First a quick explanation!
Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.
In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.
That’s the plan anyway and, despite a somewhat disturbing number of hospitalisations so far this year, I am soldiering on with it!
Title: The Leviathan
Author: Rosie Andrews
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ), Raven Books
Blurb: A beguiling, highly atmospheric tale of superstition, myth and murder, perfect for reading as the nights draw in.
SHE IS AWAKE…
Norfolk, 1643. With civil war tearing England apart, reluctant soldier Thomas Treadwater is summoned home by his sister, who accuses a new servant of improper conduct with their widowed father. By the time Thomas returns home, his father is insensible, felled by a stroke, and their new servant is in prison, facing charges of witchcraft.
Thomas prides himself on being a rational, modern man, but as he unravels the mystery of what has happened, he uncovers not a tale of superstition but something dark and ancient, linked to a shipwreck years before.
Something has awoken, and now it will not rest.
Richly researched, incredibly atmospheric, and deliciously unsettling, The Leviathan is a tale of family and loyalty, superstition and sacrifice, but most of all it is a spellbinding mystery and a story of impossible things…
Review: This dark story of witchhunts, suspicion and temptation reminded me of various Biblical stories, along with other classic sources like The Exorcist.
What starts out as a simple story of jealousy and betrayal which is familiar to anyone who has read stories about witchhunts in small rural communities when a pretty young woman draws too much attention. The timelines switch between 1643, when main character Thomas returns home to Norfolk on leave from the Civil War to find his family broken by accusations and suspicions, and Thomas’ married life in 1703 in which he is living with unresolved secrets and a menacing, if subdued, evil still hangs over his family.
There is a sudden jump between Thomas following the threads of logic and finding rational explanations for events to overtly fantastic horror as the paranormal influence is revealed, but strangely what should deliver high levels of excitement actually remains fairly low-key and slow in pace, as the characters spend much of the novel agonising, waiting, hoping and praying, without actually doing very much at all until the very end.
And, unfortunately, that ending is pretty anticlimactic after such a slow, chilling build-up. There is resolution of a sort, but I found it an unsatisfying one and was completely emotionally disengaged from events by that point.
This is a well-written and atmospheric fantasy-horror story, with illustrious literary antecedents, but the drifting of the main plot line and eventual flat denouement left me cold.
Purchase Link: The Leviathan on Amazon
Title: Nine Lives
Author: Peter Swanson
Publisher: Faber and Faber Ltd
Blurb: If you’re on the list you’re marked for death.
The envelope is unremarkable. There is no return address. It contains a single, folded, sheet of white paper.
The envelope drops through the mail slot like any other piece of post. But for the nine complete
strangers who receive it – each of them recognising just one name, their own, on the enclosed list – it
will be the most life altering letter they ever receive. It could also be the last, as one by one, they start to
meet their end.
Review: This crime thriller had such a compelling hook that I just had to check it out… nine people receive a list of names that includes their own. Then they begin to die, one by one.
I was, naturally, reminded of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the book refers to that classic twisty tale too (so read that first, if you haven’t already, or it will spoil one of the most unique mysteries I’ve ever read!).
This story is told in short chapters which alternate between the points of view of the characters named on the ‘death list’, along with a few others thrown in to aid/hinder reader understanding (there are, of course, some red herrings along the way).
With no overarching point of view character to pull the investigation together, the story did feel a little disjointed in places, but it was still well-paced, well-written and easily kept me hooked on turning those pages until the big reveal.
Having also enjoyed Rules for Perfect Murders by this author, I will definitely be checking out his next release. I do love a good twisty mystery, and this author knows his classics!
Purchase Link: Nine Lives on Amazon
Title: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital
Author: Joanna Nell
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Blurb: The heartwarming and hilarious new novel from the bestselling author of THE SINGLE LADIES OF JACARANDA RETIREMENT VILLAGE
Three unlikely friends. One chance to save the community. It might just be the perfect blend….
The Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria is at the heart of St Jude’s Hospital. Staffed by successive generations of dedicated volunteers, for over fifty years the beloved cafeteria has been serving up a kind word and sympathetic ear along with tea and scones.
Hilary, the stalwart Manageress, has worked her way up through the ranks; Joy, the latest recruit, is driving Hilary mad by arriving late every day; and seventeen-year-old Chloe, the daughter of two successful surgeons, is volunteering in the holidays and bemused by the older women.
But when they discover the cafeteria is under threat of closure, the unlikely trio must put aside their differences. As they realise the secrets and sorrows they have in common, the women grow closer – but can they bring the community together and save the day?
Full of wisdom and warmth, The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is a gorgeously poignant, hilarious story about unlikely friendships, growing old disgracefully, and coming together to save the things we love…
Review: I’ve read a few of Joanna Nell’s novels now, so I know that I can expect them to be well-written family dramas, often about aging, and that they will both warm and break my heart in equal measures. This one is no exception to those rules!
I found the story a little hard to get into at first, as one of the first characters we meet is the rather prickly and judgmental Hilary, who immediately got my back up with her inner commentary on Joy and Chloe. But, as expected, we soon get past that veneer to the deeper characters beneath and I was able to fall fully into the story and feel the characters’ struggles as my own.
Each of the ‘Tea Ladies’ has her cross to bear – Hilary has her ex-husband and sister, plus her worries about the future of the cafeteria; Joy has her husband’s serious illness, and her antipathy for anything too serious; Chloe has issues with her parents and boys, and is struggling with the career path laid out for her – but they all gradually come together in a common cause and learn lessons about themselves and each other along the way.
Heartwarming, witty, touching and just all-round lovely to read, I thoroughly recommend this, and all other Joanna Nell books for anyone who loves a cosy, people-centred story about strength, hope, and found family.
Purchase Link: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital on Amazon
Title: Stepping Up
Author: Sarah Turner
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press
Blurb: Beth has never stuck at anything.
She’s quit more jobs and relationships than she can remember and she still sleeps in her childhood bedroom. It’s not that she hasn’t tried to grow up, it’s just that so far, the only commitment she’s held down is Friday drinks at the village pub.
Then, in the space of a morning, her world changes.
An unspeakable tragedy turns Beth’s life upside down, and she finds herself guardian to her teenage niece and toddler nephew, catapulted into an unfamiliar world of bedtime stories, parents’ evenings and cuddly elephants. Having never been responsible for anyone – or anything – it’s not long before she feels seriously out of her depth.
What if she’s simply not up to the job?
With a little help from her best friend Jory (purely platonic, of course …) and her lovely, lonely next-door neighbour, Albert, Beth is determined that this time she’s not giving up. It’s time to step up.
This is a story about digging deep for strength you never knew you had and finding magic in things that were there all along.
Review: I already knew and loved the Unmumsy Mum blog from when Minishine was small, and so I already know that Sarah Turner has a talent for capturing the everyday in ways that are both poignant and hilarious (sometimes at the same time). So, picking up her latest book was a no-brainer for me.
I was thrilled to find out that Stepping Up completely surpassed my already-high expectations! I knew it would be well-written and expected a light-hearted romp of an easy read… I’m not sure why in retrospect, as the clues are right there in the blurb. Instead, this book drew me in, tore me apart, then patched me up again lovingly and left me longing to continue after the last page turned.
The story follows Beth from her pretty meh lifestyle – fun, but unsatisfying – as she faces family tragedy and finds she has the skills to cope if she can just find the confidence in herself. And I will freely admit that I cried absolute buckets in places. In fact, at Beth’s lowest point in the story, I had to pause as I felt physically sick for her – it felt like literally everything had been taken from her and she had nowhere left to turn. I’m not joking when I emphasise how strongly I felt this story!
There were a few out-loud chuckles to be had, but mainly this story grabs you hard by the feels and refuses to let go – heart-warming, heart-breaking and heart-repairing-again in turn. Enjoy with a drink, a cuddle and a big box of tissues!
Purchase Link: Stepping Up on Amazon
Title: A Spoonful of Murder
Author: J. M. Hall
Publisher: Avon Books UK, Avon
Blurb: Introducing the three unlikeliest sleuths you’ll ever meet…
Every Thursday, three retired school teachers have their ‘coffee o’clock’ sessions at the Thirsk Garden Centre café.
But one fateful week, as they are catching up with a slice of cake, they bump into their ex-colleague, Topsy.
By the next Thursday, Topsy’s dead.
The last thing Liz, Thelma and Pat imagined was that they would become involved in a murder.
But they know there’s more to Topsy’s death than meets the eye – and it’s down to them to prove it…
Sit down with a cup of tea and this perfectly witty, page-turning cosy crime novel. Fans of Agatha Christie, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders will be hooked from the very first page.
Review: I’ve actually treated my mum to a copy of this one for Christmas – shhh! Don’t tell her! – as the main characters are ex-teachers and as an ex-teacher herself I know she’ll get a kick out of how well J. M. Hall has captured the profession!
That was actually one of my favourite aspects of the book – how their teaching experiences coloured their perspectives and behaviours, giving them people- and practical skills, and a different approach to the psychology of people’s actions (a bit like Miss Marple, with her village-life perspective).
Quite a lot of the plot features the various scams which are used to prey on the elderly – catalogues, phone cons, dodgy door-stepping builders etc – which may be distressing to some, but which I also thought was very useful information to keep in mind for anyone who has elderly or vulnerable loved ones.
Overall this is an excellent quality cosy mystery. It is touching and funny throughout, with engaging and complex characters and a well-constructed and nicely-paced plot. An all-round great read for fans of the genre!
Purchase Link: A Spoonful of Murder on Amazon
I’m thrilled to be bringing you some crackers this time round… just in time for Christmas!
I’ve had one of my best reading years ever (I’m sure I said that last year too, but the books keep getting better and better!) and can’t wait to see what treats 2023 brings!
Happy Christmas and Merry Reading to you all 🙂 x