How Hard Can It Be? – Allison Pearson

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Kate Reddy is counting down the days until she is fifty, but not in a good way. Fifty, in Kate’s mind, equals invisibility. And with hormones that have her in shackles, teenage children who need her there but won’t talk to her and ailing parents who aren’t coping, Kate is in the middle of a sandwich that she isn’t even allowed to eat because of the calories.

She’s back at work after a big break at home, because somebody has to bring home the bacon now that her husband Rich has dropped out of the rat race to master the art of mindfulness. But just as Kate is finding a few tricks to get by in her new workplace, her old client and flame Jack reappears – complicated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This is a coming of age story for turning fifty. It’s about so much more than a balancing act; it’s about finding out who you are and what you need to feel alive when you’ve got used to being your own last priority. And every page will leave you feeling that there’s a bit of Kate Reddy in all of us.

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How Hard Can It Be? is a real treat and you may find yourself laughing out loud and crying in equal measure.

Kate Reddy is not without a few problems – teenagers and their problems (do you even know what a ‘belfie’ is?); an old house in need of upgrading and almost constant attention from Piotr the builder; a ‘drop out’ husband trying to find himself by studying mindfulness; ageing and ailing parents; trying to get back into work after years away; a big birthday (50) looming; and the menopause is approaching along with the forgetfulness that often accompanies it.  Modern parenting is definitely not easy.

She had once been a successful fund manager and now really needs to get back into the workplace and start earning to support the family. To give herself a chance of getting a job she knocks a few years off her age (and the ages of her children) and gets a bit creative with her CV.

She ends up getting a job at her old workplace where no one recognises her, the company having changed hands twice while she’s been away and her old colleagues long gone.  Her boss and colleagues are all so much younger and less experienced but she keeps quiet about her earlier successful career there.

Of course it seems her boss is trying to set her up to fail.  She gets the difficult clients and there are clashes with work and family life (and a few dilemmas).  It’s definitely not easy juggling work and the demands of family life and trying to keep everyone happy.

I think everyone will identify with at least a part of Kate.  I celebrated the big birthday long ago (and the big one after that). I was never really a career person; my children are grown up with children of their own and yet I can still recognise and sympathise with Kate’s predicament.

It’s brilliantly written and very funny but also quite sad.  Kate is a wonderfully vivid character, in fact all the characters (good and ‘bad’) have their parts to play.  It’s a really good, entertaining read.  I loved it.

How Hard Can it Be? was published on 21 September 2017.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with a review copy]

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The Last Hours – Minette Walters

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June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?

And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo…?

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I loved this book.    The Last Hours  has great storytelling, an easy, flowing style and some strong characters which meant I soon got so engrossed that nothing much was done around the house until I got to the end.

It’s a change of direction for Minette Walters – from crime fiction to a historical novel set in the time of the Black Death – but the writing is very good and it is a very good read. I got quite caught up in the lives of her characters. There is plenty of detail which makes it easy to imagine the place and the people. Some are good, some bad, some corrupt and some completely evil.

The story is set in Dorset 1348 and opens just as Sir Richard of Develish is leaving with his men to travel to another estate to arrange a marriage for his 14 year old daughter, leaving behind his wife Lady Anne, his daughter Eleanor and the new steward, the sly Hugh de Courtesmain together with 200 or so bonded serfs.

While Sir Richard is away, a messenger arrives from the Bishop with news of a terrible sickness; that the rapidly spreading plague is a punishment from God and all should pray and atone for their sins as there is no cure and few will be spared. Lady Anne questions the church’s message that it’s a punishment from God. She’s s strong lady who can read and write having been educated by nuns and knows something of how disease spreads. She takes charge and orders that no one is to leave the estate and no one is to enter it. She brought every serf to live inside the moat and organised living and sleeping arrangements and the storage of food and medicines and then ordered the bridge over the moat destroyed to cut them off from the outside world in an attempt to keep them all safe from the plague.

Hugh de Courtesmain is shocked that Lady Anne knows the serfs by name and talks to them and that there are serfs on the estate who can read and write. Even more shocking is that Lady Anne appointed one of the serfs, Thaddeus Thurkell, to be her steward. There is a bit of mystery to Thaddeus. He looks and acts different to the other serfs and Lady Anne has encouraged his learning and his hopes of a future away from the Develish estate. He becomes one of the main characters in the story and there are some interesting interactions between other characters and Thaddeus. The daughter, Lady Eleanor, would appear to go out of her way to cause trouble for him.

The problem is that when a group of people cut themselves off from the outside world, how will they know what is happening on the outside. Their supplies will eventually start to run out but will it be safe to leave?

Following an incident where a young man is left dead, a group of young males steal away during the night to avoid trouble and also see what is happening on the outside and to replenish supplies.

I found it a really engrossing tale of life and relationships both inside and outwith the estate.

There is also a thread running through the book giving excerpts from Lady Anne’s journal and revealing some shocking truths.

I felt the ending was a bit ‘open’.  I was left wanting to know more ……. and then I realised there is a sequel due to be published in 2018. I can’t wait!

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing an advance copy]

The Last Hours was published in the UK on 2 November 2017.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one of my favourite books of this year.  It’s a wonderful read: quirky, funny, sometimes a bit sad but hopeful – a complete delight.

Eleanor is almost 30, lives alone and has a very ordered life. She goes to work in an office, wears the same clothes, has the same lunchtime routine every day and buys two bottles of vodka every weekend. She doesn’t socialise with colleagues and doesn’t engage with anyone. She is very direct and says what she wants to say without irony. Once a week she talks with her mother who dispenses advice (and criticism). In fact the mother comes across as a horrendous character.

Eleanor narrates her story in a very matter-of-fact manner. There is no hint of self-pity. As the story progresses you sense that her upbringing wasn’t exactly normal but she got a university degree and a job.

Eleanor is completely fine in her self-contained life until she finds the love of her life and decides to embark on a makeover and engage (just slightly) with the modern world. This makes for some very funny misunderstandings and yet I felt sadness at her predicament.

Eleanor is totally alone although she doesn’t see herself as lonely. She considers herself completely fine but she really lacks the ability to engage with other people and she takes everything very literally. I found it quite sad they way her colleagues talked about her.

Things start to change for Eleanor when an old man collapses in the street. Raymond from work just happened to be walking alongside Eleanor, making conversation while Eleanor was desperately trying to avoid any interaction. Raymond ran over to the man and got a reluctant Eleanor to help too.

Raymond is a warm, friendly, thoughtful character. Somehow Eleanor finds herself becoming less self contained. It’s a very gradual process but she starts to blossom (not sure if that’s the right word!) It’s not all plain sailing and there are setbacks. It’s not a romance in the traditional sense. It’s more about an unlikely friendship and Eleanor’s journey.

Although Eleanor comes across as slightly odd, I found her very likeable. The story is well written and is funny and sad in equal measure. I found it easy to picture the characters and the scenarios. It’s a very enjoyable, entertaining story. I definitely recommend it.

My thanks to NetGalley who provided me with a digital review copy.

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Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza

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When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before. 

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago. 

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack. 

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer. 

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Cold Blood is number 5 in the Detective Erika Foster series and it’s another cracking thriller from Robert Bryndza.

This time a man’s mutilated and dismembered body is found in a suitcase washed up on shore of the River Thames.  There is no identification with the body but Erika manages to link the case to a young woman’s body that had been washed up in an identical suitcase two weeks earlier.  It appears the gruesome murders could be drug related and also that there may be at least two killers involved.

There are lots of things I like about Robert’s crime writing.

I love the way we are straight into a crime scene almost on the first page – no beating about the bush.

I like that we get to know fairly quickly who has ‘done the deed’ and we see events unfold from the perpetrators’ point of view as well as Police investigations. This doesn’t spoil the story; that’s when it becomes a gripping psychological thriller – how Erika and her colleagues work to solve the crime and try to catch the criminals. Robert is a very good storyteller. You also see the killers’ relationship change throughout the book. What starts off as something that might be considered an infatuation quickly develops into something more sinister and manipulative and then something very violent, brutal and shocking.

I like the fact that it’s a series, that characters have a bit of depth and there is some continuity although they may have a principal supporting role in one book and in another a more minor role. Equally important, each book can be read as a stand alone although I would recommend reading them in order. I really like Robert’s writing style and the way the words flow easily.

I’ve read all the Erika Foster books and travelled with her on her ‘journey’. She has definitely moved on from the first book/s. She seems more mature, mellow. She began by fighting against her superiors frequently – not always to Erika’s advantage. If she believes she is right she will argue her case and then do what she feels she has to do. She is still disagreeing with her superiors but I get the feeling she’s a bit less abrasive and argumentative. Even if she’s taken off a case, she’s more than likely to find another way of continuing her investigation.

In the last couple of books I feel she’s been more reflective, wondering what path she should take. She’s now a widow in her 40s (approaching 50) with no children. She’s turned down a promotion because she couldn’t see herself as a pen pusher stuck in an office most of the time.

There are some pretty gruesome bits to this book. The horrific murders, a shocking betrayal by a colleague, a brutal assault on Erika herself, the kidnap of Commander Marsh’s two young daughters, a race against the clock to find the little girls all leading to a shocking climax.

I would definitely recommend this book to those who like crime thrillers.  In fact I recommend all five books in the series so far.  They can all be read as stand alone but are best read from the start of the series.  Here are links to my previous reviews.

The Girl in the Ice

The Night Stalker

Dark Water

Last Breath

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Bookouture for providing an advance copy]

 

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Last Breath by Robert Bryndza

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When the tortured body of a young woman is found in a dumpster, her eyes swollen shut and her clothes soaked with blood, Detective Erika Foster is one of the first at the crime scene. The trouble is, this time, it’s not her case. 

While she fights to secure her place on the investigation team, Erika can’t help but get involved and quickly finds a link to the unsolved murder of a woman four months earlier. Dumped in a similar location, both women have identical wounds – a fatal incision to their femoral artery. 

Stalking his victims online, the killer is preying on young pretty women using a fake identity. How will Erika catch a murderer who doesn’t seem to exist? 

Then another girl is abducted while waiting for a date. Erika and her team must get to her before she becomes another dead victim, and, come face to face with a terrifyingly sadistic individual.

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Last Breath is the fourth Detective Erika Foster novel from Robert Bryndza. I’ve loved every one of them. They just seem to get better and better.

Erika is still not happy in her current post – in the Projects Team. She is not meant for pen-pushing and is desperate to get back to the Murder Investigation Team and do the job she is best at.

The book opens with a body being placed in a large rubbish container and the subsequent discovery of the mutilated body.

Although no longer a part of the Murder Investigation Team, Erika, due to circumstances, manages to be one of the first officers at the scene where she has a run in with Superintendent Sparks. Despite being told to leave in no uncertain terms, being Erika, she goes behind his back and talks to witnesses.

When she later get more information from a witness, she passes it on the the officer in charge but again she is warned to stay out of the investigation. Of course, she continues to make her own enquiries. She comes across a potential link to another case and passes the information on to the DCI in charge of the case but gets no response. To compound her woes it turns out Erika had applied to be transferred back to the Murder Investigation Team but has been turned down.

Her frustration at being locked out of the case is so great that she even considers apologising to Sparks and is prepared to grovel to get back to what she does best – solving murders.

It’s a very good, satisfying thriller that moves along at a good pace. You do get to know “whodunnit” early on. It’s as if you are able to see inside the head of the killer and the lengths he will go to, to avoid being caught. There is a kind of game of cat and mouse between the killer and the Police. He uses fake identities on social media to trap his victims and then later tortures them. The story is sometimes quite dark and violent but it never seems excessive. There is a good balance of action, dialogue and background information. The different threads of the story come together very well. I think also that knowing the identity of the killer early on makes it even more exciting. There are also red herrings and plot twists and the action keeps on coming right to the end.

I like the way that Erika and other characters have developed and changed since the first book. Erika has definitely softened a little and mellowed since the first book but her tenacious and sometimes stubborn streak still appears. Former colleagues are also back in this book. Having said that you could easily read book 4 as a stand alone and still enjoy it. Previous relationships are briefly explained where necessary. Of course if you read all four books in the correct order I think you would get even more enjoyment.

Occasionally you get a series of books where the first one is exciting and brilliant but over time subsequent stories seem less exciting and fresh. I certainly haven’t found that with Robert Bryndza’s books. I think they get better and better. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his books to people who enjoy a good well plotted crime thriller.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Bookouture for an advance copy of Last Breath]

Note:  When I started to draft a review of Robert’s latest Erika Foster novel (Cold Blood) I realised I hadn’t actually posted a review of Last Breath.  Maybe you can tell I’m a fan of all Robert’s writing.

 

 

 

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Last Seen – Lucy Clarke

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Two boys missing. A seaside community with a dark secret at its heart…

Two little boys go missing out at sea – and only one is brought to shore.

For the boys’ mothers, best friends Sarah and Isla, the tragedy splinters a friendship. And The Sandbank – once an idyllic seaside haven – becomes a place of ghosts.

On the anniversary of the drowning, the other boy is missing. Parents Nick and Sarah try to quell their panic, but the Sandbank hums with tension as decade-old memories rise to the surface.

The truth lies in the past, like broken glass buried in the sand. Someone is hiding something – the question is, what did they see?

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It didn’t take long for me to get engrossed in this book. Last Seen is a rather good psychological mystery.

Sarah and Isla met when they were teenagers and quickly became friends. They dreamed of buying neighbouring beach huts on Longstone Sandbank, and spending long summers there. And they did. They also fell pregnant around the same time and gave birth to sons within days of each other. As adults they got to spend summers in their neighbouring beach huts and their sons were best friends. It all sounds very idyllic but tragedy strikes on Jacob’s 10th birthday. The boys went swimming in the sea and only one returned. Sarah’s son Jacob was saved and survived, Isla’s son drowned.

Then Jacob disappears on the night of his 17th birthday which is also the anniversary of Marley’s death. Sarah is distraught when he doesn’t come home especially since they had had an argument before he left the house to join his friends. His phone appears to be switched off too. Sarah’s husband Nick has gone away on business and Sarah is alone when she realises Jacob hasn’t been home.

As time passes you get a sense of her panic while trying to reassure herself that he’ll be a friend’s house, or there will be a simple explanation. But she still can’t reach him on his phone either.

The tension builds fairly slowly at first but increases by the day. When the police are called and start asking questions there’s a sense of information being withheld – not so much lies being told but more a sense of not being told the whole story.

It’s a small community and suspicions abound. Some characters are not particularly likeable. There are hints of jealousies and secrets and lies. Does someone in the community know something but isn’t telling?

The book is good. The story is told by Sarah and Isla in alternating chapters and day by day following on from Jacob’s disappearance. You get different viewpoints of past events and glimpses of the women’s characters. You learn more about their teenage friendship and their relationships leading to the present day.

Could it be things aren’t quite as idyllic as they may have appeared. Were they even ever perfect?

This is a perfect read for the holidays. You can just picture warm summer days on the sandbank – playing on the beach, swimming in the sea, messing about in boats or even just watching them but be prepared for a few surprises. Just immerse yourself in it and enjoy.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing an advance copy]

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The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

 

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Description

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – Pikeville’s notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself – the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again – and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised – Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case which can’t help triggering the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried for ever…

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I’m almost ashamed to say this is the first Karin Slaughter book I have read. I have friends who are big fans of her novels. They’ve recommended her books to me several times. I should have listened to them! I got completely engrossed in this one.

In The Good Daughter a family are torn apart by a brutal and terrifying attack on their home. The mother is shot dead, the father, a criminal defence lawyer, who wasn’t at home, is left devastated. One teenage daughter is left mentally broken, the other physically broken.

Twenty eight years later one of the daughters, Charlotte, finds herself first on the scene of another horrendous attack that affects the whole town, this time a school shooting. Two people are dead, one of them a child, and a 16 year old Goth, Kelly Wilson is sitting with a revolver in her hand. The sight and sound of the horrific shooting triggers flashbacks to Charlotte’s mother’s murder and the terrible assault she and her sister suffered.

Charlotte is a defence lawyer like her father but although they work in the same building she does not work for her father. And she doesn’t take on the same type of cases. Unlike her sister, she has a some kind of relationship with her father. She’s remained in Pikeville because her husband Ben, an assistant district attorney, liked it there, although they have been separated for several months.

Her father Rusty, takes on Kelly Wilson’s case. He’s quite a complex character. He always does what he thinks is right but he takes risks.  He is assisted by his long term secretary Lenore who is quite a character too. He also manages to get Charlotte to help him with the early formalities of Kelly Wilson’s defence. He isn’t particularly popular around town as he believes in justice for all and will represent anyone accused, no matter how awful the alleged crime.  A lot of people hate him for the cases he takes on.  At the time of his wife’s murder, the the family had recently been forced to move to another property following an arson attack on their home.

Meanwhile Samantha, the older sister, is a very successful patent lawyer living in New York but she struggles physically with problems that are a direct result of her injuries sustained in the first attack. She has no contact with her father or sister and knows nothing of what is going on in their lives. Although her father sends her a regular voicemail, she never responds. She’s never returned to Pikeville even when her business takes her within 2 hours drive of the town.

It’s a wonderful, multi-layered plot about two sisters with completely different characters, whose lives were changed and the family destroyed when their home was attacked, and their relationship (or non-relationship) with each other and their father.  Both sisters are lawyers but practising in different areas of law.

It’s a dark and brutal story. It’s full of interesting characters and is never boring. The author brilliantly weaves an engrossing story linking two brutal attacks twenty eight years apart.  How are they linked? Apart from Charlotte being present both times, are they linked?

I like that both girls’ stories are told from each one’s point of view both in the past and the present. There are chapters headed, “What happened to Samantha”, “What happened to Charlotte” and “What really happened to Charlie.” I feel it’s an interesting device. I was slightly confused at first and had a feeling of deja vu as I knew I had read that part before, but for me it works.  You read about a brutal, life-changing attack; then when you come across it again later in the book (almost identical words but with differences) the attack is even worse than you first thought. It certainly ramps up the tension and fear.

When the father ends up in hospital again with serious stab wounds, thought to be because he was representing the teenage school shooter in court, Charlotte who was already fragile, just can’t cope. Her husband makes contact with Samantha and there is an attempt at some kind of reconciliation between the sisters. There are some recriminations and words but they end up investigating the school shooting case on their father’s behalf. That is definitely not the end of the story.  There are a few twists leading ultimately to a shocking revelation. I really didn’t see that ending coming.

For me, this book definitely gets 5 stars.

The Good Daughter is available now in hardcover and eBook.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review]

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