And Now You're Back by Jill Mansell

And Now You re Back by Jill Mansell

Set in fictional Elliscombe in the Cotswolds, And Now You’re Back tells the story of Didi and Shay who were in a relationship until Shay just upped and left without saying goodbye. Thirteen years have passed and Didi is now the manager of a boutique hotel, and engaged to Aaron. Shay has come back because his father, Red, is dying and wants to spend his last days in the old family home. They were both happily getting on with their lives, but find the spark is still there between them no matter how much they try to ignore it.

The focus is not solely on the relationship between Didi and Shay. And Now You’re Back features a cast of colourful, well-rounded characters with believable backstories that add depth to the narrative. We can guess the outcome, but it’s fun reading how it comes about.

Every year, in January, a new Jill Mansell novel arrives, and we readers can look forward to spending many enjoyable hours losing ourselves in the world she has created.  I have read all of her books and they rarely disappoint. In And Now You’re Back there are secrets to uncover and misunderstandings to sort out, but it is at heart about the possibility of second chances.

 

What Will Burn by James Oswald

What Will Burn by James Oswald

What Will Burn, the eleventh of James Oswald’s books featuring Tony McLean, sees my favourite detective back from suspension, demoted to DI, but rather pleased to be getting back to doing what he does best. There is a fly in the ointment, however, in the shape of the new Chief Superintendent, Gail Elmwood. Having intervened in Tony’s case to prevent his punishment being any more severe, she oversteps the mark in what she expects from him in return. It’s difficult to decide whether her behaviour or that of Tommy Fielding was the more disturbing.

In a cottage deep in the woods, the charred remains of Cecily Slater are found and, at first, assumed to be the result of a tragic accident. The postmortem soon puts paid to that idea; before being set on fire she had been brutally beaten. Meanwhile, Tommy Fielding QC, who habitually defends men accused of violence against women, has been holding seminars on men’s rights in an Edinburgh hotel, and preaching his particularly offensive brand of misogyny. More men die in ‘weird’ circumstances, and are handed over to Tony to investigate, but could they all be connected?

I am not normally a fan of the supernatural, but it seems perfectly plausible here, and gives the Tony McLean books a unique quality, something that makes them stand out from the crowd. In What Will Burn, James Oswald skillfully blends the historical with the contemporary, and shows how the negative attitudes of some men towards women have never really changed.

The role of women is very much at the heart of What Will Burn. James Oswald writes wonderfully convincing female characters; in fact the majority of McLean’s team are female officers, two of whom get promoted in this story, and it’s good to see Janey Harrison going from strength to strength.

Tony’s interactions with Mrs McCutcheon’s cat when he gets home late in the evening, and the scene where Cecily Slater’s cat seems to be waiting for him, bring a touch of humour that lightens the all-pervading sense of unease in What Will Burn. This series just keeps getting better, and I look forward (patiently) to reading the next one.

Thanks to Wildfire and NetGalley for a digital copy to review. #WhatWillBurn #JamesOswald

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.

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.

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.