The Happiest Ever After by Milly Johnson

The Happiest Ever After by Millie Johnson

Polly Potter’s life is not going to plan. She is taken for granted by her partner, Chris, who is not willing to put any effort into their relationship, and sidelined and exploited by her misogynistic boss, Jeremy. The only thing that makes her life bearable is her creative writing class, and the novel she is writing where her heroine Sabrina is everything Polly is not. Unable to bear it any longer, Polly plans her escape, but is thwarted by what happens at the wedding vows renewal ceremony where she is forced to be a bridesmaid (in a hideous frock) to her horrible snobbish sister-in-law, Camay (great name and yes I’m old enough to remember the soap). Forced to make a run for it, she heads for the coast where she remembers being happy as a child with her uncle and aunt, only to be mugged and suffer a head injury. She wakes up in hospital believing she is Sabrina, with no memory of her life as Polly, but a strong sense that she needs to stay hidden.

This is Milly Johnson’s twenty-first novel and I’ve read and loved every one of them. She writes wonderfully believable characters (nice and nasty) and doesn’t shy away from serious issues, always treating them with sensitivity and humour. The Yorkshire settings are like characters in their own right. I really enjoyed the corporate espionage thread in this one and the sense of karma in the ending. The excerpts from The Daily Trumpet, correcting misprints but somehow managing to make them even worse, are hilarious. The Happiest Ever After is by turns heartbreaking and uplifting, and will leave you with the idea that sometimes friends are better than family as you can choose them yourself. I always read every new novel by Milly Johnson, they just keep on getting better and better, so I look forward to reading her next one very soon. Thanks to Simon & Schuster UK and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

The Porcelain Maker is a dual timeline historical novel, split between the 1930s and 1990s, set mostly in Germany. It concerns the lives of talented German artist Bettina Vogel, and Austrian architect and sculptor Max Ehrlich who is Jewish. They meet while at art school and fall in love, but this is not a good time to be any kind of artist in Germany as the Nazis tighten their grip on all aspects of life and culture. Only with hindsight do we know how dangerous it would be to remain, but getting out was both difficult and expensive. Bettina and Max made plans to escape, but before they could get away Max was captured and sent to Dachau, and only his skills as a sculptor saved him from certain death.

The modern part of the story concerns Bettina’s daughter Clara and her search for the identity of her father. For some unfathomable reason, her mother refused to name him and would not discuss what happened all those years before. On a trip to America where some of the Allach porcelain figurines are up for auction, Clara discovers a photo that helps her get to the bottom of the mystery.   

I was surprised to learn that the porcelain factory at Dachau actually existed as I had never come across if before. I am not normally a fan of fiction set during this period, but The Porcelain Maker has a slightly different emphasis than usual, and I enjoyed the focus on art rather than the horrors that took place at the camp. I was shocked and surprised how early in the decade, many years before the outbreak of war, the Nazis were controlling every aspect of life for their own nefarious and twisted ends.

The characters are well developed and believable, the art scene in Berlin in the 30s vividly evoked, and there is a good balance between the different timelines with neither overshadowing the other. Some aspects of the narrative were difficult to read, and the overwhelming atmosphere of tension and menace brought home to me what it must actually have been like to live through this period in history. The writing is very assured for a debut novel, the ending rounds it all off nicely, and I look forward to reading the next book by this writer. Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Lifeline by Tom Ellen

The Lifeline by Tom Ellen

I really enjoyed this author’s previous book, so was keen to give The Lifeline at try, and I was not disappointed. Despite dealing with some fairly serious issues, this was ultimately a hopeful and heartwarming read. Annie is a former music journalist who is having trouble moving on after the death of her father. Will was lead singer in an up-and-coming indie band, but now works in a failing electronics store and volunteers for a crisis helpline in his spare time. The story is told from Annie and Will’s perspectives, both in the present and five years before. A large part of the narrative takes the form of phone conversations which come across as very natural.

Five years ago, Annie went to Paris to interview Will and they went on to spend a wonderful day together. She thought they had a real connection, but when he did not turn up to meet her after the gig she assumed the worst. Five years later in London, she is supposed to be contacting the band to write an article, but cannot track them down. Purely by chance she phones the helpline, Green Shoots, and speaks to Will, but neither of them know who the other is as they are using the names Jack and Pia. They make a connection and start to look forward to their weekly conversations. We have to wait until quite far into the story to find out what happened on that fateful night in Paris, but this is good as we have come to care about Annie and Will by then.

The Lifeline is much more than a romance novel, though there is a romantic element to the story. It is really about all forms of love, and the importance of having someone to listen and talk to. The writer does not shy away from serious and distressing topics like loneliness, grief, depression and guilt but handles them with a sensitive touch. The importance of friends and family runs through the narrative, along with forgiveness. There is humour as well to stop it getting too dark, and I particularly enjoyed the pop culture references. This book has left a lasting impression on me – I won’t forget it in a hurry and look forward to reading the next book by this talented writer. Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

   

Cage of Bone by David Dvorkin

Cage of Bone by David Dvorkin

At a loose end, after being fired from his latest low paid job, Max Iverson goes to the cinema. A young man comes to sit behind him and suddenly Max is able to read his thoughts. Like a film playing before his eyes, he sees that this man is responsible for killing the young woman at a petrol station that he had read about earlier in the newspaper. Deeply disturbed, he knows he must pass this information on to the authorities, but obviously cannot divulge his identity or how he found out. He decides to contact the Deputy District Attorney, Grady Jacobs, instead of the police.

Over time, his ability to read other people’s thoughts grows stronger, and he is able to pass on a lot of useful information. He is given a job in Jacobs’ office, though not everyone there trusts him. Up to now he has managed to retain his anonymity, but when he comes to the attention of a shadowy criminal organisation his life is put in great danger.

The characters are well written and the plot, though far-fetched, is made to seem entirely plausible. The writer raises the question of whether this ability to read the minds of others is a blessing or a curse. Max also starts to wonder if he is the only one who can do this, or maybe there are others out there reading his thoughts. Max Iverson is an unusual hero, tortured by half-remembered nightmares of the night his mother died and he was born, but how is this possible? I really enjoyed this gripping but sinister thriller, and will look for more books by this writer. I chose to read Cage of Bone as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Typo by Emily Kerr

The Typo by Emily Kerr

I’ve read and enjoyed other books by this author so was happy to take a chance on The Typo when it was offered to me. Amy receives an email destined for someone else, goes to the trouble of trying to find the other person and sends it on. Cameron is grateful that she did, as it was from a gallery offering him the chance to exhibit his photographs, and they begin corresponding. Amy is marketing manager at The Variety theatre in Edinburgh, and Cameron is the photographer on a cruise ship in the Antarctic. Thinking that they will never meet, Amy embellishes her life as she does not think it sounds that interesting. In reality, she gave up her promising career as a violinist after a bad review and has not played for two years. The theatre is not doing well and is in danger of closing down, so she might lose her job. Writing to Cameron, each of them encouraging the other to be braver, worrying about the lies she is telling, makes her re-evaluate her life and acts as an impetus for her to go back to what she loves most.

Apart from the emails between them, the story is told from Amy’s point of view. The characters are well drawn and believable – I particularly liked her elderly neighbour, and his two cats that spend half their time in Amy’s flat. The Edinburgh setting is vividly brought to life. I loved reading about Antarctica, though I wouldn’t fancy the cold conditions or the rough sea crossing, and found Cameron’s descriptions fascinating. Amy’s embellishment of her musical career was understandable; it’s only human to want to make yourself sound more interesting, and she assumed they would never meet in real life anyway. But what if it turned out that they wanted to? Novels written mostly in email form don’t always work, but this one does as the conversations flowed naturally. I liked both main characters, which helps a lot, and the epilogue rounded the story off nicely. Thanks to One More Chapter, HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.