memorable characters, Julie – wife to Jack’s old employer Arvid – and Amalie who plays the part of Arvid’s mistress. Both women play a magnificent role in all of it but are also characters that will make you question their sincerity and motives. Is Amalie worth being Jack’s crush or is she playing games with him? What are Julie’s intentions towards Jack? Who to trust?  

I have to admit that this was a somewhat challenging novel for me. I didn’t find the story as easy to read as the novels I finished in the weeks before with the writing style being more show than tell. I was often wondering what was going on and felt a little lost at times. I was also taken by surprise in the end that the novel suddenly went a very different direction than the route I had figured we were going. Without saying too much hopefully, I anticipated a full blown political/spy novel in the end with everything that had happened but I was way off track and shortly before the ending I became painfully aware of my mistake. My mouth nearly dropped open when I finally saw what we were dealing with! I really did enjoy the ending though which showed the true colours of all the characters. Overall I can conclude this is a great novel but I’m left in doubt that the style of writing makes this the right author for me.

I received a free paperback copy from the publisher Orenda Books to read. This is my honest opinion.

3 #AudioBookReviews with family drama

AudioBookReviews

I’m still listening to audiobooks and it’s going very well thank you (I signed up for 3 months of audible at 2,99 £ so there’s definitely more to come too). I picked a few titles that interested me but that I wouldn’t necessary pick as a first choice to read. Normally that would mean I wouldn’t get to these books in the next 10 years but now, thanks to them being on audio and being able to squeeze in 15 or 30 minutes here and there, I can review them much sooner. 

Here are 3 audiobooks with some serious family drama and a bit of mystery. I loved Everything I Never Told You most of all but do check out Hurry Home and The Wife Stalker too! 

Hurry Home by Roz Nay

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Alexandra Van Ness has the perfect life. She lives in an idyllic resort town tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, shares a designer loft with her handsome boyfriend, Chase, and has her dream job working in child protection. Every day, Alex goes above and beyond to save children at risk.

But when her long-lost sister, Ruth, unexpectedly shows up at her door, Alex’s perfect life is upended. Growing up, Ruth was always the troublemaker, pulling Alex into her messes, and this time will be no different. Still, Alex will help Ruth under one condition: we will never, ever, talk about the past. But when trouble befalls a local child, both women are forced to confront the secrets they’ve promised to keep buried.

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The novel is about two estranged sisters Alex and Ruth. Alex is introduced first showing her acting in her role as a child protection social worker. She seems devoted to the job, caring while her colleague Minerva doesn’t seem to see that a child is not properly being taken care of. She is righteous and dutiful but even her boss Morris lets himself be convinced by Minerva that the child in question, Buster, is fine to stay at home with his parents. Then Ruth shows up at her home, the sister she hasn’t seen in over 10 years, since Ruth ran away from home. Snippets of the past start to trickle in and something about that past is definitely off but I couldn’t put my finger on what we were dealing with. The change of perspective by each sister was interesting. The biggest question was establishing who the reliable sister was in the story because after a while they both seem quite fitting. It wasn’t a bad story but it didn’t really make me feel excited either.  

Hurry Home is a rather slow burning mystery or family drama, which kept me entertained but the narrator of the story (Hillary Huber) didn’t make the two voices very different so I didn’t feel as much difference between the sisters as I would have liked and it made listening a bit monotonous. 

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner, about secrets, love, longing, lies and race.

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Another family drama but one that touched me so much more. I really enjoyed listening to the soft spoken voice of the narrator (Cassandra Campbell) and the mystery why Lydia killed herself was quite compelling. Lydia had it all, she was a brilliant student and had lots of friends. She makes her parents proud and it’s safe to say that she’s their parents favorite child too. When her mother finds a packet of condoms in her backpack after her daughter died, it seems she didn’t know her so well after all. The author goes back to that one decisive moment in history that is the first drop in a bucket that will overflow in the end. The story behind their terrible loss takes root even before Hannah was born, with Marilyn’s longing to become a doctor herself. Things definitely took a different turn. 

Everything I Never Told You is a tragic story. It took me a few chapters to get into it, as I didn’t feel it at first when Marilyn and James meet at the university as student and professor in the beginning and their lives didn’t interest me as much, but once Lydia started telling her side of the story, I was completely sucked into it. Lydia is carrying a weight, she does everything to make her parents happy, even at her own cost. It is a story of loneliness, of being misunderstood, of not belonging neither here or there. It seems incomprehensible at the start why she would have killed herself but in the end the tragic nature that led to these deadly consequences is so clear. The story felt very real to me, the story and characters were well rounded and I recommend this audiobook with any reservations.

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The Wife Stalker by Liv Constantine

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Joanna and Leo seem to have the perfect relationship. Two adorable children, a beautiful house in a chic area of Connecticut – they have the kind of life people envy.

Then Piper moves to town. Piper is young, attractive, flirtatious. It’s almost no wonder Leo is tempted away…

Devastated, Joanna starts digging into Piper’s past, and discovers some very disturbing secrets – not least that Piper’s previous two husbands ended up dead. But Piper dismisses Joanna’s fears for her family as paranoia. Who is telling the truth? Joanna? Piper? The only certainty in this web of lies is that no one is who they appear to be…and no one will escape unscathed.

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Another family oriented novel with two women telling the story, the only catch being that you don’t know who is telling the truth. It’s very much a Piper versus Joanna story and with Joanne pushed out of the picture and out of the lives of Leo and her children, it was easy to be on team Joanna from the start. The further into the story the more I questioned Piper’s character too. Her past raises some serious questions and Joanne is convinced Piper wants to harm her children. Is it true? Piper is having difficulties winning the children’s sympathy and it’s clear that Stellie’s behaviour is a struggle for her but would she really harm him? How will Joanna make Leo see Piper for who she really is? I didn’t really like Leo either for putting Joanna aside so casually while she stood by him during his depression and I didn’t understand at all why they chose to tell the children Evie and Stellie that their mother is dead and not let Joanna see them. I felt that quite insensitive and unnecessary. With hindsight it all made sense though.

It didn’t help that I loved the narration of Joanna’s voice so much more than Piper’s. I just noticed that both voices were actually narrated by Julia Whelan but for some reason I thought there were two narrators.

There is also one helluva twist in this novel that I didn’t see coming at all and for that alone it deserves at least 4 stars. Pulling this off takes amazing skill. 

A novel that kept me guessing what the deal was for the longest time!