The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

Anna Campbell is looking for a fresh start when she buys Fishergirl’s Luck, a tiny cottage in Crovie on the north coast of Aberdeenshire, despite only having seen it in photographs. Freed from a long and emotionally abusive relationship with her celebrity chef partner, and coping with the grief following the recent death of her father, she needs time and space to work out what she wants to do next.   

At first she is unsure whether she has made the right decision in moving to this isolated village at the foot of the cliffs, but decides to at least stay long enough to smarten the house up with a view to renting it out later. As she gets to know the locals, and is accepted into this close-knit community, her decision becomes much harder.

The characters are well drawn and relatable, the setting is atmospheric and beautifully described, and the descriptions of the food Anna cooks will make your mouth water. It’s probably best not to read this on an empty stomach. She slowly regains faith in herself and her abilities, culinary and otherwise, and begins to feel hopeful about her future.  

I am always interested in reading books set in Scotland, particularly if I know the area. While living in Aberdeenshire many years ago, we took a trip to this part of the country lured by the prospect of visiting Pennan, just along the coast, where they filmed scenes for Local Hero, a popular movie at the time. The rugged coastline is magnificent on a bright summer’s day, but quite precarious, not to mention scary, in the middle of a winter storm, and Sharon Gosling really captures this in her writing.  

This is Sharon Gosling’s debut adult novel though she has previously written books aimed at young adults. I really enjoyed The House Beneath the Cliffs and will be on the lookout for her books in the future. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The River Between Us by Liz Fenwick

The River Between Us by Liz Fenwick

The River Between Us is a dual-timeline story split between the present day, and the years immediately before and after WW1. Boatman’s Cottage is at the heart of the story; it is a refuge for recently divorced Theo where she can take stock and decide what to do next, and where she discovers the hidden letters that introduce us to the mystery surrounding Alice and Zach.  

I enjoyed reading about both timelines, but found the length of the sections devoted to each to be a bit uneven. When we are first introduced to Alice, I thought that part of the story went on for too long – the pace was slow and I had almost forgotten what happened at the beginning. This is a minor criticism more than made up for by the quality of the writing and characterisation.

The River Tamar, on the border between Devon and Cornwall, and the houses located on either bank, makes for a very atmospheric setting; it comes through in the writing that Liz Fenwick obviously knows and loves this part of the country well. The River Between Us is the first book of hers that I have read but it won’t be the last.

I found I had to concentrate as a lot of characters are introduced, with complicated relationships between them, but I really enjoyed reading as their secrets and connections are gradually revealed. It was fascinating reading about Alice’s life before WW1, the restrictions placed on women of her class and the gulf between the classes. The title is very apt and can be interpreted on more than one level. There are parallels drawn between lives of Alice and Theo – particularly their horrendous mothers – but also many differences. The River Between Us would be a good choice for book clubs as there is a wealth of subject matter that would result in some very lively discussions.

Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

A Second-Hand Husband by Claire Calman

A Second Hand Husband by Claire Calman

Many years ago I read and enjoyed some of Claire Calman’s earlier books, so when A Second-Hand Husband turned up on NetGalley I thought I’d give it a try. After a whirlwind romance, Natalie and Carl have married and are looking to move out of London in order to be closer to Carl’s children from his first marriage. When Carl announces he is buying a house at auction, without even giving Natalie a chance to view it, that also turns out to be extremely close to where his first wife now lives, this sets the tone for the rest of the story.

The characters are well drawn and believable, and Claire Calman treats sensitive subjects with understanding and empathy. There is a lot of humour, but also some really cringeworthy moments. The setting in the Kent countryside is described as idyllic, and seems very peaceful when compared with London, but is also a bit claustrophobic with everyone knowing each other’s business.  

At the beginning of the book, despite Natalie successfully running her own business, she is portrayed as being a bit indecisive and dithery. The story is told from Natalie’s point of view so the reader can see firsthand how her character develops as she learns to stand up for herself and have more faith in her own abilities. Carl, on the other hand, does not really change much; I’m not sure he even thinks he’s done anything wrong. His complete disregard for what Natalie might want or think seems at odds with how much he claims to love her. His high-handed and thoughtless behaviour would be enough to send most women running for the hills; Natalie is very forgiving, but even she has her limits. Will they overcome the obstacles in their path to live happily ever after? – You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out. Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Pandemic Plot by Scott Mariani

The Pandemic Plot by Scott Mariani

The Pandemic Plot is number twenty-three in the Ben Hope series and, trying not to sound too clichéd, they just keep getting better and better. During a quiet spell at Le Val, Ben gets a frantic phone call from his son Jude; he’s been accused of murder and has been arrested. Ben drops everything and heads for Oxford, but is at a loss as to how he can rescue Jude as all the evidence seems to point to his guilt.

This story is slightly different from Ben Hope’s usual high-octane, action-based adventures, but none the worse for it. There is more detective work in this one, and Ben joins forces with DI Tom McAllister (he previously featured in The Bach Manuscript) to try to find the pieces of the puzzle that will prove Jude’s innocence. This also paves the way nicely for The Cage, the first volume in Scott Mariani’s new detective series. This partnership works well and ensures a much lower body count than usual, or else Ben would probably find himself locked up too.

With very little to go on, Ben’s desperate search for the truth takes him on a journey from Oxford to Hunstanton on the north Norfolk coast, by way of London, and eventually to a showdown on an isolated Cornish farm. There is quite a lot of historical background to take in, as is normal in Ben Hope adventures, but it is introduced naturally into the story until Ben knows exactly what he has to do to clear Jude’s name.

The excellent characterisation is what makes this series so memorable. Ben Hope’s adventures take him all over the world, but the main focus is always on how he overcomes the obstacles placed in his path, and emerges victorious no matter how hopeless his situation appears to be. Ben Hope will return in The Crusader’s Cross later in the year.

So It Began by Owen Mullen

So It Began by Owen Mullen

I had previously enjoyed Owen Mullen’s Glasgow-based series featuring PI Charlie Cameron so I was intrigued to try So It Began, which is a crime thriller set in New Orleans introducing us to PI Vincent Delaney. The location may be very different, but the writing and storytelling are excellent as always and I have now added New Orleans to the list of places I’d like to visit in America.

It is seven years since Delaney worked as a police officer, but when he is asked to help NOPD and the FBI with a joint investigation into a serial killer targeting children performing at pageants all across the country he cannot refuse. At the same time, he is investigating the extortion of shopkeepers in the North Le Moyne area of the city by corrupt police officers, and is looking over his shoulder for an escaped criminal, Julian Boutte, seeking revenge for the death of his brother.

I don’t particularly enjoy reading about the murders of children, but here the main focus was on catching the killer, rather than dwelling on the crimes themselves, and thankfully it was all handled with great sensitivity. The separate plot threads are woven together and brought to a conclusion in such a way as to suggest this may be the beginning of a series; I certainly hope so.  

The story is told mostly through Delaney’s character, and his droll inner monologue lightens the darkness of the story. He is likeable and believable, with a cast of well-drawn supporting characters especially his music-loving dog, Lowell, who steals the show. There are also chapters giving us more detail about the children taking part in the pageants, and their families, so that we see them as real people and not just statistics. So It Began is a tense and gripping thriller with a great setting, that will keep you up late into the night as you just have to read one more chapter.

Thanks to Bloodhound Books and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy to review.