‘Beach Read’ – Emily Henry

Beach Read has so many of the elements I’d expect of a light summer read, but there’s a glimpse of darkness within that actually makes this so much more engaging than you might expect it to be.

Our main character, January, has always felt like someone who believes in love and its power to transform us. She writes romance and has always looked for her happy ending. But when we see her things aren’t going quite to plan. She is struggling to write, she is grieving her father and yet trying to reconcile herself to the discovery that her father had a secret second life.

Upon arriving at his second hideaway home, January is nervous about what she’ll find. Nothing could prepare her for the discovery that her new neighbour is an old college acquaintance, Gus.

Like January Gus is a writer. But we quickly see that, like January, things in his life aren’t quite going to plan.

What follows is quite obvious – they slowly form a new bond, breaking down the barriers each had in place and eventually starting a relationship each has secretly harboured dreams of since they first met.

The interaction between these two was great fun. Seeing two such different outlooks and the little bet to each write a book in the style of the other gave it an interesting twist. Not everything runs smoothly, but it always feels like we’ll end up where we hope.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication. I loved it!

‘The Family Upstairs’ – Lisa Jewell

A curious read that was, for the early stages, confusing and – at times – irritating, but also which eventually had me astounded at the manipulative behaviour of the characters within its pages.

The story focuses on two different timeframes, and quite a large cast of characters though we only get detailed viewpoints from a number of them. On her 25th birthday Libby receives a letter that she had been prepared for – a letter from a solicitor representing her real parents. The letter tells her that because nobody else has come forward she now is the owner of a very large house in Chelsea worth millions.

Upon visiting the house, it’s clear to Libby that there’s a story to her past. She is determined to find out what she can…and it’s a story so strange that it’s almost hard to believe it.

Alongside Libby’s story we have the view of Henry, one of those living in this home before things went so horribly wrong. A wealthy family, mother charmed by a manipulative conman and a bizarre set of circumstances that leads to a most puzzling situation. Henry is not the most reliable of narrators, and when he appears in Libby’s present it definitely becomes more tense.

For me the thing that was most off-putting was the switching between the past and present, and the mysterious Lucy whose role didn’t become clear until a lot later on. However, if you don’t mind having to work that little bit harder to piece things together then you’ll probably really get your teeth into this.

It’s a fascinating psychological study, and though there’s plenty of questions left unanswered there’s more than enough here to satisfy most readers.

 

‘The Bromance Book Club’ – Lyssa Kay Adams

The Bromance Book Club was not what I expected at all. Fun, yes, but it also gave some interesting thoughts about relationships and how we interact.

The focus of our story is baseball player, Gavin, who is experiencing difficulty with his relationship. Having learned that ever since they had children his wife has been faking things, their relationship is in trouble. Thankfully, this is a feel good romance so we guess things aren’t as bad as they seem, and the characters just need a bit of a steer.

In this book the steer comes from a most unlikely place…the fellow teammates who all have weathered their own storms, and who have decided the way to sort things out is to look to romance novels.

A rather unusual idea, and there are some weirdly amusing moments. The excerpts from what becomes the guide to how to fix his marriage are cheesy, but it’s quite entertaining to see how these ideas are transferred to the modern times.

At its heart this book was really exploring attitudes to romance and relationships. It showed how honesty and trust are earned, and can help you through some pretty awful moments.

I found this good fun, perfect escapism, and have bought book two just to see whether it’s as good.

 

‘Into the Drowning Deep’ – Mira Grant

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

Into the Drowning Deep was a book that I was, initially, unsure about as whenever I think of mermaids I can’t shake my deep-seated sense of unease about things that we know little of, and old literary tales that talk of sirens and luring sailors to their death. Coupled with the focus on a group of scientists heading to try and establish whether or not mermaids exist, I really went into this with some reservations.

Initially this was a little hard to get into. The first zone, establishing the characters and the ideas behind their trip, was necessary but it didn’t really engage me as much as I’d hope. I couldn’t help but think this was not a story that was going to end well in some way – be it disappointment in a failed mission, or a truly failed mission that proved what they set out to but ended badly for those concerned. What we got was a mix of these ideas, but as the story picked up I was hooked.

We have an intriguing group on board. There’s a mix of scientists who have their own reasons for setting sail. There’s the company spokesperson who has close ties to someone on board, but who also has his own directives at odds with what many think they are there to do.

Once the ship was out on the water, however, Grant completely captivated me. The writing was tense, and the story was so well-constructed. I loved the creation of mood and the sense of foreboding that permeated everything taking place on board.

It wouldn’t be a monster story without the realisation that the thing you’re hunting might actually turn out to be smarter than you thought. It doesn’t take long before we start to realise that not everyone will survive this trip – and though I wasn’t overly keen on the detailed description as the sirens started their hunt, it always felt in keeping with the story and what we needed to know.

The mix of characters worked well in this for me. Throughout, I had a sense of big-screen action and there were some interesting moments that suggested there may be future exploration of the subject (there’s certainly one or two strands opened up that would allow this).

Having been recommended Feed by a colleague some time ago, I should have realised I was in a safe pair of hands here. I might never look at the sea in the same way, and it won’t make me feel any easier about travelling by boat, but this really would be a book I’d have no hesitation in recommending.

 

‘The Apartment’ – K.L. Slater

A quick thriller that draws you in despite the rather obvious holes in the story. Thanks to NetGalley for the entertainment, and I’d recommend this for anyone wanting an easy escapist read.

It’s clear from the outset that there is something weird being set-up. We don’t know exactly what, and there’s a few attempts to divert our attention until the author chooses to make their revelation.

Our main character, Freya, tells us she’s always been used to relying on herself and that she doesn’t trust easily. So, her decision to trust a random stranger who offers her a cheap apartment in a pretty exclusive area of London seems odd. We are told she’s recently widowed,so perhaps this could excuse her seeming lack of judgment.

Misgivings aside, Freya and her daughter move in. Determined to make it work, Freya overlooks the weird things that happen and the strange behaviour of her landlord. She clings to the friendship of the pleasant old lady who lives below them, and who strikes up a friendship of sorts with the young daughter.

From early on we are aware someone is watching these two. This someone has a plan, and we know it’s linked to a past experiment carried out by someone with the same surname as Freya’s new landlord. We’re suspicious, and I was keen to see just when/how the full story would be revealed.

If I’m being entirely honest this probably wouldn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but if you’re prepared to overlook these elements you’ll find plenty here to entertain you.

 

‘Here is the Beehive’ – Sarah Crossan

I’ve loved the YA Sarah Crossan books I’ve read, and couldn’t wait to get into this adult novel.

While the style is unquestionably Crossan, and there are some interesting moments, it didn’t capture my attention in quite the way I’d hoped it would.
Our story is of Ana, a married woman with two children, who has been having an affair with Connor. Over the course of the story we learn how the affair started, how each acted during it, some key moments within it and the part Ana played in it ending.

We focus throughout on Ana’s perspective, and see everyone through her lens. For me this meant I never felt I fully trusted what I was being told because there were so many potential alternative responses/reactions to events.

The fact that we meet Ana as she is talking with Connor’s wife to discuss his will immediately intrigued me. She is mourning someone who was a huge part of her life, but nobody knew. She is grieving, but has to hide it.

Aside from the situation she’s in, which almost compels you to feel sympathy for Ana, there was little to like about her. She befriended someone in order to try and allay her grief, and her conduct throughout the time of the affair seems pretty poor. She seems to have been oblivious to this, caught up in her own perceived suffering.

All in all, this was well-written and definitely had some emotional pull. My own feelings for the narrator unfortunately got in the way.

Thanks to the publishers and edelweiss for granting me access to this prior to publication.

 

‘My Dark Vanessa’ – Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa takes place over two key years – in 2000, when Vanessa is fifteen and studying at a prestigious boarding school, and in 2017, when Vanessa is working a dead-end job at a local hotel and trying to avoid contact with a former student. The thing that unites them…Jacob Strane, Vanessa’s English teacher.

For her debut Russell takes on a story that is always going to be difficult to present without alienating readers. A sexual relationship between teacher and pupil will, rightly, never be regarded as anything other than wrong – and the attempts to examine the psychological dynamics of this relationship from Vanessa’s viewpoint did little for me other than highlight the manipulative behaviour of Strane and the damage caused to this girl, and others.

Vanessa recalls the relationship from its starting moment with unusual clarity. From the outset there’s a sense that, on some level, Vanessa recognises this is wholly inappropriate yet she seems determined to romanticise her experience of being groomed and raped by the person who was meant to be one of those protecting her. The author allows Vanessa this, but the construction of the novel means we never see it as anything other than a deceptive and manipulative grooming of a rather naive young woman.

The detail given to Vanessa’s relationship was, perhaps necessarily, explicit but it did not make for comfortable reading. Nor should it! There were so many points in this that I wanted someone to dig that little deeper or act on their evident sense of misgiving about the rumours they’d heard or things they’d seen that just felt off. So many people seemed suspicious of Vanessa’s closeness to Strane, yet did nothing. Hiding in the open seems to be quite the feature of such relationships, and it was definitely interesting to note the changes over the two time periods in how someone like Strane was regarded.

Few characters on the periphery of this relationship come out of it well, and to reflect on your own part in such an event is something people have to deal with in these situations. However, it’s Vanessa’s story so hers is the primary focus.

One of the things that I found slightly off-putting about this (apart from what felt like the gratuitous depiction of their sexual relationship) was what felt like the over-reliance on Lolita and the continual references to Literature that purported to mimic what Vanessa experiences. If you look hard enough you can probably find something to support what narrative you want to spin. For me it was just yet another nail in the coffin highlighting the various techniques used by this predatory male time and time again.

Ultimately, I felt myself feeling quite hostile at times towards Vanessa as she seemed so determined to paint herself as powerful within this experience. I’m all for recognising the growing maturity of someone of this age, and there are definitely questions to consider about the extent to which we should ignore a teen’s growing self-awareness. By the end however, as we see Vanessa start to unravel the complexity of her feelings about the relationship that formed such a monumental part of her life, I came to see her in quite a different way.

This was not a hopeful book. It doesn’t particularly resolve anything, but it certainly puts the reader in a position to examine a story they may feel they’ve heard before in a different way. It certainly will get people talking, which I think is a starting point.

 

‘Glass Dolls’ – D.E. White

I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for my thoughts. Having just finished, my head is spinning. There are a lot of coincidences in this book, and it’s painful to think such evil could go under the radar so easily, but this was a story that really never let up.

The main focus for our story is Dove, a police officer who has clearly experienced some trauma in the line of duty. We first encounter her as she is called in to examine a body. This body is of a young woman, found entombed in a solid glass case. Immediately we are told that this killing bears many of the hallmarks of a previous case – that has been solved, and the guy responsible is dead. So, who is responsible for this copycat?

It’s important to not have too much detail before reading this. The glass doll case and the links to earlier events are clearly important, and feature heavily. As does the background information about Dove and her family.

It doesn’t take long before we start to realise that Dove and her family are more deeply involved in these events than you might expect. As more and more details are unearthed, we are let into some of the past of the family. Each new revelation ramps up the tension we feel for the current situation. By the end I wasn’t surprised by anything we learned, but I was left with a deep sense of admiration for these women…

 

‘Swipe Right’ – Stephie Chapman

Thank you to NetGalley, Hera books and Stephanie Chapman for giving me that warm fuzzy feeling where you don’t dare hope for that ending…but really really want that ending.

Our two main characters are Ollie and Fran. Both go for an interview. It’s clear, from the off, that these two have a spark. But will it ever be more? When they both end up working in the company we do wonder. Everyone around them seems to think they make a great couple – but each has a partner.

For seemingly ages Fran and Ollie walk the line of friends who quite fancy each other. It’s all very When Harry Met Sally without the annoying leads, a lot more alcohol and no fake-orgasm scene.

There’s a warmth between the two characters that seems very genuine. They open up to each other in a way that you can’t help but envy…but nothing happens.

Hang fire. Don’t get disheartened. Sometimes you just need to wait for the right time to put everything in place. Of course, it might not happen – but that really would have been a miserable read.

 

‘Different Seasons’ – Stephen King

There’s something reassuring about King and though, on occasion, he veers into something off-putting this was a sublime collection of novellas that hooked me from the start.

The Shawshank Redemption immediately had me recalling the movie, which really is so well done. The voice of the narrator draws you in. We’re shown some awful things but you are unlikely to ever feel anything other than admiration for these figures. The gradual revelation of what Andy did to escape prison defies belief…but there was a definite part of me that really admired him for this. Such a small thing, but the optimistic ending about him finding his key to freedom in a hayfield near Buxton always makes me smile (more now I’m living in Hayfield, only a few miles from Buxton). Coincidence? I like to think not.

Apt Pupil begins with a seemingly clearcut American hero. Yet behind Todd’s golden boy facade lies a darkness that is utterly terrifying. This young boy ingratiated himself into the life of an old man…but the man is not quite what he seems. The old man in this story is a former Nazi camp officer who has evaded justice. Todd wants stories. What drives someone to do such horrific things? We’re never sure, but this goes to awful places. Very uncomfortable reading, but fascinating.

The Body is perhaps best known for the child stars that acted in the movie adaptation of the story. When they learn that the body of a missing child has been left on nearby train tracks the group decide to set out on a journey to see it for themselves. A story truly evoking a bygone era. The sense of children crossing into maturity is carefully presented here.

The last story focuses on a bizarre gentleman’s club that few are invited to. They meet regularly and are entertained by a regular telling of stories. We follow our main character through his first experience at the club, and then come to a most unusual story…that of a young woman who, disregarding social convention, is determined to give birth no matter what her personal circumstances.