Book Review: THE SUNDAY LUNCH CLUB by Juliet Ashton

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This is one of these great and captivating books that you can’t stop reading and, once you do, you keep thinking about it. A character-driven novel with a gripping and immersive plot, THE SUNDAY LUNCH CLUB features four siblings and their extended family. There is Anna who is pregnant and in love with a man who is not the father of her baby. Also, the arrival of a few threatening letters risks to bring to light a secret from her past. There is Neil who still can’t feel fatherhood after adopting baby Paloma with her much younger husband Santiago. Then there is Maeve. She has a new boyfriend who everyone seems to like but her thirteen-year-old son Storm. Josh is the shy younger brother everyone in the family worries about, but he seems happier since there is a new woman in his life, although nobody has ever met her, yet. At the head of the family there is their grandmother Dinkie, the one in the family everyone looks up to, but she doesn’t look  happy in her new nursing home, and there is something going on between her and her nurse Sheba.

Every few Sundays they meet for lunch together in each home and each chapter opens with that Sunday menu (as an Italian-born, my favorite was Luca’s and his tortellini in brodo!). Everyone is welcome at their Sunday Lunch Club, friends, boyfriends, even ex-husbands and their new girlfriends.

I couldn’t stop reading about these characters and their exciting stories. I wanted to be part of their family and go to their Sunday lunches. They have their flaws and each has a distinctive personality. The members of the family are very close to each other, they accept everyone, and they don’t hold back criticism – “families don’t sugar-coat the truth”. I liked how they tell each other (almost) anything. No lunch is uneventful as secrets are spilled each Sunday.

THE SUNDAY LUNCH CLUB is funny, but also a bit emotional, and, with a few dramatic scenes and shocking surprises, there is never a dull moment. I really didn’t want it to end, but neither I couldn’t put it down and I read it in two days.

Thank you Sara-Jade Virtue, Books and the City, and Simon & Schuster UK for providing an early copy of the book.

THE SUNDAY LUNCH CLUB is out in the UK on April 19th.

Book Review: OUR HOUSE by Louise Candlish

37416802A January morning, Fi Lawson is on her way home when she sees a van parked right outside her house. Her first thought is that finally her neighbours must have sold their house after months on the market. But the closer she gets, the more she realizes that the men are moving furniture and boxes not into the neighbours’ house, but right inside her beloved house. And when she gets there a woman claims that she and her husband just bought the house from her husband. But Fi knows nothing about the sale of her house. And why her husband is not answering her phone? Where are all their things? Where are their sons?

The plot is very character-driven with the characters leading the narrative. From present time, the narration switch a few months back as Fi and her husband Bram, each tell their side of their story. Fi tells her story on Victim, a podcast in which victims of a crime recount their sad stories. I don’t listen to podcasts (although I really think I am going to start now) but I love this type of feature in books and I especially enjoyed the twits and comments from listeners, each with their opinions, each taking a side. Bram, on the other hand, is writing his story on a Word document in which he reveals the series of events that led to that January morning. While I found Fi a bit too self-righteous, I felt a small amount of sympathy for Bram. He likes to drink and to drive fast (not a good combination) and he made a few big mistakes followed by a series of bad choices, but he tried to make things right even as things got out of his control.

The suspense is high all the time. Just when you think that you know what is going on, something else happens that takes you completely by surprise. This is my first novel by this author (I need to catch up) but I love her style and her writing which is completely captivating. She does a great job getting into the protagonists’ minds and she perfectly portrays their feelings as the story slowly unravels.

OUR HOUSE is a gripping and immersive thriller about a broken marriage and the lies we tell to protect ourselves and the people we love and it won’t be easy to put down.

Many thanks to Sara-Jade Virtue and Simon and Schuster UK for providing a copy of this book.

OUR HOUSE is out in the UK on April 5th.

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FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

Force of NatureA corporate retreat is organized by a financial organization to encourage the bonding among colleagues. The two teams, five women and five men, will have to spend three days in the Australian bushland hiking and camping. But at the end of the three days, only the men have managed to turn up at the meeting point. After a few hours of waiting, four of the five women finally appear, scratched and injured, but one is still missing. Federal Agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper of the Melbourne Financial Investigations Unit take part in the investigation because the missing woman, Alice Russell, was collecting information for them about the organization she works for which they suspected of financial fraud. Is Alice’s disappearance linked to the work she was doing for them? Or it has to do with the Australian setting, once the hunting ground of a serial killer?

I haven’t read Jane Harper’s first novel, The Dry, which first features Federal Agent Aaron Falk, but after reading FORCE OF NATURE, I plan to catch up. Aaron Falk is an interesting character, with a complicated past that still haunts him and to which he refers a few times throughout the novel: growing up in a farm and then leaving it for the big city, his difficult relationship with his father, and his intricate love life.

The narration alternates between the past and the present, between the first day of camping, the women’s struggle to survive in the wilderness and the events that lead to Alice’s disappearance, and the police’s investigation and their search for Alice.

One of the main theme of this novel is the relationship between parents and children and the lengths parents would go to protect their own children. This is also a provocative novel about families, old rivalries and jealousies, and bullying.

The detailed and rich descriptions transport the reader right into the Australian wilderness that look like the perfect setting of a horror movie. The author’s writing and the suspense running high through the pages make this an unputdownable and compelling novel!

FORCE OF NATURE is out in the UK in February 8th.

HELL BAY by Kate Rhodes

Hell BayBen Kitto is an homicide detective working in London, but after the death of his partner he tries to resign from the Met police. His boss doesn’t accept his resignation and gives him a three-month break to change his mind. Ben decides to spend this break in the place where he grew up, Bryher, one of the small island of the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall. Ben’s arrival is marked by the disappearance of Laura Trescothick, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Matt and Jenna Trescothick, the golden couple of his high school. Ben decides to help the investigation of the local police because no one arrived or left the island before or after Laura’s disappearance and this means that one of the islanders is the killer, one of their own.

This novel is a highly enjoyable and compulsive read that reminded me a little of one of my favorite novels by Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None, with its wintery dark and atmospheric setting, the isolated small island far away from the mainland, everyone suspecting everyone, everyone with their motives to commit the murder.

The plot is very intriguing with a few surprising twists and tension rising as the end of the book approaches. The characters are very well-crafted and complex, especially the protagonist, Ben Kitto, with ghosts who from his past and an uncertain future. The island is as much a protagonist of the novel as the other characters and I loved the author’s attention to details and the vivid descriptions that make the story more realistic and captivating.

HELL BAY is the first of a series and I am already looking forward  to book number 2, of which I already had a taste and I can’t wait for the rest.

HELL BAY is out in the UK on January 25th.

THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor

41xo7gTk+kLIn 1986, Eddie is twelve years old and, like the other children his age, he is dealing with friendships, his first crush, and bullies. But that year things change. First a terrible accident at the town fair, then arguments between parents, an assault, and a scandal in the school are just few of the things that disrupt Eddie’s life on that fatidic summer. When one of his friends receives a box of chalks for his birthday, Eddie and his friends first dismiss it, but then they find a good use for them, making up secret codes to communicate among them. One day, the chalk figures appear on their own and lead the boys to a gruesome discovery.

Thirty years later, Eddie is a teacher, he still lives in his family home, and he still hangs out with some of his childhood friends. Eddie and his friends seem to have left their past behind but one day the chalk figures appear again…

I have been hearing about THE CHALK MAN for months as everyone was raving about it saying how good it was, so, as soon as it came out, I bought a copy and immersed myself in it and I saw why everyone was so excited about it. The narration is told from Eddie’s perspective and it alternates between the past and the present. The writing is addictive – you wouldn’t say it’s a debut novel – and the author created a fantastic cast of well-developed characters, especially Eddie who is an engaging character, at times odd, and with a very strange and macabre obsession (which I am not going to give away as it’s important to the story).

The truth about the events of the past is told slowly, a few bits at the time, although there are a few hints here and there that build the suspense until the shocking revelation at the end. All psychological thrillers have a shocking ending, but this one really surprises the reader as you really don’t see it coming.

I liked that the author, among mystery and scary moments that keep you awake at night, added also an emotional side to the novel. Eddie’s father had Alzheimer and the author describes in details the protagonist’s struggle with his father disease, his reaction to losing him, and his fear that the disease could be hereditary. It’s an interesting storyline that perfectly develops throughout the novel.

THE CHALK MAN is one of these book that it is not easy to put down because there is never a dull moment. It is dark and atmospheric, a coming-of-age novel full of twists and turns and dramatic moments that keep you glued to the page. Even when the action is more slow-paced, the tension is still high and the story keeps you on edge. A must-read debut!

THE CHALK MAN is out in the UK on January 11th.

THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain

The ConfessionHarry and Julie McNamara are a seemingly perfect couple. Married for almost twenty years, he is the owner of one of the most important banks in Ireland and they are very rich. Lately the couple has been on the pages of newspapers and magazines while Harry’s bank was facing trial for fraud but he’s been acquitted and they are leading a quiet life. One night, Harry and Julie are watching TV in their home when a man enters their house and beats Harry to death. A little later, the man, JP Carney, consigns himself to the police and confesses to having killed someone. He claims to not know the person he attacked or why he did it. JP is a middle-class worker with a few problems of drugs but doesn’t seem to have any connection to the McNamaras. So why did he attack Harry? As the police investigates, the reader is taken back to the events that led to this terrible night.

This novel is completely gripping. I love books that start with a shocking event and then go back in time to explain the reason behind it. That’s how THE CONFESSION starts. Harry and his wife Julie are comfortably watching TV, a thriller movie, Julie tells the reader, when a man they’ve never seen in their life comes in, attacks Harry, and leaves Julie unharmed before running away. Because he confessed to the crime, because there is no reason behind it, and for his history of depression, seems like JP is going to spend a few years in a mental hospital before walking out as a free man. While the police seems happy to let it go as the work of a madman, there is a policewoman, Alice, who believes that there is a deeper and more troubled truth behind the attack. Like Alice, I wanted to find out the truth and as the author explores the characters’ past, the truth is slowly unraveled, a bit at the time, until the final shocking truth is revealed.

I have to admit that I didn’t like any of the main characters, they are deeply flawed – Harry is selfish and self-centered, Julie wallows too much is self-pity and she is too focused on loving her husband, and JP was too obsessed (although, I felt sorry for him) – but they are also complex and very well-drawn.

This is an addictive thriller, full of twists and turns that kept me glued to the page.

THE CONFESSION is out in the UK on January 25th.

BRING ME BACK by B. A. Paris

Bring Me BackI discovered B. A. Paris at the beginning of last year when I first read The Breakdown, her second novel. I was quickly engrossed in this novel and I found her writing brilliant and captivating. Then I read her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, another fantastic psychological novel that kept me glued to the pages. So, when, in July, the author announced her third novel I was really excited and, in November, HQ, the author’s English publisher, sent me an early copy (for which I am very very thankful!).

Finn’s girlfriend, Kayla, disappeared mysteriously and she was never found. Finn never revealed the complete truth about the night she disappeared and now, twelve years later, he has given up in ever finding her and he is leading a quiet and normal life in a small town just outside of London. He works from home, he walks his dog, and he just got engaged to his girlfriend Ellen who happens to be Kayla’s older sister. And it’s right after the engagement is announced on a newspaper that strange things start to happen. First Ellen finds a Russian doll outside their house and then Finn starts receiving emails from someone claiming to know what happened to Kayla. And as more Russian dolls appear and more mysterious emails are received, Finn starts to wonder again what happened that night that Kayla disappeared.

First of all, the plot is twisty, thought-provoking, and intense. I like the author’s attention to details and descriptions and I found the small-town setting very evocative. The novel is full of suspense and I love the alternation between the past and the present and even between characters which made me turn page after page to see what happens next.

What I loved most about this novel is the author’s descriptions and exploration of the characters’ psychology. Finn’s guilt over what happened to Kayla and over his feelings towards Ellen and the characters’ what ifs make the novel more addictive, compelling, and unpredictable.

While I was reading I tried to guess who was sending the emails and the Russian dolls, but there are many unpredictable moments and I was completely taken by surprise by the final shocking revelation – which is always unexpected in this author’s novels.

Carefully plotted, dark, and engrossing, BRING ME BACK is the kind of book you can’t stop reading so I recommend you either take a day off or wait for the weekend or you can do like me and give up on a night of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down.

BRING ME BACK is out on March 8th in the UK.