Those People by Louise Candlish

Like so many of you book lovers, I read ‘Our House‘ by Louise Candlish. But, since then, I had rather let her novels pass me by. When she was announced as one of the authors who would be attending ‘The Tasting Notes Live’ in June, I knew I had to make sure I read another of her books.

The clever aspect of this thriller is that there is a feeling that such a thing could come true – and you are considering how far someone would go to deal with that noisy neighbour…

This is a bit of a format that we have seen before: that perfect neighbourhood, with the too-good-to-be-true inhabitants, who have their peace shattered by the arrival of an outsider or two. You are introduced to these characters and, of course, all the ‘perfect’ neighbours have a reason to deal with that ‘intruder’ of their idyll.

However, this was not a favourite read of mine; it was a bit too slow paced. Plus, none of the characters were particularly likeable. So, it was hard to feel any empathy or sympathy for many of those characters who felt their lives were falling apart because of the new terrible neighbour. I did totally appreciate that much of what was happening could push people to the edge – but a couple of them just came across as though they were not helping themselves in the situation.

Yet, I really appreciate that this is the sort of book that I can borrow from the library, as I know I will read more by Lousie Candlish. ‘The Only Suspect’ is definitely one I hope to pick up soon – because I have definitely been influenced by some good reviews out there.

On a total sidenote, if you are a regular reader of my blog, I have to admit it made me giggle that my last read was ‘These Days’, followed by ‘Those People’ – such different reads but such easily confused titles.

These Days by Lucy Caldwell

This month’s ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ book is ‘These Days’ by Lucy Caldwell. This is set during the Blitz in Belfast, probably a piece of history that many of us forget when we consider the events of World War Two in the British Isles. Many of us may think of the bombings in London, possibly even stretch to Coventry – but do we remember how Northern Ireland was effected by these same events?

‘These Days’ is a well-written, slow-paced piece of historical fiction, told almost in real-time over four days of bombing in the city of Belfast in 1941. Focusing mainly on two sisters, Emma and Audrey, and their experiences, but also the experiences of some of the people that they meet along the way – as well as some of their extended family.

This is certainly a book about the characters that we meet; this is not about having some dramatic plot, but simply leading the reader to consider the stories of those who were impacted by war. But not just the struggles that war brings, also the struggles of a society that may not be as liberal and accepting as we may be used to now, or one that has expectations that not everybody wants to adhere to.

At times, this book will break your heart; at times, this book will leave you impressed by the strength of the characters, but mainly it will leave you with two incredibly strong female characters to consider and admire. You will be pondering how their story may have continued long after you have read the last line.

If you are a historical fiction fan, then I highly recommend this novel, because you will be swept away to Belfast in the 1940s – I am not sure it is quite right to say that you would like to have been there, but you would certainly like to have met the people of Belfast to congratulate them on their wartime courage.

The Exiles by Jane Harper

I was so excited when I went to the library and discovered that they had ‘The Exiles’ by Jane Harper on the shelf. I absolutely love the books of Jane Harper and I could not wait to have the chance to be reacquainted with one of my favourite characters, Aaron Falk. And, as we know, I am on a bit of a thriller/crime streak with my book choices at the moment, so that meant I could definitely take the book out, despite all those books on my shelf at home (where I am suposed to be making my choices from).

Now, I am not going to spoil this book for anyone, as I know there are so many Jane Harper and Aaron Falk fans out there, but I am going to try and share some thoughts about the novel with you all. It will be no surprise that I absolutely loved this book.

I think the thing I always like most about these books is that the scenery and the landscape become as much of a character as the actual characters do. And that was the case in this book, just as it had been in the others. I felt like I was there in the small Australian town, experiencing all the things that the characters were experiencing. So, it will come as no surprise that this was a real page-turner that I could not put down.

This book also felt like a natural progression for Aaron Falk: he again manages to solve a crime (well, more than one) and helps the town and its residents move on. But, also, Aaron Falk seems to have naturally developed as a character in this book, as he has found a solid group of friends who have made him feel as though he belongs. He certainly seemed a more vulnerable character than we have seen before. I thought this was fantastic because, as a reader, I felt as though I have been on Aaron Falk’s journey of discovery with him.

I think it is safe to say that Jane Harper has secured herself a place as one of my favourite authors, and Aaron Falk as one of my favourite characters. He may be a flawed man (as they all are – I mean, that is what seems to make a fantastic detective), but he is a definitely a believable character.

If you have enjoyed Jane Harper’s other books, then I can guarantee that you will enjoy this one, too.

Do No Harm by Jack Jordan

My desire to read thrillers continues and I had seen ‘Do No Harm’ everywhere in the book world. So, when this book hit the shelves in paperback, I knew I had to read it.

This is such a fascinating concept: a surgeon asked to do something that goes against everything she stands for…but if she does not, then her son’s life is in the balance. (This is not a spoiler, as this is all in the blurb…) As you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of twists and turns before we reach the end of the book.

Now, I did enjoy this book – even though I am never sure that ‘enjoy’ is the correct word for a thriller – and I did want to find out what was going to happen. However, I am not sure it was quite up to all the hype. It has a well-constructed plot, but there was something that held it back from being quite the hyped thriller that it has been in the book world. I think the ‘sparkle’ was missing for me, because I found the characters very dislikable and not people I felt much sympathy for, despite the very difficult situations they found themselves in. And I was not sure if some of the plot was a little far-fetched – which meant, at moments, you had to suspend your belief for some of the plot points.

I can understand why so many people have enjoyed this book, but, for me, it just slightly missed the hype. However, I would still suggest that people who want to read this and pick it up give it a go because there is so much love for this novel, and I did keep reading it until the end – so, something in there had me turning the pages and wanting to find out what happened.

If this is one you have read, I would love to know what you think.

Wahala by Nikki May

In preparation for the up and coming ‘Tasting Notes Live‘ I am starting to make sure that I have read the books by the incredible authors who will be appearing at the event. And one of those incredible authors is Nikki May. I am also still shopping my shelves, as this was a little treat to myself earlier this year after a visit to one of my favourite independent bookshops – Warwick Books.

‘Wahala’ is Nikki May’s debut novel and – wow – what a read it is. I was attracted to stunning cover of the paperback and thought I was letting myself in for a bit of a cosy read about female friendships. But this book is about so much more.

I mean, do not get me wrong, female friendships are a strong central theme – and a fascinating study of them it is too. But (and this is why I love not reading the blurb) this was a bit of a thriller too, which, if you judge the book by its cover, you would not expect. Why exactly is so much ‘wahala’ occurring and causing strain for three best friends who have always been rock solid?

I think this book has one of the best villains that I have met amongst the pages of a book. A true character that you love to hate. And that really added to the enjoyment of reading this book, especially as it is not exactly who you expect it to be.

There is so much in this book and I do not want to spoil it for anyone else if they hope to pick it up, but I will add that if you decide to read this then you will not be disappointed. This is a sophisticated story about friendships, relationships, family dynamics and self-discovery, with the edge of a thriller. It will keep you turning the pages and just wanting to find out more about these three women and their lives.

I am even more excited about the next live event now I have read this book, and about having the chance to hear Nikki May talk about her fantastic debut novel.

The Favour by Nicci French

Thank you to ‘Tandem Collective’ for the gifted copy of Nicci French’s latest novel. I had not read any books by Nicci French before, so I was very excited to start, especially as I am a fan of a thrilling read.

This thriller is definitely more of a character-driven story than plot-driven. The plot is engaging – after all, what exactly is ‘the favour’? But it is the characters that keep the story going and keep the reader reading.

Jude has her life together – and always has. She is young, she is successful and she does not appear to let the events of the past haunt her or hold her back. However, Liam, her first love, reappears one random morning and asks her for a favour, which she appears to agree to, with hesitation. Little does Jude know that this may well change her life beyond recognition and drag her into a world that she would be better off leaving alone.

I did find this book a page-turner, as I just had to know what was going to happen and who was involved with what throughout the narrative. And, the phrase ‘the favour’ takes on so many different meanings as you work your way through the story – some having much more significance than the other. Occasionally, Jude’s actions seem a bit bizzare for an educated woman, but as the story unfolds you begin to understand why some things are like they are (although it still makes some of her actions a little questionable – I mean, she really does not seem to spot a warning sign…).

The revelation at the end was not quite what I was expecting. I had seen some of the secrets worked out before they were revealed, but not the final revelation. There are plenty of red herrings as we meet different characters – and some of them do seem a little wasted, as they do not bring much to the plot other than a little bit of distraction.

If you enjoy a pacy thriller with a complex plot, then this may not be the book for you – but if you enjoy a well-crafted character-led story full of secrets, then this definitely is the book for you.

The Book-Lover’s Retreat by Heidi Swain

Thank you to Tandem Collective UK for my gifted copy of ‘The Book-Lover’s Retreat’ by Heidi Swain. This was a buddy read for the publication of the paperback edition of the book, and what fun it has been. This was also my first Heidi Swain novel, so I was excited to read it.

‘The Book-Lover’s Retreat’ is definitely a book for book lovers (as the title may suggest): a book about books – can there be anything better? Emily, Rachel and Tori are each big fans of the book ‘Hope Falls’, each has their own personal connection to the book and the film, and finally they are going to have the chance to stay at the cottage used in the film and visit all the places the characters visit. There is just one snag: Tori has to drop out and they need to find someone to replace her pretty quickly to not to lose out on their long-awaited dream holiday. Along comes Alex to save the day – but Alex is not quite who Emily and Rachel expect, and the holiday possibly becomes more than any of them ever expected.

This was such a lovely book to read. It delicately handled so many key issues and showed the importance of being supported by fantastic friends. There is a little bit of romance between the pages but it is so much more than a romantic piece of fiction and, quite honestly, it had me wanting to pack my bags and head for the Lake District with my best friends.

The character development is something that made this book particularly enjoyable. It was lovely to have strong female characters who worked together to support each other and help each other to achieve their dreams, or find their correct place in the world. As well as some male characters that were just as supportive of the dreams of their friends. There is one baddy among the pages, but this allows for the difficult subject of toxic relationships to be handled sensitively, while still raising awareness of such issues.

This book was a delight to read, especially ideal as we move towards the spring and summer months. This may not be my last read from the pen of Heidi Swain.