The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall

The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall

Sophie Breeze makes her living as a professional bridesmaid. Posing as a friend or relative of the bride, she is employed to take the stress out of organising the wedding, but no one else can know who she really is. When hired to assist at Lady Cordelia Swann’s wedding, Sophie has no idea what she has let herself in for. Determined not to quit in the face of Cordelia’s appalling behaviour, Sophie’s patience and professional skills are pushed to the limit. Will she stay the course, or give up her chance to further her career?

Laugh-out-loud funny in places, cringeworthy in others, The Secret Bridesmaid is a wonderful celebration of female friendship. The romance is understated, and not the main focus of the story. Sophie and Cordelia start off at loggerheads, but slowly begin to change their opinion of each other.

The outrageous demands of some of the brides are very funny – my favourite is the Star Wars character – and the emails between the chapters only go to emphasize their ridiculous behaviour. The cast of supporting characters are well written and believable, even the horrible ones. The plot, though predictable in places, but in a good way, would make an excellent movie.

I really enjoyed The Secret Bridesmaid, found it both amusing and thought provoking, and would not hesitate to recommend it. Thanks to Bookends and Hodder for an uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review.

A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde

A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde

I have been a fan of Katie Fforde’s books since the beginning, and thought A Wedding in the Country was up there among her best. Lizzie’s mother wants nothing more than to marry her daughter off to an eligible young man, and has been planning her wedding since she was a baby. To this end, Lizzie is sent to London to attend a cookery course. Much to her parents’ bewilderment, she wants to stay on in London when the course is over, and moves into the dilapidated Belgravia mansion her new friend, Alexandra, shares with David, a gay actor and antique dealer. Lizzie’s horizons are expanding, and she begins to realise she does not have to lead the life her mother has chosen for her.

The world building is excellent, the characters are well rounded and entirely believable, even the nasty ones, and the story gallops along at a fair pace. Compared with her earlier books, the romance is not particularly well developed, but perhaps that was deliberate. Lizzie seems a bit passive at times, but does stand up for herself when it really matters. I have no idea how she managed to live under the same roof as her mother for so long.

A Wedding in the Country is quintessential Katie Fforde – the familiar elements are there – middle-class, slightly naïve heroine with artistic leanings, focus on cooking or gardening, lots of dogs, and run-down but beautiful old houses. Only this time, the setting is mostly 1960s London, and it makes a refreshing change to go back and explore the attitudes and fashions of the time. I was still at primary school in 1963, but the suffocating parental behaviour depicted in this story is very familiar, and it makes for uncomfortable reading in places. This story shines a spotlight on how much things have changed for the better, for women, since the 1960s; but also how much they haven’t. Both Lizzie and Hugo had their futures mapped out for them by their respective parents but, the question is, do they have the courage to escape, and live the lives they want?

Thanks to Cornerstone Digital and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Eve has been friends with Susie, Ed and Justin since sixth form, and most Thursdays you will find them taking part in their local pub quiz. Then one evening, as they all head home, something horrific happens which has unforeseen consequences for them all.

Set in Nottingham, Last Night is a bit darker than Mhairi McFarlane’s previous novels, with less focus on romance, but this is not a bad thing as it is a wonderful story about friendship, loss, betrayal and moving on. The characters are well written, there is humour to lighten the darkness, a road trip, interesting pop culture references, and even a lovely cat called Roger.  

Told solely from Eve’s point of view, we see the world through her eyes, so can only guess at the behaviour and motivations of the others, which adds to the mystery. The secrets of the past are slowly revealed and make her question just how well they all knew each other.

Last Night is Mhairi McFarlane at her absolute best; her witty and insightful writing just gets better with every book. Never mind what category this book fits into, it’s a great story that will take you on a journey along with Eve as she tries to make sense of the past, and build a better future for herself.

I have read and enjoyed all of Mhairi McFarlane’s books, so requesting this was a no-brainer. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review #fLastNight #MhairiMcFarlane

Total Fallout by Alex Shaw

Total Fallout by Alex Shaw

Total Fallout is the second book about Jack Tate, seconded from the SAS to a clandestine unit operated by the Secret Intelligence Service, and continues his search for the men responsible for the explosion that killed his foster parents. Video footage comes to light that points to the Russian assassin, Ruslan Akulov, as the bomber, but he is being framed and needs to convince Tate before it is too late.

A mysterious company called Blackline is behind technology that can manipulate digital images so that even the experts believe they are genuine. If this was possible – and maybe it is? – the repercussions would be frightening; it would be virtually impossible to trust any news, CCTV or mobile phone footage, if it could all be faked.  

This is a fast-paced action thriller with a likeable main character, and a cast of thoroughly convincing villains who deserve everything they get. Although you could read this as a standalone, I really recommend you read Total Blackout first, as they have a lot of characters and backstory in common. Hopefully, this is not the last we see of Jack Tate. Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for a copy to review.

Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

On the surface Lucy Palmer seems to have it all – two lovely grown-up children, a career as a crime novelist, marriage to a well-known theatre critic and a beautiful house in the city. However, appearances can be deceptive as not all abuse is visible on the outside. For years she suffered her husband Michael’s controlling behaviour – he made it impossible for her to just walk away – but now, due to unforeseen circumstances, she can take charge of her own life.  

Meanwhile, her ageing parents, Cecily and Henry, are finding it hard to cope on their own, but are reluctant to admit it. She rents out her house and goes back to live with them, which gives her some breathing space to consider her future.

If you are familiar with Catherine Alliott’s novels, you will recognise this world. Her characters are wonderfully drawn and completely believable – I especially liked Lucy’s parents and their circle of eccentric friends, and her twin nieces, Tess and Maudie. On the other hand Michael’s sister, Amanda is truly horrible; despite this, somehow, I still had some sympathy for her. Their troubled childhood had obviously warped them both.

There is not as much focus on romance in Behind Closed Doors as there usually is in novels by this writer, but that’s fine as this is such and interesting and absorbing story. Told entirely from Lucy’s point of view, with enough humour to lighten the dark subject matter, we are with her all the way as she contemplates how (and with whom) she wants to live the rest of her life.

I have read and loved all Catherine Alliott’s books, and this is one of her best. The title is very apt, referring as it does to both Lucy’s life and that of her parents. The serious subjects dealt with in Behind Closed Doors are handled with sensitivity and empathy, and are a reminder that not all suffering can be seen with the naked eye.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review #BehindClosedDoors #CatherineAlliott

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