Monthly Wrap Up: April

Welcome to my first Monthly Wrap Up post!

This month I’ve read a lot of Lee Child, as the promise of his new paperback Past Tense arriving really got me in a nostalgic mood and made me want to re-read some of the early Jack Reacher novels. I’ve always really enjoyed re-reading novels, it’s never been a problem for me. I believe that I always notice something new when I re-read a book, and although it’s not as surprising or exciting the second time round, there’s instead a real fondness for the book and the knowledge that I know I’ll definitely like this book! When I’m really busy, I like to re-read, as it requires less focus and is more relaxing I think. So yes, I read some of Lee Child’s books for the second time and loved them.

I’ve done quite a few blog tours this month which have been fun! It’s nice being a part of a small group, even community, that are all reading, thinking and writing about the same book, even if we don’t necessarily interact directly with each other. I love reading the other reviews on the same blog tour, seeing opinions that differ or match mine, and reading their reasons for this. It’s always so interesting seeing how the same book provokes different reactions in people.

Some of my favourite books this month have been Past Tense, Dead Inside, The Girl in the Painting, My Best Friend’s Secret and If Only I Could Tell You. Looking back at these, I’m surprised that only half are crime/thrillers. This has always been my favourite genre, and I’m sure it always will be, but I’ve really loved getting out my comfort zone a bit more and appreciating other genres.

Check out all my posts from April, and find out which one I picked out as my Book of the Month!:

I kicked off April on the 6th with a Bookouture Blog Tour for My Best Friend’s Secret by Anna Mansell! I thought this was was a fascinating and in-depth look into the lives of 4 different women, showing how they interacted with each other, the complexity of their characters and their lives but it also had a great story linking them all together.

I then did my own review of Past Tense by Lee Child on the 13th, and I mean, I always love the Jack Reacher books, but this was a brilliant, fast-paced and yet slightly unusual story from Child. I really enjoyed this, and would probably read it again!

On the 14th I took part in the Bookouture Blog Tour for The Girl in the Painting by Renita D’Silva. and oh my gosh this was beautiful. It was truly emotive, and I loved the way it linked the past with the present and used the setting to compliment the feelings of the characters.

Next, on the 15th (wow I had a busy week…) I took part in the damppebbles Blog Tour for I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite book of the month – although the story was brilliantly creepy, and it moved pretty quickly, there were moments were it felt a bit far-fetched, but for a slightly different read I would recommend this!

I did yet another Blog Tour for Catch Your Death by Kierney Scott with Bookouture on the 20th! This book has convinced me I want to read the rest of the series – the main character was so stubborn and determined that she almost makes things more difficult for herself, but she’s also incredibly quick-thinking and intelligent, making this book a brilliant read!

I then reviewed Dead Inside by Noelle Holten on the 24th, which I honestly loved. With brilliantly written characters, a real sensitivity and emotion throughout the story, and a satisfying ending, this had it all. I’ll definitely be reading future books in this series.

On the 28th I reviewed If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, which was a really poignant and moving story. The writing is truly beautiful, seriously emotional, and I thought that Beckerman added in just the right amount of suspense and intrigue without taking away from the story.

Finally, I finished off the month with another damppebbles Blog Tour for Fatal Fortune by Miranda Rijks, which I thought was a nicely written, fast-paced mystery with really interesting characters.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

I’ve loved a lot of the books I’ve read this month, which has been great! Although I’m tempted to pick either Past Tense or If Only I Could Tell You as my favourite book of the month I’m actually going to go for The Girl in the Painting! I honestly can’t express how much I loved this, and out of all the books I’ve read this month, it’s the one I’m still thinking about, despite reading it nearer the start of April.

The Swap by Fiona Mitchell

This was a powerful and poignant tale about discovering the real meaning of family, parenthood and love.

Two women. Two children. One swap.
Tess and Annie both went for IVF at the same clinic, at the same time. They both went home with a child, but that child isn’t theirs. Their embryos were mixed up, and they went home with the wrong child.
Three years later they discover the devastating error. Tess wants to swap the children back while Annie doesn’t, so they embark on a hard journey of discovery about themselves, motherhood and family.

*warning: minor spoilers*

I loved this. I thought it was really inspiring and gave a lot of food for thought about what family really means. It makes you consider what it takes to create and build a family, about nature vs nurture and the love a parent has for their child.

Tess was such a painful and heartbreaking character. She had pain and grief etched over her throughout the novel, but it wasn’t clear why until quite far through, and it was emotional to see how much the events of her past have affected her relationship with her children in the present. Her sheer desperation to have a relationship with her daughter who was born to Annie was really intense. It made her so frustrating to read at times, as she made some potentially destructive choices throughout. This, however, is what made her such a ‘real’ character, it’s what made her story so heartbreaking to read and it really intensified her story, gripping the reader even more.

Annie, the other mother affected in this story, seemed to balance on that thin line between judgmental and concerned. At times she was annoying, because she seemed to be assuming things about Tess’ relationship with her son that weren’t completely true – although Mitchell did offer a rather intense and revealing insight into the way that the assumptions Annie made can easily happen. Annie starts to questions the relationship she sees between Tess and Freddie, convincing herself that something isn’t right – yet Mitchell really digs deeps into this to show the various layers and emotions that are involved between Tess and Freddie. Families are incredibly complex, and this book really highlights this in such an effective and emotive way. Apart from this, Annie’s relationship with her daughter Willow was really sweet, yet it was clear that she was being torn apart by the discovery that she actually had a son. In some ways she seemed more vulnerable that Tess, but she turned this into a strength, and coped with the discovery admirably.

The two children themselves were adorable – they seemed unaware of what was happening in their lives and the massive potential changes that were happening, but they also weren’t oblivious. Willow’s obvious distress at times around Tess was sad to see, but completely understandable. Freddie’s anger and frustration really heightened the emotions in various situations, but the times in the book when he was quiet and subdued were even more upsetting to read. They were written so well, especially considering they were in some ways the focus of the novel, despite it being written from the perspective of the mothers.

The journey that the two mothers went on was really insightful. It was such an interesting look at family and motherhood, and I felt the ending was exactly as it should have been. It provided a sense of calm after a truly rocky journey, but at the same time, it hinted at irrevocable change and acceptance that would benefit both mothers and children.

I loved this book, it’s stayed with me long after I read it and would definitely recommend it!

The Swap
Fiona Mitchell
Hodder & Stoughton, 18th April

Fatal Fortune by Miranda Rijks

Thanks so much to Emma from @damppebbles for organising this blog tour!

Is someone trying to frame psychologist Pippa Durrant for the brutal murder of a woman she’s never even met?
It certainly seems that way when Pippa’s photo is found on the body of murdered lottery winner, Leanne Smith.
Pippa soon finds herself a suspect at the centre of a huge media storm. But she has an invaluable skill set – she is a human polygraph, expertly trained to spot lies and deceit. Skills she will need to help her to solve the mystery of who killed Leanne before it destroys her career – and her life.
But every cloud has a silver lining and this one arrives in the shape of DS Joe Swain. Initially suspicious of Pippa, he comes to trust her and to value her lie detection skills. Soon it’s clear there’s a definite spark between them….
Then, when another body turns up, Pippa realises her reputation isn’t the only thing in danger. Can she identify the killer before she becomes the next victim?

This book was definitely intriguing right from the start! There is seemingly no connection between Pippa, and the woman whose body her photo was left on. It’s genuinely quite mysterious and creepy, particularly the fact that they are described as looking alike.

I really liked Pippa as a character. She was really relatable and quite likeable, although also irritating at times – but then that’s what made her seem human. Her reaction to her photo being left on the body started as worried yet curious which turned into panic and fear – almost exactly as you’d imagine that situation would. She had a real determination to find out why she was being targeted like this, and I think the reader was really behind her the whole time, willing her to find out who was doing this. Her relationship with her son was interesting, and I feel like it’s something that will act as an over-arching storyline in future books.

The Smith family was a great opposing force to Pippa’s half of the story. Donna was kind of annoying, but you couldn’t help but feel intensely sorry for her after losing her mum. Watching her become more and more isolated and upset throughout the novel was hard, but again that’s what made her a relatable character. Her husband Ricky was super annoying, he was overly controlling and intense, and he did seem quite suspicious at times, but I never fully believed it was him either. He was clearly an emotional man, battling events and emotions from his past, and yet still trying to keep his family together in his own way. Their relationship was definitely a bit fractured, but there was clearly love there, which made later events of the novel really emotional.

I guessed who did it not too long before it was revealed, but it was definitely an interesting twist that I think worked really well. It linked it nicely with Pippa’s professional work, but also with her family life, so it had a definite personal touch. The character in question was brilliantly written, and it really was a sensitive and fascinating insight into mental health and personality.

I would definitely recommend this, and would love to read more Dr Pippa Durrant novels in the future!

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

This was such a powerfully moving story, really emotional and with such beautifully written characters.

*warning, spoilers*

Every family has their secrets. But none so heartbreaking, or emotional, than Audrey’s family.
Audrey’s daughters, Jess and Lily, haven’t spoken to each other in decades. Her teenage granddaughters aren’t allowed to meet. But Audrey is running out of time, and she’s determined to solve the rift between them.
As they each delve into their past, secrets will come out, and the choice that one of them made years ago is about to come out. Can they find happiness as a family again?

This is one of those books that’s going to stay with me long after I read it. It starts with one of those chapters where you know there is a lot being unsaid or left until later, and although it hooks you in, it’s not necessarily the plot itself. The writing is simply beautiful – ‘She does not know it yet, but by the time she gets home this afternoon, the fabric of her family will have been altered irrevocably, and the morning’s events will repeat in her mind like a record stuck under the groove of a needle for the next thirty years’.

How is this not one of the most beautiful sentences? It’s one of those pieces of writing that sticks in your mind, you know exactly the feeling or event behind described, and it will affect anyone who reads it. The rest of the story continues to be written like this, with momentous parts of the book marked by gorgeous similes and metaphors that make complete sense. It’s honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

I really enjoyed how the story flicks between the present and various moments of the past. Audrey, the mother, is a fascinating character, who clearly has stuff from her past that’s holding her back. Her decision not to have chemotherapy to treat her cancer was a difficult part of the novel to read, but I really felt like Beckerman wrote it incredibly sensitively and well. Because Audrey was balancing this with her desire to reunite her daughters, there was a real sense of urgency throughout the novel to uncover the reason for Jess and Lily’s estrangement. This didn’t take away from the story however, and instead played to it perfectly, by highlighting and enhancing the emotions of the characters.

Jess was a very defensive but caring character, protective in her own way but it was clear to the reader that she had some serious trust issues and unresolved feelings holding her back. Her relationship with her daughter was also frustrating because the reader could see how Jess was trying to push her own dreams on her daughter. Jess’ secrecy and unwillingness to trust anyone however, made her a very vulnerable character, with her pain clear to anyone whether she meant it to be or not. Beckerman wrote this character outstandingly, bringing to attention the power of childhood memories and experiences.

Lily was, in some ways, harder to read than Jess as it was clear that her marriage was breaking down and she was in denial about it and that was really hard to watch. She was also a really strong woman, as becomes clearer nearer the end, and was perhaps able to keep her emotions in check better than Jess (not that either way of coping is better or worse). Her ability to maintain patience in the face of hatred and unfriendliness was honestly astonishing, but she was also extremely vulnerable and open to pain.

The mysterious events from the past weren’t revealed until the very end, and I think this worked really well. It allowed the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters rather than focusing too much on the story itself and have it overshadow the characters.

Overall, I truly loved this. It was so poignant, beautifully and deeply moving, with really human and relatable characters. I would recommend this to anyone, it’s a 5 star read.

If Only I Could Tell You
Hannah Beckerman
Orion, 21st Feb 2019

Dead Inside by Noelle Holten

This was a really emotional and hard-hitting read, with a focus on domestic abuse and the pain it causes while also incorporating elements of a traditional detective mystery.

One by one they’re being killed off. Who’s behind it…?
DC Maggie Jamieson has just joined a new team. Confronted with getting to know her colleagues and trying to solve a brutal murder, she soon finds herself suspecting those she works with and knows well. As the body count rises and links between the victims appear, it’s clear this case is personal.
Soon, Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood’s husband is found dead. Maggie struggles to believe that Lucy could be capable of this, but no other suspects seem to be forthcoming.
Can Maggie solve this and find the truth in time?

This novel really built up the suspense, and despite there being lots of characters to keep track of, they were all written brilliantly. From the genuinely creepy Mick O’Dowd, to the strong-minded Shell Baker, and the trustworthy DC Maggie Jamieson, they were all perfectly written and interacted with each other wonderfully.

There were a lot of different types of relationships to include in this book, which Holten has written with nuance and emotion. Lucy and her husband Patrick were a fascinating but heartbreaking pair, and seeing Lucy’s pain was really hard to read in places. In places it was genuinely upsetting to read, but this is credit to the brilliant and emotive writing. Lucy’s reasoning with herself regarding Patrick’s behaviour and why she stayed was equally hard to read considering her job as Probation Officer, and the logic and determination she showed in that role. She was a perfect main character, with just enough focus on her to show the struggle she was going through, but still with enough focus on the crimes themselves.

The police officers themselves were great. PC Kat Everett was hilarious at times with her swearing, and offered a few light-hearted moments in an otherwise hard-to-read book. Her wild emotions and intense anger were also relatable, as was her colleague Mark’s disgust with the domestic abuse offenders they came across. It was interesting seeing how the officers balanced their personal feelings with their professional duties, and I felt their emotions were portrayed really believably.

Moving on to the actual crimes themselves, it was one of those mysteries that genuinely had me stumped as to who was committing them. I had some theories throughout the book, but it was so cleverly written that I almost didn’t have time to spend being too suspicious of anyone or working it out. There was so much going on, and it was nicely fast-paced, that I honestly didn’t think about who was responsible for the murders at all. Although I wouldn’t say I was totally shocked by who did it, I didn’t feel that this was a negative at all, as it felt like it was more about why they did it, the long-lasting effects that abuse has on people, and the person’s relationship with their past.

I also liked that the ending was sort of split in two (I’m trying not to give too much away…), and it wasn’t a clear wrapping up of all the deaths in one go. Lucy’s fragile state towards the end was devastating, but there was a real sense that her inner strength was still there, and she was definitely a survivor.

This book was brilliantly nuanced and emotive, the crimes themselves were fascinating, but the real depth is in the characters themselves. The writing is so clever, so emotional and just genuinely touching. I loved this, it’s a 5 star read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

BLOG TOUR: Catch Your Death by Kierney Scott

This was fast-paced, electrifying and super intense, and I thought the crime was a brilliantly written mystery.

There were five of them once. Now the others are all dead. And he’s next.
When FBI Agent Jess Bishop gets an urgent and scared phone call in the middle of the night, she sets off to Gracemount Academy, an extremely prestigious school. When she gets there, she finds the body of a young student, who has apparently taken his own life.
But she soon discovers that he’s not the only one. Five students have died within months of each other, all of them good friends.
Fighting her own inner demons from her past, Jess will stop at nothing to uncover the person behind these deaths, putting her own life on the line in the process. How far will she go to save more lives being taken?

Before I start my review, I just want to note that this is part of a series, but I read this as a standalone. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the rest of the series, as there were clearly some intense backstories, but these were more or less explained throughout this novel.

The actual crime itself was truly sinister, and it soon became clear that there were some properly disturbing activities occurring both at the school and beyond it. The whole ‘undercover/secret society’ element of the mystery worked really well, and it just added to the chilling nature of the story. I’ve always loved stuff like this, and I thought that Scott played it perfectly, making it clear what this secret society was, but keeping whether or not it was involved questionable. It made for a really interesting read, as I was desperate to know the link between the deaths, and Scott added in a couple of clever side characters to add in extra layers of suspicion without it becoming ridiculous.

Jess was a fascinating main character. Her determination to succeed goes almost too far, and she’s actually quite frustrating at times for the reader, as she’s extremely stubborn. This, however, is exactly what makes her a brilliant agent, quick on her feet and an intelligent thinker, and her partnership with Jamison was really interesting. Again, there are clearly problems stemming from events in previous novels which would help the reader’s understanding of their relationship, but they’re still a great team. Jamison was a brilliantly stable character, contrasting Jess’s chaotic stubbornness really well, and at times their level of communication between each other was outstanding.

This was a brilliant novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a standalone, but will definitely be going back to read the full series.

The Foyles Bookshop Girls by Elaine Roberts

This was a heart-warming yet emotional story about three girls who lives are touched by the war, and demonstrates real depth in representing their reactions to it.

London, 1914: one ordinary day, three girls arrive for work at London’s renowned Foyles bookshop. But when war with Germany is declared their lives will never be the same again…
Alice has always been the ‘sensible’ one in her family – especially in comparison with her suffrage-supporting sister! But decidedly against her father’s wishes, she accepts a job at Foyles Bookshop; and for bookworm Alice it’s a dream come true.
But with the country at war, Alice’s happy world is shattered in an instant. Determined to do what she can, Alice works in the bookshop by day, and risks her own life driving an ambulance around bomb-ravaged London by night. But however busy she keeps herself, she can’t help but think of the constant danger those she loves are facing on the frontline…

I really enjoyed how these three women were represented. It was great to see them as strong independent women but it didn’t go too far and still stayed in context of the time it was set. All of them had jobs and their own struggles to deal with, and they were written so well.

Alice was definitely my favourite character – she was stronger than she realised and I really warmed to her as she had such a kind heart, but her tendency to overly worry definitely resonated with me! She was quietly insistent that she work at Foyles and as an ambulance driver, and I enjoyed this quiet rebellion against her father more than her sister Lily’s outright anger. Lily was still a brilliant character, providing the perfect counterpart to Alice’s more sensible persona, and her confidence at standing up to her father and doing whatever she wanted was great to read. The two girls represent perfectly that time when the suffragette movement was taking off, and the ways in which different women dealt with it. Despite Alice not being so outspoken about it and not attending the same rallies that Lily did, her whole being generally radiated a confidence and belief in change, and parts of the book, such as her discussion with Freddie, cement this further.

Alice’s relationship with Freddie was simply lovely. They were the couple that everyone wants to be but without being too sickly sweet. They were super cute, and his love for her was so obvious. Her struggle while he was away at war, and watching her deal with highs and lows by herself for fear of worrying him was really emotional, and I spent most of the book wishing for him to return and surprise her.

Luke, Alice’s father, was a fascinating character. His bitterness and unhappiness was so evident, but the cause of it was fairly unclear for ages into the book. His sudden shock into reality was emotional to follow, but also interesting to see his reaction to the realities of war. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to understand or care about the reactions of his family to his actions and comments but gradually throughout the book he is more and more understood and changed.

The other two girls, Victoria and Molly, were a great balance to Alice. Victoria’s grief at losing her parents and her struggle to maintain the house and a good life for her siblings was very hard to imagine, but Roberts wrote the situation beautifully. It was also interesting to read how Alice tried to help Victoria, and it was easy to see how the two girls clashed – it’s a hard situation to navigate, and it was understandable why Victoria didn’t want Alice’s help, so I thought that Roberts wrote this in a really realistic way. Molly was so much fun, her relationship with Tony was again a very realistic situation to be in, but it was interesting watching her inner conflict when it came to him.

I honestly loved this book so much, I felt it was realistic and heart-warming and I always enjoy books that are set during a war period but not directly about war. I love seeing the effect it has on people trying to live their normal lives, and overall it was a beautifully written book.

Credits:
The Foyle Bookshop Girls
Elaine Roberts
Aria, 1st June 2018