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Friday 22 March 2024

Turning the Pages in March


Dear friends. We're now officially in Spring. I'm going great guns with my reading challenge this year. My target is 100, and I've already read 42.  I'm 21 books ahead of schedule.

The books reviewed today, with one exception marked *,  were all provided by NetGalley and the book publishers as advance copies, in return for an honest review.

There are some cracking thrillers and a poignant memoir about one of my favourite artists. 

The Escape Room by L. D. Smithson (5 stars)

Bonnie and 7 other contestants arrive on a remote sea fort off the coast of England to take part in a mysterious reality TV show. They must solve a series of puzzles to win the prize money, but this is no game - and the consequences of failure are deadly.

Wickedly thrilling with more twist and turns than an F1 track. Was kept guessing until the very last sentences. Loved the complex plotting. It's a 5.

One of the Good Guys by Araminta Hall  (4 stars) 

A divisive topic bundled up in a parcel of fury and vitriol - utterly compelling. After a benign start, with Cole introducing himself (he's convinced he's one of the good guys ), he meets Lennie in their windswept corner of the coast. It all suggests a Meet Cute and a happy ever after.

Wrong! Suddenly we're hearing the anguished story of Cole's wife and a claim of rape from a former girlfriend. Not to mention the mystery of two missing women, who were walking the coast path to raise awareness of the number of women who are murdered, gaslit and controlled by coercive or violent men. They have disappeared after an encounter with Cole.

The social media frenzy is very like the pile ups we see every day. I wonder where are the voices of male psychologists, doctors, commentators? The only men whose views we tend to see are the unspeakables. But I digress.

I was dragged breathless to the end, and am conflicted as to whether or not the book is too far fetched in its plot to be taken seriously, or pure genius.

Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? by Nicci French (4 stars)

I've always associated the writing team behind Nicci French with stylish and atmospheric crime thrillers. Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? is so much more. It starts as a real-time exploration into the mysterious disappearance of mother of four Charlotte. She fails to show up at her husband's 50th birthday party. I was hugely disappointed with the bungled police investigation, while reminding myself that this is quite often what used to happen. Charlotte's husband and children are, at this stage, extremely annoying. Only 15 year old Etty seems to have any nouse and sense of loss.

Part 2 is several years later. Two brothers, whose father Duncan was linked to the disappearance of Charlotte, start a podcast looking afresh at the mystery. The case had been scaled down with the lazy police assumption that Duncan committed suicide. The podcast interviews cause tensions and unresolved grief surfaces. Etty, a solicitor living alone in London, has built an armour around her feelings, and developments cause her carefully constructed defence to sheer away.

Part 3 sees an overhaul of the police investigation following a new incident which seems to be linked to the Salter disappearance and Duncan's death. A female detective, Maud, is sent from London amidst hostility from the local force. This part of the story is hugely satisfying as good police work is finally done.

It was touching to read both at the start and finish of the book some of Charlotte's likes. It didn't seem as if many had actually "seen" her during her life, apart from platitudes about how she made everyone feel special.

A great read on many levels, including the way it deals with grief. 

The Wrong Sister by Claire Douglas (5 stars)

I was a few pages in and I was thrilled because I knew I was in the hands of an expert. Not all psychological thrillers deliver: some have too many red herrings, unrealistic storylines and unrelatable characters. Not The Wrong Sister. It's gripping from the start. It's difficult to review without giving spoilers, so all I'll say is: wow! Digested in two sittings and disappointed to finish.

The Lost Girls of Penzance by Sally Rigby  (4 stars)*

After enjoying the second book in the new Lauren Pengelly series  (reviewed here), I saw the hubster had the first in our shared Kindle library. 

The very career focused, determined and rather formidable DI Pengelly, known as the Ice Queen by her staff,  is about to go on a long cycling holiday when she hears a body has been discovered in her patch.  She is furious when a sergeant refuses to let her view the crime scene because she doesn't have her official badge with her.  It turns out the  detective sergeant is her new hire, whom she didn't interview because she was off work at the time.

This is a highly enjoyable police procedural centred on the abduction of young children from nursery schools, and the race against time to find them. It seems nursery schools are not always very security conscious, with parents often vetoing cameras in the rooms where they play and sleep. 

I like DI Pengelly, who prefers to keep a distance from her team, rather than socialising too much with them. I think I see myself in her, from the days when I ran a team! Although hopefully I was a little less controlling. 


Vincent’s Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh by Donna Russo

I've always wondered about the women in Van Gogh's life. Author Donna Russo says we will either love them or hate them. The story is told quite beautifully in the voice of Vincent van Gogh’s sister-in-law Johanna Bonger, and based on hundreds of letters from Vincent to his brother Theo. 

Far from the suicidal and despairing artist that dominates our knowledge of him, he was a sensitive,  lonely man looking for love and kindness. Unfortunately he didn't often find it. 

I hope you found something to grab your interest.  There were a couple of additional books I read in March that were part of a book blog tour, and they're linked below. 

Next week I'll be sharing the results of the 2024 Is This Mutton survey into books and our reading habits. 
Sharing this post with the wonderful bloggers of the southern hemisphere and these fantastic sites. 


A Good Enough Mother by Sheila Norton 

The Clarks Factory Girls at War by May Ellis

The Secret Beach by Veronica Henry


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