‘The Last Passenger’ – Will Dean

4.5 stars…Will Dean must be some kind of twisted genius as this was a book that was genuinely hard to put down even though the content was truly psychologically tormenting.

Our main character Caz is headed out on a cruise with her boyfriend. She thinks he might propose while they’re travelling, but nothing prepares her for what happens.
On her first morning she wakes up to find her room empty and no sign of Pete. When she sets foot outside her cabin she notes an eerie silence and all the other cabin doors are propped open. As she wanders the ship the grim reality becomes apparent. She is the only passenger left on board.

Very quickly Caz – and we the reader – are let in on what’s happening. While I’d like to think there’s something fundamentally decent about humanity that would make this impossible, the way it is executed is horribly plausible. Forcing us to watch as the unmanned ship continues its journey meant a number of difficult decisions and some genuinely scary moments as it was hard to tell just how far things would be taken.

It was impossible not to feel for those we encountered along the way, and the revelations during the book built far more nuanced characters than I was expecting. It would be hard not to consider the psychological impact of such manipulation, and there were no real answers given to this. Upon immediately finishing the book I was left open-mouthed at the ending, convinced this was one step beyond, but it certainly offered a different take on those thorny topics raised by the book.

‘Landlines’ – Raynor Winn

In this third book we see Moth’s condition has worsened. He struggles to prune the trees in the orchard, and feels unbalanced when walking. Having previously seen the restorative power of walking, the decision is made to undertake a walk they’ve always dreamed of.

Perhaps when you are at your low points, and feel there’s nothing to lose, you can find the inner strength to do something that might – by any stretch of the imagination – seem crazy. However, when packaged in this way the walk from Scotland to Cornwall does offer a chance to reconnect with nature, the opportunity to reassess what is important and the time to test one’s resolve in the face of some very challenging circumstances.

As someone who enjoys walking I truly admire what Raynor and Moth have done. As someone who also detests midges, sore feet and heavy rain, I read most of this book feeling I was reading about some kind of personal hell. 

Throughout the book I found myself quite taken by the obvious love of nature and the focus on how we as a race are slowly destroying the world we inhabit. The signs are there of damage to our environment, but these are signs that we are not in a position to heed while engrossed in the small stuff that occupies us so much of the time. Having walked some of the areas they cover in their route, I also found myself recollecting my own walks and how they’ve impacted me. The little connections made along the way – particularly when taking place immediately after COVID lockdown regulations were being eased – were touching, but each of these moments also highlights the shifting attitudes towards walkers/the countryside that seem to be taking place.

It left me with a definite sense of wanting to finally get round to reading The Salt Path – clearly a defining read for many, though each seems to take their own ideas from it – but I’m also wondering if buying husband a copy of this to read might be a mistake! The bug will hit him hard after reading this

‘Chaos Theory’ – Nic Stone

Chaos Theory is the story of two very different young people who randomly meet, and who find themselves irrevocably changed by the encounter.

Andy has a drink problem. As a top student and son of a woman running for Congress, image is everything. But what people don’t know is what is hidden behind closed doors. As the story progresses we learn about Andy and what has led him to be driving drunk and crashing into a tree.

Shelbi knows of Andy but has few friends in school and keeps herself to herself, for good reason. When she lets people close, she gets hurt.

In spite of the barriers between these two, Andy and Shelbi get to know one another. Their friendship is something of a lifeline for each of them, and it was touching to see the way they tried to control things that were hard to control.

I don’t want to say more, as learning about these two and their situations as we progress through the story was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book. There were strands of the story that felt rather limited, though I can see how they filled their purpose. The insight into what both these teens experience is important, and it certainly encourages you to consider your own stance on how we treat people who are having issues with their mental health.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication.

‘Strange Sally Diamond’ – Liz Nugent

This really is a book that I can see being much talked about on its March release, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to meet Sally Diamond before she ventures into the world.

From the opening chapter I was desperate to find out more about our main character. Socially isolated, Sally has lived in rural Ireland with her father since her mother’s stroke. She has her routines, does her best to avoid talking to people and follows her father’s wishes when she burns him as part of the household rubbish following his death.

It’s clear from the opening that Sally is unconventional. Her actions bring about unexpected interest…and reveal that Sally was not who she thought and that her past is a more troubled one than you could have imagined.

I don’t want to reveal any of the details that we learn about Sally, but my heart broke for her as she learns the truth about her experience and finds herself dealing with situations that are so far removed from her comfort zone.

This was an ambitious book. How realistic the portrayal of the characters and their situations is, I wouldn’t dare to comment on, but I can’t see anyone being unmoved by the story that begins with Strange Sally.

‘How to Sell a Haunted House’ – Grady Hendrix

How to Sell a Haunted house takes us on a journey that forces us to confront our fears. While there is an emphasis on horror – with some scenes horribly visual – I felt the primary focus of this book was to examine grief and how we deal with it.
Louise is called to her parents’ home when they are both killed. Forced to interact with her brother, Mark, we quickly see that this family has been used to keeping secrets. Though neither wants to admit it, they need each other if they are to be in with a chance of selling the house.

When Louise returns to her childhood home she has to confront her fear of her mother’s puppets. Taking up every spare space these puppets remind her of all the elements of their relationship that she disliked. There is one puppet however that needs to be dealt with if they are ever going to free themselves of the things hanging on. This puppet seems vengeful and determined to punish them. The question is, can they survive the experience?

How to Sell a Haunted House was not a book I could say I enjoyed reading. The puppet element unsettled me, and the sad history of the family made it very clear that so much of the horror they faced was of their own making. Whether you are terrified by the graphic events as they fight this spirit will be decided by the extent to which you believe the concept is feasible. Regardless, you cannot help but be affected by the way this family are touched by grief.

‘You Be Mother’ – Meg Mason


You Be Mother is a deceptive read; seemingly light and charming but with a rather dark undercurrent that left me quite a lot more moved than I was expecting.

Abi is a trainee social worker who finds herself pregnant after a relationship with overseas student, Stu. When she has had the baby she makes the decision to head over to Australia to try and make her family unit complete. Things do not go quite to plan.

Stu’s mother, Elaine, is a hard nut to crack. Reluctant to let her little boy go she throws whatever spanners in the works she can, without being accused of being deliberately unkind. To a young woman like Abi – who seems to have had a very hard life (though we don’t get all the details until later) – this is an obstacle that is too hard to overcome. With no income, little support from her boyfriend and a lack of friends it is hardly any surprise that Abi is keen to find something she can call her own.

In a rather unexpected occurrence Abi is befriended by her elderly neighbour, Phil. With her own children all abroad, and her husband having recently died, Phil is also lonely and quite likes feeling useful. Finding common bonds in spite of their age gap, the growing friendship between these two is lovely…but it does not bode well that each of them is keeping secrets from the other.

As the story unfolded I felt unexpectedly caught up in their situations. A vibrant cast of characters and it certainly made me think long and hard about families and how we get to decide who is significant to us.

‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ – Jennette McCurdy

This book made me angry and sad. I’m sure it’s not an uncommon story, but it’s rather depressing that nothing appears to change.

I’ve never heard of Jennette McCurdy or seen the show she talks at length about, but it’s a fascinating insight into an industry that – at its heart – seems callous and uncaring, exploiting people for what it can and not caring what happens next.

From the outset it was clear that McCurdy’s story would not be a wholly positive one. She touches on the abusive mother, her eating disorder and experience of therapy with unflinching honesty. Yet there’s always a sense of brittleness, of something being held back – and perhaps this is a coping mechanism, but it did on occasion feel like a rather superficial look at some elements of her experience.

I found myself constantly wondering just how many people were complicit in her abuse. It was evident that some had concerns, from when she was six, but nobody stepped in and did anything. That’s obscene!

The real positive that I took from this was of the signs of someone starting to form a sense of their own identity. It might not be a fully finished journey, but it seems she finishes in a more healthy mindset than she began.


‘Becoming Ted’ – Matt Cain

I always take it as a sign of a great read when I’ve never read anything by the author beforehand and then find myself checking out their other titles and thinking about reading them before I’ve finished the book in question. This was my first Matt Cain read, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this. It certainly won’t be my last!

A coming-of-age story with a difference. Tender, heartwarming and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, Becoming Ted is a story that needs to be told.

Ted works in his family’s ice-cream business. He hates ice-cream. He has been happily (he thinks) married for decades and is shocked when his husband says he’s found another man and wants to split up. Such a period of upheaval would derail most people, but this begins a period of growth where Ted reflects on himself and his relationships before starting to live a life true to himself.

We follow Ted as he learns what makes him happy, finds a new love and works out what to do about his family and the pressure he feels to stay in a business he hates.

There’s a large assortment of characters, a thoughtful examination of attitudes to homosexuality over time and an interesting insight into the process of drag. Occasionally some events/interactions seem a little contrived, but this was a story that it’s hard not to open your heart to. Is it wrong to say I’d love to see this as a movie?

‘Still Alice’ – Lisa Genova

Still Alice tells the story of Harvard Professor Alice Howland. Published author, celebrated scholar, trusted professor…as she approaches fifty she starts to become increasingly disorientated and forgetful. Always used to being busy, she sees this as part of her lifestyle and a warning to slow down. Thinking she may be menopausal she goes to her doctor for advice.

Then Alice is told she has early onset Alzheimer’s.

Told from her perspective – which becomes increasingly vague as she degenerates – there is no doubt that this book highlights the cruelty of Alzheimer’s. At any age this is a horrible disease to watch progress, and it’s particularly scary in the way it’s presented in someone who has a clear neurological advantage over many.

Watching Alice slowly withdraw from everything that made her who she was felt tough. Seeing the way her family responded to her illness felt authentic, and it is a definite emotional ride.

This is certainly a story that sticks. I was frustrated by the ending, though I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed reading further into Alice’s decline. It was good to see some of her wishes fulfilled, and be left to wonder what came next.


‘How to Fake it in Hollywood’ – Ava Wilder

Two Hollywood actors – one TV fodder and one A-list – have their reasons for needing their career kickstarted, so when their publicist comes up with the plan for them to fake-date they’re willing to go along with it. What neither Grey nor Ethan realise is that this will be the start of something very special…
From the outset it’s clear these two are going to hit it off. However, this was no lightweight romcom…there’s plenty of baggage on both sides and a fair amount of angst to work through.
I enjoyed the verbal sparring between these two. There was chemistry between them, but the best moments came when they were working through things. There’s a fairly big cast of additional characters, some of whom were discarded once their part was played, and I do feel that some of the bigger issues being faced by these two were rather overlooked.
All in all, an entertaining read that delivered what it promised.