‘The Thursday Murder Club’ – Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club are a group of four older friends who, thanks to a determination to keep their minds in tip-top shape, have a weekly meeting to mull over old police cases. They have to call themselves the Japanese Opera group so nobody disturbs them, but they are a hoot.
Elizabeth is, without a doubt, their leader. Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim may all be getting on in years, but they have a glorious dogged determination (perhaps, bloody-mindedness) to get to the bottom of crimes unsolved. They use their resources – not always legal – to investigate.
When the body of a local developer is found in the kitchen of his home, the police are keen to know what has happened…but The Thursday Murder Club have taken it upon themselves to also try and work out what happened.
Watching this group run rings round the police as they unearth secrets was great fun. Of course it might not be wholly plausible, but it was genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.
As the story progressed it became clear there was a lot more going on than we’d been told initially. There are a series of mysteries, some stretching back years, and it was fascinating to see how the group and the police put their heads together to solve the various strands.
A very pleasant surprise, and I am already looking forward to reading the second. I’m pretty sure that now the group is established, the murder element will move to the fore and be more of a feature. I can’t wait!


‘The Family Tree’ – Steph Mullin

Sending off your DNA and learning you were adopted would be a shock for anyone. But when you’re contacted by the FBI because your DNA matches someone in their files…that would haunt you.

Liz is our main character here, and when she gets this news she is – understandably – reeling. She wants answers about her family and, of course, we want to know what the connection is.

What Liz gets told is that her DNA is a match for the person they think is the Tri-State killer, a person of interest for over forty years. He takes pairs of young women, keeps them for nine months and then kills them. According to the FBI the results hint strongly at a link between Liz’s family and this person.

Getting to know someone you’ve only just met is tough at the best of times. Knowing you were adopted because your mother was a drug addict makes it harder to ask questions. When you suspect your kindly new uncle might be responsible for over twenty murders…what do you do?

There were moments in this that were genuinely terrifying. Reading about the girls taken leant a chilling personal element to the story…and I was ready for all manner of bizarre occurrences to allow this to play out.

What I wasn’t remotely prepared for was the ending! Talk about a surprise. That creeping ominous sense that this was not over had the hairs on the back of my neck prickling…

I’m hugely grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this before publication.


‘Pride and Premeditation’ – Tirzah Price

There will be readers who dislike this as it’s so different from Jane Austen’s story, and then there will be others who applaud this and take delight in the sense of familiarity while looking for the modern twists. I definitely fall into the latter category.
Pride and Premeditation focuses on Lizzie Bennett and her determination to convince her father that she had what it takes to become a barrister. In this modern version, Lizzie becomes embroiled in a murder investigation, determined to prove that Bingley did not commit murder and that someone else hatched a plan to bring him down.
From the opening pages I found myself loving this. The style is Austen-like and offers a commentary – of sorts – on the society Lizzie is judged by. There’s a few anomalies but these didn’t impede my enjoyment at all.
Great fun…though for readers who don’t know the original it might create something of a shock!


‘The Divines’ – Ellie Eaton

The Divines is, I have to say, a curious read. A dramatic opening, then a lengthy exploration of the build-up to that moment interspersed with moments from our narrator’s present resulting in a perplexing ending that had me scratching my head rather.

A boarding school environment and somewhat toxic friendships were the key elements. Our main character Josephine looks back on her time at the school with detachment, and I could never tell whether her memories were deliberately obtuse or whether she was covering something.

I found the way the girls were described rather intimidating if I’m being honest. As an adult thinking about the behaviour of the girls collectively I wonder how on earth nobody questioned this. As such, I couldn’t help wonder to what extent her recollections were entirely trustworthy.

The book read rather like a puzzle that I still don’t feel I’ve solved. The ending casts a very new light on events, and I think this may be one to read again to see if I missed something obvious or if this mood is deliberate.


‘How to Save a Life’ – Eva Carter

No matter how well trained you are, knowing something in theory and being able to apply it practically are very different things. Nobody can know for sure how they’ll cope in a crisis…and having read this, I’d have to pray never to be put in that situation because it leads to a lot of pain and misery (or at least that’s how it felt).

Tim and Kerry have been best friends for years. They are celebrating New Year with friends as they reach the end of school. Kerry thinks Tim might be about to kiss her. But her eye is drawn to golden boy Joel, the town’s shining light/potential Premiership footballer. He has collapsed on the floor. With only her cadet training to rely on, Kerry attempts CPR. For eighteen minutes she works on Joel, determined to save the boy she’s always had a crush on. She expects Tim, who has also applied for medical school, to help. He doesn’t. He’s frozen, and doesn’t do what he needs to until the last minute…by which time everyone assumes he’s saved Joel. He doesn’t tell the truth.

And so begins eighteen years following these three around as they deal with the aftermath of that night.

The story takes us through the minutiae of their lives following Joel’s dramatic rescue. We watch them deal with life and all the things thrown at them, or not.
None of them are happy. Nobody seems to be getting what they want and they hover round each other, each blaming the others for how their lives turn out. People come and go from their lives and yet the focus is always on this bizarre triangle.

Unfortunately, all three characters make decisions that are infuriating. They are selfish and hurt those around them. We can sense how things might be different but just have to watch them orbiting each other, butting heads and getting frustrated by their inability to see a way out of their situation. Eventually, we assume things will be resolved but it felt like a long slog to reach that point. I’m sure there’ll be many readers who’ll find this life-affirming and heart-warming, who’ll fall in love with these three and their experiences and finish the book feeling they’ve been given the answers to how to save their own life. That wasn’t my experience.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication.

‘Madam’ – Phoebe Wynne

If something sounds too good to be true…it usually is. When Rose is offered a job teaching Classics at the prestigious Caldonbrae Hall she isn’t sure whether she’s qualified for the position. As a single young woman with an ailing mother and a father’s shameful secret she is, albeit unwittingly, proving herself to be the perfect candidate.

Arriving at the school she has many questions, but every attempt to learn more about her new role and the environment she has joined is stone-walled. That should have been her first clue that things weren’t quite what she thought.

When, only a couple of weeks into term, the entire upper sixth are taken to London and the students she does get to teach take more interest in baiting her than learning, that should have set some alarm bells ringing. In fact, from the outset there are so many instances of strange occurrences that anyone with half a brain would now this place is not what it seems. It takes Rose a considerable time to start to question what she’s walked into.

The staff and girls at Caldonbrae are unsettling. The wrongness of the situation is evident from early on, but we don’t find out what is happening until considerably later on. Attempts are made by many to justify the environment…and the classical allusions offer an interesting exploration of the ideas and characters.

There is a rather dramatic near-ending and a small glimmer of hope for Rose. Unfortunately, the detail slipped in at the end implies, quite bleakly, that when such behaviour is institutionalised as it is here, it will be nigh impossible to tackle. That’s depressing.


‘Project Hail Mary’ – Andy Weir

As part of my attempts to read out of my comfort zone I decided to try Project Hail Mary. I was reticent, wondering if I’d be blinded by science or whether I’d be engaged by such a story…pleased to say I needn’t have worried.

Our story is not straightforward and there is a lot of science (which I followed in a rather detached clueless way) but I found myself completely invested in the story of Ryland Grace.

When we first encounter Grace he is just waking up after being in an enforced coma. He discovers he’s on a spaceship, the two companions with him are dead and his memory is rather muddled.

Of course I had questions, and over the course of the novel we learn exactly how he came to be here and what his mission is.

The premise that Earth needs to be saved and a team have been sent on a suicide mission is pretty obvious. The sun’s energy is being removed and, unless something is done, the Earth will experience a major extinction event.

I found myself liking the to and fro of this, being given details as Grace recalled them so we learn relatively slowly about what is happening. However, as I found myself wondering where on earth this story would go we got a rather unexpected arrival and the book took off in a wonderful direction.

Without giving too much away, Rocky was – for me – what made this book. We were offered a plausible scenario to introduce some complexity to what could have been an otherwise bleak story. The dynamic between Rocky and Grace offered some interesting exploration of the human psyche and how we communicate. It lent a very real element to what could have, otherwise, felt a rather sterile read.

Not at all what I expected, and I’m pleased to have enjoyed something so different to my usual fare.


‘The Prison Healer’ – Lynette Noni

I’d requested The Gilded Cage (the second in the series) before realising that it was part of a series…cue a hasty purchase of book one, and now I’m feverishly hoping that I’ll get my request authorised as waiting until October will be tough.
There were elements to The Prison Healer that were reminiscent of other fantasy series moments/characters, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and even though a fair few of my predictions came to be correct this was a book I couldn’t put down once I’d started.

When we first meet Kiva we learn of the day her family are attacked, and she is taken to Zalindov. Ten years later we discover she is still in Zalindov prison, her father has died and she has found herself working as the prison healer. Her life is tough, she is under constant pressure and she dreams of escaping and finding her remaining family.

The story centres on the events after the so-called Rebel Queen Tilda is captured and brought to prison. She is to face a barbaric torture – the four trials – and all Kiva knows is that she has been tasked with keeping this prisoner alive so that rescue can come.

Without giving important details away, Kiva vows to do whatever she needs to in order to protect those she cares about. She takes on the sickly queen’s trials herself…and though nobody has ever survived these four trials Kiva is determined to give it her best shot.

Of course we know these trials are a device to create tension and that Kiva will, ultimately, succeed. She is forced to rely on help from some new friends – which is a tough call for a girl who has had to be so self-reliant. The tension came from the little details that were revealed through the process, and the hints at the bigger picture that was largely ignored throughout the book. There is a rather shocking revelation at the end (though it was nice to have my predictions confirmed in some aspects) and it has made me even more desperate to get my hands on an ARC of book two. I can’t wait to see what is in store next…


‘The Forest of Stars’ – Heather Kassner

As a foray into fantasy this would be a great starting point. Darkness blends with magic, in this world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Louisa is only twelve when her mother dies. When she talks of love bugs eating her mother we know that things are rather different here. Left to fend for herself, Louisa is in a dangerous position. She fears anyone finding out her secret. She fears being alone. She yearns to find her father, who disappeared years ago. The only thing Louisa knows about him is that, like her, he can float.

When Louisa finds a ticket for The Carnival of the Stars she feels that this will be the place to go…a world where strange is welcomed. Can it help her on her quest?
What Louisa finds at the Carnival is unexpected. She finds friendship and security. She feels a hitherto unknown sense of belonging…and is reluctant to leave, even though she knows she should.

When strange accidents start to befall members of the Carnival Louisa recognises that someone is manipulating their collective magic. She, along with her new friends, is determined to learn who is behind it.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.


‘Second First Impressions’ – Sally Thorne

Having had a bit of a thriller binge of late, this was a light-hearted romance that was just the tonic required.

Our primary focus was Ruthie, the daughter of a preacher, who is only twenty-five but definitely acts like an old soul in a young woman’s body. She works in a retirement village and as we get to know more about her, we see that she is her own worst enemy.

At the point in time our book starts, Ruthie has been left to manage the office. She finds herself caught in a strange situation…where she wants to take the next step to finding romance and moving her life forward though she lacks the impetus to do so. Thankfully she has her temp, Mel, who takes it upon herself to give Ruthie a helping hand. This gets something of a spanner in the works with the arrival of Teddy Prescott, the son of the new owner, who has his own demons to lay to rest.

Of course their first meeting is less than satisfactory. We know from the outset they are attracted to each other and what was nice to see was that everyone around them could also see it.

There were some incidental storylines running alongside this that provided a little light relief.