Friday, 28 April 2023

Book Review: THE KIND WORTH SAVING by Peter Swanson



Author:  Peter Swanson

Publisher:  Faber & Faber

Read: April 2023

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


There was always something slightly dangerous about Joan. So, when she turns up at private investigator Henry Kimball’s office asking him to investigate her husband, he can’t help feeling ill at ease. Just the sight of her stirs up a chilling memory: he knew Joan in his previous life as a high school English teacher, when he was at the center of a tragedy.

Now Joan needs his help in proving that her husband is cheating. But what should be a simple case of infidelity becomes much more complicated when Kimball finds two bodies in an uninhabited suburban home with a “for sale” sign out front. Suddenly it feels like the past is repeating itself, and Henry must go back to one of the worst days of his life to uncover the truth.

Is it possible that Joan knows something about that day, something she’s hidden all these years? Could there still be a killer out there, someone who believes they have gotten away with murder? Henry is determined to find out, but as he steps closer to the truth, a murderer is getting closer to him, and in this hair-raising game of cat and mouse only one of them will survive.

My musings:


Swanson’s wicked novel THE KIND WORTH KILLING was the type of book that immediately jumped onto my all-time favourites list, and I picked up its sequel with both excitement and trepidation – could it possibly live up to its predecessor? I think that Lily Kintner is that rare type of character you recognise as being totally without a normal moral compass but who you want to root for nonetheless, and I was curious to see how she had fared since the events in TKWK.


Henry Kimball is now a private investigator after having been forced to quit the police force (at this stage I realised that I had to re-read TKWK to refresh my memory and I’m glad that I did). He is hired by Joan Whalen, a woman he soon recognises as being one of his former students during a quick stint as a graduate English teacher before realising that the profession was not for him. Joan is curious to find out whether her suspicions are correct that her husband is cheating on her. In typical Swanson style, things escalate quickly from here and everyone seems to have secrets to hide.


Whilst Lily features in TKWS, she has only a peripheral role, and we mainly bear witness to both events in Joan’s past as well as the present mayhem the investigation creates. But don’t despair, because readers who are hoping for the same kind of flawed, amoral characters we saw in TKWK will soon find them here, as well. You don’t pick up either book if you’re easily triggered because here a normal moral compass doesn’t apply, so if this is not your thing, you should probably give this a miss. As for myself, I could appreciate the almost satirical character study of this wild bunch. Do these type of people exist in real life? I hope I will never have to find out. Was it entertaining though? Very much so – as the normal rules of society don’t apply, everything is possible, and the novel held a few clever surprises in store.


Thank you to Netgalley and Faber & Faber for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Reading from my TBR pile: a mixed bag


DAISY DARKER by Alice Feeney


Feeney knows how to write a good plot twist, so I always know I’m in for a wild ride when one of her books comes out. DAISY DARKER was no exception. Just as I thought I was so very clever to have seen through her ploy, wham-bang! I was wrong again.


But let’s start at the beginning. DAISY DARKER takes off just like a classic whodunnit in the vein of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. A family reunion at an old mansion on a remote island, only accessible at low tide. Here we have the whole happy Darker family in their bickering glory, gathered together for grandma’s birthday, when they start dying, one by one. The killer has to be one of them, right? Seeing that none of them are particularly likeable, the list of suspects is long, until they fall off the perch. Feeney is especially clever, giving enough hints to let you guess some plot twists, but always keeping the joker up her sleeve.


Dark, twisty and cleverly plotted, DAISY DARKER is the sort of mystery I have come to expect from Feeney, and which always makes me come back for more. Suspend a little bit of disbelief and enjoy!



With characters like Emmet, Billy, Duchess, Wooley, Sarah and Ulysses , this was never going to be a dull tale. I just loved the cast in Amor Towles’ latest book and soon lost myself in the story of their escapades. There was nothing predictable about this book and each character brought something unique and unusual to the story, making this tale one I won’t forget for a while (not to mention that ending).


A story about mateship and family ties, of loyalty and adventure, of choices we make and consequences we reap. A tale that would fit nicely into Billy’s “big red book” and can be enjoyed by a variety of readers of all ages and genders. If you would love to lose yourself in a multi-layered adventure story set in the 1950’s, then this book is definitely for you.  




Every time a new Lisa Gardner book comes out, I know that I can’t go far wrong with it – she has never written anything I haven’t enjoyed. As a seasoned thriller writer, Gardner knows how to create interesting, fleshed out characters who instantly come to life on the pages. I liked Frankie Elkin, even though I admit I am getting a little bit tired of the troubled alcoholic protagonist trend (maybe I am just reading too many of these type of books). I kept thinking that there could be more satisfying and original explanations for Frankie’s drive to find missing girls than her alcoholism, which was the first thing in the story that didn’t quite add up for me. Secondly, I was a bit disappointed that Frankie was portrayed as a middle-aged white woman going into battle for missing people from minority groups. I thought that she could have brought more insight and credibility to the racial issues she discusses in the book if she had belonged to a minority ethnic group herself (such as Sheena Kamal’s main protagonist Nora Watts in EYES LIKE MINE).

That said, I really enjoyed Gardner’s descriptions of one of Boston’s troubled neighbourhoods, a backdrop that added both atmosphere as well as tension to the story. As Frankie slowly uncovers more and more clues in her search for the missing teenagers, readers are prompted to form their own conclusions and theories in real-life time just as Frankie is – my favourite type of mystery. The balance between suspense and action provided just enough tension to keep me reading until I had found out all the answers. Whilst Frankie Elkin wasn’t a stand-out character for me, I would probably still pick up the next book in the series and see where it leads me.


Wednesday, 22 March 2023

5-star alert: THE ONLY SUSPECT by Louise Candlish


Author:  Louise Candlish

Read: March 2023



Book Description:


Withheld for the sake of getting the most out of this mystery

My musings:


What a brilliantly deceptive, wicked and clever mystery this was! Louise Candlish is getting better and better.


Rolling out in two separate timelines, the mid-nineties and today, we get transported straight into the lives of two men, Alex and Rick, whose lives will spectacularly intersect later in the book. This is all I am willing to say – you really should go into this one blind and let you take it along its winding dangerous path (which incidentally also features in the story).


Cleverly constructed and tricking you by its innocuous beginning, THE ONLY SUSPECT was one of those psychological thrillers I couldn’t put down until I had all the answers. If you love mysteries where nothing is quite what it seems and every character has a secret to guard, then this is definitely the right book for you!


PS: I never give trigger warnings, but you may get a laugh out of this one: I think I have a phobia of house guests that overstay their welcome, because there was a part in the book where I felt myself becoming very anxious, with sweating palms and a racing heart, and perhaps discovering some slightly murderous tendencies within my own heart towards one particular character. If you share that sentiment, have a stiff drink ready before you delve in!

Sunday, 12 March 2023

Audiobook fest


No time for reading? Why not try an audio book? It's no secret that I absolutely love them. I listen to them everywhere - whilst doing the dishes, walking the dog, driving to and from work. They make the most boring chores enjoyable. Here are some beauties I have listened to recently. And the best news is, they are all available for free from your library on the Libby and Borrow Box apps.

ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE by Ashley Flowers


I love thrillers in which an adult protagonist returns home to a small country town and starts investigating a crime that has traumatised them in their younger years – this trope never gets old for me! In ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE, Margot returns home to the small town of Sarakusa, Indiana, to care for her uncle, who has recently been diagnosed with dementia. When a young child goes missing, Margot is reminded of the disappearance and murder of her best friend when they were six years old, a crime that has haunted her for two decades. Are there similarities between the two crimes? Hoping both to lay old demons to rest and perhaps revive her flagging career as a small town journalist, Margot starts asking questions …


I listened to the audio version of ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE and the story immediately drew me in, even though (or perhaps because of?) parts of it were slow burning character studies rather than an action-fuelled thriller. Carrying the burden of a childhood trauma, a dysfunctional family background and the stresses of caring for a sick loved one, Margot made for an intriguing and sympathetic character that was easy to root for. Her flashbacks to her childhood and the murder of her best friend made for two interesting stories running parallel to one another, and I was invested in finding out the answers to both.


ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE was an intriguing small-town mystery linking two separate crimes through the eyes of one protagonist. I really enjoyed the small town atmosphere and – even though this will be polarising – thought the ending was very cleverly carried off. I hope to read more from this author in future.


WHEN THEY FIND HER by Lia Middleton


Weaving the best and the worst of parenthood into a taut psychological thriller made WHEN THEY FIND HER a nerve wrecking and heart breaking read from beginning to end. Savoured slowly through the (excellent) audio narration allowed me to immerse myself deeply in the novel’s flawed characters, a journey that is not for the faint of heart.


After an incident that is not revealed until much later in the book, Naomi Williams has not only lost her marriage but also custody of her four-year-old daughter Freya. Finally, she has managed to persuade her ex-husband Aiden to allow Freya to spend a night with Naomi at her remote farmhouse. That night, whilst Naomi is under the influence of heavy sleeping pills, something terrible happens to little Freya. Having no memory of the night, and trying to protect herself, Naomi reports her daughter as missing to police, starting a landslide that can only end in more tragedy …


You can see that no matter how this story pans out, there can be no winners at the end. And yet the journey to the answers was so cleverly woven and so intriguing that I couldn’t stop reading until I had all the answers. Love Naomi or hate her, she is an unreliable narrator of the best kind, always casting a shadow of doubt over everything she is willing to share with the reader.


If you are a reader who expects lots of action, then perhaps this won’t be the right book for you. Yet for those of you who, like me, can appreciate an excellent, in-depth character study of mental illness and addiction casting shadows on marriage and parenthood, then this book should definitely be on your list. With Naomi’s hazy recall of events, her denials and her excuses and her erratic decision making, the journey was both harrowing as well as utterly intriguing. The ending may also surprise you!


This was my first book by the author but it definitely won’t be the last.




Time travel books can go either way for me and the secret is usually whether the plot is clever enough to help me suspend disbelief. In THIS TIME TOMORROW, Straub focuses not so much on the intricacies of time travel, but on the emotional theme of second chances and our desire to help those we love most. As Alice tries time and time gain to save her father by turning back the clock and changing a few details of that fateful night when she was sixteen, we are instantly reminded of losses we have experienced ourselves. Who would not want to turn back the clock to have the chance to save one of loved ones? Having lost both my parents, I would give anything just to spend a few more moments with them and tell them how much I love them.


If you have any misgivings that this story would be overly emotional or soppy, rest assured that Straub doesn’t dwell there but lets her story flow easily from the pages, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps with their own emotional baggage. I found the book moving in a way that never crossed the line into melodrama, which is not an easy balance to achieve with themes of love, loss and grief. I was also pleasantly surprised that the teenage Alice was as easy to relate to as the adult one, again highlighting the author’s skill at characterisation. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed THIS TIME TOMORROW, reminding me to treasure the time I have with my loved ones and the memories of those who have passed. A touching story that prompted reflection and may have made me shed a tear or two.


THE LAST PARTY by Claire Mackintosh


Mackintosh is one of my go-to authors when I want to read a good slow-burning mystery, and even though THE LAST PARTY wasn’t my favourite by the author, it still made for an intriguing read. Extra credits go to narrator Chloe Angharad Davies, without whom I would never have known how to pronounce the Welsh names and quotes in the story – and who brought each character to life for me.


Popular singer Rhys Lloyd is dead, and half of the locals of the small Welsh community of Cwm Coed seem to have a motive for murder. With so many people hating the man, solving the crime won’t be easy, even involving two murder squads, one from England and one from Wales.


With an extensive ensemble cast, multiple timelines and suspects galore, this police procedural allowed for plenty of armchair sleuthing. Unfortunately I found Rhys, the victim, so repulsive that I almost wanted to give a medal to his killer for ridding the community of a menace (or is it politically incorrect to admit this?). I did, however, really enjoy the chemistry between the two main investigating detectives, DC Ffion Morgan and DC Leon Brady. The picturesque Welsh lakeside setting made for a wonderful backdrop, and I was longing to take a plunge into its icy waters.


With this being the first of a series, we are bound to see more of Ffion and Leo, and I am very interested to see how their relationship will develop and what other crimes they will get to solve.


THE PINK HOTEL by Liska Jacobs


Sometimes you just have to go into a book blind without overthinking whether you would like it or not. THE PINK HOTEL is probably not my usual choice of story, but I do love a good social critique and thoroughly enjoyed reading about the antics of the super-rich in a luxury hotel whilst around them the world is on fire. Some scenes oddly reminded me of scenes out of Titanic – the band plays on whilst the ship is sinking, i.e. the staff keep serving drinks so people don’t have to think about their imminent death. The Pink Hotel prides itself on giving in to its guests’ every whim, and we certainly meet an eclectic bunch here, all catered for by its dedicated staff.


This is the place young married couple Kit and Keith (Mr and Mrs Collins) find themselves in on their honeymoon. The Pink Hotel wasn’t Kit’s idea of a romantic getaway, and the couple certainly don’t fit the demographic, but Keith has met the hotel’s manager on a previous occasion and is hoping to secure a job here to provide them with a better future than their humdrum existence in rural Florida. Whilst Keith is easily mingling with the rich and famous and even working unpaid shifts in the hope of ingratiating himself with the hotel manager, Kit feels like a fish out of water, which is soon putting their marriage under strain. Meanwhile, outside the hotel’s lush grounds, wildfires are raging and riots are destroying homes, but the guests of the Pink Hotel party on, choosing to stay ignorant about anything that does not directly affect them.


I thought that THE PINK HOTEL was a well-written, dark social satire exploring both the fascination with the rich and famous as well as the unspoken class system that is ruling our society and our response to outside events. The characters, whilst sometimes a bit over the top, provided some entertainment and cringes, but were always strangely fascinating. Jacobs’ writing style is descriptive, which painted a vivid picture of the hotel’s lush gardens and its guests. The audio version of the book helped me to immerse myself in its atmospheric setting and stay engaged. Whilst there was little action as such (I lie – there was a gory scene involving a wildcat), the dark undertones and the characterisations were intriguing and kept me interested. I think that this book may not be for everyone, but readers who like a dark social critique should definitely give it a go. I certainly enjoyed it as something different from my usual reading choices, and characters that made me scrutinise my own feelings and choices in our times.


NEXT OF KIN by Kia Abdullah


NEXT OF KIN was my first book by Kia Abdullah and a difficult one to review. It’s well written and immaculately researched, and yet I felt conflicted. This story is grim! Even if you get past the sheer tragedy of a child’s death from being left in a hot car in the middle of summer, there are more blows yet to come. As an ED nurse I’m not easily shocked, but the final few chapters felt like a punch in the gut and left me reeling. On one hand I applaud the author for her courage to tackle such a difficult matter, on the other I found the final reveal detracting from its initial premise even though it certainly added shock value and that “killer twist” that has become so popular in thrillers.


I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t love this book more than I did, other than finding the pacing a bit inconsistent and struggling to connect to either one of the sisters (which perhaps made more sense as the story progressed). Purely as a family drama some of the emotional dynamics seemed a bit off to me, even though those also made more sense in the light of the “mystery” element. Gosh, it’s so hard to talk about this book without giving spoilers! I feel an intense need to discuss this with someone. So perhaps it would make a great bookclub book, if the audience can stomach some of the more gruelling elements. I really liked Kia Abdullah’s writing style though and will definitely read some of her other books.


🌟🌟🌟1/2 sitting-on-the-fence stars from me

Saturday, 11 March 2023

"5-stars are not enough" book alert


It’s a fact that favourite book reviews are the hardest to write, so belatedly, here are two of my all-time favourites I read in 2022 and just haven't got around to reviewing until now. My words cannot do either of these justice, so I'll keep it short and sweet but urge you to pick them up and judge for yourself. Very highly recommended!



I read LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY a few months ago and absolutely adored it. Welcome to Elizabeth Zott, one of the quirkiest, pluckiest and most unique characters I have ever met in a book, supported by the equally enigmatic Mad Zott and dog Six-thirty. Five stars are not enough. One of the best books of 2022 – very highly recommended!




Maggie O’Farrell has done it again – like her previous book HAMNET, THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT was a fascinating window into history, this time exploring the events surrounding the untimely death of Lucrezia de’ Medici, the third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany during the Italian Renaissance. It only took a few paragraphs for Lucrezia to steal my heart, and I was hooked.


Written with the heart and poetic beauty that characterises her work, O’Farrell has merged history and fiction so skilfully that the tale takes on a life of its own. And even if some of it has sprung from her imagination rather than truth, it has brought the fate of a young woman at the mercy of her society’s rules back into our focus so her story will not be forgotten. Written with a style so visual that it brought each character to life for me, it was impossible not to be swept away by a tide of emotions whilst reading it. The elaborate backdrop of the Italian palazzo provided both an escape as well as an almost whimsical backdrop that gave the story an otherworldly air where history could be rewritten. I challenge you not to be moved by Lucrezia’s fate!


Poetic, magical and utterly captivating, THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT was one of my favourite books in 2022, and one that has stuck in my mind. Very highly recommended!