Hope you’ve all feeling like Spring might just be around the corner. A huge congratulations to Lindsay Johnston who was the lucky winner of our fantastic #TwelveDaysOfChristmas competition and won the whole pile of Winter picks. It’s been really hard to narrow down my recommendations for Spring, but I hope you find something here that you can enjoy once the weather picks up.
Sharing my latest column from 17 Degrees Magazine – hope you find something that you’ll love as much as I did.
A right good story…
You, Me Everything – Catherine Isaac ( Simon & Shuster £12.99)
The gorgeous setting of this book in the beautiful Dordogne took me miles away from all this snow we’ve been having as Jess and her son William head over to spend the summer with absentee dad, Adam at Château de Rossignol, a grand castle that he has restored into a glamorous holiday resort. Adam has never been a dad to William, sending him baby toys when he’s far too old for them and seeming much more interested in his latest girlfriend than being involved in his son’s life. Jess travels to France determined to nurture the father-son relationship without falling for handsome, carefree Adam herself – as she knows how that one ended last time…This novel is perfect for readers who enjoy characters we can really connect with in emotional dilemmas that have us rooting for them. Jess is such a credible creation and we definitely feel for her as she struggles with conflicting emotions as William grows closer to his dad after having him all to herself for all these years. Their long summer in France is sure to send you reaching for Tripadvisor to browse your next holiday destination as it sounds so lovely, but beware – there’s more to this trip than meets the eye and you’ll be up late turning the pages as soon as you realise that this trip to France might have more complex motives than Jess is initially prepared to admit. You Me Everything is a moving and emotional story about how far we will go for love. Rights have sold in over twenty-two countries so make sure you read this one before the movie is released!
Three Things About Elsie- Joanna Cannon ( HarperCollins £12.99)
This is another one of those books. A book that I can’t stop recommending to people – just like Eleanor Oliphant last year. The first thing you’ll notice about this book is its gorgeous cover. It’s a Battenberg cake and just like Mr Kiplings, this book is definitely exceedingly good Three Things about Elsie is my new favourite book and I hope you’ll love it as much as I did.
There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.
84-year-old Florence has had a fall in Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders whether an awful hidden secret from her past is about to resurface; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look identical to a man who passed away sixty years ago? I’m determined to review this book with no spoilers, as you should definitely uncover the truth about Elsie for yourself. I really got lost in this book and felt like the characters were real people whose lives I was getting a peek into. Joanna Cannon’s new book asks us whether we can ever really know what’s going on below the surface in people’s lives and makes us think more deeply about the fact that tiny decisions we make can have huge and far-reaching consequences. This book is just as delicious as the cake on its front cover and should definitely be enjoyed this Easter with a cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg cake – you’re in for a treat.
The Stranger – Kate Riordan (Penguin £12.99)
Was it simply a tragic accident? Or should the inhabitants of Penhallow have been more careful about whom they invited in?
If you’re pining for Poldark and love a historical epic, then The Stranger might be something to fill the gap. For decades, Penhallow Hall has stood frozen in time, protecting the secrets of its isolated inhabitants. But even beautiful Cornwall is no shelter from the war, and Penhallow must finally open its doors to strangers. This book is set in 1940 and we hear about the nightly blackouts and the constant fear of a Nazi invasion, as three land girls arrive to grow vegetables at Penhallow. The Stranger opens with a church bell clanging to announce the body of a young woman on the beach and we discover how this mysterious event came about as the novel unfolds. Each of the succeeding chapters form a timeline going back six weeks where we slowly learn more about how each of these characters’ backstories might have led to this mysterious drowning. The strong plotting and skilful characterisation combine to draw you into a story bursting with secrets and Rose, Jane and Diana’s distinct voices all combine to keep you turning the pages. If you like Daphne du Maurier or Lucinda Riley, you’ll love this book and I know that my mum’s definitely going to be pinching it from me for her holidays.
The Queen of Bloody Everything (Pan McMillan £14.99)
If you, like me, are a child of the 70’s then you’re going to love this coming-of-age novel. Dido, the main character just wants to fit in – for her family to be just like everybody else’s. Unfortunately for her, her free spirit mother Edie has no interest in being like anyone else – least of all the ‘perfect’ Treveylans who live just next door. Dido falls in love with the Trevelyan family as soon as she moves in next door to them. Angela, the mother, is the perfect stay at home mum; Harry or Harriet is a miniature version of Angela; Tom, Harriet’s older brother, is literally Dido’s boy-next-door first love, and David is the perfect storybook dad. Dido spends a great deal of her adolescence wishing that she was a Trevelyan and her first-person account of growing up in the 80’s and 90’s will definitely strike a chord with anyone who lived through the legwarmers and Live Aid era. Dido’s relationship with her mum is one of the best things about this novel, as we see her priorities change during the course of the novel. Dido grows up and realises that sometimes the things we want aren’t always what they seem and our relationship with our family is a bond that endures forever, despite all of its challenges. This novel has everything: drama, nostalgia and real warmth at the heart of it; It’s the kind of book that you wish you could read all over again as soon as you’ve finished and I’m jealous of anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading it yet.
Non-Fiction Page Turners
Member of the Family – Dianne Lake (HarperCollins £8.99)
Following Charles Manson’s recent death, Dianne Lake reveals the true story of life with Manson and her involvement with his infamous cult – who became notorious for their series of brutal murders during the long hot summer of ‘69. In this disturbing memoir, Dianne Lake writes about her years of lost innocence with Charles Manson, revealing how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals. At age fourteen, Dianne Lake―with a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them―became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. Dianne Lake gives a fascinating insight into her induction into this cult, vividly describing how she endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as Manson’s true vision began to unravel. From the legendary Spahn ranch and the group acid trips to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness from someone who was actually there. This novel is a helter-skelter tour through the kaleidoscopic nightmare that was the tail end of the 60’s and Lake is an unforgettable tour guide. This is a dark and mesmerising tale which will give fans of The Girls by Emma Cline a deeper insight into the heart of darkness that destroyed the Flower Children’s era for good. Unputdownable.
A False Report – A True Story T Christian Miller/ Ken Armstrong
I am a True Crime addict and this is the best of its genre I’ve read in a long time. Its bright red cover is very eye-catching and I literally could NOT put it down until I’d reached the end. On 11 August 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man had broken into her home and raped her. Within days, police – and even those closest to Marie – became suspicious of her story: details of the crime just didn’t seem plausible. Confronted with the seeming inconsistencies, Marie broke down and said her story was a fabrication – a bid for attention. The police rapidly convicted her of making a false report and she was vilified as a liar. This book fast forwards a few years and uncovers the police officers who reinvestigated this case and cracked it wide open. Galbraith and Hendershot soon realised they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who took calculated steps to erase all physical evidence, who photographed each of his victims, threatening to release the images online if the women went to the police. This is a gripping book, a page-turner as tense as any thriller which will make you think hard about the way the justice system operates as well as the way that we look at cases that don’t fit our perception of what rape ‘looks like’. Controversial and challenging, it really makes for an unforgettable read. Absolutely 10/10. It’s definitely going to get people talking this Spring.
The Boy On The Shed – Paul Ferris (Hodder £9.99)
Paul Ferris became a professional footballer and at the age of 16 was the youngest player ever to play for Newcastle United. Coming from Northern Ireland and being a skilful winger with ‘magic’ feet, he was inevitably hailed as ‘the new George Best’. But the story of his time in the game, particularly as a young player, is one of insecurity, injuries, uncertainty, fear and, ultimately, a failure to fulfil his hopes and dreams. This is another book where although the narrator is a footballer, it’s not a ‘football book’, exactly. It is much more concerned with the struggles of growing up in Northern Ireland, a Catholic on a Protestant estate in Lisburn in the 1970s. It is a story of everyday sectarianism and its effects on so many young people; of battling childhood adversity and coming out on the other side with the love and support of his family – particularly his mother which will definitely strike a chord with so many readers. This book is very relatable and lots of funny stories had me wanting to read them out loud as they were so like some of the stories from my own family. This book will make you laugh and make you cry and you don’t have to have any interest at all in football to read it from cover to cover. Paul Ferris has a fantastic turn of phrase and a great line in black humour that shows what a character he is. I loved it and I’m sure lots of you will too.
Hunters: Wee Stories from the Crescent – Anthony Camilleri (Tippermuir £9.99)
Hunters is a funny, sad, honest and uplifting memoir of growing up in Hunter Crescent in Perth during the 1970s and 1980s – I always try and include something local or Scottish and I loved this book from Independent publishers Tippermuir. Anthony Camilleri grew up there himself and is a fabulous tour guide of one of Scotland s working-class schemes in all its glory – with some absolutely cracking stories and superb photographs that will be sure to send you back down memory lane. Hunter Crescent was a sprawling housing scheme just north of Perth city centre, built after an act of parliament calling for slum areas to be replaced with modern housing. For its first thirty-five years, Hunters was a model scheme. By the mid-1970s, however, things had gone horribly wrong and it took a group of dedicated and passionate tenants to get the place back on an even keel. This is a great read, it’ll remind you of Scotland as it used to be – complete with couches in the front garden, New Year parties that go on for four days and lots of real characters. I totally recommend this book if you like to look back on the past and remember the way we used to live, complete with terrible fashion choices and lots of nostalgic 70’s dinners. You’ll love it!
Crime & Thrillers
The Memory Chamber – Holly Cave (Quercus £12.99)
In The Memory Chamber, true death – as we understand it – is a thing of the past. In the future, you’ll be able to spend the rest of eternity re-living your happiest memories: that first kiss, falling in love, the birth of your children, enjoyed on a rolling loop for ever and ever. Isobel is a Heaven Architect, and she helps dying people create afterlives from these memories. So when she falls for Jarek, one of her terminally ill – but also married – clients, she knows that while she cannot save him, she can create the most beautiful of heavens, just for him. But when Jarek’s wife is found dead, Isobel uncovers a darker side of the world she works within, and she can trust no one with what she finds. I loved this unusual and thought-provoking book. We all have our own private idea of what might be waiting for us on the other side and I was totally intrigued by the sound of a ‘Heaven Architect’ and what they’d build for me. Holly Cave is a talented and unusual writer who will definitely make you think hard about what you yourself feel about the moral dilemmas faced by her characters. It gives you a momentary feeling of being able to see the world in a different light and will definitely give you lots to talk about. If you like your books a wee bit different, you’ll really love The Memory Chamber and good luck constructing your very own Heaven.
The Chalk Man – C.J Tudor ( Penguin £9.99)
Fans of Stephen King, look no further: I might just have found you a new favourite book. C.J Tudor is amazingly skilful of getting right under your skin, like the very best of King’s novels and definitely succeeded in getting me to turn all the lights on before I headed upstairs as I just couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer darkness in this cracking debut novel. You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury . . . the fear that something or someone is watching you. It all begins back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran – the Chalk Man. He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun until the chalk men led them to a dead body. Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk and a drawing of a figure… I don’t want to give any more away as this is such a rattling good read. This book will definitely unnerve you and leave you looking over your shoulder in case something is on the point of dropping through your letterbox. I can’t wait to see what C.J Tudor does next as The Chalk Man had me hooked. An absolutely excellent read – buy it if you Dare!
The Gathering Dark – James Oswald ( Penguin £9.99)
Inspector Tony Mclean is one of my favourite fictional characters. By this time – if you’ve been reading my reviews for the whole year – you must know that I love a bit of Tartan Noir and try to review Scottish crime fiction whenever I can as I think we do it much better than anybody else! Whether you’re a seasoned fan of James Oswald or meeting Tony Mclean for the very first time, you’ll be drawn right into this unusual and gripping novel in no time. Edinburgh is yet again the backdrop to Oswald’s eighth novel which combines a catastrophic crash with a faint tinge of the macabre. It’s a real testament to the skill of Oswald ’s writing that both the crash and the mysterious events are very well balanced in this novel with neither storyline unbalancing the other. We get a real sense of Tony’s Mclean’s complicated personal life and feel brought alongside him in his tireless search for the truth. This novel really captures the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in police teams trying to solve crimes when everything seems against them and you’ll really empathise with the team as absolutely nothing goes smoothly as this complex investigation proceeds. I thoroughly enjoyed The Gathering Dark and think that if you haven’t already read the last 7 of Oswald’s Scottish crime novels then you’re really in for a treat catching up with Tony’ Mclean’s caseload.
The Pinocchio Brief – Abi Silver (Eye Books £8.99)
If you love a writer that makes you think hard about the way society is going and like to consider our occasionally dysfunctional relationship with technology, then The Pinocchio Brief is sure to be a big hit with you this Spring. A 15-year-old schoolboy is suddenly accused of the brutal murder of one of his teachers. His defence team, consisting of experienced lawyer Judith and young, energetic solicitor, Constance, begin a desperate pursuit of the truth, revealing uncomfortable secrets about the teacher and the school along the way as they try and defend this indefensible act. As we read on, we discover that Judith is hiding her own secrets and risks everything coming to light when it is announced that a new lie-detecting device, nicknamed Pinocchio, will be used during the trial. In their attempt to save Raymond from being convicted for a crime they’re certain he hasn’t committed, how can they persuade him that silence is not the best defence and what else will be uncovered beneath the civilised façade of his boarding school? The Pinocchio Brief is a gripping thriller which really challenges us to think about the way we present the truth. It uses technology to pose questions about the justice system and the chapters narrated by Raymond himself will really stick in your mind for a long time. Abi Silver’s legal career means that the court scenes are extremely realistic and you’ll be drawn in as successfully as any John Grisham courtroom drama. This is a great holiday read that’ll have you turning the pages to reach the conclusion. If you’re jetting off anywhere sunny this Easter, make sure you pack it in your suitcase.
I have loved reading and reviewing another 12 books for you this Spring. I honestly can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a whole year now. If there are any genres that you’d like me to recommend or any books that you’ve loved and would like other people to know about then definitely get in touch and I’ll make sure other readers get to hear about them…
If you’ve enjoyed this selection, you can check out my regular book blog at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my twitter feed @OnTheShelfBooks to see me posting regularly about great books. Have a fantastic Easter and see you in the Summer for some hot picks for the beach!