Review: The Good Friend by Jo Baldwin

blog book review of The good friend

Champion swimmer, Jenny, once had a best friend and a boyfriend. But she lost both when she moved to Australia to further her swimming career. Now she is taking a career break and is desperate to reconnect with Kath, the friend she could always rely on throughout her childhood and teens, who is now living in France with her husband and child.

But as Jenny spends more time with Kath and her family, she starts to realise that maybe the past didn’t happen quite as she thought. And that the events of the her past are threatening not just her present but her future too…

The twists and turns of the story as Jenny slowly uncovers why her father really decided to move them both to Australia are genuinely gripping, and the ending is fantastic. I would love to tell you why but then I would spoil it for you! It is obvious that the reader has spent an extensive amount of time in France; the market scenes and social gatherings are exceptionally well-described, at times I could practically smell the scented warm breeze on the fraught summer evenings where Jenny starts to see the ‘real’ Kath and find out what exactly happened all those years ago.

This is a definite page-turner!

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Book review: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt

blog book review of last list of judith kratt

It’s 1989 and 70-year-old Judith Kratt decides to create an inventory of her household and its valuables; the pie safe, the copper clock, the Tiffany lamp. As she catalogues each item they trigger memories and stories, which she also documents. And secrets.

Switching between her childhood as the eldest daughter of the most powerful white family in a small South Carolina cotton town, and present day where she lives in the family home with her black companion Olva, this novel is in turn a meditation on the significance of heirlooms and memory, and proof of the harm secrets can cause a family down the generations.

Judith’s myopic (willful?) misunderstanding of current white attitudes towards the black residents of the town are damaging not just to Olva but also to Olva’s friend Marcus and his daughter Amaryllis. But worse, they’re dangerous and lead us to realise that Judith may not be the most reliable of narrators. When Judith’s estranged sister, Rosemarie, reappears after more than fifty years, Judith’s attitudes are challenged, family ties questioned and Judith’s secrets exposed.

Even though the novel echoes the slower rhythms of the South, it is still well-paced and at times positively hums with tension. I don’t think I took a breath during the description of the mechanic, Charlie’s, last moments in town.

With echoes of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tartt’s The Little Friend and Stockett’s The Help, this is an exceptionally well-accomplished first novel. I can’t wait to see what Bobotis writes next.

With thanks to NetGalley for enabling me to read this pre-publication.

Book review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

Blog image - The Binding

In the vein of Diane Setterfield and Natasha Pulley, The Binding is rich immersive, spellbinding storytelling at its best.

Emmett Farmer is summoned by a master binder, Seredith, to leave his farming life and become her apprentice. But this is no ordinary type of bookbinding. Binding is a feared craft that creates suspicion in the community; it enables someone to erase a set of memories, secreting their unwanted knowledge away into a book unique to them. Not as a novel, but as a true story unique to them, binding their memories to the page.

Emmett learns what it means to bind someone’s memories and how high the cost can be. Because memories have value not just to their owners but to others…and they are prepared to pay handsomely for them. And if a book is destroyed, the memories are returned to their owner all in one emotional moment.

This is a thought-provoking novel with genuine emotional depth. The character names feel almost Dickensian, in that they have obviously been lovingly crafted to suit each character, in true storytelling style.

My one quibble is that there is a significant shift of tone and narrative halfway through the novel; it moves from a tale of fantasy to one of forbidden love. I am not complaining, as I enjoyed the second half just as much, but after finishing The Binding, I felt as if I had read two novels not one. And please don’t let that put you off, the two halves do complement each other neatly.

This is going to be a huge hit in 2019 – I read it in proof format (thank you, NetGalley) and can’t wait to get my hands on a printed copy; in deference to its binding subject-matter, the cover is gorgeous!

Book review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

blog book review The Stranger Diaries

I decided to request this on NetGalley when I saw that it was described as “A gripping contemporary Gothic thriller… Wilkie Collins and MR James meet Gone Girl and Disclaimer”; I do love a Gothic thriller!

Clare Cassidy is a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, about whom she teaches a short course  every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by the body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case. And Claire realises she is right when, after the (first) murder, she notices some other writing in her diary. Writing that isn’t hers…

I enjoyed this novel, particularly the meta narrative element of the novel. Elly Griffiths ‘quotes’ regularly from Holland’s work throughout The Stranger Diaries and in fact opens the novel with a long extract from his most famous short story, before shifting the reader cleverly into the main story arc by introducing Clare’s creative writing group deconstructing the Gothic story.

The only quibble I had was with the ‘big reveal’ – I wasn’t necessarily convinced by the murderer or his motive. However, it was a lot of fun getting to the denouement and I really enjoyed reading it.

A review of Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

blog book review of Miss Kopp

Seeing ‘Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit’ pop up on my NetGalley suggestions reminded me how much I absolutely loved ‘Girl Waits With Gun’, the first in the ‘Kopp Sisters’ series of novels. So I couldn’t resist requesting it, even though I have not yet read books two and three in the series (me bad!), but having read this, I will definitely have to go back and catch up! Although, to be clear, you don’t need to have read the others in order to enjoy this one.

In book four, Deputy Kopp has now been in her role for a year with the New Jersey Police. She is still struggling to overcome the inherent misogyny directed at her from the general public and her colleagues, as well as manage her friendship with Sheriff Heath whose wife is not happy about Constance’s presence at the station. Especially as it’s election time, and there are a lot of people who don’t like Deputy Kopp…

With several sub-plots about the various guilty (and not-so-guilty) female inmates of the jail, this book takes you on a roller-coaster journey where you are rooting for Miss Kopp at every high and low of her exciting yet challenging life.

The master of storytelling – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: A review of The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Blog book review The Labyrinth of the Spirits

The Shadow of the Wind left a lasting impression on me when I read it on publication 17 years ago (and on subsequent re-reads). The next novels in the sequence, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, had the same effect. And now I can add The Labyrinth of the Spirits to that list. For those of you who have been holding out for this, the final novel in Zafon’s The Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet, you’re in for a treat. And for those of you who haven’t been fortunate to read his novels yet, I strongly recommend you start. Right now.

Described as, “…an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives”, The Labyrinth of the Spirits combines the genres of fairy tale, thriller, romance and detective stories to provide an extraordinary reading experience.

It was a genuine treat to welcome my old friends, Daniel Sempere and Fermin Romero de Torres, back into my life, and have the opportunity to revisit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, still one of my most favourite fictional places of all time. Even more delightful was meeting Zafon’s latest creation, Alicia Gris, one of the most extraordinary anti-heroes ever to be captured in the pages of a book. Seductive, tortured, sensitive and  cruel, Alicia is a tour de force.

In Labyrinth, Daniel is now a young man, running the Sempere & Sons bookshop in 1950s Barcelona, sharing this life with his loving wife and son. Yet he still frets over his mother’s death and feels the shadows from his past, and hers, threatening his happiness. When Alicia enters his life, and re-enters Fermin’s, the stage is set for the final chapter in Daniel’s search for the truth about Isabella Sempere.

Dazzled, obsessed, haunted… this could describe many of the characters in The Labyrinth of the Spirits, but  definitely describes me while reading it; I could not put this book down! 

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

blog book review of The Psychology of Time Travel

A thought-provoking, page-turning, complexly plotted, fabulous read!

Imagine that time travel was actually possible – what would that be like?  Who would own the ‘rights’? What would the ramifications to history be? What would the constant changes in time do to a time traveller’s circadian rhythm? And what would you do if you knew a crime had been committed in another time?

All of these questions, and more, are answered imaginatively and creatively by Kate Mascarenhas; she even includes a time travel glossary at the back of the book to help the reader understand the time travellers’ jargon as they flash backwards and forwards in time, intersecting with their ‘green’ selves and their ‘silver’ selves, as well as their fathers, granddaughters and friends.

Focusing on four female time travel pioneers, The Psychology of Time Travel is a dazzling debut novel from Kate Mascarenhas. For anyone who loved The Time Traveller’s Wife or Arcadia, this is for you.