Review of ‘My Sweet Revenge’ by Jane Fallon

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about this book. On the one hand it’s a very readable, twisty, fun book. On the other hand all the characters are awful to each other and behave in utterly unbelievable ways. It’s very hard to suspend your disbelief and fully immerse yourself in the story when the characters’ actions are so unlikely.

The book follows Paula, an overweight, depressed woman who discovers her husband is cheating on her. Rather than confronting him, she concocts a ridiculous revenge plan to lose weight, make her husband love her again and then break his heart. Therefore, she pretends for months that she does not know the affair is going on. Who does that?

I could just about accept that as a plot but then a huge twist happens and turns out she’s not the only one manipulating the situation and it was all too much.

However, Jane Fallon, has a viciously humorous voice, so I’ll definitely try another of her books.

EDIT: Since then I’ve read ‘Faking Friends’ by Jane Fallon which has almost exactly the same premise, of a woman enacting revenge on her partner and his mistress by lying to them for months. It made me wonder if all Jane Fallon books are convoluted revenge fantasies? Turns out, I don’t really like the idea of revenge, I just want to tell these poor, vengeful women to cut their losses and move on with their lives.

Review of ‘The Couple’ by Helly Acton

Thanks to NetGalley and Bonnier Books for the ARC of this book.

‘The Shelf’ by Helly Acton was probably the best book I read last year, so I was really excited to read a new book by this author. She writes romantic fiction but tries to put an original spin on her stories so they are not as formulaic as usual for books in this genre. I didn’t think ‘The Couple’ quite reached the standards of ‘The Shelf’, but it is a sweet story and a fun read.

‘The Couple’ is set in a world where being single is the most socially acceptable state. The government supports people who are single, they get additional benefits and people who prefer to be in a couple are frowned upon or considered strange. Millie works for Slide, a Tinder/Uber style company, which enables people to meet sexual partners for one night stands. Slide is planning to market a drug which would prevent people from being able to fall in love. Millie has to work with a new colleague, Ben, on the marketing campaign and she is instantly drawn to him.

I liked the love story between Millie and Ben. Ben is an adorable, sweet, non-threatening love interest. I found the world-building a bit clunky. A world where people never want to couple up for longer than one night is so impractical (what about having children, humans’ main biological imperative?) that the idea never fully works. It is interesting to consider whether people would be better off single or in a couple, but the stigmatisation of coupledom didn’t ring true for me.

This book didn’t feel quite as fresh or unpredictable as ‘The Shelf’, but it’s still a good read within the romantic fiction genre. if you haven’t read Helly Acton before, definitely start with ‘The Shelf’ and, if you enjoy her voice, it’s worth giving this book a go.

Review of ‘Playing Nice’ by JP Delaney

Thanks to NetGalley and Quercus for the ARC of this book.

This is one of the best thrillers I have ever read. It is both absolutely compelling and excruciatingly painful to read. It is brilliantly written and deftly covers so many sensitive issues. I’m absolutely in awe at the author’s skill in writing something so fast-paced and thought-provoking.

It is the story of Pete and Maddie who discover the two year son they have been raising was swapped in the hospital and their biological son is being raised by another family. The book follows their attempts to have a civil relationship with the other couple and find an arrangement which is best for both children. However, it is not long before things start to go horribly wrong.

I could not put this book down! It was uncomfortably fascinating to imagine yourself in their position and what you would do if you had to choose between the child you have loved for 2 years and your biological child.

Delaney descriptions of the difficult situations which parents find themselves in including emergency C-sections, neo-natal care, postpartum psychosis and dealing with violent children and brilliantly drawn and very realistic. I found so much of the book fascinating and moving.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Go and read it!

Review of ‘Every Vow You Break’ by Peter Swanson

Thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for the ARC of this book.

I really enjoy Peter Swanson’s books, he writes entertaining, twisty psychological thrillers. His latest follows a newly-married couple honeymooning on a luxurious island off the coast of Maine where everything is not quite as perfect as it at first seems. I found it a fun read but a bit silly and not quite as subtle as usual for Swanson’s writing.

I enjoyed the fact that Swanson stepped out of his comfort zone and made the villain male rather than the cold hearted woman he so often favours.

I don’t think this is Swanson’s best book but is fast-paced and readable and keeps you guessing up to its slightly daft ending. It also feels quite of the moment with a #metoo undercurrent to the plot.

Review of ‘The End of the World Running Club’ by Adrian J Walker

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC of this book.

I really enjoyed this book. It is set during an apocalyptic meteor strike on Great Britain and follows protagonist Edgar as he struggles to keep his family safe during the initial strike and later, tries to find them again after he is separated from them.

One of the things I liked most about this book is what a realistic, flawed character Edgar is. I appreciated the description of how weighed down he is by the pressures of middle-aged life and how even though he loves his family, he sometimes longs for time away from them. That is something which is easy to identify with after a year of homeschooling and lockdowns!

I thought the description of the meteor strike and the family sheltering in their cellar while they listen to people dying outside was horrific and really well written. The thought of being stuck in a cellar with a baby and a 3 year old for weeks is unimaginable!

I enjoyed Edgar’s relationships with the other people he travels with to search for his family, particularly the fond friendship with Australian Harvey.

I thought the ending was bittersweet and unpredictable. The book as a whole was thought provoking with a good balance of humour, horror and sentiment. Highly recommended.

Audiobook review: ‘The Castaways’ by Lucy Clarke

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins fir the ARC of this book.

This is a fabulous thriller. I barrelled through it and was very frustrated whenever I had to stop listening.

The story follows two sisters; Erin, in the present day, and Lori, two years earlier. Lori has vanished after a plane crash which stranded her on a desert island in Fiji. The plane passengers are presumed dead but then the pilot turns up alive 2 years later and Erin is determined to find out what happened to her sister.

I really enjoyed this book. It is fast-paced, tense and compelling. I thought the ending was heavily signposted throughout the book, but I didn’t mind as I found it a fairly satisfying, if unlikely, resolution.

The audiobook is well narrated. However, I thought the choice of narrators was a bit odd. They are supposed to be sisters who have grown up together (in Bath, I think) and lived much of their adult life together, but one has a strong London/South-East estuary accent and the other has a faintly Welsh burr. I found this slightly distracting, but it doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable.

Review of ‘You and Me on Vacation’ by Emily Henry

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I read and really enjoyed ‘Beach Read’ by the same author last year. I think she is very skilled at writing chemistry between characters and describing how people can move from an initial dislike of someone to a deep love.

Those skills are also evident is her new book and it is another fun, easy read. However, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as her previous book. The chemistry between the central couple, Poppy and Alex, is wonderful but too much of their relationship is based on misunderstandings which could be cleared up with one good conversation. Obviously, this trope is present in most romantic fiction, but I do find it particularly frustrating to read. In this book it means it takes 12 years for the main couple to get together, which seems like such a huge waste of time and opportunities, so I couldn’t be entirely on board with it.

I did really enjoy reading about the holiday destinations in this book. Especially, at the moment when we barely leave our village, it’s wonderful to satisfy a bit of wanderlust through reading.

Review of ‘The Survivors’ by Jane Harper

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

Jane Harper is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I will definitely continue to read everything she publishes. Each of her books has had a different setting in a different Australian landscape and they are so atmospheric and perfectly evocative of the setting. Her brilliance at conjuring the sense of place works to make her books thoroughly immersive. It is a real skill.

Harper is also brilliant at creating realistic characters with difficult pasts committing small wrong doings with big impacts. The crimes are believable and it is easy to understand how normal people end up in tricky situations. Harper is also very deft at peppering red herrings and misdirections throughout her books to get your mind working and make you speculate (mostly wrongly) about what might have happened.

‘The Survivors’ is set in a coastal town in Tasmania. It follows Kieran Elliott as he returns to his childhood home 12 years after a storm took the lives of three residents, an accident for which he feels responsible. A day after his return another person ends up drowned and this crime brings up lots of secrets from the day of the storm.

I really enjoyed this book, the characters are relatable, the setting is perfect and the ending is surprising, although it ends a bit abruptly and I would have liked to see reactions to the final revelations from more of the townsfolk. I felt it dragged slightly in the second half, but that may have been because I was so keen to get to the conclusion and find out what really happened. I liked the main character Kieran and his girlfriend, Mia and enjoyed reading about their relationship.

I would highly recommend this and Harper’s other books, particularly ‘The Lost Man’.

Top Ten Tuesday – Christmas books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is a Christmas freebie topic, so I picked 10 of the Christmas books I’ve read this year in an attempt to distract me from the depressing COVID and Brexit news.

These books have done the job of distracting me but none of them is brilliant and I can’t really recommend any very highly. However, easily the best of them are ‘A Surprise Christmas Wedding’ by Phillipa Ashley, ‘A Wedding in December’ by Sarah Morgan and ‘Comfort and Joy’ by India Knight. By far the worst is ‘The Christmas Train’ by David Baldacci which infuriated me no end with constant descriptions of women’s weight and appearance; judgements which of course are not equally applied to the male characters. You can definitely tell it’s written by a man.