The Books I Read this Winter (so far…)

I have clearly been far too busy reading and writing to keep up with this blog… (!) So with all this talk of Christmas going on, it seems only fair to share some of the latest reading goodies devoured here during the past few months.

I have clearly been far too busy reading and writing to keep up with this blog… (!) So with all this talk of Christmas going on, it seems only fair to share some of the latest reading goodies devoured here during the past few months.

Starlight on Palace Pier by Tracy Corbett

Tracy’s latest novel is set in Brighton, close to my old stomping ground and this vibrant city certainly comes to life in ‘Starlight’.

After an injury de-rails her dream of becoming a professional dancer, Becca Roberts heads home to Brighton in search of a fresh start and finds herself the position of dance teacher at the run-down and crumbling Starlight Playhouse. On the plus side, her cousin Jodie has recently obtained a managerial post so they can work together, on the minus side (apart from the condition of the place and the sad lack of clients) the playhouse is owned by the mother of her old flame Tom. He won’t be around because he is a London lawyer and high flier… Or will he? It seems that Becca underestimated the challenges that she will have to face at the Starlight Playhouse.

Add in some slapstick and a thought-provoking subject or two, some irrepressible characters and the fact that the course of true love will never run smooth and there you have it. This is another hugely enjoyable read from Tracy Corbett. In Tracy’s books you can guarantee a healthy dose of humour and escapism. The characters are warm and funny, the dialogue sparkles and you know that romance is never far away. This novel is heart-warming and inspiring – a perfect antidote to a rainy day.


When I Find You by Emma Curtis

An unusual premis for this one, which was rather far-fetched at times – but equally refreshing and original.

Laura Macguire works in advertising and suffers from ‘face-blindness’ (prosopagnosia). She has strategies for coping with this condition at work and in her private life, but it also leads to difficult situations – none worse than when she leaves the office Christmas party with the wrong man, spends the night with him and in the morning after he has left has no idea of his identity.

So begins a complex domestic noir which explores the issues of sexual consent and human identity. Although I said: “Really?” to the novel/author on more than one occasion, it never failed to be totally gripping. Laura’s quest to find out who tricked and therefore raped her holds the story together, but a sub-plot cleverly interweaves with this until the two stories merge. I confess that I guessed both twists but I still think they were cleverly done and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this excellent novel.


Temptation to be Happy by Lorenzo Marone

I loved this. The narrator is 72 year-old Cesare Annunziata who considers himself a sociopath and who lives alone in an apartment block in Naples. His adult children Sveva (fierce and unhappily married) and his son Dante (gay and runs an art gallery) live nearby and he has several neighbours with whom he interacts, including The Cat Lady who lives opposite and a young couple nearby. He also has a ‘lady friend’ Rossana, who is a prostitute. The story centres around these (often hilarious) interactions and Cesare’s regrets and observations on his life to date.

Added to this mix of wit, philosophy and wistfulness is another darker story. Cesare discovers that his neighbour Emma is being physically abused by her violent husband. Cesare must break all the rules of a lifetime of not interfering or getting involved with other peoples’ lives in order to help her. But will this be enough? And what about his children and grandson? Can he break down the barriers to which he has always adhered  and become close to them at last?

Lorenzo Marone shows us in this novel that it is never to late to heal our relationships with our nearest and dearest and that we should do all we can to be happy. Highly recommended.


He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

Definitely my kind of book, this is a slow building psychological thriller with some excellent twists and turns. Reading a few reviews, I’m surprised that so many people don’t enjoy the alternating point of view – I really like this narrative device and find it gives me much more of an overall feel of the world being written about, as well as adding intrigue and variety.

On to the book. The text is divided up into parts that correlate to the stages of a total eclipse of the sun. I suppose this acts as a metaphor and the information given was vaguely interesting, but for me it served only to develop the character of Kit. In the end it explains a lot. In 1999, Kit and girlfriend Laura attend an eclipse festival in Cornwall where Laura witnesses a rape. She goes on to befriend the victim, Beth. After testifying at Beth’s trial, Laura and Kit think that it is all over. However, Beth won’t leave them alone. She finds out where they live and stays with them for a while, thoroughly insinuating herself into their lives and making them question whether she was a victim at all. To escape from Beth and the rapist who also seems to be pursuing them, Kit and Laura go off grid, even changing their names in an effort to escape the past.

But of course, you never can (at least in fiction). And as always there is more to the past than we were led to believe. The twist – when it eventually comes – is thoroughly convincing, although also rather depressing. I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down – the slow-burning tension is palpable. It’s clever – but not nice.


Without a Word by Kate McQuaile

The story begins well and at a fast pace. Orla and Lillian are chatting on Skype, the doorbell goes, Lillian goes to answer it… and never comes back. It’s a great set up for what is to come, is original and presents the mystery that dominates the story. What happened to Lillian – and is she alive or dead?

Fast forward 10 years and Ned the original detective is re-opening the investigation following a spate of poison pen letters. There is a lot of information about his personal life given – presumably to set up a sub-plot of his relationship with his ex-wife and kids – but this felt a bit overdone to me. Ned just wasn’t interesting enough to warrant so much space. However, the main mystery continues to hold the interest although the characters do seem to behave rather strangely at times.

I really enjoyed McQualie’s writing style which was fluent, readable and nicely conversational. And the tension remained at a good simmer. But unfortunately, I did guess the twists – mainly because there were so few alternatives on offer and other characters’ actions gave too many clues away. Nevertheless, I would still recommend this book and will be reading more by this talented author.


The Rest of Me by Katie Marsh

This is my first Katie Marsh read and I found it totally immersing. She is very good at writing about emotions and family life, and what the novel lacks in plot and twists it certainly makes up for in emotional content.

The main narrator is Alex – mother of Jenna and Izzy and wife of Sam. The story opens with Alex donating a kidney to Sam but this incredible act turns out to have consequences she never dreamed of. Instead of bringing them closer together, the family seem to be drifting further apart. Alex’s recovery is slow and painful and she finds that she can no longer be the controlled and organised ‘Supermum’ that she has always been up to this point. Moreover, the current situation is bringing back painful ghosts from the past that she has never fully acknowledged. It is difficult to witness this family unravelling.  Problems pile on top of one another and it seems to be harder than ever for them to reach out to each other and tell the truth about how they feel.

The family relationships and characters are very well drawn in this book and the issues feel recognisable and authentic. Izzy’s voice is convincing – her passion for football, her love for her family, her desperation when things go wrong – all these are handled with great sensitivity. The novel is well-written and – eventually – uplifting. Put simply, it just feels so real…


Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys

Ah. This is definitely my kind of story. I was drawn in by recommendations and by that fab cover – so decadent, so alluring… The main character is Eve, married to dull Clifford, trapped in a loveless marriage post-war living a pretty much joyless life where everything (including love) is still rationed. Enter a mysterious letter… Eve has an inheritance and she must go to the South of France to discover the nature of it and the reasons behind it.

This mystery holds the story together well, particularly because it avoids the predictable and the obvious. But the main joy of the book for me was the character of Eve and how she responds when she is thrown into an entirely different life on the French Riviera; a life of pleasure-seeking, sunshine and glamour which is a million miles away from her own experience in England. There is a sense of her becoming her own person at last as she expands her horizons and learns some important lessons about the present and the past – both of which impact on her future.

The setting is well-drawn and seductive. Eve is a character with whom it is easy to empathise and the other characters that populate the novel are nothing less than fascinating. Rachel Rhys’s writing style is fluent and engaging and the book is compelling. I loved it. Highly recommended.

© Rosanna Ley
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