Get a grip

‘A Second-Hand Husband’ – Claire Calman


A Second-Hand Husbamd

Natalie and Carl are newlyweds, but the honeymoon period is over already.
Carl has just announced he has bought their first home at auction without telling Natalie where it is, never mind showing her a picture of it.

Natalie is horrified to discover that the dream home is in Little Wyford, mere minutes away from Carl’s ex-wife Antonia. And to make matters worse, Antonia’s palatial country mansion has a fully-functioning roof (and a heated swimming pool!), unlike the ramshackle cottage Carl has bought for them…

Antonia is Little Wyford’s Queen Bee, mistress of the book club, organiser of the Christmas Fair and leader of the ladies-who-lunch. No matter how hard she tries, Natalie just doesn’t fit in, and when Antonia insists on referring to Carl as ‘Our Husband’, Natalie’s dreams of happily-ever-after take another nose dive.

Second-hand furniture has much to recommend it, especially when doing up a country cottage, second-hand clothes can be ever-so chic, but second-hand husbands are proving to be a very bad idea indeed… Can Natalie ever escape the label of Wife Number Two or is she destined to share her husband forever?

I think this is the first time I have read a book hoping that a meteor would strike down, killing off all the characters instantly. (Spoiler alert: this does not happen.) In fact, there’s no natural tragedy that would ensure the characters would be wiped off the face of the novel so that the story could restart.

As you may have guessed, I did not like the characters. They frustrated me and I felt aggressively angry towards Carl. He is a horrible man who bullies, patronises and belittles Natalie to the point that, if it was me, that man would not be able to stand upright! My skin would crawl as I read scenes where he puts Natalie down so much – a woman who’s self-esteem is next to nothing already. Carl was not a tragic hero whom you could sympathise with, even when the writer provides more background to Carl’s upbringing and family dynamics. No way could I feel sorry for him.

Natalie was achingly self-conscious and someone who desperately wants to fade in the background. I grew irritated with her desire to constantly please others around her – even if it was a contradiction to her own beliefs or behaviours. She allows Carl to walk all over her and justifies his behaviour throughout. In my opinion, this made a very toxic relationship and one that could easily be interpreted as rather sinister.

A Second-Hand Husband

So, if I read the book hoping to see a slaughtering in a quaint Kent village, why did I carry on reading? Well, it was the village of Little Wyford that helped redeem the story. I loved the setting and did smile at the whole ‘Stepford Wives’ theme that Natalie notices of the women of the village. Although Carl’s ex-wife, Antonia, also belonged in the ‘character bin’, I thought Calman plays on the housewife stereotype really well. It demonstrated a stark contrast between Natalie’s independence versus a group of woman who appear spoiled, kept and selfish. It was this that I hoped would spark a change in Natalie’s accepting behaviour.

In addition, I was really interested to see Natalie’s renovations of the run-down cottage that she and Carl have bought. Natalie is making decisions independent of Carl and I loved reading the changes happening. Furthermore, the grounds it is in are described really vividly and I thought the duckpond-come-swimming pool was a great touch! I could really picture Natalie pottering around and creating a rather beautiful home for her and her horrid husband.

This helps provoke a change in Natalie as she evolves to become a stronger woman, mindful of her behaviour and determined to stick to her beliefs. I liked watching this change happen over the story and this was the other significant reason why I carried on reading. Whilst I did not get the ending I was hoping for, it was satisfying to see Natalie more of a dominant character and comfortable with her identity. So, I guess a happy ending… ish.

Overall, I was not very impressed with this story. It’s a shame I grew to dislike the characters so much because this naturally lessened my enjoyment of the novel. Throughout, I wanted Natalie to grow a backbone, get a grip and see the reality of being married to Carl. And, whilst no meteors fell from the sky, it was quite nice to see a book with such a lovely setting.

Author bio:

Claire Calman is a writer and broadcaster CC - author pic - croppedknown for her novels that combine wit and pathos, including the bestseller Love is a Four-Letter Word. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Loose Ends. Her first book for Boldwood was published in June 2020.

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With thanks to Boldwood books, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Hawaii, a wedding and a rekindled romance

‘Blue Hawaiian’ – Carla Luna


Blue Hawaiian

The first rule of serving as the maid of honour at your perfect sister’s destination wedding? No mistakes.
The second rule? No drama.

For Jess Chavez, a week in Maui is hardly a dream vacation—not when her sister expects her to be the perfect maid of honour. Not only does Jess have to fake perfection, but she can’t let anyone know she’s unemployed and barely scraping by. Above all, she needs to steer clear of Connor Blackwood, the sexy groomsman who broke her heart five years ago.

A family wedding offers Connor the ideal opportunity to convince everyone he’s no longer an irresponsible playboy. If they see he’s changed, they might support his decision to leave the family winery and strike out on his own. With so much at stake, the last thing he needs is an alluring distraction like Jess.

When Jess and Connor end up together, exploring the island’s lush, tropical beauty, the sparks between them become impossible to ignore. Throwing caution to the wind, they decide to make their own rules.

Five days of passion. No strings. No tears. No promises.

What could possibly go wrong?

I really liked this sweet yet steamy book. It felt like a guilty pleasure! It was an easy read to get comfortable with and I liked the nature of the plot.

Following Jess and Connor, it is clear from the beginning that their swift relationship from five years’ previous has never left their minds. There is an instant spark between them and, despite the bride and groom giving strict instructions to not get involved with one another, the two cannot resist. What follows is Jess and Connor learning to love and to trust one another again, with the caveat that once the wedding is over, so is their liaison. However, with all the secrecy and sneaking around, readers know that someone is going to get hurt when the truth comes out.

Jess and Connor are nice characters. I think the writer could have showed Connor’s redemptive personality a bit more in the story as he claims he is better than the Connor that Jess knew five years ago. In other words, Connor claims he is no longer living under the dominance of his father and no longer the womaniser that his reputation dictates. Whilst Luna does show this, I think there could have possibly been a bit more chivalry from Connor.

Blue Hawaiian

On the other hand, Jess was also rather sweet but in a bit of a pickle about how reserved with the truth she is with those around her. It was never going to end well! I wanted to see Jess have more courage and self-esteem about her life choices; to believe that things are going to improve and not hide behind shame. Therefore, as the novel progresses, it was good to see her grow in strength, especially when it came to standing up to her sister, Bride-zilla!

All the supporting characters add further interest to the story. I liked watching the relationship between Connor and his sister, Victoria, especially when adding the dynamics with Connor’s over-bearing father. This is the first of a series and I can’t wait to see what happens next with this story.

Set in Hawaii, undoubtedly this gives the book a summer holiday vibe. Exploring the island against the backdrop of rekindled relationships and a lavish wedding, this read certainly provided much-needed escapism. There was nothing to dislike about this story and, whilst I appreciate the sweet nature of the book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, this definitely was a ‘no strings attached’ read that I lost myself to very quickly.

Author bio:

Carla Luna writes contemporary romance with a dollop of humour and a pinch of spice. Blue Hawaiian - Carla Luna_heashotA former archaeologist, she still dreams of traveling to far-off places and channels that wanderlust into the settings of her stories. When she’s not writing, she works in a spice emporium where she gets paid to discuss food and share her favourite recipes. Her passions include Broadway musicals, baking, whimsical office supplies, and pop culture podcasts. Though she has roots in Los Angeles and Victoria, B.C., she currently resides in Wisconsin with her family and her spoiled Siberian cat.

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With thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Dangerously fast

‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ – Oyinkan Braithwaite


My Sister, The Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

Unpopular opinion alert: I just didn’t get what the fuss was about with this novella. A (very) fast-paced book, it took me a day to read this and by the end of it, I was still questioning whether there was something obvious that I had missed. I could not connect with the narrative and failed to fully engage with the plot.

One thing that defines this short book is the incredibly short chapters. This made it easier to “gobble” up and I think classifies this as a perfect commuter read: you can easily dip in and out of this book around interruptions, and still keep afloat on the plot developments.

The plot itself is quite quirky. Some consider it an example of black comedy but, personally, I did not find it funny. Entertaining? Yes. Laugh out loud? Not for me. I was curious to see the plot unfold as it becomes clear that Korede’s beautiful sister, Ayoola, has a pretty wicked temper. Wicked to the extent that she has, by the start of the book, murdered three of her boyfriends. And, according to Korede’s late-night Google search, this qualifies Ayoola for the label of ‘serial killer’. What follows is Korede continuing to protect her sister, until Ayoola starts seeing a doctor that Korede has feelings for. As a result, Korede finds herself torn between family loyalties and her own personal happiness… not to mention an over-burdened conscience that holds Ayoola’s secrets.

What I enjoyed about this curious book was the unexpected plot developments. Braithwaite narrates the story with a very dry tone and I think this is reflected in Korede’s unquestionable loyalty to her sister: she does not wish to see Ayoola punished, despite her killer crimes. I could not foresee how the story would conclude, although the final chapter did raise a grin for me and I think the ending was very appropriate.

Alongside Ayoola’s behaviour, we also learn about Korede’s past. Specifically, her childhood and what her father was like. Arguably this has had an impact on Ayoola actions. On the other hand, I also think Korede’s experience as a child encouraged her to move into nursing as a career. However, Korede takes that caring aspect to another level when it comes to preventing her sister from going to prison for murder.

This was a quirky, unusual story. I liked the cultural references and it certainly feels like a unique story, especially when compared to my more recent reads. However, I don’t think this is one I could rave about because I would have liked to see more development in the narrative – either through longer chapters or just a longer novel as a whole.

Book Bingo 2021 category completed: Borrowed book.

24 hours of love, family and relationships

‘One Summer Sunrise’ – Shari Low



As the sun rises on a hot summer’s day, four lives are about to be changed forever…

Today, Maisie McTeer decides to track down the ex who jilted her at the altar. Today, she’ll find out that revisiting the past can also rewrite her future.

After losing her husband, Harriet Bassett can no longer bear her lonely life. Today, a familiar face in a crowd will spark a quest to discover if there’s something and someone worth living for.

Scott and Kelly Bassett’s daughter is leaving home. Today, Scott plans to tell Kelly that he’s ending their marriage to pursue his rock and roll dreams.

However, Kelly, has a bombshell of her own. How will Scott react to the news that a new arrival is on the way to fill their empty nest?

Between sunrise and sunset, there’s love, heartbreak, laughter and tears, but who will find happiness at the end of the day?

Although I felt incredibly daunted by the vast cast of characters, this was definitely a read worth persevering with. Over the course of a summer’s day, readers follow several characters as they experience heartache, loss and changing dynamics. This novel provoked many emotions and I thought it was a sweet, summer read with added ‘bite’.

The central characters were initially rather difficult to distinguish. It did not help that I read some of the names as too similar and felt a bit of pressure at the opening of the story to get the characters all in the right place. Helpfully (or unhelpfully?) the book begins with a breakdown of who is who: a bit of their background and which characters might be connected. It felt like I was preparing for a test! Therefore, I think it took several chapters before I felt confident with the focus switching between different individuals yet, once established, feel that they all stood out in their own way.

What I enjoyed most about this book is how all the characters felt so real and believable: their concerns and secrets were, in some way, relatable, mixed in with romantic dilemmas that you would expect from a novel of this genre. For example, Kelly is seriously concerned about ’empty nest syndrome’ with her daughter moving to London and her sister has had many failed attempts at IVF. On the other hand, Carny, Kelly’s daughter, is loving the opportunity of moving away from home with the prospect of truly starting adulthood. Across the characters, there are scenarios that readers can relate to, along with the fact that all seem rather genuine and likeable.

One Summer Sunrise

Yet, despite the summer setting, this book is not all warmth and romance. There are several sources of sadness and I thought Harriet’s story in particular was very emotional. Her confessions and attitude towards life were so desperate and recognisable. Having the opportunity to attend the garden party was an amazing boost for her and I was so keen to see Harriet happy with circumstances. In addition, some of the other characters also have emotional secrets, showing that, whilst the weather might be glorious, there can still be hidden sadness.

Whilst this is intended to be a light-hearted novel, I enjoyed Low’s exploration of family and relationships. The one-day period added a different dimension to books of a similar genre and, once I had got used to the different character perspectives, became intrigued with how each story would unfold. It felt very similar to an episode of 24, just without the terrorism and violence!

This is now my third read by Low and I was not disappointed. Reading this book provoked a range of emotions, both positive and negative. It was an enjoyable read and I think I will explore further of the writer’s books in future – because there are plenty that I have missed out on!

Author bio:

Shari Low is the #1 bestselling author of over 20 novels, Shari Headshot Dec 4including One Day In Winter and With Or Without You and a collection of parenthood memories called Because Mummy Said So. She lives near Glasgow and her first title for Boldwood was My One Month Marriage in January 2020.

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With thanks to Boldwood Books, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Isle of love and music

‘The Summer Island Festival’ – Rachel Burton


The Summer Island Festival

When Willow walks out on her own wedding, there’s only one place she can go: Seaview village, on the island she once called home. But she’s not the only islander back for the summer…

Twelve years ago, Willow ran away to the mainland after her childhood sweetheart, Luc, betrayed her. Luc has since become a heartthrob musician, touring sold-out stadiums around the world, but he’s finally come home to headline the island’s annual music festival – and to win Willow back.

As Willow untangles her messy past, she stumbles on a secret that could destroy the island’s fragile community – and her second chance at love…

Whilst the premise of lost loves is not unique, I did like the festival backdrop. Set on the Isle of Wight, the story features a British summer, seaside, ice cream and a togetherness that comes from a musical event. Indeed, I felt a bit wistful that such things have been hard to experience in the last 18 months!

Following Willow as she walks out of an extravagant wedding to nearly-husband Charlie, Willow returns to her family home after such a long absence. Not wanting to discuss her alter woes, Willow hides in her mother’s music shop as the island gets ready for their annual music festival. Pretty soon, Willow is reunited with faces she has deliberately tried to leave in the past. With feelings resurfacing, Willow not only has to get some closure on her nearly-wedding, but also decide how to move forwards. Its a complicated mess of feelings for Willow and you can’t help but understand why she feels she had to return home after all this time.

Shadowing this narrative, we also learn about Willow’s mother, Cathy, who has a story of her own. I found this part of the narrative more interesting because it explores more relationship dynamics. There’s a lot of ambiguity about paternity and family connections but I personally thought they were a bit too predictable. That being said, Cathy’s story of a rebellious teen leads her to have experiences beyond her wildest dreams. Without them, she would not have had Willow and, of course, there would have been no festival to attend to either.

The Summer Island Festival

I found this a lovely story to read but a little predictable. Despite the mysteries that are established, I could foresee the plot direction. That being said, the story felt like a warm, summer break and I enjoyed being carted off to the sands of the Isle of Wight. The novel has to conclude with the festival because of the amount of music references appearing throughout the story. It defines the narrative and I found this did make the book a bit more different to similar stories out there.

The cast of characters are all warm and likeable, even down to the roguish Storm! The book celebrates a freedom of youth that we all seem to forget as time ages us and I liked the innocence that Burton alludes to. On the other hand, there is still an undercurrent of sadness as along the way, people become inevitably hurt. However, there is hope for the next generation and I appreciated the tone of optimism that the novel finishes with.

This was a pleasant read and I felt carried away with the music and excitement of the pending festival. I was keen to see Willow mend her broken heart and enjoyed seeing the happy ending. All in all, this is a pleasing story that would make an ideal beach read. Although there are some lengthy chapters, I hardly noticed as I was so keen to see what would happen to Willow on the island.

Author bio:

Rachel Burton has been making up stories for as long as she can remember and always dreamed of being a writer until life somehow got in the way. After reading for a degree in Classics and another in English Literature she accidentally fell into a career in law, but eventually managed to write her first book on her lunch breaks.The Summer Rachel Burton Author Photo

She has spent most of her life between Cambridge and London but now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their three cats. She loves yoga, ice hockey, tea, The Beatles, dresses with pockets and very tall romantic heroes.

Find her on Twitter & Instagram as @RachelBWriter or follow her blog at She is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday….


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With thanks to Head of Zeus, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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River, nature, plants, love and family

‘The River Between Us’ – Liz Fenwick


The River Between Us

Following the breakdown of her marriage, Theo has bought a tumbledown cottage on the banks of the river Tamar which divides Cornwall and Devon. The peace and tranquillity of Boatman’s Cottage, nestled by the water, is just what she needs to heal.

Yet soon after her arrival, Theo discovers a stash of hidden letters tied with a ribbon, untouched for more than a century. The letters – sent from the battlefields of France during WW1 – tell of a young servant from the nearby manor house, Abbotswood, and his love for a woman he was destined to lose.

As she begins to bring Boatman’s Cottage and its gardens back to life, Theo pieces together a story of star-crossed lovers played out against the river, while finding her own new path to happiness.

My first read from Fenwick and I was not disappointed. With the Cornwall/Devon backdrop, Fenwick carefully explores love and family over two different time periods. It’s a novel that does not rush its story and for that I was grateful, relishing in the vivid setting and palpable emotions.

I can hardly believe that the concept of marrying for status and society was still occurring just over 100 years ago. Furthermore, the suffragettes were fighting for women’s rights and the vote, something that I think so many of us take advantage of today, without necessarily realising how lucky we are. In this case, we travel back to pre-World War One with Alice and her desire to remain a single woman, unattached from a husband and not to be traded as a piece of property. This, of course, creates conflict with her mother and, after shaming her family reputation at a debutante ball with the monarchy and other people of high status and importance, Alice is sent to Abbotswood to “recover” her reputation and realise a husband is what is needed.

Move to present day and Theo has moved into Boatman’s Cottage, on the Abbotswood estate. Discovering letters from an unknown ‘Z’, written from the trenches in the First World War, Theo moves to learn more about her recently deceased grandmother and the connection to Abbotswood. Initially, I found the present day narrative tricky to keep up with because of so many abstract character names that are thrown into the story. Theo and her brother start to learn more about their grandmother and the connections she had. As a result, a lot of new names are established and I struggled to keep track of their different identities. However, persevering with the book, this soon becomes clear through Alice’s story and I was glad I kept going with the novel.

Indeed, Fenwick’s writing does require concentration. I loved the map that is included right at the start of the book and only truly appreciated it in the closing chapters. I think I would have liked a family tree included at the end of the story to act as a reflection point on the plot. Having read the connections between different characters, it would have been helpful to visualise this properly and see how this became associated with Theo and her son, David.

Despite this, I really did enjoy Fenwick’s tale. The writer’s love of the area is portrayed through her vivid descriptions of Abbotswood, Boatman’s Cottage and the river Tamar. I felt like I was exploring the area with both female protagonists and also relished in the botanical references. Not hot on plant names myself, I still felt a part of the natural environment and could easily picture the scenery being described. Indeed, I actually felt a little inspired and my green fingers started to itch as a result!

I loved the parallels that are established between the female characters and the symbolism of the novel’s title was striking. There are so many layers to this title and I think it could be applied to several characters as well, especially as relationships are uncovered throughout the story.

Overall, I thought this was a bright, colourful read but equally charming and calming. I really enjoyed discovering more about Theo’s past and felt a little envious of her riverside, idyllic cottage. The characterisation in Fenwick’s writing is vivid and the attention to detail was truly reflected in the plot development. It’s a lengthy novel but definitely worth your time and attention.

Liz Fenwick’s Top Five

Here at Mrs Brown’s books we were very excited when the author wanted to share one of her ‘Top Five’s’ with us. So, here we have Liz Fenwick’s Top Five… Cornish Foods!

Cornwall produces so may wonderful things from the great art works, writing, to food. But food…yes, it’s me going on about food again, but it’s so good and it’s something to take away with you to keep that holiday feeling.

1. Cornish Sea Salt

2. Cornish Pasty (my choice is Gear Farm Pasties – local to me and so good!!)

3. Clotted Cream Rodda’s or Roskilly’s

4. Cider…There’s the well known Rattler but Cornish Orchard is wonderful

5. Cheese! So many wonderful cheeses. Here are a few… Yarg, Cornish Blue, Helford Camembert, Cornish Gouda

Hmm, I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel a bit peckish now!

With thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

RiverBetweenUs- btb

Jilted bride flies to other side of the globe

‘The Lucky Escape- Laura Jane Williams


The Lucky Escape


When the day finally comes for Annie to marry Alexander, the last thing she expects is to be left standing at the altar. She was so sure he was Mr Right. Now, she has no idea how she could have got it so wrong.


After a chance meeting with Paddy, an old friend who reminds her of who she used to be, Annie takes a vow of her own: she’ll say yes to every opportunity that comes her way from now on.


Could a spontaneous trip with Paddy be the way to mend Annie’s heart? She’s about to find out as she embarks on her honeymoon – with a man who’s not her husband…

Hmm… this didn’t meet my expectations in the end and I thought Williams’ book was quite similar to many other ‘jilted bride’ stories.

Firstly, I thought this novel took a really long time in getting going. Once it was clear that Annie is going on her honeymoon and that it was going to be an exotic, lavish adventure, I just wanted to see her and Paddy on the plane! It took several chapters too many for the story to get started and I felt the moments leading up to the honeymoon were a bit on the tedious side. Although they helped establish Annie’s character and introduce friends and family, I didn’t find I connected with any of them.

Paddy is a sweet character. I think the story would have become more interesting by switching to his perspective. Throughout the story, we read of Annie’s reactions to Paddy and how she keeps remembering her relationship with her ex-fiance. Unsurprisingly, Annie comes to the realisation that actually, Alexander was not the best match for her. However, I grew frustrated with Annie’s repeated selfish attitude. She frequently bemoans about her failed wedding day, not seeming to care how this impacts Paddy. It is clear from the beginning that Annie and Paddy will become a couple but I wanted to see the writer focus more on this developing relationship. Sure, Annie has just left a long-term relationship and it is expected she won’t move on so quickly however, I wanted her to be more self-aware of others around her.

The chapters spent in Australia were my favourite. I wish the writer had added to this element further, rather than seeing the characters return home. Personally, I think this would have added to the holiday vibe that is emphasised by the novel’s cover. In addition, it would have been great if readers were taken on more of a journey around Australia. I’m not expecting travel-guide standards, but adding to this environment would have given the readers a chance to share Annie’s holiday experiences.

Finally, I was extremely frustrated by the over-used character-type of the unsupportive, horrid matriarch. I think this has been done too much. Why can’t we see mother-daughter relationships as positive and supportive? Instead, Annie barely gets on with her mother, with awkward exchanges between the two after Annie’s return home. I was disappointed by this relationship because it really brought down the ‘feel-good’ vibe of the story and it’s a feature I’m seeing more and more in stories featuring families. Honestly, it’s giving us mothers a bad reputation!

However, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed watching the relationship between Annie and Paddy develop. They seem like the perfect match. Paddy is so sweet to Annie, (I actually thought he could do better!) and he was so caring and thoughtful. I felt it was lovely that the two characters already knew each other from childhood and liked watching them reconnect. It is obvious how the story will conclude and, even though I guessed the conflicts that would add bumps to their relationship, I wanted to see a happy ever after for Paddy and Annie.

Therefore, although this book feels tried and tested before and doesn’t appear to provide anything new, it certainly gives readers the opportunity to travel to Australia on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon. The romance element to the plot was the best part; I was mostly disappointed at my lack of connection with Annie and her friends.

With thanks to Avon books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Meet my Mum

‘The Happy Family’ – Jackie Kabler


The Happy Family Cover

A mother who disappeared… 
When Beth was 10 years old, her beautiful, wild mother Alice walked out and never came back. Beth’s life since hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but now she is happy and settled, with a successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home.

An unexpected visitor…
Then one day there’s a knock at the door. Alice has returned. Overjoyed to have the chance to rebuild their relationship, Beth invites her mother to move in.

A life that comes crashing down…
At first, everything seems wonderful. But then Beth’s friends begin to drift away, strange things start to happen at home, and rumours begin to circle about her past. As the mysterious events around Beth become darker and more dangerous, she is forced to question everything. Is somebody in her life trying to destroy her happiness? And how far will they go?

I liked this book but it did not blow me away. I thought the plot was too obvious and the protagonist, Beth, excruciatingly naive. It was an ok read but I did not get the thrills I was hoping for.

When Beth’s long-lost mother abruptly turns up on her doorstep, Beth asks no questions, instead seeking the relationship that she has craved for so many years. Keen to see her a part of the family, Beth encourages her mum to stay in the family home for the long-term so that she and Beth can catch up after such a long absence. Beth is delighted that her children respond so positively to their grandmother and when Alice announces that Beth also has a step-sister, it is like the dream of a properly family is suddenly coming true.

But whilst this may seem like that happy family that Beth has longed for, she cannot ignore the problems that start occurring in her life. Frequent forgetfulness, disintegrating relationships with close friends and a belief that someone is watching her, Beth feels like this part of her life is falling apart. Although she is playing happy families with her mum, everything else is crumbling. In addition, her relationship with her ex-husband becomes more strained and Beth feels desperate, concerned that a secret from her past is the cause of these problems.

The Happy Family

Watching Beth’s life come tumbling down, I felt really sorry for her. As I have seen with many characters in similar stories, Beth turns to excessive amounts of alcohol, in the attempt to numb the pain of what is happening. However, this just leads to distorted memories and that Beth no longer trusts what she believes. It’s a terrible cycle and I was desperate for Beth to find the answers to why she thought someone is watching her.

Over the story, we gradually find out about Beth’s past, informing us of why she is so paranoid in the present. To be honest, I was not that surprised by the revelations, having guessed, to a degree, what had happened. With this in mind, I thought the story just took far longer than necessary. Elements of the story were too obvious for my liking and I felt frustrated by Beth’s acceptance of everything around her. It slowed the pace of the plot and I found there were many moments where I thought the narrative was tedious and predictable. This was reinforced by the fact that I had sadly guessed how the story would conclude and I thought it took too many chapters to get to this point.

This is an ok story that explores the concept of family and relationships. The more sinister theme of gas-lighting shows how victims really do lose faith in their judgement and I found Beth’s behaviour saddening because she lacked control over her life. However, in terms of plot development, I don’t think it was the most original of stories and surprises in the plot were lacking.

Author bio:

Jackie Kabler worked as a newspaper reporterJackie Kabler and then in television news for twenty years, including nearly a decade on GMTV. She later appeared on BBC and ITV news, presented a property show for Sky, hosted sports shows on Setanta Sports News and worked as a media trainer for the Armed Forces. She is now a presenter on shopping channel QVC. The Happy Family is her sixth book; previous novels include the international bestseller The Perfect Couple. Jackie lives in Gloucestershire with her husband.

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With thanks to Harper Collins, One More Chapter, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Growing darkness

‘Local Woman Missing’ – Mary Kubica


Local Woman Missing

People don’t just disappear without a trace…

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

This book had me gasping in disbelief along the way and very soon I found I could not put it down. The narrative was enthralling and claustrophobic: focussing on a small cast of characters, I admired how Kubica weaved their stories to make them link together. A great piece of story-telling.

At first I was a little unsure of the book because the first couple of chapters are incredibly long. I’m the type of reader that likes to break at a chapter and so felt frustrated that Kubica had not given any intervals. However, continuing through the story, this long section was necessary to establish the basis of the narrative: the disappearance of Meredith, Delilah and Shelby. Therefore, once this had been provided, I barely noticed the often frequent chapter breaks, desperate I was for the answers.

The narrative shifts between before the disappearances to present day. Delilah’s return provokes memories to resurface and it is here that we learn the events proceeding Delilah’s disappearance in the initial police investigation. However, readers also discover what lead to Meredith’s absence and I found this narrative most intriguing. After all, we know that Meredith disappeared, we eventually learn what happened, so it is a case of knowing the answer but not the question. I liked this element of detective work and I particularly enjoyed piecing all the elements together as the story progressed.

Plenty of theories swirled in my head as I read the story. There are not too many suspects involved in the disappearance of the three women and I liked how Kubica manipulates the reader. Meredith’s story as a doula was especially interesting and I found out things that I had never considered before with this occupation. Indeed, the birthing scenes naturally reminded me of my own labours, although I was a little bit squeamish at some of the details that Kubica suggests. It adds another chilling dimension to the story and, naturally, another suspect is thrown into the mix.

Throughout the story there is plenty of trauma and suffering, focusing especially on a family and relationships. Mothers struggle, wives despair and, well, daughters become absent. The is literal darkness in the story through the ever-present storms, but it also acts as pathetic fallacy and adds to the burdens that many of the female characters shoulder. Indeed, although the story starts with one local woman’s disappearance – Shelby – this quickly widens to more than one female. Suffering is not just experienced by adults, but also children so, adding even darker tones to this story. I found this made the story more chilling and saddening, but also empowered Kubica’s narrative.

This was a compelling story that grew with intensity. I loved not being able to foresee character connections and felt saddened by many of the experiences. Despite this, I thought this was a gripping, excellent read from Kubica and one that I enjoyed immensely.

With thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Local Woman Missing BTB

COVID-24? Oh no!

‘The Warden’ – Jon Richter


The Warden

Can you be free if you can’t go outside?

The year is 2024, and the residents of the Tower, a virus-proof apartment building, live in a state of permanent lockdown. The building is controlled by James, who keeps the residents safe but incarcerated. Behind bricked-up front doors, their every need is serviced; they are pampered but remain prisoners. 

This suits Eugene just fine. Ravaged by the traumas of his past, the agoraphobic ex-detective has no intention of ever setting foot outside again. But when he finds the Tower’s building manager brutally dismembered, his investigator’s instincts won’t allow him to ignore the vicious crime. 

What Eugene finds beyond the comfort of his apartment’s walls will turn his sheltered existence upside down. To unravel the Tower’s mysteries, he must confront James… and James takes his role as the Warden very, very seriously.

If you are wanting to escape the current nightmare that is the on-going pandemic, then step away from this book! In this novel, we are in the year of 2024, where the virus has mutated to the point where it is no longer safe to be outside. A chilling novel that is almost too close to reality, I sometimes felt terrified that this would become true!

In this take on the virus, a select group of citizens have come to live in the Tower. This is essentially a block of flats that it completely isolated from the outside world – to the point that external doors and windows have been bricked up for the safety of the residents. The reason being is that the a cough or sneeze from an infected person can now stay in the air for several hours. Horrifying. Instead, residents have all of their needs met by AI which has developed in leaps and bounds, brought on by the demands from adjusted living. Food parcels are delivered, video calling is the norm and the residents are cared for by the central AI, James. (In other words, a massive competitor to Alexa.)

It all sounds rather safe and caring, except when Eugene, one of the residents, starts to believe that James is malfunctioning. Suddenly the cocoon of the flats resembles more of a prison than a place of safety. Building on his previous skills as a detective, Eugene feels that he can no longer stay in his flat and goes on a mission that traverses to the top and bottom of the building. But along the way, Eugene makes discoveries that he cannot ignore.

Alongside this narrative, we are also taken on the journey of James’s development, starting just in 2020 when the pandemic was building. I found this part of the narrative more gripping than Eugene running around the tower block in 2024 and indeed, thought some of the scenes where Eugene was grappling with new information, residents and the seemingly never-ending staircase, was a little bit tedious, losing momentum of the story. In 2020, the pandemic is only just building and it was chilling to see how events develop, especially after the world has lived through it! This narrative is definitely more technologically driven as you understand how James grew to have control of the Tower. I could not foresee how events would develop and was worried for both timelines, despite knowing how the virus would eventually mutate.

The world that the writer creates is rather horrifying. Think about it too much and it is rather chilling to contemplate whether the virus could mutate to the extent it has! Therefore, if you are quite sensitive about this current topic and wish for escapism in a book, then this is probably not the read for you. However, I think the writer has creatively provided a scene that exaggerates circumstances that do not seem too unbelievable. Using things we know and pushing them to the extreme, we see a world that is like the ‘worst case scenario’ of the pandemic.

I really enjoyed this read and thought the layers to this story were really interesting. It’s a shame I did not find some of the present-day narrative more gripping and did struggle to connect with Eugene’s character. Despite this, it does feel different to some of my more recent reads and I would be interested to see what the author creates next.

With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.