The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

The Black Dress is a darkly humorous tale of the destabilising effects of grief and loneliness on sixty-nine-year-old Pru, after her husband leaves her suddenly and ends their marriage. At times it seems she misses being half of a couple,and the resulting social life, rather than him specifically. She is bereft and very lonely, and for a while goes off the rails. She buys a little black dress from a charity shop and gatecrashes funerals where men have recently lost their partners. What follows will make you cringe and laugh in equal measure. Deborah Moggach writes with heart-breaking honesty about life as an older woman as she has done in many of her previous books.

The story is told entirely from Pru’s point of view – we are inside her head – but she is a fairly unreliable narrator so we should take what she says with a pinch of salt. The pace is uneven, and it is quite hard to pigeonhole The Black Dress into any specific genre, but the twist at the end is very satisfying. This is not her best book, but it is well written and would make for an interesting discussion at a book group. Thanks to Headline and Bookends for a copy to review.

Every Day in December by Kitty Wilson

Every Day in December by Kitty Wilson

Belle loses her job at the beginning of December and is finding that replacements are thin on the ground. She is happy to spend her time working on her Shakespeare website, designed to make the bard more accessible to school children, but still needs to be able to pay her rent. At her mother’s birthday lunch, she is reacquainted with Rory, an old friend from university, who is now a reputation management consultant trying to salvage her father’s tattered reputation. He is back in Bristol for a month to support his mother who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

Rory is not a fan of the Christmas season, having lost someone very close to him at that time of year five years previously. Belle, on the other hand, is a massive fan and sets out to change Rory’s mind and distract him by planning various activities with a Christmas theme.

I am not normally a fan of Christmas-themed fiction, but I’m glad I agreed to read Every Day in December as it is about so much more than just Christmas. Belle and Rory are both damaged characters, but very likeable. However, it is her friend Luisa’s daughter, almost-five-year-old Marsha, who steals the show.

There is a chapter devoted to each day in December, with a section from the point of view of both Belle and Rory, so the reader gets a rounded picture of what is going on in both their minds. They are both denying the growing attraction between them, for different though equally valid reasons, but the slow pace makes the romance all the more believable. I also thought the Shakespeare quotes at the start of each chapter were a nice touch.  I had not read anything by Kitty Wilson before, but will look out for her books in future. Thanks to One More Chapter and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

  

We Belong Together by Beth Moran

We Belong Together by Beth Moran

Eleanor Sharpley has reached the end of her tether. Her position as an online influencer and restaurant critic has become toxic; she no longer wants this life. Feeling threatened and vulnerable, she packs up her stuff and runs to the one person she knows will understand. She has not been able to reach her friend Charlie recently, and is shocked to find out about her death several months before. She finds solace in staying on at Damson Farm, helping Charlie’s brother Daniel look after her daughter Hope, and trying to bring Charlie’s vision for the farm to fruition.

Based loosely on a real life story, the nearby village of Ferrington in Nottinghamshire has been split in two since the Miner’s Strike in the 80s – Old Main Street and New Main Street – with neither side able to compromise. Eleanor makes friends on both sides of the river and would dearly love to heal the rift, but is this even possible?

We see the world solely through Eleanor’s eyes, and her character does evolve as the story progresses and she tries to make amends for her past behaviour. Daniel is also a solid believable character, despite none of the story being told from his point of view. However, I did not feel that Charlie was fleshed out well enough, and would have liked a few more flashbacks to get a better sense of who she was.  

Some elements of We Belong Together reminded me of Katie Fforde’s novels, especially the old buildings in need of renovation so that they can run Damson Farm as some kind of business.  I particularly enjoyed Eleanor’s visit to her family’s guesthouse in the Lake District, where they still did everything the old-fashioned way. Her family were wonderfully ‘strange’ and very entertaining.

It was also good that the romance between Eleanor and Daniel was given time to develop in a realistic fashion despite their living in close proximity; they were allowed to become friends first of all, but I would have liked an epilogue just to see how everything worked out.

We Belong Together is a heartwarming story of the importance of community spirit and second chances. It also highlights the darkness at the heart of social media. The characters are well drawn and relatable, and the Nottinghamshire countryside is vividly evoked. I have not read any other books by Beth Moran, but will definitely be adding them to my list in the future as I thoroughly enjoyed reading We Belong Together. Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the Dark is an impressive debut novel set in Louisiana. Chloe Davis is a psychologist with a troubled past. Her father has been in prison for twenty years, having murdered six young women, and the unresolved trauma, for which she self-medicates with pills and alcohol, leads her to behave in an irrational and often self-destructive way, imagining connections that might not be there.

The characters are well rounded and believable but flawed, and at some point in the narrative they all look guilty and appear to be hiding something. Stacy Willingham keeps pulling the rug out from under the reader, has you believing one thing then turns it on its head. Several times I thought I had it all figured out, but I was wrong. Unlike most of the other reviewers, I did not guess what had happened, but then again I rarely do.

The writing is atmospheric and creepy, bringing the Louisiana setting vividly to life, but overly descriptive in places. I liked the way Chloe’s memories and flashbacks were woven into the narrative, avoiding the need for the more usual alternating past and present chapters.

There is a cinematic quality to the writing which probably explains why A Flicker in the Dark is to be made into a TV series. I look forward to watching it brought to life on the screen, and will certainly put the next book by this author on my reading list. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson

The Killing Tide by LIn Anderson

The Killing Tide is book sixteen in this series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. In Glasgow, the badly burned body of a young woman has been found in the backyard of a tenement building. During a severe storm, a ‘ghost’ ship has run aground off the Orkney coast, and the shocking discovery of three bodies onboard sets in motion an investigation that will uncover a far-reaching conspiracy. What links them is a company called Go Wild that caters for the whims of the rich and powerful, and will go to any lengths to protect its wealthy clients.

I have been reading this series since the beginning, and what makes it so special is the cast of familiar characters who by now feel like old friends. While you could easily read The Killing Tide as a standalone, you would gain so much more from reading the books in order and finding out what makes these characters tick. The settings are important and range from the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the Orkney Islands, via the streets around Glasgow University where Rhona works that are so familiar to me, to cosmopolitan London where DS McNab does not get a warm welcome.

The Killing Tide is a fast-paced and tense thriller that shines a light on some very dark places. It is well written with a wonderful cast of characters who will leave a lasting impression. I look forward to reading Lin Anderson’s next book which I believe is a standalone – The Party House – and hope that there will be another Rhona MacLeod adventure before too long. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.