Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

While still at school, sixteen-year-old Emmie Blue releases a balloon with a message tied to it. Against all the odds, it is found by Lucas on a beach in Normandy and he makes contact with her. Fast forward fourteen years and Emmie is shattered when Lucas announces he is getting married and wants her to be his ‘best woman’; she had been hoping that he was going to propose to her. Having been made to feel so welcome by Lucas and his family, Emmie has perhaps misread the situation as her own family are so dysfunctional.

Lia Louis has written well-rounded, believable characters. They are not all good or all bad, but flawed individuals just like in real life. When the initial shock has worn off, Emmie starts to re-evaluate her past. Her eyes are opened, and she discovers she is not the helpless victim she always thought she was; she has an inner strength and can cope with whatever life throws at her. By the end Emmie also sees Lucas in a different light – as he actually is – not the idealized version she has carried in her head for so long.

I love the humorous exchanges with her friends, Rosie and Fox, who also work with her in the hotel, and have her best interests at heart. Her landlady, Louise, helps her come to see that she already has somewhere to call home. As the past is slowly revealed, we realize that everything did not happen the way Emmie thought it did, and that Eliot is one of the good guys.

Set between France and a seaside town on the south coast of England, Dear Emmie Blue would make a great romantic comedy film. I really enjoyed it and will be looking out for other books by Lia Louis in the future.

Thanks to Orion and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Storm by Amanda Jennings

The Storm by Amanda Jennings

The Storm is a dual-timeline psychological suspense novel set on the Cornish coast. Hannah is trapped in a toxic marriage to a man she does not love; the only good things in her life are her teenage son, Alex, and her dog, Cass. This is a realistic and chilling portrayal of coercive control, but why does Hannah tolerate Nathan’s treatment of her?

The story is mainly told from Hannah’s point of view, with some chapters by her husband, Nathan, and others by her old boyfriend, Cam, who was a trawlerman. After an argument with his father, Alex runs away. This is the catalyst that destroys the status quo, brings Cam back to Newlyn, and forces everything out into the open.

To begin with, the secrets of the past are gradually revealed in short flashbacks that keep the story moving along, but it drags a bit in the middle with a long section on the ill-fated fishing trip and the storm. With a bit of judicious editing the reader would still have got the point, and the narrative would have flowed better. The descriptions of life at sea on a fishing trawler were both convincing and terrifying, but some of the other members of the crew were shown in a particularly unflattering light.

The characters are well drawn, even the horrible ones. Nathan is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character, with his public persona a complete contrast to how he behaves behind closed doors. He is truly abhorrent, but what is worse is that he seems to believe he loves Hannah, and is treating her well. Even allowing for the passing of time, Hannah is unrecognizable and a shadow of her younger self. It’s as if Nathan has  literally sucked the life out of her.

The strong sense of place shows in the vivid descriptions of the Cornish coast; I’d quite like to visit Newlyn sometime and see it for myself. I had not read any other books by Amanda Jennings, but will remedy that as soon as I can.

Thanks to HarperCollins HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher by Tana French

Cal Hooper, a retired detective from Chicago, has moved to the depths of rural Ireland looking for a slower pace of life. He plans to take his time doing up his cottage, mind his own business, and maybe do a bit of hunting and fishing. But, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley’.  Local teenager, Trey, wants Cal to find out what happened to his elder brother, Brendan, and won’t take no for an answer.

When Cal begins to investigate he uncovers layers of darkness buried beneath the picturesque surface of life in Ardnakelty. Told entirely from Cal’s point of view, the mystery surrounding Brendan’s disappearance is slowly uncovered, piece by piece. The pace is quite slow at the beginning as Tana French sets the scene and introduces us to the locals. The writing is skillful as she describes them without turning them into caricatures. They are completely believable, and help to convey how insular and suffocating life in a small rural community actually is.

For the story to work, Cal had to be a complete outsider, like the ‘stranger in town’ in Western films, acting as a catalyst to bring everything out into the open, away from the reach of the forces of law and order. To save the narrative from becoming too bleak, there is a lot of black humour to lighten the darkness. The writing is atmospheric with evocative descriptions of the landscape and wildlife, particularly the terrain he encounters while out walking on the hill, and the antics of the rooks high up in the treetops in his garden.  

The Searcher is the first novel I have read by Tana French, but it won’t be the last. I watched and enjoyed The Dublin Murders on TV, and have since found out that they are based on books written by her; they are now waiting on my bedside table.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

His and Hers by Alice Feeney

His and Hers by Alice Feeney

His and Hers is an unusual and unsettling novel that will keep you guessing right to the final reveal. Anna has gone from reading the lunchtime news bulletin on television back to being a reporter, and is sent out to cover a murder in the village of Blackdown where she grew up. She is not happy about this demotion, and the situation goes from bad to worse when she discovers that her ex-husband, Jack, is the detective in charge of the investigation.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Anna and Jack, with occasional extracts from a third voice – the killer. This probably works well in the printed book, but in the kindle version I received from NetGalley it was a bit confusing until I realized who the voice belonged to. Anna and Jack are both unreliable narrators, and Alice Feeney plants just enough doubt in your mind to make you think that either one of them might be the killer.

The main characters are well written and believable though deeply flawed as individuals; we are gradually let into the secret of their backstory and everything starts to make a lot more sense. The chapters are short which moves the story along fairly quickly, and increases the tension as the body count rises and we try to guess the identity of the killer. Several times I thought I’d worked out who it was, but ambiguity and misdirection in the plot meant I was wrong every time.

I can imagine this story working well as a film or television drama. There are occasions when the reader has to suspend disbelief, but to avoid spoilers I won’t say any more. Certain themes in the book (such as bullying, grooming, animal cruelty and sudden infant death syndrome) have the potential to upset some readers, but are all relevant to the plot. I really enjoyed His and Hers, but it certainly kept me guessing right to the very end.

Thanks to HarperCollins HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews

I have read and enjoyed quite a few novels by Mimi Matthews, but Gentleman Jim is my favourite so far. Set between Somerset and London in 1817, this is a tale full of love, adventure and revenge.

Maggie Honeywell and Nicholas Seaton were childhood sweethearts who grew up together on her father’s estate in Somerset; she the squire’s daughter, and he the illegitimate son of the kitchen maid, though his father was rumoured to be the notorious highwayman, Gentleman Jim.

Her father had always wanted to join his estate with the neighbouring one by having Maggie marry Frederick Burton-Smythe. She loathed him, but this was no deterrent to her father’s plans. Jealous of their close relationship, Fred falsely accuses Nicholas of stealing Maggie’s jewellery, and intends handing him over to the magistrate, thereby eliminating his rival. Maggie has other ideas – she helps Nicholas escape and vows to wait for him. He sets off to find his father and promises to return.

We learn all this in the prologue. Ten years have gone by, and Maggie’s father is now dead. She is completely at Fred’s mercy – in six months she must either marry him or lose everything. In this day and age it is hard for us to fathom that a devoted father would put his daughter in this position, but women were simply seen as possessions with little or no say in what happened to them.

Maggie goes to stay with a friend in London to try to come up with a plan. She learns that a Viscount St Clare has challenged Fred to a duel. If anything should happen to Fred, her estate will go to a distant relative, and she will be no better off, so she visits St Clare to try and dissuade him from fighting the duel. She comes away convinced that St Clare is Nicholas Seaton, though he denies it vehemently, as this would mess up his plans to prove he is the grandson and legitimate heir of the Earl of Allendale.

The emphasis in Gentleman Jim is different from Mimi Matthews’ previous books. It is partly set in London during the season, with more exposure to the eyes of the ton, and all this entails – balls, duels, etiquette and carriage rides in the park. There is a large element of suspense, mystery and adventure which shows Maggie to be a fearless, feisty heroine capable of holding her own when the going gets tough.

The characters are all well written and relatable, even the nasty ones who are willing to go to any lengths to satisfy their greed. Mimi Matthews brings Regency England to life, seamlessly inserting the period detail into the story with a light touch. My only reservation would be that I don’t think the cover art does the book justice.

At the start of Gentleman Jim, the likelihood of Maggie and Nicholas ending up together seems pretty remote, but this is a romance novel so the ending is almost a foregone conclusion. It is how Mimi Matthews brings the story to a satisfying and believable finale that makes this such an enjoyable read.  

Thanks to Mimi Matthews for a digital copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT