Winter Chillers

The Image of Her by Sonia Velton ****

Stella and Connie have never met and never will. So why is Stella stalking Connie’s every move on social media?

These two characters share the narration of this novel. We learn about Connie’s life in Dubai with Mark and their two children. Connie is living the ex-pat lifestyle but with some guilt and when she learns how badly some of the local women are being treated by their ‘madams’ she is determined to try to help. Meanwhile there are rifts appearing in her marriage – she and Mark seems to be drifting apart.

Stella is suffering from a past trauma. We know she had to care for a narcissistic mother with dementia, and we know she lives for the delivery and returns of goods she orders online but never keeps. We know she is damaged… But the rest of her complex story unfolds gradually as the novel progresses. There is an underlying mystery at the core, which is both cleverly constructed and ultimately satisfying.

This book is beautifully written and the story had me gripped right through to the poignant ending. Highly recommended.


French Braid by Anne Tyler ***

In French Braid, Anne Tyler introduces us to Serena and her boyfriend James having a conversation (almost an argument) about the lack of closeness in Serena’s family. Tyler then moves seamlessly back in time to when Serena’s mother Lily, her sister Alice and her brother David were young children. Most of this is in the viewpoint of Mercy, Serena’s grandmother.

As her children grow older, Mercy decides to spend more time in her art studio and away from her husband Robin. In fact, she intends to move into the studio entirely, because she wants to be free to do whatever she likes whenever she likes, although the fact that she no longer lives at home is never mentioned by her family.

This is a family saga written as only Tyler can write it; it is by turns fascinating, thought-provoking and profound. Sometimes it feels as if the story is going nowhere – but that’s because it’s a slice of life rather than a story and that’s how life is…


Reputation by Sarah Vaughan ***

Emma Webster is a hard-working politician who holds various causes close to her heart, for example, the issue of revenge porn. Her marriage to David was, we learn, a casualty of her ambition and her career and he is now married to their daughter Flora’s piano teacher Caroline, who was also a friend of Emma’s. Most of the time Flora lives with David and Caroline, though she also stays with Emma, and the relationships between all of them seem amicable enough.

However, things swiftly begin to unravel for Emma. She is threated by one of her constituents and she is viciously trolled on social media. She makes an error of judgement with a journalist she trusted, Mike Stokes, and that is only the start.

Things are also unravelling for Flora. She is being bullied at school, until, in retaliation, she too makes an error in judgement which backfires for both her and Emma.

Most of the book is concerned with the resulting court case. Emma is on trial for murder and we gradually learn what happened on the night in question, as witnesses emerge and more information is revealed.

Will she be convicted or will she be found not guilty? What really happened and who sent the message that led to someone’s death? These are the questions that kept this reader interested and gripped, although at times the court case felt rather long and drawn out and the final denouement was hard to believe. However, this was still an enjoyable read.


Saving Missy by Beth Morrey ****

Missy (Millicent) Carmichael is 79, lives in Stoke Newington, London and is very lonely. Her children have left home – her son Alastair who she adores, has moved to Australia with his wife and son, and she is estranged from her daughter after a big row. She misses Leo, her husband, and she is still living in their large family home by herself. She knows that she needs to get out and about and she needs to do something to tell her son about in order to justify an email, and so she goes to the park nearby. Here she meets Sylvie and Angela and her son Otis, who reminds Missy of young Arthur, her grandson. Little does she know that these women are going to change her life for the better. She suddenly has friends, and a reason to leave the house. She even agrees to look after a dog and finds herself a job in the library. Missy’s life becomes full and busy.

The story is told in first person (Missy’s perspective) and this was highly enjoyable as she has a dry and cutting sense of humour. I’m not generally a fan of ‘uplifting fiction’ (not sure what that says about me) but the characterisations here lifted the book into a humorous, observant and thought-provoking read. There is also sadness and poignancy though as Missy reflects and remembers events from her life, but yes, the book is uplifting too…

This all makes for an emotional and highly enjoyable read. My Book of the Season and not chilling at all…


My Darling Daughter by JP Delaney **

Fifteen years ago, Susie Jukes gave a baby up for adoption – although later we discover that the situation was more complicated than that. Since then, however, Susie has turned her life around and she now has a music career, and is happily married to Gabe, a successful musician, who lost his own daughter Leah to leukaemia some years earlier. The one thing that would make their life complete would be to have a child together, but after several miscarriages, this still hasn’t happened for them.

Out of the blue, Susie’s daughter contacts her on social media. Now called Anna (rather than Sky – the name Susie gave her) she asks to meet. She tells Susie that she is unhappy with her adoptive parents and Susie and Gabe feel compelled to help her.

However, in Delaney’s books, things are rarely what they first seem, and so it is with Anna/Sky. The story is told in short punchy chapters through the viewpoints of Susie, Gabe and Anna/Sky respectively. These very short chapters do drive the story forward well but their brevity sometimes gives the reader no chance to get involved with the viewpoint character and this for me was a disappointment. There is no doubt that this is a twisty – and often unsettling – read and it is thought-provoking too on the subjects of adoption and abuse. But… although I am a huge fan of JPD, this was not one of my favourites.


The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn ***

An epic story set mostly in Dorset and France. The action begins in 1920 as three year-old Christabel is about to be presented with a ‘new mother’ her stepmother Rosalind. Unfortunately, her father Jasper cannot get over the death of his first and beloved wife and Rosalind doesn’t much like children, so Christabel is left to her own  devices which include having exciting adventures and wishing for a brother. The author whisks us confidently through these years of Christabel’s growing up, moving seamlessly between the perspectives of Jasper, Rosalind, Jasper’s brother Willoughby, Christabel, her sister Flossie and others besides. Christabel gets her brother and as they all grow up, we enter the war years and the story focuses on this and continues until the war is over.

The children’s upbringing is unusual, to say the least. When they construct their ‘whalebone theatre’ from a beached whale, the title of the book starts making sense. All three children are highly imaginative and the theatre is important to them, not just because it takes them away from reality. In the book we meet many other eccentric characters, including Taras the Russian artist and his ‘savage‘ children and a whole host of party-loving Londoners.  But ultimately, this is Christabel’s story; a story of love, loss and of people who are different and who don’t fit in.

The adult characters are all flawed and believable, the research is excellent, the author’s style is fresh and innovative and I enjoyed reading the book very much.

© Rosanna Ley
website by digitalplot
hosting by IY e-Solutions