Safe House by Jo Jakeman

Safe House

Told from the perspective of Charlie in the present day, and Steffi in flashback, Safe House is a cautionary tale of coercive control by a manipulative but seemingly charming man. Steffi has just come out of prison and has changed her identity to escape persecution. She has been vilified by the press and received hate mail. She just wants to make a clean break and get on with her life. She heads to Cornwall, but underestimates how difficult it is to hide in a small community.

Scattered through the narrative are the anonymous thoughts of someone hellbent on trying to locate Charlie. This racks up the tension as we try to figure out their identity and their intentions. In the past she seemed gullible, naïve and trusting, but has wised up since her spell behind bars. We could see what Steffi could not – just how creepy and controlling Lee was.

The story is well written with dark humour to offset the feeling of foreboding. Cornwall is beautifully described, the people she meets in the village are well rounded and believable, especially Aubrey. It is interesting that, although she goes there intending to keep to herself, she can’t curb her instinct to help others, and this is what saves her.

There is an unexpected twist near the end that really took me by surprise. The dramatic ending in the middle of the storm will have you on the edge of your seat; I just had to keep reading to find out what happened. I had not read her previous novel but will now definitely add Sticks and Stones to my list. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Full Steam Ahead Felix by Kate Moore

Full Steam Ahead Felix

I have been following the adventures of Felix, the Huddersfield station cat, on Facebook for quite some time. She is quite a character and I was curious to know more of her story.

Full Steam Ahead Felix is a delightful read and tells how much of an asset the cat is to the station. People come from all over the world hoping to get a glimpse of Felix, or her apprentice Bolt. The lucky ones get a photo and Felix gets some dreamies!

I’d definitely recommend this to all cat lovers out there. Next time I’m in Huddersfield I’ll be on the lookout for Felix, too. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Coming Home to Winter Island by Jo Thomas

Coming Home to Winter Island

Coming Home to Winter Island is told entirely from the perspective of the main character, in the present tense, which is a format I’m not fond of as it can be a bit limiting. Ruby is a singer who is trying to break into the music business. Just before an important gig she loses her voice, and all her carefully laid plans have to be put on indefinite hold. I found this book very hard to get into, could not warm to Ruby to begin with, and found the constant repetition of her thoughts about getting her voice back, and then everything would be hunky-dory, a bit annoying. She comes across as naïve and self-obsessed, especially regarding her relationship with Joe; it was obvious from the start what his true colours were.

Just as she is heading off to a retreat in Tenerife to rest her voice, she gets a call regarding her grandfather, Hector, who she has never met. Thinking she can make a quick detour to Winter Island (Geamhradh), then carry on to Tenerife, Ruby heads north. Gradually, the island works its spell on her and she gets caught up in the search for the gin recipe that will solve all their problems; with the current boom in small artisan gin distilleries, this is very topical and obviously well researched. The descriptions of the island are wonderful – the wildlife, the plants, the sense of community and the fresh sea breezes. Lachlan and Hector are much more likeable and believable. Hector’s dementia is treated sympathetically, and the theme of using music to unlock memories could have played a bigger part in the story. Overall, an enjoyable read but it could have been so much better. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

At Arm's Length by DE Haggerty

At Arms Length

Why does Jackson always give Shelby such a hard time? While you could easily read this without having read the previous book in the Love in the Suburbs series, About Face, I always like to start at the beginning in case I miss something. Jackson is Shelby’s friend Frankie’s business partner and she likes him but can’t understand why he’s so off with her. Shelby is a freelance computer game software developer and geek, with a slightly unorthodox sense of style and a Star Wars obsession.

This book is not about the plot – there isn’t really much of one – but the characters; they are so vividly drawn they positively jump off the page. Having read a lot of books, I know this can be quite a difficult thing to pull off successfully.  How many books have you read where the main characters are simply not believable, but more  like cardboard cut-outs?

I noticed something that happens in all the books I have read by Ms Haggerty; the men (Jackson and Brodie included) are all a bit macho and overprotective of the women; maybe this is how American readers like their men to be? In the end I just found it amusing – most British men don’t behave like that. I also thought she used the word ‘growl’ to describe how the men speak quite a lot!

Once again Frankie’s grandma features heavily in the story, and she’s up to her old tricks – matchmaking! Somehow, she gets Frankie and all her friends to come to Sunday dinner every week, and is not happy until they have a partner (she even had the others betting on how long it would take Jackson and Shelby to get together). She would be so annoying in real life, but is hilarious in the book. There is more humour in the chapter headings; song lyrics have been turned into witty one-liners. It’s fun trying to work out which songs they came from. I really enjoyed At Arm’s Length and look forward to the final book in the trilogy which will be about Bailey and Luke. Thanks to the author for a copy that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. #RBRT #atarmslength #dehaggerty

Love, Look Away by Lisette Brodey

Love Look Away by Lisette BrodeySet in Swansea (New York not Wales), like her previous novel Molly Hacker is Too Picky!, this is the story of Sage Gordon who owns the gift shop, Sage Earth Gifts. It is not a sequel but does feature some of the same characters. We see the world through Sage’s eyes, and at the start of the book she is not in a good place.

The book opens with a ‘difficult’ customer causing a scene and introduces the other main character, Godiva Genevieve Jones. The two women bond over their recent romantic troubles and become firm friends really quickly. Running through the story is the mystery of Sage’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who just disappeared in the night and was never heard from again. She has tried and failed to trace him, and it’s almost like she can’t move on until she finds out what happened to him. All I’ll say is that it seems like we’ll never know, but in a wonderful, dramatic movie-style ending the truth is finally revealed.

While the new-agey theme of the shop is not to my taste, anyone who has ever worked in retail will recognise the ‘difficult’ customers; unlike real life these ones are also very funny. In fact, there is a lot of humour to lighten the heartbreak, often involving the dogs, Rufus and Vizzy; two cats live above the shop with Rufus but are never seen, which is a shame. The characters are well-written and believable, though some are a bit full-on. The only slight criticism I have is that the dialogue is a bit stilted in places, not quite the way real people speak. Overall Love, Look Away is a very enjoyable read and I look forward to the next instalment of life in Swansea.  Thanks to Lisette Brodey for a copy that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT