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!

Binge reading Gillian McAllister

Have you ever read a book, loved it and gone out straight away to get every book the author has ever written to have a huge binge reading session?

If you’ve ever read any of Gillian McAllister’s book, then you will have come to appreciate the ethical and moral dilemmas at the heart of every one of her stories. I love a book that throws me right into the middle of a tricky situation and makes me ponder how I would react if I was in the characters’ shoes (even if I feel like yelling at the characters at various points in the book). It’s one of the reasons McAllister has become one of my favourite devour-in-one-sitting authors!




THE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU is the sixth book I have read by this author and again it was a solid five stars for me, keeping me enthralled from beginning to end. McAllister knows how to create a well-rounded, interesting protagonist you cannot help but relate to, no matter what difficult situation they find themselves in. So even though it was impossible to imagine how I would react if I came face to face with my father after serving a life sentence for murdering my mother when I was in my teens – the scenario Izzy must deal with in McAllister’s latest novel – there were plenty of points where Izzy and I shared sentiments. The loss of a parent at a young age, for example. Or the way we still struggle with certain points of adulthood after losing our mother, without their adult presence as a compass point to orient our own lives towards. Izzy’s quest to find out information about her dead mother struck a deep chord with me, as did the emptiness her death has left in Izzy’s soul. I therefore found it easy to understand Izzy’s readiness to give her father a second chance, despite his murder conviction, his lies and his betrayal of her trust.


As is her trademark, McAllister weaves an intriguing mystery that not only kept me guessing the whole time, but also changed direction so many times that was suspended in a state of doubt the whole time whilst reading it. Who was telling the truth and who was lying? With her background in law, McAllister has a solid grip on the legal system, which grounded the novel in fact and made even the most difficult situations credible. With a main protagonist who is in equal parts scarred and vulnerable, but also brave and likeable, I could not tear myself away until I had all the answers.


THE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU is the kind of top notch psychological thriller that makes me rush out and read everything McAllister has written, and eagerly await her next novel. If you are a fan of the genre, and enjoy a good ethical dilemma, then this book should definitely be on your list.



In EVERYTHING BUT THE TRUTH, Rachel, a young pregnant doctor, catches a glimpse of a preview of an email on her partner’s ipad and has a terrible premonition that he is hiding something sinister from her. The more she digs into it, the more her suspicions grow as he clams up and refuses to talk about his past.


The theme of “how well do you really know your spouse” is a well-trodden trope in domestic noir thrillers, but for me it never gets old. I was instantly intrigued: what was Jack hiding from Rachel? And how far would I go to find out the truth if I was in her position?


As a slow burning character study, the book kept me reading eagerly to find out the answers, even though some of Rachel’s internal agonising was a bit repetitive at times. Don’t pick this one if you expect a lot of action or a twisty thriller, but if you enjoy ethical dilemmas and family secrets then it may be the right book for you. It definitely made me question some of my own ethics and morals and discover that there really wasn’t a black and white answer to the problem. Rachel’s medical background added an extra layer of interest to the story, and even though there weren’t any great surprises or twists in this one, it kept me interested until the end.



THAT NIGHT by Gillian McAllister


Three siblings, bound by a tragedy in their past. They live next door to one another, work together in the family business and stick together through thick and thin. Even their spouses can never be a part of their tight knit circle. They would do anything for one another, but does that include murder? On a dark night on holidays in Verona, Frannie, the baby of the family calls her older siblings for help. There has been a terrible accident and she doesn’t know what to do. It’s the night that will change the siblings’ lives forever. The night they will make a decision that will haunt them. How far are they prepared to go to help one of their own?


If you love a good ethical and moral dilemma, then this is the perfect read for you. Again, as with most of McAllister’s books, the answers aren’t black and white but will make you dig deep into your own psyche to ask yourself the difficult questions: what would you do if you were in the characters’ shoes? How far would you go to protect the ones you love most? How would your past experience (going as far back as your childhood) influence your decision? And what would be the point of no return for you, at which you would draw the line?


THAT NIGHT made for fascinating reading from beginning to end and I could not tear myself away, even as the train was thundering towards the abyss. I loved the way McAllister explores the sibling relationship and the events that have shaped their position in the family, ultimately guiding their decisions. The ending, which I anticipated to be difficult no matter where the story was ultimately headed, wrapped everything up in a satisfying finale, leaving me pondering my own position on the matter some more. An intriguing character study that looks into the heart of family dynamics. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author in future.



Monday 6 March 2023

From my TBR pile straight onto my favourites list




Erin Kelly has done it again- this was a solid 5 star read for me! What a well plotted, complex novel. Sometimes delving into a novel blind is the best way, but I admit that after the first chapter I nearly DNF’d the book, thinking it was some dystopian story about a weird bone hunting society. Luckily I had full trust that Kelly would not disappoint me (she never has in the past) and was soon totally hooked.


It's very difficult to review such a multi-layered, well-plotted mystery without giving anything away, Let’s just say that it’s a story about fame, greed and family secrets. A LOT of dark family secrets. As an added bonus, the book also contained two of my favourite themes: a story based on an old legend, plus a “book within a book”.


Whilst the story started out revolving around Frank Churcher’s famous book The Golden Bones, which has led to his fame and wealth but also to the formation of a worldwide fan base of “bone hunters” who have put his own daughter at risk (you will have to read it to find out why), it soon became more character driven, exploring the intertwined relationships of the Churcher and Lally families. As dark secrets were revealed, and family dynamics became more and more dysfunctional, my fascination with these characters made me loath to put the book down. There were quite a few “aha!” moments when pieces of the puzzle fell into place and revealed cleverly plotted twists. Kelly is a talented writer who not only knows how to utterly enthral her readers, but also to weave magic into the multiple threads that form her stories.


Whilst the story is mainly being told by Eleanor, the daughter of author Frank Churcher, we get small glimpses into the past and through different eyes, which reveal those pieces of the puzzle we may not have anticipated. Each character is fundamentally flawed, which made them more compelling, and some truly unforgettable in all their dysfunctional glory. I can’t say much more without giving things away, so I will leave it at this: do yourself a favour and pick up this clever mystery today to find out for yourself why I couldn’t put it down. Another brilliant piece of writing by the talented Mrs Kelly.

SALT AND SKIN by Eliza Henry-Jones


I picked up SALT AND SKIN from a book exchange, so I did not know what to expect or even what the book was all about, but I knew that I had enjoyed the author’s previous books. Again, Henry-Jones rewarded me with beautiful soulful writing full of longing and emotion and that slight otherworldly touch that gave it an almost dreamlike quality.


Set on a small island off the coast of Scotland, SALT AND SKIN follows the lives of Luna and her two teenage children, Darcy and Min, as they are trying to make a new start after a tragedy back in Australia. Weaving together history, folklore and a touch of magical realism, the tale soon drew me into the small island community and made me want to find out all its secrets.


SALT AND SKIN is an exquisitely written, character driven novel that explores the aftereffects of trauma and grief, and the faint blossoming of new hope. Wistful and dreamlike, it weaves together different elements to create a tale that both haunted me and kept me enchanted. Whilst there are loose links to the island’s witch trials, this is very much a contemporary novel exploring the hold that the past and folklore still has on everyday life, especially in wild and remote places. I really enjoyed this book and its characters and as sad when it ended and I knew I would not find out more about their lives. I can’t wait to read more from this author in future.


THE LIES I TELL by Julie Clarke


“The difference between justice and revenge comes down to who’s telling the story.” Be assured that there’s a bit of both in Clarke’s latest novel, which ticked all the boxes of a good thriller for me (as did her last novel THE LAST FLIGHT).


Meg is the type of character I love in a mystery: she may be flawed and often follows her own moral code, but she is a strong, kick-ass woman you cannot help but cheer on all along the way. Now here’s someone who is brave enough to act out every wronged person’s fantasy: a strong woman who will not stay a victim for long, who instead will take matters into her own hands and serve out her own flavour of justice. If you are tired of meek and whiny victim-mentality characters waiting to be saved, then this one is definitely for you! Meg spends very little time wallowing in self-pity despite the injustice done to her. Instead, she acts. And here is one very clever woman you do not want to mess with!


As you can tell, I loved the character of Meg, who really drove this story for me and made me anxious to find out how it would all turn out. Like THE LAST FLIGHT, Clarke presents us with a well-plotted, compulsive story that kept me reading late into the night to find out the answers. The way Meg outwitted her components was a pleasure to watch – and a lot of nail-biting as the story neared a tense finale. Kat, the second POV, even though not quite as compelling as Meg, gave the story a unique second perspective and insights we may otherwise not have gained – another clever tool used by the author to ratchet up tension.


THE LIES I TELL is a clever revenge thriller that will definitely make my favourites list this year. Featuring strong female protagonists and a tense cat-and-mouse game of clever minds pitched against one another, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a well plotted and extremely compulsive read.