Before I Knew You

51jDy1b+c1L._SY346_Two couples swap their houses for the summer. Once away from their familiar routines a succession of hopes, secrets, and dreams force new directions entirely and by the end of the year their respective trips are more about life swaps, than easy holiday solutions. Thanks to his colleague, Andrew and his wife, Sophie, jump at the chance to leave London for the summer and stay in Connecticut, while William and his American wife, Beth, take the opportunity to travel to the UK so that William can spend time with his sons from a previous marriage.
Once in the States Andrew is obsessed with furthering his musical career and exploring various leads open to him and begins to move in circles alien to his wife. Anxious Sophie battles with her sense of direction in life, and wonders about the attentions of a neighbour. Meanwhile, Beth is struggling with a culture shock in London and feeling out of the loop while William is drawn into the problems of his ex-family.

I enjoyed this family drama which, although may be classed as light fiction, explores an interesting set of circumstances in order to test just how solid a relationship might be and how far one might be able to strain it in order to further a personal goal or ambition. Add in the push and pull of family ties and this makes for a gently compelling read.

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The Second Child

41jMqt+Q7pLLove is tested to the limit when Sarah and Phil make a chance life-changing discovery: their profoundly disabled teenage daughter is not theirs. And so unfolds the brutal truth that the life they’ve led with Lauren wasn’t theirs to live. Their real daughter, the pretty, footballing Rosie, is tracked-down by the hospital. But Rosie’s mother, who is separated, is faced with the prospect of losing Rosie to a loving family comprising a cool, footballing brother, and her real father. Added to which the prospect of caring for Lauren in any capacity, is utterly daunting. But who was responsible for the mix-up, and how will the families resolve such an emotional minefield?
Bond writes with integrity and insight. In less capable hands this story would be over-dramatised and full of angst. It’s compelling, thought-provoking, and delivered in a fluid writing style. Characters are relatable and multi-faceted, and although the denouement is satisfying my slight reservation was the ending, which felt a little abrupt. Sarah’s final decision though, was one of great compassion for the other woman.

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The Forgotten Sister

41tQLBEWQwLTom and Grace adopt a mixed-race baby. In later years when Cassie makes a visit to the doctor, her lack of medical history and a series of random memories prompts a search for blood relations. She doesn’t find her mother – she finds Leah – the sister she never knew she had. While Cassie lives a somewhat privileged life in a leafy suburb, her sister is struggling on a sink estate on the other side of Manchester. Why did her adoptive parents not want Leah, why were they separated? The repercussions raise pertinent questions about the strength of family bonds, the struggle of those teen years and coming to terms with who we really are. This is a compelling novel and Bond doesn’t shy away from exploring deeply emotive subjects in a realistic, non-sentimental narrative which is completely believable. An excellent story, and despite the dark undertone, a novel full of truth and hope.

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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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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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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 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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Once Upon A Lie

51YZ425tbhL._SY346_Clare and Lorraine have been best friends since college days. Now in their forties, it’s all about careers and families. Lorraine falls pregnant easily, but is without a steady partner. Clare is married to dependable Sam but cannot carry a baby full term and has suffered numerous miscarriages – and Sam is beginning to feel the strain as much as his wife. Despite this, Clare and Sam – Godparents to Lorraine’s children – are happy to accept the children for a sleepover. But while Lorraine is away at a spa with her mother, the unthinkable happens. Baby Theo is discovered dead. Friendships are torn apart, the police are called, lies are told in order to protect the innocent and every relationship is strained to break point. It’s only many years later when Sam discovers some vital evidence, that the shocking truth is revealed. I raced through this. The pace is good, the characters relatable. The clues as to what really happened to Theo and who was responsible are subtly interwoven into the fabric of the story from the beginning. And although I did guess the outcome as the story reached its conclusion, it didn’t spoil the enjoyment. A good thriller with plenty of character as well as plot.

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Second Honeymoon

Empty nest syndrome is preventing Edie from moving on. Her three children have all left home and husband Russell is looking forward to them spending time as a couple again. But eldest boy Matthew earns less than his girlfriend, who is ready to move up the property ladder, and he’s not happy. Rosa has a secret mountain of debt, and the strain of living with his girlfriend’s mother begins to take the shine off being part of a grown-up relationship for youngest boy, Ben. Meanwhile, after a stalled career, Edie lands a part in an Ibsen play, only to find herself offering an empty bedroom to her down-at-heel stage-son. Cue all three adult children eventually asking to come back, and their bohemian family home is fuller than ever.
Not as light as the title might suggest, and I really enjoyed this. A good, easy read without being overly sentimental. A touch of light comedy about it too, as well as Trollope’s usual insight into the complexities of family relationships.

A Sense of Guilt

51KBrYQ6qGL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Richard’s needy, bohemian ex-wife, Inge, makes life with his new wife and step-daughter as difficult as possible. Since leaving her and their two boys, Richard can’t help but respond to her loneliness, driven by guilt and a sense of duty. Inge has been hanging on for eight years, convinced that Richard will eventually return to the family home. Richard’s second wife, Helen, is more self-contained and independent, allowing him to please everybody except perhaps himself. His lifelong friend the handsome, manipulative, promiscuous author, Felix, is not averse in allowing his creativity to overlap real life, and Felix takes his pleasures very seriously. His devoted wife turns a blind eye to his selfish extravagance, so long as it’s not too close to home.
When Felix begins an affair with Helen’s young daughter, Sally – the most forbidden of fruit – a series of unfortunate events slowly unravels all their relationships, finally laying bare the undesirable truth of jealousy, lies, secrets, immorality, and betrayal. What sets this eighties novel apart from others that try to emulate this kind of sex-shock-taboo style, is the incredible depth of character and the highly credible backstories. The storyline might involve time-worn themes but nothing is overdone or overwritten, sex scenes are restrained and impart only what we need to know, making for a deliciously dark and smutty read heavily based on the psychology of relationships, and the prisons we can so easily make for ourselves.

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