Sunday 31 January 2021

Book Review: ANXIOUS PEOPLE by Fredrik Backman



Author:  Fredrik Backman

Read: January 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


A poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.


My musings:


Fredrik Backman’s BEARTOWN is one of my all time favourite books, and since then I have been devouring everything he has written. With ANXIOUS PEOPLE, Backman again shows what a versatile writer he is. Whilst every one of his books contains a wry sense of humour and some gentle wisdom, his latest one often made me guffaw and snort with laughter as I marvelled about his keen observations of human nature. Some characters were almost caricatures and perhaps a little bit over the top, but presented in a way that made me reflect on those parts in myself that related to the character traits portrayed here.


Whilst ANXIOUS PEOPLE revolves around the tale of a bank robbery gone wrong, it is so much more than that. Backman throws together a bunch of unlikely characters in a type of comical hostage situation, and with their interactions makes us reflect on being human, on relationships, life, death and the way we all just try our best to muddle through life. The story is quirky as it is observant, and the irony in some of his scenes made for some laugh-out-loud moments and yet also prompted reflection on its emotional depth. The message is clear: be kind to one another, because when it comes down to it, we all have our burdens to bear and are trying the best we can. In the time of the global pandemic, this struck me as especially timely and relevant.


Quirky may be your thing or it may not – here it strangely worked for me, even though I may not have swallowed this as readily from another author. However, despite all the guffaws and the banter, I found that I did not connect as deeply to the characters here as I did to the cast of BEARTOWN (a book that utterly broke my heart), or A MAN CALLED OVE. I also thought that quirky is best taken in small doses, not devoured as rapidly as with Backman’s other books. In the end, I thought it was a fun read but not my favourite by the author – so if quirky and whimsical is not for you, I urge you to try some of the author’s other books because he is a man of many talents.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Book Review: THE WIFE UPSTAIRS by Rachel Hawkins


Author:  RachelHawkins

Read: January 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending? 

My musings:


I like reading retellings because it’s usually fun to see how an old classic would translate into our modern times. Having read and loved Jane Eyre as a youngster (I really must re-read it one of these days!) I was excited to read THE WIFE UPSTAIRS as part of a book buddy group read. And I guess if you’re drawn to easy, popcorn thrillers with a bunch of unlikeable characters who are as nasty as a pit full of scorpions, then this book will be entertaining enough.


Sadly, the story was more miss than hit for me. I thought that all the things that made the original classic so enjoyable didn’t translate well into the modern setting. With Jane Eyre’s atmospheric old English mansion, the constraints of society and gender roles at the time, and even just the gloomy English weather, Charlotte Bronte created a novel that has entertained millions of readers over the last 150 or so years – with good reason. I could easily buy a crazy wife hidden in the attic of an old English manor house, with its multiple wings, dark corners and crevices and servants bustling about, but not in Eddie’s ultra-modern Thornfield Estate home. Even if our modern day Jane was a bit thick, the dog surely would have alarmed at the thumps and bumps coming from upstairs? But most of all, the sheer nastiness of each and every character in Hawkins’ version slowly eroded my enjoyment of the story. All those bitchy, backstabbing, snarky women read like utter stereotypes to me, ones I was only too eager to put out of my mind when the last page had been turned. And when it all came down to it, even those parts of the story that weren’t totally implausible were fairly predictable to me, robbing me of any surprise element that would have redeemed the book for me.


Even though the book totally missed the mark for me, I can see that other readers may enjoy the bunch of dysfunctional characters racing like a doomed train towards its dramatic finale. Personally, I thought that it was all wrong, from the modern American setting to the stereotypical, snarky characters and oh-so-much suspension of disbelief to give the characters the benefit of the doubt for being – frankly – a bit stupid. Never mind, we can’t all love the same things and I do think I need a break from domestic thrillers for a while!


Monday 25 January 2021

Book Review: THE LAMPLIGHTERS by Emma Stonex


Author:  Emma Stonex

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

Read: January 2021

Expected publication: 4 March 2021



Book Description:


They say we'll never know what happened to those men.

They say the sea keeps its secrets...

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .


My musings:


The unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Eilean More’s three lighthouse keepers in 1900 remains one of history’s most intriguing puzzles: what happened to the men, and how do you explain the strange coincidences that defy a logical explanation? Emma Stonex has run with the idea to create her latest novel and is ready to offer a plausible theory. Even though her story is set in Cornwall in the 1970’s and features fictional characters, it bears a lot of resemblance to the Flannan Isles mystery.


It isn’t an easy feat to take a true historic event and transform it into a gripping, suspenseful mystery, but the author has done just that. Told with the help of dual timelines and multiple characters, including the three men and their partners, the story gave a fascinating insight into the daily life of one of history’s most romantic professions: that of the lighthouse keeper. Be warned that Stonex will dispel any illusions of an idyllic lifestyle on small islands or in the middle of the sea. Having hosted such romantic notions myself, I was surprised by descriptions of the austere and regimented lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers as they spent many weeks cut off from isolation in their concrete towers, sending out warning signals to passing seafarers. It was a pleasant surprise to also get the perspectives of the wives and partners they left behind on land, tending the homes and children whilst their men were absent for prolonged periods of time, missing many of the special occasions that normally mark our routines: birthdays, Christmases and other family affairs.


Whilst the 1970s timeline slowly unravels the events leading up to the men’s fateful disappearance, the present narrative shows us the incident from the perspective of the widows who never got any satisfactory answers for their husband’s fates. In fact, the lighthouse company has done its utmost to keep them quiet, paying out bereavement pay in exchange for their silences. But when a famous mystery author shows an interest in telling the three men’s story, some secrets are shaken loose ...


I admit that I struggled initially with the wives’ narratives told in “interview style”, as they are narrating their experiences and theories to an unknown person. However, as the story drew me in, it got easier to overlook the unusual style and just go along with the flow – I was so intent on getting answers! And whilst the author’s interpretations of the events may or may not be closely related to the truth, her theory was certainly plausible and went a long way towards explaining away some of the mysterious happenings in the lighthouse. I loved how the men’s backstories bled into their current situation in the lighthouse, and the dynamics between the three very different personalities trapped in close confines in the middle of the ocean.


The author’s observations about the sea and life near a treacherous coast added a unique backdrop to this fascinating story, and readers who love an atmospheric setting will appreciate her vivid descriptions of life inside “The Maiden”.


All in all, THE LAMPLIGHTERS was a fascinating mystery weaving true historic facts into a skilfully constructed tale that captivated as well as intrigued me from start to finish. I loved the true historic facts that play a big part in the novel, and the author’s final tying together of all the threads, which was very satisfying and made this a joy to read.


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

Sunday 17 January 2021

What do SILVER and BLOODLINE have in common?


My January 2021 self-imposed reading goal of letting my mood guide me in selecting books that are already on my shelf is off to a flying start! On first glance, my first two choices, SILVER and BLOODLINE don’t have much in common. SILVER: male Aussie author, middle-aged male protagonist, rural small town Australian setting, murder, present time, intrigue, conspiracy, secrets and the past coming back to haunt you. BLOODLINE: female US author, young female protagonist, rural small town Minnesotan setting, 1968 timeline, creepy neighbours, danger is closing in. But I found a common theme running through both novels that is obviously my go-to theme right now.


Two little words may give you a clue: small town. Both novels really make the most of their small town settings, creating a sinister, tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that had me frantically turning the pages. And whilst I had many theories, the ultimate reveal, definitely straying into the realm of the elaborate conspiracy theory in both stories, ultimately came as a surprise.


SILVER is the second book in the Martin Scarsden series, and if you have read and enjoyed SCRUBLANDS you will be pleased to know that Hammer has once again evoked his powers to create a tense, atmospheric novel set in rural Australia. This time, Martin takes us to the coast, to Port Silver, the town he grew up in and which he has tried so hard to escape. He is not off to a good start, however, stumbling into a murder scene within a few pages of the opening chapter, and things soon go wrong from here.


In typical Hammer style, from here follows a multi-layers plot with many colourful characters and diverse threads that ultimately connect in an action packed finale that I could not have seen coming. If you like a simple whodunit where you can use your own detective skills to follow the clues, you might soon find yourself out of depth here, but for those of us who are looking for a totally original and unpredictable premise, this book is perfect. I loved the tense, claustrophobic setting that evokes many a small coastal Australian town, and I knew the area he was describing from previous travel, which made it all the more vivid in my mind. You will be hard pressed to find a better setting than this, it really was armchair travel at its best! I also appreciated learning more about Martin’s past, which really fleshed him out as a character I can’t wait to revisit in TRUST, the next book in the series.



BLOODLINE is my first book by Jess Lourey, but I was instantly drawn to its 1968 timeline and its small rural Minnesotan town setting. Even more so when I heard that it was based on a true unsolved crime that had been committed in the author’s own home town! I was pleased to find that the lead was an enigmatic, plucky young woman, who is finding herself stranded in Lilydale, her boyfriend’s hometown. Joan, a city girl through and through, finds the overly friendly gestures of her new neighbours strangely intrusive, and as time progresses even threatening. The small idyllic town seems to harbour a darkness that is not immediately obvious on the surface, but which becomes more menacing as the townspeople hear of Joan’s pregnancy. Suddenly, everyone seems to be watching her every move. But worse, her boyfriend and close friend believe that it is all in her mind. Is Joan going crazy, or is there really something sinister afoot in Lilydale? From here follows a dark, sinister tale of secrets that definitely strayed into the realm of the conspiracy theory towards the end. But whilst it required a bit of suspension of disbelief, the claustrophobic atmosphere had woven its evil web and I was totally hooked and invested in the story. With my penchant for sinister small town settings I discovered that I had already bought the author’s previous novel, UNSPEAKABLE THINGS, which is also set in rural Minnesota. I can’t wait to read it!


So here we are, and I am very pleased with the start of my reading year. Living in a small town myself, I see the potential for dark secrets festering in a seemingly idyllic setting. If you could set a mystery anywhere, what backdrop would you chose?

Friday 8 January 2021

Book Review: THE TAKEAWAY MEN by Meryl Ain


Author:  Meryl Ain

Publisher:  Spark Press

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


With the cloud of the Holocaust still looming over them, twin sisters Bronka and Johanna Lubinski and their parents arrive in the US from a Displaced Persons Camp. In the years after World War II, they experience the difficulties of adjusting to American culture as well as the burgeoning fear of the Cold War. Years later, the discovery of a former Nazi hiding in their community brings the Holocaust out of the shadows. As the girls get older, they start to wonder about their parents’ pasts, and they begin to demand answers. But it soon becomes clear that those memories will be more difficult and painful to uncover than they could have anticipated. Poignant and haunting, The Takeaway Men explores the impact of immigration, identity, prejudice, secrets, and lies on parents and children in mid-twentieth-century America.

What attracted me to this book:


Not many HF novels deal with the immediate aftermath of WW2, especially for immigrants, so I was immediately intrigued by this book!


My musings:


The Lubinski family arrive in the US from a Polish displaced persons’ camp, each carrying their own scars. Aaron grapples with the loss of his entire family to the Nazi death camps. Judy, his wife, has a secret of her own she has not told anyone about. And whilst the twins Bronka and Johanna were born after the war, they are scarred by their father’s dark moods and post traumatic stress responses. The book follows the family as they adapt to their new life in a foreign country. As kids are apt to do, the girls settle in quickly whilst the parents – especially Aaron – find it a lot more difficult to leave the past behind.


With a keen eye for detail and subtle nuances, Ain’s exploration of Jewish life in the US in the aftermath of WW2 was both interesting as touching. It made me reflect on many of the themes it touched on, such as the after-effects of trauma, even on the next generation, who have only experienced the horror second-hand, through stories and their parents’ reaction to situations. It was interesting to see how many holocaust survivors wanted to shield their children from the horror they had endured by keeping their pasts hidden, which ultimately led to division and referred trauma, whilst others were open about discussing the past.


I think I would have become more immersed in the novel if it had focused on the Lubinskis rather than including many side characters, which led to some emotional detachment on my part. And whilst it was interesting to see the interconnection of the different families, I was never quite as invested in those chapters as I was in the twins’. However, THE TAKEAWAY MEN made me reflect on many of my encounters with holocaust survivors through my work, which mirrored some of the actions and feelings of different characters in the book.





All in all, THE TAKEAWAY MEN was an interesting and touching character study of Jewish immigrant life in the US after WW2, and I appreciated the topics the author highlighted in her story, especially the after-effects of trauma on future generations. 




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

Saturday 2 January 2021

Book Review: THE DROWNING KIND by Jennifer McMahon



Author:  Jennifer McMahon

Publisher:  Gallery / Scout Press

Read: January 2021

Expected publication: April 2021

My Rating: πŸ€© all the stars!


Book Description:



When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

My musings:


It surely reflects a lack of restraint when it comes to spooky books that I devoured THE DROWNING KIND as soon as I received it, even though it’s not being released until April. But I hope that I can redeem myself by singing its praises from the rooftops, because after keeping me up all night frantically reading and burrowing deeper into my doona as the story progressed, it was 5 stars all the way for me! Trigger warning: if you like swimming in dark rivers or lakes, enter at your own risk, because the thing that you thought was a bit of pond weed tickling your leg? It may just send you running for the hills, never to go near the water again!


THE DROWNING KIND revolves around water – but not any water. The underground springs near the small town of Brandenburg in Vermont have long been known for their healing power. All the locals know that this gift does not come without a price, and they choose to stay well away from them, but that does not stop desperate people flocking to the water, hoping for a cure or having their wishes granted. In 1929, Ethel, still childless at 37 and desperate for a baby, whispers her wish to the dark waters of the Brandenburg spring.


Fast forward to the present. Sisters Lexie and Jax have grown up swimming in their grandparents’ natural pool, dug into the mountainside and fed by a natural spring. They are not afraid of the dark, murky waters, even though one of their aunts drowned in this very pool as a young child. On some of their secret midnight trips, the girls even swear that they could see the shape of a little girl staring at them from the water. Now estranged in their adulthood, Jax has not seen Lexie for over a year, wary of her manic episodes related to her bipolar disorder. She is therefore both shocked and heartbroken when she finds out that Lexie has drowned in the pool during one of her midnight swims. When she travels to the house to sort out her sister’s affairs, she discovers that Lexie had recently become increasingly afraid of the pool. But was it really just a manifestation of her illness, or is there something more sinister afoot?


Squish, squish, tap tap, wet footsteps on the pavers – was that a glimpse of something alien in the water? Goodness me, this book was soooo creepy! The constant sense of foreboding and dread kept me turning the pages until late into the night, and all my childhood nightmares about the bodies of drowned victims floating up from the bottom of the lake we used to swim in as kids suddenly seemed all too real.


I loved everything about this book. Whilst the timeline in the 1930’s gradually revealed some of the pool’s dark history, Jax in the present is racing against time to solve the puzzle for herself. As the reader, I was trapped in the middle like a deer in the headlights.   





In summary, if you love Gothic, spooky stories with supernatural elements that will make your hair stand on end, then look no further. Told in two separate timelines that were equally creepy, the book kept me up all night and then stunned me with a finale so unexpected and shocking that I am still trying to get my head around it. With a constant sense of foreboding, the book gave me the chills the whole time! Very highly recommended.





Thank you to Edelweiss and Gallery / Scout Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.