Both of You by Adele Parks

Both of You by Adele Parks

Two women are missing, with nothing to obviously connect them, but the investigating officer, DC Clements, can’t shake off the feeling that their disappearances are linked. Is she right?

Both of You is told from multiple viewpoints, none of whom can be wholly trusted, which paints a rounded picture of events, but also adds to the confusion. The pace is a bit uneven in places, though there are lots of unexpected twists to keep you guessing, and what I felt was a fairly unsatisfying ambiguous ending.

The characters are well drawn and clearly defined with distinct voices, but I could not empathise with any of them. Despite this lack of interest in the characters, the quality of the writing kept me turning the pages. At the beginning I suspected everyone and questioned their actions; later on it became obvious who the perpetrator was, but their motivation was far from clear.

I enjoyed Both of You, but it did not quite live up to her previous book, Just My Luck, which I read and really enjoyed last year; there the main character was flawed but still relatable which made all the difference. Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon

Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon

Worst Idea Ever is a story about female friendship – how fragile it is – and how little it takes to blow it all apart. The title is very clever as it works on more than one level. Georgia and Lydia have been friends since college, both of them set on a career in book illustration, and are now in their mid-forties. Georgia is the author of a successful series of children’s books, but Lydia is still trying to find a publisher for her work, and this causes tension in their relationship.

Despite her apparent success, Georgia is still troubled by impostor syndrome believing she is not fulfilling her true potential as an artist. Lydia hides her resentment well but it festers. What starts out as an act of kindness, spirals very quickly into a nightmarish scenario that wreaks havoc on so many lives. The corrosive effects of jealousy and rivalry are amplified through the filter of social media.   

The story is told mainly from Georgia’s point of view with some insights into Lydia’s increasingly irrational behaviour. The first half of the book is quite slow as the scene is set and we get to know the characters, who are all well drawn and relatable. Just when I thought I knew where the story was heading, Jane Fallon pulled the rug out from under me and went off in a completely different direction. It is testament to her skill as a writer that by the end of Worst Idea Ever, even after everything that has happened, we still feel a little bit sorry for Lydia.

I read and enjoyed Jane Fallon’s debut novel Getting Rid of Matthew in 2007, but had not read anything since; it seems I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Thanks to Penguin 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.

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 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.