This month has been something of a break from writing, since a perfect storm seems to have hit our household. The opening up from restrictions hasn’t felt much like a reprieve to us, despite being double vaccinated. This may be because we know someone hospitalised with COVID-19 despite their vaccinations, and I still have an underlying condition that makes me vulnerable. The house had its obligatory ‘three things go wrong at once’ – the most spectacular being the afternoon I pulled the bath plug out, but instead of the water draining in the usual way it poured through a hole in the kitchen ceiling onto our island and hob. So when my partner suddenly became unwell a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to take a break. It was just in time, because since then my multiple sclerosis has flared back up – probably due to stress and the weird jumps in temperature we’ve been having. So, instead of reading for blog tours, I’ve read what I wanted and I’m taking my time writing it up. I had enough drafts written to keep the blog ticking over, but not anything as organised as usual. We bloggers are a conscientious bunch, especially my fellow #SquadPod members, so having to let people down in this way really does hurt. Even when we know it’s for our own good. So I’ve been a bit frustrated, but despite this I have really enjoyed my reading picks this month and here are my favourites.
This Shining Life is one of those novels that I enjoyed so much and had such a beautiful cover that I splurged and bought the Goldsboro Books edition. I took this photograph to show people that bloggers do buy finished copies of books, even when they have a physical proof. I keep them all in a special cabinet in my dining room. This is a very special book about love and loss. Rich is a life and soul of the party type of man. So when he dies it’s very hard for his family to make sense of the huge Rich-shaped hole in their lives, especially for his son Ollie who is on the autistic spectrum. What the author shows brilliantly, is that when we face a huge upheaval or loss in our lives, we experience it through our own filter. Made up of our own experiences, the emotions we find it easy or difficult to express, our own bias or prejudice. The author has written such an authentic story of loss by exploring each character’s filters, their earlier life experiences and the unique relationship they had with Rich. We each grieve in a unique way because the way we connected with that person is unique. In dying, Rich has given them all the secret of the meaning of life. Ollie thinks the gifts Rich has left for them hold the secret. Rich has bought each person something he thinks will remind them of him, in the context of the relationship they had. Knowing each person will miss him in a different way. I thought the book was emotionally intelligent, full of complex and interesting characters and explored beautifully what happens when such a big personality is taken from a family. A final mention must go to that beautiful cover, with Ollie using his binoculars to focus on the beautiful variety of life in the world. Simply stunning.
Next up is Deborah Moggach’s latest, The Black Dress. I loved her novel The Carer from last year so hoped this would be just as good. Actually this was better, probably her best novel to date. Pru’s husband has walked out and has set up home in their little holiday cottage by the sea. Her only consolation is her friend Azra, always a little too wild and boho for Pru’s husband’s taste, but a great solace as she contemplates living the rest of her life without her other spoon. To be honest with herself, it’s not really him that she misses. She misses their life together – the past memories of playing on the beach with the children, always having someone next to her in bed, and those in-jokes that they would only get together. Now the bed feels huge and Pru feels numb and bewildered. In something of a daze, she has to attend the funeral of an old friend, but at the church she notices that something’s not quite right. There are people she expected to see, who aren’t here. The eulogy doesn’t sound like the friend she knew. Then the penny drops – she’s at the wrong funeral. Yet somehow she gets swept along with it and finds she has a good time, conversation, a few drinks and banter with some of the other guests. So when she sees the black dress hanging in a charity shop, she allows herself to wonder why not? Maybe she will meet a nice widower to bring some excitement into her life. With this in mind she starts to buy the paper and circle the obituaries in the funeral section. Despite covering themes of infidelity, coercive control, death and grief it’s also warm and witty. I thoroughly enjoyed the black humour. The author does an excellent job of lampooning middle class morés, like a 21st Century Austen, then in the next breath she pulls off an incredible reveal, worthy of any thriller and I really hadn’t seen it coming. Pru is a central character you can’t help but fall in love with. She’s far from perfect, in fact at times she’s conniving, manipulative and full of revenge, but she’s also warm, caring, funny and at her best she’s full of zest for life. Yet underneath it all, she’s lonely and very vulnerable. I loved being able to read about a woman of a certain age, still having an exciting life, when often women over 50 are dismissed as uninteresting. Pru enjoys socialising, dressing up and having sex too. Despite her faults, I was hanging on till the last page hoping that Pru battled through – even if her methods were … unexpected. This wonderful book cemented the author’s reputation with me, as a writer whose next book I would buy without hesitation
This was my very first Will Carver novel and I came away wondering where he’d been my whole life. This novel had such a darkly, delicious opening that I kept smiling to myself. The Beresford is an old forbidding looking building in the city. In my imagination this conjured up the Gothic looking Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and was killed back in 1981. Inside The Beresford are a number of apartments, bigger and better appointed than you would expect for the money. They even have large roll top baths. The perfect size to dismember and dissolve a body. Resident Abe finds that as soon as one tenant ‘leaves’ another will ring the doorbell in sixty seconds. The building is presided over by a lovely old lady called Mrs May, who starts every day the same way. By brewing a coffee while the taps run, then enjoying a bath with bubbles, followed by eggs with her cold coffee. She has a routine, and is found at the same time every day pruning the roses in the front garden. As any fan of the film The Ladykiller’s knows, you should never underestimate sweet looking, little old ladies. She knows everything that happens at the Beresford because the same thing happens over again – some people leave and some people just disappear. Occasionally they stay. For a price. I loved the dark humour, the unexpected murders and the characters who pass through – sometimes in seconds! Maybe one day the author will venture further into the other side of The Beresford? The side Abe calls ‘the bad side’. If so, I’ll be waiting – but I’ll probably stick to reading in the daylight hours.
Rob Parker is another author I’ve never read before and I was told I would enjoy his writing. I jumped at the opportunity to read this and truly enjoyed it. I loved that this novel was partially set in my family’s stomping ground around Liverpool. The fact that I knew every setting as the story unfolded added to the gritty reality of this brilliant crime novel. DI Foley’s life becomes very complicated when a trench containing 27 bodies, in various states of decomposition, turns up in woodland on his Warrington patch. It encroaches on family life immediately as he has to leave his son’s own christening to attend and his wife Mim has to hold the fort. However, things become even more complicated, and terrible, for his family, when one of the 27 turns out to be Brendan’s nephew Connor. Criminality isn’t that far away when it comes to the male members of Brendan’s family, the most sinister being his father. What this novel shows is that whether you are a criminal or police officer, when your family are on the line, it’s surprising how blurred the lines between good and bad really get. There’s no holding back on how bloody and terrible these crimes can be, and it was slightly disorientating to see so much violence in a place I visit for fun. Even with something we imagine is very black and white, like the law, there are always shades of grey. It’s simply a case of how much compromise we can live with and how far the apple really does fall from the tree.
Helene Flood has written a fascinating thriller about a therapist, set in Oslo. It’s complexity of character and their motivations probably comes from the fact that the author is a psychologist. Straightaway, I was invested and really excited me to get inside the character’s minds. On a normal Friday when Sara is getting ready to see her three clients, her husband Sigurd is on a boy’s weekend. He has even called her by lunchtime to tell her he arrived safely. The truth is that Sigurd never arrived at all. The author keeps us brilliantly on edge with red herrings and reveals galore. We see the police through Sara’s eyes, which might explain why they seem curiously non-committal about everything. We never truly know how they feel about Sara or where the investigation is going. Obviously she is a possible suspect. However, there are points in the investigation, when Sara is sure there is an intruder at the house, where they seem indifferent to her worries and her safety. I was never quite sure whether Sara was the ultimate unreliable narrator and would turn out to be implicated in her husband’s disappearance. She seemed detached from the reality of it, even within the context that their relationship has deteriorated over time. The ending was a surprise and the double reveal was beautifully done, and very satisfying. I stayed up late to finish the last few chapters, because I was so hooked on the story. This was a psychological thriller I would definitely recommend.
So that’s this months recommendations. I’m not sure what August will bring, except for an Orenda blog tour so I have a lot of choice. Here’s my tentative TBR for August.