The Other Woman

41ERDI7XjpL._SY346_Fran, trapped in a soulless marriage with a controlling bully of a man and an indifferent son, lives for her sensitive, secret lover. They hatch a plan to make a new life together. But when the final rendezvous goes awry, she is left with a heart-stopping race to retrace her steps and resume her old life before her indiscretion is discovered. But what has happened to Jack? His silence is painful and confusing. Jack is married to Helena, trapped in a marriage with a needy, volatile, wealthy woman dependent on alcohol and irritated by Jack’s lack of creativity and earnings. But as their relationship begins to fragment, Fran finds the strength to break free of her destructive marriage to discover not only does she have the wherewithal to be truly independent, she’s found the confidence to build relationships based on truth and reality.

Such clever writing, in that my allegiance was with Fran, the ‘other woman,’ the whole way through, and not Helena. Full of tension, especially throughout Fran’s half of the story, and so addictive! It really kept me turning the pages. And as well as a pacy plot moving between Fran and Helena, there is real depth to the characters – whether we like them or not – a reality-based insight into relationships, love and marriage, and children. I love how the entire cast knits together, how they rise and fall by their own hand. It delivered all the elements I enjoy in a novel.

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The Love Child

51Cd403P7GLJanine and Dougie were married for fifteen years until Janine decided she could no longer live with his addictions and his infidelity. Although she is now in a relationship with Dependable Mike, the depth of Janine and Dougie’s history together still lies like an unbreakable, invisible bond through Janine’s teenage daughter, Stevie. Their friends are something of a mixed bag including Dougie’s best friend Simon, and his wife, Victoria – who is so desperate for her own child she is often blind to Simon’s slippery ways. But when it comes to Stevie, Simon bites off more than he can chew and eventually, the dynamic of all their relationships implode.
This is a novel about relationships and how they connect: lovers, friends, husbands, wives, siblings, step-children, parents. It tackles some big issues alongside the domestic strata confirming that genuine, selfless love can overcome anything; and how something better can grow from the ashes of despair. Dougie enjoys the most development as a character, he’s so vibrant and colourful, almost larger than life! But for all his faults he’s big-hearted enough to still care for Janine’s daughter, and his personal struggle to once again build his life back from nothing is an enjoyable, remarkable journey and skilfully executed. The push and pull of emotional chess is rich and insightful, with just enough drama to keep the plot boiling without losing a grip on reality or resorting to sentiment. Deeply compelling, relatable, and hugely enjoyable.

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The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

51lOsL3L07L._SY346_In 1959 the four Wilde sisters spend the long hot summer with their aunt and uncle in rural seclusion at Applecote Manor. Five years previously, their cousin, Audrey, vanished, and the mystery remains unsolved. Audrey’s mother tends her daughter’s shrine, and barely leaves the house. And what of their big, blustering uncle who likes to swim with them in the river and was arrested by the police at the time of Audrey’s disappearance, for questioning? A second timeline is set in present day when Jessie and widower Will buy the now neglected, empty Applecote Manor not only to escape the pressure of living in London, but to give Will’s teenage daughter, Bella, a fresh start after losing her mother, and falling foul to bad behaviour. Despite her initial protests, Bella feels an affinity to the missing girl and is curious to discover more. As both centuries slowly collide, the past catches up to the present and the truth about what really happened to Audrey Wilde, is finally exposed.

The overriding strength of this novel lies in the historical setting; the shabby chic era of the well-to-do in the English countryside, plus the naivety of the girls in the fifties, has a charm which really resonated. I thought the contemporary timeline not quite as strong, but both plot lines are cleverly structured between the different eras to bring about a compelling conclusion. It is a slow burn of a story, and from an action point of view, only really gets going in the final 30%. A few too many similes/metaphors in the descriptive passages but overall, an enjoyable slice of escapism.

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The Lie of the Land

 

61Yu+TVTqgL._SY346_Quentin and Lottie both lose their prestigious London jobs in the recession whilst trying to divorce each other, adding to an already impossible situation. Lottie’s solution is to rent out their large home and move to a cottage in the country near Quentin’s ageing parents – where the rent is suspiciously low – in order to consider their next move without going bankrupt. Quentin, once an acclaimed columnist is reduced to writing derogatory pieces about country life. Alexander, Lottie’s mixed-race teenage son from a previous relationship, is less than pleased about being buried in a rural idyll with poor internet connections. And instead of going to university he’s encouraged to find a job in the local pie factory. As the mystery of the low rent begins to gather pace, and as local characters become friends – or enemies – the beautiful Devonshire countryside shows its dark side.
This is not only a detailed romp through a failing relationship and the struggles of the family dynamic, its also smart-urban life versus rustic-country life, and a mesmerising study of a large cast of diverse characters; depicted through a generous slice of British society. The Polish workers in the pie factory, the sheep farming health-visitor, the rich rock star in his mansion, the cleaner with the odd, musically talented daughter, the ex-London friends. All of these characters come with their own backstories but they are skilfully threaded together by Craig to produce a fabulous murder-mystery denouement. The character development is terrific, how assumptions about people can be misleading and dangerous, how the loss of a parent can force a different point of view, how the loss of entitlements can lead to something better, richer. If I have to find any fault in this novel I’d flag-up the sometimes confusing mix of tenses through the narrative, but overall, the strength of everything else equalled sheer entertainment for me.

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Good Girls

 
41sTq0N9D+L._SY346_As sisters, Eleanor and Kat Keating couldn’t be more different but with a scatterbrained, alcoholic mother and a somewhat misguided, controlling priest for a father the family unit was always going to be one of intense diversity. When Eleanor leaves home for university, the relationship with her sister undergoes subtle changes. It becomes even more fractured when Eleanor’s handsome friend, Nick, is captivated by her younger and prettier sister. Many years later, Nick has married into a wealthy family in South Africa. A near-death accident forces him to re-evaluate his life and pick up the threads of his friendship with the Keating girls, and although the trail of lies he is fed eventually leads to a reunion of sorts, there are innumerable hurdles to jump before the truth is finally laid bare.

I was fully engaged in this story from the first to the last page. Terrific character development centered around basically good girls – but the products of bad parents – coupled with a lifetime of misunderstandings which only become clear as the novel develops. Skilfully written with a deep understanding of the nuances and the sometimes see-saw of emotions within different relationships.

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The World at my Feet

51cEaWpxaOL._SY346_In 1990 Harriet’s job as a journalist takes her to Romania to report on the terrible conditions in the state orphanages there. Her mantra is never to become involved in ‘the story,’ or to make it about herself but on this occasion, she breaks all the rules. In 2018 Ellie is suffering from agoraphobia and anxiety: a legacy from her childhood. Her sanctuary is her garden and her highly profitable Instagram account where she creates an image of herself as keeper of the quintessential English country garden. When two, very different men enter her life, Ellie is forced to make that leap beyond her garden gate and take her life back to its bare roots, not only to find a future but to discover who she really is.

This is light, intelligent fiction with a romantic slant and a compelling, time-slip structure which kept me turning the pages. It does not suffer from cliche or sentiment and the denouement is equally satisfying without being overly predictable. Lovely, original read

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Daughters-in-Law

41JjP6FAJJL._SY346_Rachel has dedicated her married life to bringing up her three sons. When they marry and begin families of their own, their wives have their own ideas about family roles and interactions, and Rachel is often hurt. She says and thinks all the wrong things at the wrong time, and suddenly she is in danger of alienating herself completely.

This is rich, skilful writing; it does not rely on sensationalist plot twists, unreliable narrators, secrets or lies – it’s an intelligent observation of reality within family relationships, marriage, ageing, and what makes people tick. I recognised all the characters (although I did think three artists in one book was one too many) in people I know, even if the personalities were different, the traits and situations were the same. I could relate to the feelings from the young, first-time mother, to the bohemian wife torn in two by her husbands new city job, to the wife from a different country and culture, to the mother-in-law desperate not to be left out of any loops. The role which had been the centre of her life for so many years had suddenly turned on its axis, leaving Rachel lost and directionless, an acute condition for those who live solely for their children, and grandchildren. As Sigrid’s mother says; ‘there has to be enough in your own relationship and retirement to prevent you from living through (and therefore controlling) the life of someone else.’

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The Judge’s Wife

51JgJmt0TWL1950’s Ireland and Grace is coerced into an arranged marriage to an older, wealthy judge by her guardian – a cruel, ruthless aunt. Grace eventually falls in love with an Indian doctor, Vikram, and falls pregnant. Poor Grace is sent to an asylum a few days after giving birth in order to hide the scandal. Vikram is told that Grace has died in childbirth, and Grace is told that her child didn’t survive. Thirty years later and the culmination of all these lies reach breakpoint when Emma – who believes her mother, Grace, died many years ago – returns to attend to her father’s estate on his death, and so begins a journey to discover the full extent of her father’s deception.
I thought this was quite a page-turner for a number of reasons. It’s a highly complex tale with two time-slips set in both India and Ireland, but it didn’t quite work for me as many important aspects felt skimmed over and a bit thin. I thought it lacked some depth, especially of character, and as the story gathered pace the plot began to feel like a procession of shock twists – some of them not especially credible. There were a few niggles with the grammar too, with many repeated words, in particular ‘pleats,’ and ‘pleated.’ And why was Martin repeatedly called ‘The Judge’, when his name would have been more realistic? Emma was a shadowy figure for me, and no explanation as to why the aunt was so cruel. And when Grace – an especially weak character – is taken to the asylum after giving birth there was no reference to her physical or emotional state. The romantic aspects were quite sugary, perhaps too light for the overall tone of the book. Despite this I did read to 80% and then skimmed to the end. All the ingredients were there; the historical time-slips, the secrets, the prejudice of the times, and the forbidden love stories: it just wasn’t executed to my taste. Fabulous descriptions of India, and I love the beautiful cover.

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The Soldier’s Wife

51w-dQ39FqL._SY346_Dan Riley is a British soldier, a vocational career which takes him aeons away from home life and often stretches him to break point. In order to survive mentally and physically he relies on his comrades, and they become such an important and integral part of his life that he finds it difficult to disconnect once home and on leave. Returning from six months in Afghanistan, Dan is faced with the minefields of family life and turns to his equally adrift friend.
Alexa has managed without Dan’s emotional and physical support for so long she’s unsure how the family dynamic will adjust on his return, since the life of a military wife is one built around her husbands career and often leaves Alexa feeling invisible. Moving and making a home so many times not only inhibits taking a job, but her older child is at boarding school in order to provide some sort of continuity, but Isabel is so unhappy that Alexa is forced to make several decisions.

This is a slow, considered novel with a light plot, but it is meaty on character. The writing is pared back and subdued, and Trollope observes the human condition with her usual mix of truth and wry humour.

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A Spanish Lover

51ibpogxyylTwins Frances and Lizzie couldn’t be more different. Lizzie is the traditional achiever with husband and four children, a thriving business set in a fashionable town, and a large period-style family home furnished in the epitome of good taste to show for it all. Her days are interminably busy since looking after everything she’s created with her husband is a full-time job; and when the family finances take a considerable and worrying nosedive, their situation raises serious questions about what they value. Meanwhile, Frances creates a bespoke travel business and whilst seeking out off-the-beaten-track holidays for her clients, she meets and begins an affair with an enigmatic, wealthy – albeit married – Spanish hotelier. It seems that the freedom of choice for Frances is far more liberating and interesting than an indulgent lifestyle, and Lizzie finds she’s suddenly less than fulfilled with her lot.
Again, a misleading title as this novel is much more about the complexities of the family dynamic rather than a casual romance. This is a work-life balance problem versus feminism kind of novel, set in the early nineties. I really enjoyed the way these characters developed and the questions raised by their actions. My only negative was the amount of background detail about Andalusia, although the imagery was vivid and engaging.
 
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One Split Second

508041Five teenagers, a party, a fast car, and a loss of concentration for a split-second. Their parents, their siblings, even the guy who lives across the road from the crash site, is deeply affected by the tragedy and this novel follows the emotional nightmare of the five families involved. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this. The beginning introduces a lot of couples and their offspring so a little confusing, to the point where I made a note as to who was who. But then, something magical happened and I was fully immersed in the lives and thoughts of these people, all those facets of human nature and the constantly changing dynamic. The insight, the slow reveal of facts, the clever structure and the tight narrative made for a totally compelling story. And this could so easily have read like a depressing monologue, but it’s not in the least morbid or mawkish, or sentimental.
It is, however, overwhelmingly character-driven so if you’re looking for dramatic plot twists and surprises, you’re in the wrong book. It’s more a slow burn of emotional fall-out; how different relationships and personalities survive grief, apportion blame, find the strength to make decisions for the future and above all, how the power of forgiveness can heal the deepest of wounds.

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The Legacy

51byIKa1AZL._SY346_When Jonathan Coulter passes away from MND, he leaves a legacy designed to dispel the rivalry between his three adult children, his estranged ex-wife, and his young partner. His children must decide how to divide his estate, and they have one weekend to plan how this will be carried out. If they fail to agree on anything, then they stand to lose their entire inheritance.

I really enjoyed this, such an unusual storyline. The family dynamic constantly shifts and as more information is gradually revealed about each character, the more compelling the novel becomes. Although the subject matter is sad and serious, the author has a good handle on balancing the ups and downs without the need for graphic description. Together with the quality of the writing, The Legacy is a sensitive, well-considered novel about people. Great scene setting in the coastal town of Scarborough.

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