Here we are again at the end of another year. The following are books that stood out for me.
Clicking on the title will take you to the full review. So, in no particular order…
When the Stars Sang ~ Caren J Werlinger
The setting, with vivid imagery of the island, the history of the islanders going back centuries, the rituals and traditions handed down from the original Native Americans and the shipwrecked Irish immigrants who joined the community, the simpler environmental way of life, are all a fascinating and special part of the story.
The romance is slow and steady and doesn’t overwhelm other aspects of the story. As with the other books from Caren Werlinger that I’ve read, this is also beautifully written, contemplative, though provoking, with the feel good factor.
The Heavens May Fall (Detective Max Rupert) ~ Allen Eskens
A body has been found, a probable homicide, and Detective Max Rupert and his partner, Detective Niki Vang are attending the scene. The body is discovered to be that of Jennavieve Pruitt. She has been brutally murdered and initial thoughts on the investigation, as far as Max can see, point to her husband, Ben, as the perpetrator.
The Heavens May Fall is a mixture of police procedural and courtroom drama, both particularly well executed and compelling, keeping up the momentum and suspense.
Stolen Summers ~ Anne Goodwin
Matty’s story is tragic but unfortunately not uncommon during the dark days when unmarried mothers were classed as ‘moral defectives’ and more often than not treated with unbelievable and unimaginable mental and physical cruelty. This short story alternates between the years 1939/40 and 1964 when attitudes regarding unmarried mothers thankfully had begun to change.
The story is beautifully written and the characters brought to life fully so you can’t help but be drawn to Matty and Doris in particular, while exploring a horrific time in the not too distant past.
Sunset Swing (City Blues Quartet Book 4) ~ Ray Celestin
Sunset Swing has a multilayered, compelling and intricate plot, with each characters’ story arc running concurrently, including that of Louis Armstrong. I love how the plot lines twist and turn and are all woven together seamlessly as the story progresses. There is more truth included than is comfortable, but unfortunately not surprising. Los Angeles is not the utopia most people expect, it’s a dark and dangerous place, rife with corruption and lawlessness.
The City Blues Quartet started in New Orleans in 1919, took in Chicago in the 20s, New York in the 40s, now we’re in Los Angeles in the 60s and each time and place has been depicted vividly and atmospherically, incorporating real characters and events.
A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice ~ Rebecca Connolly
Much has been written about the Titanic so it was a refreshing change to have the story told from the alternating viewpoints of Captain Arthur Rostron of the RMS Carpathia, and Kate Connolly, a third class passenger on the Titanic, leaving Ireland to start a new life in New York with her sister. The harrowing events on the Titanic and in the lifeboat unfold from Kate’s perspective.
I appreciated the fact that much of this novel is based on fact with great attention to detail, and was glad to learn more about the Carpathia, Captain Rostron, the crew and their history.
Where There’s Doubt ~ Terry Tyler
Where There’s Doubt is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of internet dating. Nico Lewis is a master in the art of seduction and, along with his girlfriend and others, is working an intricate scam targeting likely women on dating apps. Befriending them first in order to suss out their weaknesses and playing to their emotions, he convinces them he could be what their lives are lacking.
The characters are crafted realistically and believably, from the engaging to the downright despicable. Anticipation and suspense build steadily as Nico’s machinations escalate, with twists I wasn’t expecting adding to the tension…a chilling, fascinating and compelling psychological drama.
The Highland Hens ~ Judy Leigh
The Highland Hens is a wonderfully written story with endearing characters. The romance aspect doesn’t overwhelm the storyline but emphasises that no matter your age, second chances are always possible. I love the relationship that develops between Jess and Mimi. Jess listens to all Mimi’s stories, they go out together, sometimes Isabella and the brothers join them, and they all have lots of fun. The story generates many emotions. There are lovely family interactions, friendship, humour and sadness. I did shed a tear or two.
The Empire ~ Michael Ball
Set in Northern England in the early 1920s, we discover The Empire theatre is struggling. The Lassiter family don’t seem to take much interest and a rival owner of several theatres and music halls, Joe Allerdyce, is using underhand tactics to try and acquire the Empire. This is an accomplished debut. The story flows well and is written with warmth, feeling and wit, along with touches of romance. There are also darker moments, dirty dealings, tensions and secrets to uncover, but despite the unexpected and dramatic finale there’s no question of giving up.
The Last Professional ~ Ed Davies
Set in 1970s America, The Last Professional is an intriguing and engrossing tale of a vanishing lifestyle — life as a hobo, riding freight trains across the country and living free, with the related privations and dangers. A very well written and nostalgic, character driven tale, rich in detail, full of drama, with lots of dialogue between the two main protagonists and those they meet along the way, giving an in depth look into the life of a hobo, as well as a bygone era. And life on the tracks is so unpredictable so there’s always that sense of suspense and tension, especially since it’s written as if it’s happening in the present. Something completely different for me and I enjoyed it very much.
The Cottage on Winter Moss ~ Allie Cresswell
The Cottage on Winter Moss is an emotive and compelling dual timeline story, told in the present from Dee’s first person point of view. The local family’s tragic past has an omniscient narrator, and the reader gets to know how history and events resonate in the present. The contemporary and historical aspects are woven together beautifully, each enhancing the other, and include many emotions including the overriding desire for power, jealousy, forgiveness and love. I loved the idea of the Trysting Tree and its role in the story.
The writing is wonderfully descriptive, with a hint of the supernatural, evoking vivid imagery of the characters, and particularly the setting with the wild elements of fog, mists, driving rain and pounding seas. Recommended for those who enjoy well written fiction with a literary twist and dual timelines.
The Lighthouse Bookshop ~ Sharon Gosling
The title and cover of this book was the initial draw for me. A bookshop in a lighthouse…how lovely is that. The lighthouse, more of a tower really, is situated in the small, remote village of Newton Dunbar in the north east of Scotland. It was originally the private library belonging to the local landowner. The Lighthouse Bookshop also has a historical thread which involves a mystery and secret, adding a fascinating and tragic layer to the story. An engaging and emotional story which also addresses some sensitive issues and encompasses themes such as not giving up, healing, new beginnings and second chances, whatever your age. I enjoyed this very much, and wish Newton Dunbar with its quirky library was a real place.
Last Christmas in Paris ~ Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Last Christmas in Paris is set during World War I and is written in an epistolary style consisting in the main of correspondences between Thomas Harding, Evie Elliott, her brother, Will and her good friend, Alice Cuthbert. Tom and Will, best of friends, enlist together. Heading off to what they believe will be a great adventure, doing their duty and defeating the German army, blissfully unaware of just what they will be facing…
The main characters are extremely engaging and believable. The letters add an intimacy to the friendships, interactions, the slowly dwindling hope, the losses, the way the soldiers who suffered extreme stress and depression were treated, and the burgeoning romance between Evie and Thomas, which is sweet, subtle and moving. A compelling and poignant novel that will stay with me for quite a while.