The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

In less than three books, Lucy Foley has become renown for serving up stories where nothing and no-one is what or who they seem. She gathers disparate characters into almost claustrophobic settings (a hunting lodge in Scotland, a wedding venue on a remote island and now a Paris apartment block) and gives the reader a chance to “know” them before completely over-turning expectations and allowing the characters (and what we thought might be happening) to unravel. So it is with The Paris Apartment. This time, young Jess flees to join her brother in his quite luxurious apartment in the French capital. Broke, escaping an untenable workplace and boss, she’s shocked to find her brother, Ben, despite promises to be there to admit her, absent. When it’s apparent he’s actually missing, his fellow residents (who all knew him) appear loathe to help. What secrets are they keeping? How did they know her brother? How could he afford to rent such a lovely place on his wage? And where the hell is he? As the days pass and Jess becomes more frantic, the residents behave in suspicious ways, teasing Jess with scraps of knowledge about Ben. Something has happened to her brother, but until someone starts telling the truth, Jess is afraid not only will she never find out, but Ben might not be the only one to disappear. This is a quick, easy read that just when I thought it might fall into cliché and all-too familiar tropes, fortunately did not. Foley manages to keep the suspense ratcheted up and though the book is populated with really unlikeable characters, tells a cracking yarn....

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The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

You know when you pick up a Sarah Bailey, you’re not only in the hands of a master storyteller, but going to be drawn into a twisty, twiney dark tale with flashes of humour, well-drawn characters and spine-tingling moments. In other words, buckle up and hang on- or, as I did, donned the pyjamas, settled into a cosy chair and read… and read… and read… Years earlier, journalist Olive Groves covered a story where a young woman was murdered and one of her housemates was convicted and served time for the crime while the other one simply vanished. It’s a gruesome mystery that fascinated folk at the time and still does. The case obsessed Olive. So, when the missing housemate is found dead on a remote property nine years after she originally disappeared, Olive once again becomes involved, determined to unearth the truth. Only, this time, she’s given a side-kick – the precocious yet competent Cooper Ng, who produces a successful podcast and wants to add this case to his repertoire. As Olive and Cooper work the story, and try and iron out the wrinkles in their professional relationship, new facts and secrets are uncovered, ones that both throw doubt upon original findings and shed new but very, very dangerous light on their current investigation. As more questions than answers arise, a dark threat grows, one that hovers not just over the case, but Olive and Cooper’s lives… This is a fabulous fast-paced and unputdownable read that I devoured in no time at all. I loved that not only is it a great crime read, but the book also explores the changing nature of journalism – how it’s moved from what we might term the street-beat or “gum-shoe” style of covering stories by moving into the landscape and meeting...

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Bamburgh by L.J. Ross.

From the moment LJ Ross’s marvellous series about aristocratic copper DCI Ryan and his close-knit team appeared, I’ve been a huge fan. The plots are solid, the countryside and other settings beautifully drawn and the characters – well, they’re what really make this series sing. Bamburgh, no. 19 in what’s now a hugely successful series for Ross, is yet another good addition to the ongoing story of Ryan, his wife, Anna, his investigative team: Frank and his wife, Denise, Melanie and Jack… or, it would be, except I have one small gripe.   Don’t get me wrong – the writing is still good; the characters interact with each other in familiar and heart-warming ways, making the bonds they’ve developed over the years and many cases rock solid… or are they? When the book opens we already know from the last one that the killer of Melanie’s sister, Gemma, years ago, has left his DNA on a victim from the previous book – a Thai woman who survived brutal injuries and captivity. Melanie is driven to identify this killer and bring him to justice and while the professional in her demands this occur, it’s far more personal reasons that provide her motivation and give her cause to be deceptive. Nothing wrong with all that – it’s in keeping with her character and the way in which her sister’s murder has not only torn her family apart, and haunted her for years, but also set her on her current career path. Concomitant with the hunt for Gemma’s killer (who is suspected to have left behind a string of victims over the years), is the investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy and popular old woman who owns a great deal of property and has left it to one of her...

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The Maid by Nita Prose

When I first started reading The Maid, by Nita Prose (is that a real name? If so, it’s perfect for a writer or the editor she used to be!), I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. It was a wee bit hard to get into to start with, but once it hit its rhythm and I understood the idiosyncrasies and marvellous differences of the lead character, Molly Gray, the maid of the title, it came together perfectly. I also realised how clever Prose was being by almost denying the reader easy access to the story. It’s as if we’re forced to walk in Molly’s shoes and see the world through her eyes. Molly, someone who perceives things differently, confusing signals and taking people quite literally, has always relied on her grandmother to function as a kind of mediator. Only, when the book opens, her grandmother and tether to the world, has died, and all alone, Molly must forge on, sometimes being artless and other times being incredibly insightful, but often without realising either. Grief-stricken and missing her beloved gran terribly, Molly nevertheless takes great pride and pleasure in her work as a hotel cleaner, working hard and flawlessly to provide great service for guests and her boss. But when she finds a wealthy guest dead in his suite one day, her orderly world is thrown into disarray, especially when she is viewed as a suspect. As Molly becomes entangled with those who don’t have her best interests at heart, seeking to protect those she believes her friends, she finds herself in real trouble. But what Molly, sweet, kind and honest, hadn’t counted on are the real friends she’s made along the way – and not just at the Regency Grand where she works. Perhaps together those who...

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Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Evocative (tick), haunting (tick), with mystery dripping from every word and page (tick), a mute, outsider heroine who is also an orphan, a ruinous but beautiful house populated by ghouls only the orphan can see… this has to be a V.E. Schwab book, doesn’t it? After reading and adoring The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I was keen to see how Schwab would apply her formidable writing talents and wild inventiveness to a YA book. I wasn’t disappointed.  When Olivia Prior is summoned by a strange letter to leave the orphanage in which she’s been abandoned for years, and join the family she never knew she had, she packs up her few belongings, including her dead mother’s precious but mostly incomprehensible journal, and sets out. When she first lays eyes on the mansion her family has dwelt in for years, Gallant, despite the hostile greeting of her cousin and awkwardness of the two staff that share the rambling place with him, she tries to settle in. But she is haunted quite literally, by the half-formed ghouls that inhabit the corners, shuffle in the shadows, and the evident mystery that enshrines not just the house and grounds, but the strange wall at the end of the garden and what lies behind it. When Olivia crosses the threshold the wall represents, she finds herself in a darker, dangerous version of Gallant. She also learns the truth of her mother and father and her family’s legacy, one that beckon her towards the gloomiest of possibilities. Desperate to belong, to understand why she’s drawn to this other place, this other, grimmer version of the future she’s been offered, Olivia has to make a choice, one that is both deadly and final. As always, Schwab’s writing is delicious. The prose, the way each and...

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Dancing with the Enemy by Diane Armstrong

 I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but this is the first Diane Armstrong book I have read. It will not be my last, even though I tend to avoid stories that centre around WWII and the Nazis (most of my family died as a consequence of the pogroms and genocide systematically carried out by the Nazis and for years, I read and watched so much in an effort to try and make sense of such cruelty and atrocities, I became so despondent. After all, how can one make sense of the senseless?). But Diane Armstrong not only uncovers a lesser known chapter in WWII history (the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis) but writes such a compelling tale, I couldn’t put it down. Dancing with the Enemy is told across two different time-frames. The first is the lead up to WWII on Jersey and how that island – indeed, the Channel Islands – was the last frontier before Europe, or a stepping stone to conquering England – depending which side you’re on. Facts are, Jersey was basically left to fend for itself once the German invaders arrived. In Dancing with the Enemy, we follow the extraordinary bravery and resilience (or capitulation) of the Jersey residents who remained, but especially the local doctor, Hugh Jackson. With invasion imminent, Dr Jackson sends his pregnant wife to the safety of England but chooses to remain behind to care for his patients. Believing the separation would be brief, Jackson’s decision not only changes his life and that of his wife and son, but resonates in ways none could have foreseen. Then, there’s young, angry and foolhardy but brave, Tom Gaskell who, determined to fight the enemy, not dance to their tune as his parents and others appear to, takes dreadful risks – ones...

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Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

When a very dear friend told me I had to read this book because it’s the best sci-fi book she’s ever read, I didn’t muck around. I bought Project Hail Mary immediately and, as soon as I finished the book I was reading (and enjoying), commenced reading it. Nevertheless, I was a little apprehensive in case I didn’t rate it as highly as my darling friend. My fears were completely unnecessary. From the opening page, the story of Dr Ryland Grace, who wakes up millions of miles from earth in a cobbled together spaceship with only two corpses for company and no memory of why he’s there, who he is or what he’s meant to be doing, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let you go. Gradually, Grace’s memory returns and when he comprehends he’s on a mission to save the earth from imminent destruction (or rather, save humanity from being wiped out), he also understands he’s in a race against time and that this mission to the outer reaches of the galaxy is a one-way ticket. But it’s when he encounters an unexpected ally, that his mission takes on a fresher urgency – one that promises life, for earth and beyond. The narrative segues between Grace aboard the ship hurtling through space, and the months leading up to his departure, revealing aspects of his life, various professions, and how he was recruited for the mission. His voice is compelling, honest and often really funny. The narrative skips along and I laughed often, but was also deeply moved. But what I really loved about it was how plausible and real the entire scenario felt. The science made sense and is explained in ways that don’t baffle or lose non-scientific reader interest – on the contrary,...

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THE LOCKED ROOM by ELLY GRIFFITHS

Whenever I learn there’s a new Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway book, I become all tingly with excitement. These are my lexical comfort food, my not-guilty pleasure, into which I escape the moment the book is in my hot little hands. With this latest one, however, I deliberately kept it at arm’s length – knowing it would be a terrible distraction – until I’d met a very important deadline. It was to be my reward. Well, meet it I sort of did and now the book is devoured and I’m left hungry for more. Again. The latest in this wonderful series – The Locked Room – which just gets (if it’s possible) better and better, sees Ruth, Nelson, Judy, Cathbad and the entire crew in the throes of Covid and lockdown. As you can imagine, this makes doing their respective jobs nigh on impossible and, when a dead body is found and someone has Ruth in their sights, an already difficult job becomes even harder. But, when a dearly beloved character falls deathly ill with Covid, everything else becomes insignificant, that is until someone else goes missing and finding them before the killer strikes again forces Nelson and co to act. While I found the criminal/mystery plotline in this book a little weaker than in others, it’s the interpersonal relationships – their growth, the changes in certain characters and how they relate to each other and the choices they make that I just adore. This book is no exception and certainly, with Covid, Griffiths has used the pandemic and the enforced lockdowns and isolation, and the social and personal changes they enforced, as not only something every reader can relate to (missing family and friends, longing for open air, a face-to-face conversation, the trials of home-schooling, working from home, venturing...

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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I don’t know about you, but when I hear great things about a book and read the fulsome praise bestowed upon it, I become not only a little bit reluctant to read it lest it fail to live up to expectations, but incredibly anxious for the author. I ambivalently picked up Lessons in Chemistry yet, by the time I’d read the first page, relaxed. It was more than evident that this book was not only going to meet my expectations, but exceed them. The story of the magnificently named and highly unconventional (for the era – late fifties and early sixties) Elizabeth Zott, is one of the most engaging, fiercely intelligent, funny, observant and anger-inducing, while also simultaneously squeezing the heart, books I have read in a long time. The prose is simply sublime. Born into a time where women should know their place and refrain from offering opinions, Elizabeth refuses to accept that people, let alone women, can be “average” and contests the very notion of what is “normal.” A chemist by passion and profession, she is also at the whim of patriarchal forces who refuse to see beyond her evident beauty to the wily, razor-sharp brain and wit beneath. Due to a series of circumstances (and I really don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling what is such a cracker of a plot and narrative arc, let alone character development), Elizabeth finds herself helming a cooking show, Supper at Six. Refusing to concede to the male producers’ ideas of how a female host should comport herself, Elizabeth is of the firm conviction that cooking IS science; furthermore, it’s a matter of basic chemistry. Thus, while teaching viewers to cook, she also instils in them not only the fundamental principles of chemistry, but a series...

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WOMEN OF TROY by PAT BARKER

After reading Pat Barker’s magnificent Silence of the Girls, I wondered how she would follow such a remarkable book especially as Women of Troy, in essence, deals with the same setting and situation. Well, she has written a magnificent sequel. Essentially, Women of Troy explores the way the women of Troy and those taken captive from other towns that were sacked by the Greek forces, were treated by the victors and how those who survived coped, in what is arguably the most famous war in western myth: The Trojan War. Silence of the Girls deals with the last months of the ten-year siege and the impact the hubris of the Greek’s greatest hero, Achilles, had on the soldiers and the tragic consequences of his choices. It tells the story from the point of view of Briseis, an enslaved princess who is given to Achilles (after Agamemnon) as a war trophy. The war, whilst ongoing is very much in the background. It’s a powerful, moving novel that gives voice to the silenced, turns those who are largely absent from the history, from the battles, into three dimensional characters who are no less victims of violence than their brothers, husbands, sons and the other men who fall beneath the brutality of Greek blades.  The Women of Troy takes a slightly different approach, fundamentally starting with the city’s fall – when the Greeks pretend to sail away, leaving the most notorious of all gifts at Troy’s gates: a huge wooden horse. Once again, the main point of view is Briseis, but others are also included, namely Achilles’ son, the adolescent Pyrrhus who is struggling to fill his father’s considerable boots. He’s also the man (boy) who slayed not only King Priam, but Andromache’s baby, and also sacrificed a girl to appease the...

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