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cover116186-mediumThe Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel
Publication date: 10 August 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Synopsis: 

The girls of the Roanoke family – beautiful, rich, mysterious – seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them that’s never spoken. Either the girls run away… or they die.

Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents’ estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing – and Lane has no choice but to go back.

She is a Roanoke girl. Is she strong enough to escape a second time?

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘The Roanoke Girls’ is narrated by Lane, a girl who at 16 moves into her grandparents’ home after her mother’s death. She develops a strong friendship with her cousin Allegra, but something feels off: the walls are lined with pictures of the other Roanoke girls – cousins and aunts – but they’re all either ‘gone or dead’.

Ten years later, her grandfather calls with an emergency, and Lane returns to Roanoke for the first time since that dramatic summer.

The narrative flits between Lane’s teenage summer, the present, and little snippets of the other Roanoke girls’ stories, mainly set around smalltown Kansas. Its an atmospheric and powerful read, with a handful of intriguing mysteries that really push the story along.

The characters are well drawn and fascinating, with complex backgrounds and motivations, which is excellent. However, the characters whose motivations are hardest to understand are never fully explored – we don’t find out why Yates does the things he does, and we never fully understand why the Roanoke girls don’t tell anyone (particularly Allegra) and that’s an issue for me.

I think the writer attempts to explain, but without getting into the head of a character like Yates it’s pretty difficult to understand him.

Overall, a great read which would appeal to fans of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides and ‘The Last Days of Summer’ by Vanessa Walters.

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cover108163-mediumThe Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, by Eve Chase
Publication date: 22 August 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph

Synopsis

From the present day . . . Applecote Manor captivates Jessie with it promise of hazy summers in the Cotswolds. She believes it’s the perfect escape for her troubled family. But the house has an unsettling history, and strange rumours surround the estate.

To the fifties . . . When teenage Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote during the heatwave of ’59, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. The sisters are drawn into the mystery of Audrey’s vanishing – until the stifling summer takes a shocking, deadly turn. Will one unthinkable choice bind them together, or tear them apart? Step back in time for a richly evocative mystery, where the beauty of a Cotswolds summer is vividly contrasted with the violence which shatters it.

My thoughts

4 stars out of 5

Present day: Jessie just persuaded her husband to move from London to the countryside with their toddler Romy and Will’s teenage daughter Bella. They move to a huge manor with a dark past, and Jessie quickly begins to question whether she made the right decision.

1950s: The Wilde sisters spend the summer at their Uncle and Aunt’s manor in the country, the memory of their cousin Audrey – who disappeared 5 years before – lingers around every corner.

The story alternates across these two time lines, following Jessie trying to make the manor into a home for her family and the Wilde sisters puzzling over Audrey’s disappearance.

It’s a strong historical drama with a good mystery at its heart, with a splash of family saga and a hint of Daphne duMaurier’s ‘Rebecca’.

cover113555-mediumThe Woman in the Wood, by Lesley Pearse
Publication date:  29 June 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK / Michael Joseph

Synopsis: 

Fifteen-year-old twins Maisy and Duncan Mitcham have always had each other. Until the fateful day in the wood . . . One night in 1960, the twins awake to find their father pulling their screaming mother from the house. She is to be committed to an asylum. It is, so their father insists, for her own good. It’s not long before they, too, are removed from their London home and sent to Nightingales – a large house deep in the New Forest countryside – to be watched over by their cold-hearted grandmother, Mrs Mitcham. Though they feel abandoned and unloved, at least here they have something they never had before – freedom. The twins are left to their own devices, to explore, find new friends and first romances. That is until the day that Duncan doesn’t come back for dinner. Nor does he return the next day. Or the one after that. When the bodies of other young boys are discovered in the surrounding area the police appear to give up hope of finding Duncan alive. With Mrs Mitcham showing little interest in her grandson’s disappearance, it is up to Maisy to discover the truth. And she knows just where to start. The woman who lives alone in the wood about whom so many rumours abound. A woman named Grace Deville.

My thoughts: 

3 stars out of 5

The Woman in the Wood is an entertaining novel: it’s easy to read, with well-rounded characters and an entertaining story. It’s a little clunky in places, particularly the way dialogue is used to communicate characters’ inner thoughts – that felt a little ‘on the nose’. Similarly the modern attitudes held by many characters about mental illness and sexuality seemed a little jarring considering the book’s 1960s setting.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it as an entertaining holiday read for someone who enjoys period drama and mystery.
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cover123428-mediumThe Cactus, by Sarah Haywood
Publisher: John Murray Press
Publication date: 25 January 2018

Synopsis: 

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs.

At 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control.

When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

Susan Green is as prickly as her cactus collection, and lives her life in a very specific way: designed to rely on no one and be independent at all times. When her mother dies and the will is patently unfair, Susan’s carefully organised existence starts to unravel, and she slowly realises that her chosen way of life may not be the best approach for all circumstances.

Susan is a lovely character whose flaws are clear yet charming. She’s the ultimate unreliable narrator, although that’s a little heavy-handed at times. The plot is enjoyable yet a little predictable in places, with some unexpected twists and turns that I did really enjoy.

If you were a fan of ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘, then ‘The Cactus’ is an absolute must-read.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Publication date:  29 May 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins UK

Synopsis: 

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

I absolutely loved ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, and I devoured it quickly from start to finish.

It’s dazzlingly well-written: the writing seems effortless, as if Honeyman just sat down at a desk one day and wrote the whole thing from start to finish. But actually, like many great books such as this, on closer inspection it is meticulously plotted and beautifully structured – I’m sure there was nothing at all effortless about writing it!

The character of Eleanor is funny and touching: she’s living a tiny life of careful routine, until one day something happens and her routine starts to unravel. With this unravelling, the reader begins to learn what brought Eleanor to this point, and watches her slowly start to emerge from her cocoon into a beautiful butterfly of a person.

Eleanor’s slightly skewed observations of life are witty and amusing, such as:

“I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly.”

This novel is really funny and engaging, perfect for people who enjoyed ‘My Name is Leon’.

cover108956-mediumHow to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, by Mandy Len Catron
Publication date: 27 June 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Synopsis: 

What really makes love last? Does love ever work the way we say it does in movies and books and Facebook posts? Or does obsessing over those love stories hurt our real-life relationships? When her parents divorced after a twenty-eight year marriage and her own ten-year relationship ended, those were the questions that Mandy Len Catron wanted to answer.

In a series of candid, vulnerable, and wise essays that takes a closer look at what it means to love someone, be loved, and how we present our love to the world, Catron deconstructs her own personal canon of love stories. She delves all the way back to 1944, when her grandparents first met in a coal mining town in Appalachia, to her own dating life as a professor in Vancouver, drawing insights from her fascinating research into the universal psychology, biology, history, and literature of love. She uses biologists’ research into dopamine triggers to ask whether the need to love is an innate human drive. She uses literary theory to show why we prefer certain kinds of love stories. She urges us to question the unwritten scripts we follow in relationships and looks into where those scripts come from in the first place. And she tells the story of how she decided to test a psychology experiment that she’d read about—where the goal was to create intimacy between strangers using a list of thirty-six questions—and ended up in the surreal situation of having millions of people following her brand-new relationship.

In How to Fall in Love with Anyone Catron flips the script on love and offers a deeply personal, and universal, investigation.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

This is a lovely meander through love, relationships and dating. The author takes us back to her grandparents and their courtship, her parents and how they met, and a selection of her own relationship. The tales are told alongside scientific studies, anecdotes and other fascinating information about love, marriage and life.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in love and relationships and the stories and science behind it all.

cover124386-mediumFaking Friends, by Jane Fallon
Publication date: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph

Synopsis

Best friend, soulmate, confidante . . . backstabber. Amy thought she knew everything there was to know about her best friend Melissa. Then again, Amy also thought she was on the verge of the wedding of her dreams to her long-distance fiancé. Until she pays a surprise trip home to London. Jack is out, but it’s clear another woman has been making herself at home in their flat. There’s something about her stuff that feels oddly familiar . . . and then it hits Amy. The Other Woman is Melissa. Amy has lost her home, her fiancé and her best friend in one disastrous weekend – but instead of falling apart, she’s determined to get her own back. Piecing her life back together won’t be half as fun as dismantling theirs, after all.

My thoughts

5 stars out of 5

 

‘Faking Friends’ by Jane Fallon is a look at female friendships: their twists, turns, betrayals and loyalties.

The plot follows Amy and the aftermath of her best friend Mel’s betrayal of her. When Amy finds out that Mel has stolen Amy’s fiance, Amy vows to get revenge on both of them, and the novel tells the story of that aftermath. We see Amy trying (and sometimes failing) to rebuild her life, while also trying to give Mel the comeuppance she feels is owed to Mel.

I really enjoyed this book: the main characters were likeable and their motivations clear. The book’s structure was impeccable; with backstory and story-story weaved seamlessly together, forming a rich and enjoyable book from beginning to end. Highly recommended.