Winter Book Reviews 2016

Is it just me or do lots of books with lots of stars end up being a bit disappointing? (No names mentioned). Well, it’s the end of November and time to think about items with lots of printed pages that can go into Christmas stockings and introduce the lucky recipients to the wonders of lots of different worlds. Here’s my latest recommended reading list of books which were not disappointing in the least…

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

Yes, it’s another gem from Lisa Jewell. (Apologies). Alice, a brave, blowsy and generous mother of three and shelterer of canines, finds a man on the beach. He is suffering from amnesia and she feels sorry for him and takes him in (did I mention she was brave and generous?). He seems like a nice guy and Alice is drawn to him, but she knows nothing about his real life – and at the moment neither does he. Gradually things come back to him. He could be married, he could (he thinks) have killed someone. Great… Both characters are warm, believable and rather lovely.

In scenario 2, Lily from the Ukraine reports her husband missing. She barely knows him (sounds familiar) and soon she finds out things she would really rather have not known at all. But where is he? Could he be the man on the beach – or is that way too obvious?

Enter scenario 3 (I love the structure of this book). This is a past story which introduces Gray and Kirsty (brother and sister) and a plot line which will reveal the truth. Lisa Jewell is very good at keeping her readers guessing, which makes this book as compelling as ever. Her characterisation as always is excellent and there is something about this brilliant novel which makes it impossible to forget. My favourite read of 2016. Highly recommended.

Falling by Julie Cohen

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’m a big JC fan. She’s just so good – there’s a natural quality about Julie’s writing that pulls you in and she tackles thought-provoking subjects too with great sensitivity. Looking at the cover of Falling I would have guessed this to be a fairly light romantic comedy, but of course it’s not. There is romance, there is love, but at the heart of this novel there are three women from three different generations all with a secret and all falling – in different ways (not just in love). That’s the concept and although it seems fairly simple, the writing is complex as ever. Usually I fall for a JC novel right from the start, but this one was a slow starter for me. I quite like that though. The author gradually develops the three characters of Honor (I adored Honor)  Jo (slightly irritating, but maybe I was seeing her through Honor’s eyes) and Lydia (Cohen does teenager POVs very well). OK, there were a few slight implausibilities (the gorgeous neighbour next door for one) but who really cares? The three journeys were all very well handled, and so compelling to read. Julie Cohen has great insight as a writer. And at the end..? There was a tear. Yet another brilliant Julie Cohen book. How does she do it?? Highly recommended.

What Doesn’t Kill You by Laura James

This book is set in Dorset – it’s part of the Chesil Beach series, so I’m already hooked in by wanting to read more about my favourite landscape… But there’s a lot more to this book than first appears. This is a romance, yes, but it’s a dark one and while Griff and Evie battle to keep their relationship alive, other compelling issues are being played out; issues of abuse and self-harm, guilt and loss, which make for an intense and sometimes challenging reading experience. But these subjects are handled with compassion and integrity, and while the book is dark, it is also positive and uplifting too. As the title suggests: what doesn’t kill you makes you strong (and more interesting); this is also a story of survival.

Personally, I love multi-viewpoint novels as this allows the author (and reader) to get involved in different perspectives and can make a novel more complex and insightful (IMO). Laura James makes good use of this technique. I liked the character of ‘gruff Griff’, a man who wants to save others and his relationship with the woman he loves. Evie is torn by the secret she holds which creates such a wedge in her marriage and Tess is utterly believable. A great cast of characters and a compelling storyline. Well written and highly recommended.

The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall

Have just realised how many of my favourite books feature the sea. Coincidence? Nah! Emylia Hall’s sea is in Cornwall, and an enchanting, atmospheric cove it is too, capturing all that is intriguing and beautiful about that county. When Robyn’s parents first move to Cornwall, she is not so sure, but she is soon seduced by surfing, almost drowns (but is saved by local boy Jago) and proceeds to fall in love with the place. And with Jago? Well, that would be telling.

I usually want a bit more from a book than romance, character journey and an atmospheric setting, but I’m happy to make an exception in this case, because the author is so good at those three elements. The drama and moodiness of Cornwall comes over in all its colours and textures in the richness and vibrancy of Emylia Hall’s prose, and the romance and emotion is well handled and doesn’t sink into cliché which is admirable. I found the characters authentic and likeable too and was especially impressed by the descriptions of Robyn’s artistic career. The story of their journeys is well-paced (and actually quite a relief after all the domestic noir I was reading this summer) with lots of twists and turns and obstacles, but perhaps the real star of this show is Cornwall. This book will make you want to go there – even in the winter! A lovely and very enjoyable read from an author who is completely new to me. I will be reading more. Highly recommended.

I hope you get at least one of these lovelies in your Christmas stocking… Enjoy! x

© Rosanna Ley
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