Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas

Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas

Del and Ollie moved to France six months previously, and, as it has not lived up to Ollie’s expectations, they are now packed up ready to go back to the UK. At the very last minute, as the removal lorry is about to head off, Del realizes that she wants to stay and try to make a go of it somehow.

What follows, even bearing in mind this is a work of fiction, is pretty far fetched. There are some interesting threads about the treatment of homeless people, and the behaviour of the British ex-pats in the town. I liked that Del took Stephanie, and her son Tomas, under her wing and helped them build a new life. Some of the characters, however, were not convincing as fully rounded human beings.

Jo Thomas vividly captures the sights and aromas of Provence, and you can almost smell the lavender as you read the story. For me, this was also part of the problem; there is just too much lavender. Don’t get me wrong, I  love the smell, in soap and bath oil, but not the taste in absolutely everything I eat.

Told in the first person, we get the whole story through Del’s eyes – which has its limitations – with a lot of repetitious thoughts, and no alternative perspective. This is really hard to pull off, and here it just did not work for me.

With an attractive cover and a cute dog, Escape to the French Farmhouse is a great way to take your mind off the British weather.

Thanks to the author, Corgi and NetGalley for a copy to review.

Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler Olsen

Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler Olsen

Victim 2117 is the eighth in the Dept Q series of novels, set in Denmark, featuring Inspector Carl Mørck and his colleague Assad. I read and enjoyed the first couple of books a few years ago, and watched the excellent movies, but did not feel at a disadvantage that I had not read the other books in the series; this works perfectly well as a standalone, as any backstory is seamlessly inserted into the narrative.

The story is told from multiple points of view which gives the reader greater insight into what is going on than the police. It is a complicated plot that requires Carl and Assad to work with the German police in order to prevent a terrorist atrocity in Berlin.

Up until now Assad has been quite an enigmatic character – his colleagues do not know much about him. When refugees from Syria are washed up on the beach in Ayia Napa, the pictures are in newspapers all over the world. Assad recognizes faces from his past and is shocked into revealing his story. It is a harrowing tale, quite difficult to read in places, but very topical as it deals with refugees, the situation in the Middle East and the constant threat of terrorist plots. It is also personal – someone from his past is sending Assad a message, clearly with revenge in mind.

Alongside the main investigation, a secondary plot strand (no spoilers) could easily have been omitted, as I felt it was a distraction, but it did highlight the psychological effect of violent computer games on impressionable youth.

The characters are well drawn and believable and, despite the upsetting subject matter, the story is thrilling and entertaining. The ending is a terrifying race against time with the suspense ramped up to the max.

Thanks to the author, Quercus and NetGalley for a review copy.

Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck is the cautionary tale of what can happen after a big lottery win; never has the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ been more apt.

Lexi and Jake, along with two other couples, have been buying a lottery ticket with the same numbers for the last fifteen years. The others have decided they no longer want to play, and then they win the 17.8 million jackpot. To begin with Carla and Patrick, and Jennifer and Fred, still think they are entitled to a share. The three couples were supposed to be such good friends, but as more of the story unfolds it is hard to see why.

All the main characters, with the exception of Lexi, are unlikeable in some way. Although not perfect either, Lexi is the one I have most sympathy for as she seeks to do some good with the windfall.  Before the money has even been deposited in their bank account, Jake has completely lost it – buying sports cars, organizing extravagant parties and flaunting their newly acquired wealth – making ticking the privacy box no longer an option. He changes overnight, makes decisions without consulting her and sets a really bad example for their children, Emily and Logan. Has he simply been hiding his true nature all along?

Little by little, secrets are revealed and nothing is what it seems. I genuinely did not see the shocking twists and revelations coming, and found myself reading far into the night to find out what happens next. The ending is very satisfying, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.

The story is told from several points of view – mostly by Lexi, with some chapters by Emily (but there were places where her voice as a fifteen-year-old girl was not quite convincing), and occasional contributions from Toma Albu, a client of Lexi’s at the CAB, whose story seems unrelated to begin with. This is a much more complex story than it seemed at first, with one revelation after another, emphasizing the point that money can’t buy you happiness.

I have not read any books by Adele Parks before, but I was really impressed with Just My Luck and intend explore her back catalogue as soon as I can.

When Shadows Fall by Alex Gray

When Shadows Fall by Alex Gray

When Shadows Fall is Alex Gray’s seventeenth novel featuring Detective Superintendent Lorimer, now the head of the Major Incident Team based in Glasgow. Skeletal remains are discovered in the grounds of a large house in the West Renfrewshire countryside by the gardener, Joseph Alexander Flynn. Freaked out by his gruesome find, he phones Lorimer. They go back a long way as Lorimer helped Flynn escape his troubled past. When a bullet hole is discovered in the skull, they have to treat it as murder. This cold case seems unconnected to the recent killings of retired police officers, but analysis of the bullet still lodged in the skull tells a different story.

As the number of killings mounts up, tension is rising as to who will be next. This is greatly increased by the fact that the reader knows more than the police; we know what the killer is planning just not his identity. Can Lorimer’s team solve the case before it is too late?

One of the reasons I started reading this series was the Glasgow setting. Alex Gray brings the city to life on the page. I have, unfortunately, been away for more years than I would like, but, even after all this time, this is a Glasgow I recognise, and it makes a great setting for When Shadows Fall.

There are lot of familiar faces in this book, especially if you have, like me, been reading the series from the beginning; once again Dr Brightman’s insight helps to solve the case. Lorimer is unusual among fictional detectives in that he does not display self-destructive behaviour, but goes home every night to his wife and the cat.

Despite being part of a series, you could just as easily read this as a standalone, but I do recommend that you go back to the beginning and enjoy all the others. Alex Gray skillfully weaves the different strands of this complicated plot together into a nail-biting conclusion, and I hope that you feel like giving it a try.

Thanks to the author, Sphere and NetGalley for a review copy.

Summer on a Sunny Island by Sue Moorcroft

Summer on a Sunny Island by Sue Moorcroft

I have read a lot of Sue Moorcroft’s books and found them very enjoyable. However, for some unfathomable reason, I did not enjoy Summer on a Sunny Island as much as I was expecting to.

This is partly down to the opening chapters, which seem to begin abruptly, almost as if there is a bit missing, and the reader has been thrown into the story part way through. There was also a bit too much description of the island for my taste; at times it read like a travel guide. The main problem was that I could not warm to the main characters, Rosa and Zach, and I realise that I’m in a minority here. They are well written and believable, but I just did not take to them.

This is not a light-hearted romantic comedy, but a much darker story than the title would suggest – peer pressure leading young men into gangs and criminal activity, dysfunctional families, and controlling and abusive men feature strongly in the story. This is all dealt with in a sensitive and empathetic way, and by the end of the book there has been some resolution.

The women are strong independent characters, used to standing on their own two feet, which is just as well since the behaviour of a lot of the male characters leaves a lot to be desired. I particularly enjoyed the scene near the end with Marcus and the electricity bill – but you’ll have to read it for yourself!

Summer on a Sunny Island is a well-written story with an unusual and colourful setting; just what everyone needs at the moment when the possibility of travel to sunny islands is not on the cards. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.  

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