So lockdown life has me reading a lot more than ever. I thought I had one or two books to review and then I sat down to write a couple of reviews and realised that I have literally been hiding away from all the troubles of twenty twenty, inside the cover’s of a book. Real books of the paper kind, audible books of the “listen as fast as you can” kind and e-books. I have to say I am not a natural e-book reader and I take forever to get through them… but genuine books and audible books I tend to get into and fly. Here are my reads from Penguin Random House that I have been winding my way through over the last 150 days of lockdown.
Actual Book of the Paper Variety…
Three Perfect Liars
Suspense, I think so. This is the story of three women in different phases and stages of their lives: Lauren, a high-powered ad executive, who is battling to find her “career mom” feet after recently having a baby; Janie, wife to the owner of the advertising company, who is battling to define herself as a “stay-at-home-mum,” she has recently given up her job as a successful barrister; and Mia, is the temp, who replaced Lauren (quite literally) while she was on maternity leave. On face value they all have one thing in common, the Advertising Agency, that seems to be at the centre of all the drama, or is it.
The book opens with the Advertising Agency burning to the ground… and an arson case that quickly becomes a murder case. Someone, who really shouldn’t have been in the building, was caught in the fire. The story jumps back in time and builds and builds to the night of the fire. We get to know the three major players really well, and the little lies they tell to protect themselves, their families and their reputations. You have the feeling throughout that something does not quite add up. Just gotta say… your feelings are right on track and there is a twist in the twist in this tale.
I love a weekend read with Lesley Pearce, and this one, set in London in the seventies, was just fabulous. Liar is the story of a feisty gal, called Amelia White, she really wants to be a reporter, but she is stuck on the advertising desk. Everything changes the day she is walking home from work and passes some boots in the garbage pile. She is thrilled until she discovers that the boots are on the body of a girl… and so begins this murder mystery. It is all very genteel… (to a point), and she rushes to call the police, and finds herself in the arms of Max… and young man who lives near by. Max takes charge of the situation, and in turn her life. Lonely Amelia is overjoyed to have found Max, and very quickly he becomes the love of her life. And then another girl in the neighbourhood is found murdered. Amelia is convinced that the two murders are connected, but it is only when a third body is discovered that she starts to put the pieces of the story together.
Could Max be too good to be true? Possibly, turns out that Amelia should take a closer look at all the folk around her, because all is not as it seems… even with a police guard to protect her she is not as safe as she thinks she is. While she thinks that her troubled childhood is about to catch up with her… she couldn’t be further and closer to the truth than she thinks. This book has a stunning and surprising twist to it… while Max is far from perfect but there are other potential criminals in Amelia’s orbit. Great twist, great read. I really enjoyed it.
The Other People
So I don’t often read thrillers, but at the Penguin Book Launch earlier this year, I was intrigued by our introduction to this book. The Other People begins with a father called Gabe, driving home along the freeway, he is late from work again, and his wife will not be impressed. A rusty vehicle passed him on the highway and a child was waving from the back window, he absentmindedly thinks that the child looks just like his own daughter… in fact could it be his own daughter? When he arrives home he discovers that his daughter and his wife have been murdered, he is so very distraught that he lets his in-laws take care of all the formalities. He is convinced he saw his daughter on the highway and three years later he is down and out, and living from his camper van. He spends his days driving up and down the highway looking for little Izzy.
There are several other stories that intertwine, with the author teasing us along… with just enough information to keep us curious. Game stops at a local diner, almost daily, where a single mom waitress, called Katie is trying to raise her two kids. Katie hasn’t seen her older sister in years, after the family fell apart when her father was the victim of an apparently random crime. Otherwise, there is Fran a mom of a daughter, Alex, who have been on the run for years. Always staying just one step away from the Other People, throughout the story. There is also a girl who lives in a mansion by the see, only she is comatose and being cared for by a full-time nurse.
This a book about love, and grief and complicated families… (is there any other kind?)… and then there is the creepy factor, who are the mysterious Other People and how do they fit into the story? Not to mention how will all these snippets fit together? This book is really a gripping read, everything is important, everything is linked and I found impossible to put down.
The Silent Treatment
This book is everything…this is one of those “true life” stories that will linger with you for long after you have read it. I recently read an article on how “the silent treatment” is as mentally abusive as a thrashing is physically abusive and so the title had me hooked. This is a love story really and how things can so easily go horribly wrong…
I have to give a warning and say that this book is full of potential triggers. It opens with Maggie trying to take her life, she has given Frank, the love of her life, six months to notice that she isn’t speaking any more and self-absorbed Frank has not noticed a thing. That being said, Frank is not a big speaker and never has been. He is awful at communicating, and is your typical academic. He tends to head to and from work on a daily basis and that is about it. That being said, his feelings run deep… and after years of trying to protect his darling Maggie from their difficult adolescent daughter he has literally given up.
The thing is Maggie is in a coma, and her only chance of survival will be if Frank opens up and speaks to her… he has to talk to her. Talk and talk and talk… can he open up, can he rescue her and will their love survive. If you are looking for a “Not your typical kind of read” then you have found it in The Silent Treatment. It is a love story through and through. This book should carry a warning… if you want your relationship to survive you have to keep on talking to each other. If books were given one word to describe them, then this book’s word would be poignant.
This book grabbed me from the start, really. This is compelling reading through and through… Jenny was kidnapped at age six, she left home to visit her friend down the street and was never seen again… every parents nightmare. Only, twelve years later and troubled, she returns home. Her parents are thrilled and her brother sceptical, very skeptical. There is a lot of psychological drama in this one, suspense and holding your breath. I literally was on the edge of my seat as I read my way through this one. This book has a dark edge to it and not what I was expecting at all… definitely not about a poor victim returning home into the close and loving arms of her family. If you are hoping for that then you have definitely arrived at the wrong book.
The Prisoner’s Wife
Every time I read a World War II story, I tell myself that’s the last… it is just too harrowing. They are all based on fact, they all describe extremely harrowing circumstances and they all leave me drained… and yet in I go again. The Prisoner’s Wife is indeed based on a true story, it is indeed harrowing and kept me up three nights in a row, because I listened to the audible and really didn’t want my kids listening alongside of me. This book describes a resilience and grit that we just don’t see in everyday life… but in times of war incredible things can and do happen. Bill is a British Prisoner of War, who is sent to work on a Czechoslovakian farm as a labourer… he and the oldest daughter, Isabela, on the farm fall in love. When Bill hears of the atrocities of the approaching Russian army and what will happen to his beloved, they decide to run away together and get married.
What can I say, young love is a crazy thing. She and he run away, they are almost captured time and time again and you might be forgiven for thinking that things will be okay… but you will only be on about page three. They are captured… after being on the run for days… by soldiers and sniffer dogs… you can only begin to think how terrifying that must be. They decide to declare Isabela a mute, a young soldier who has been through too much. For some reason the prison guards are convinced, but that is not enough, they have to convince the prison mates too. You would think with a common enemy the prisoners would be united… but they aren’t and life is one terrifying tightrope balance between who to and who not to trust. How to survive the daily visits to the latrines, and lice baths… this is a story of being born in the wrong time and the wrong place… and yet surviving, a relationship that has no time to sort through any difficulties and a love that has to survive no matter what. I loved this book… I did listen to the audible, and I got nothing else done while I was listening. It was that good. Definitely on my best books of 2020 list.
This was another book that I knew I wanted to read as soon as it came out… because what can go wrong with a Marian Keys… always a lovely long story (17 hours on audible, so really worth that credit, and over 650 pages in book form) that runs in and out of family dramas. It is the story of the Casey family: Johnny, Ed, Liam and their wives and children… the ins and out of extended family.
There is a lot of truth in the saying: there is no such thing as a normal family… and what appears to be loads of wonderful togetherness and family time, weekends away and extended holidays. All it takes is one bump on the head, and Ed’s wife, Cara, to get a concussion for things to start to unravel… slowly at first and then spiral. Loads of topical topics are covered, including bulimia, addictions, insecurities and ahem… indiscretions. True to life, wonderfully Irish and honestly enjoyable. It could have just gone on forever and ever… in fact, I would mind being a fly on the wall at a Casey family event anytime… and seeing how they are all getting along.
The Boy from the Woods
This felt like a really quick listen and a great story, but felt a bit more like a young adult read than the “adult thriller” it was touted to be. That being said, I really enjoyed it. It is the story of a man called Wilde, who was found wandering in the woods as a child, somehow he had raised himself and had skills that no other child could dream of having. That being said, fitting into regular society was not really ever going be his thing. As an adult he still lives out in the woods and is extremely wary of the locals.
When the town school “victim of all the bullying” goes missing, police and set out to find her, but they have no luck… and to be honest nobody really cares. But when one of the rich kids, a teen with everything and every opportunity, goes missing as well… the town wakes up and starts looking for the missing teens. There are a lot of sub-plots and it turns out that the town teens are not nearly as innocent as folk would have them believe. Meanwhile, there is a lovely character, 70 year old Hester a feisty and wise lawyer… who calls in Wilde to help with the case.
Hester is tenacious and won’t submit to the call of wealthy parents to keep their secrets out of the spotlight. Wilde is wild, and won’t quit until ha has found what he is looking for… and the teens’ characters are delightfully flawed and continuously make the irrational and seemingly annoying “carefully thought through” decisions that teenagers make. I guess the characters in this book made the story, the baddies are extremely bad… and those that are meant to save the day are prone to make mistakes… lots of them critical. A good fast read… gripping and not at all “creepy and disturbing” crime.
Watching from the Dark
Another book I listened to on audible… and this one is so gripping that I popped it in my ears and took it for a long long walk… I didn’t stop until I was done. This is the story of a nice enough fellow, Aiden. He logs onto an ongoing Skype chat with his girlfriend, and is waiting for her to finish in the bath… and someone enters her apartment, he can see nothing… he can hear footsteps and then a struggle… and then silence as the intruder leaves. A crime has been committed, Zoe the delightful and lovely art student is found dead in her bath…
For some reason Aiden is very reluctant to call the police, which is strange… because his Skype call would create the perfect alibi. The boyfriend is always the first suspect, after all… DCI Sheen takes the case and is thorough indeed, tripping over police procedure at every turn, he relies on his team to go against the grain and dig a little (a lot) deeper… They manage to untangle a complicated web of who is really friends with who, who are the true friends and who are the alleged friends. Even when you have a fair idea of who did it… you are probably wrong. This story has loads of twists and turns. It is hard to imagine all the ins and outs… the more the police uncover the further from the truth they seem to get. But what is the truth and how will we ever find out. Thoroughly enjoyed this tense crime read/listen.
I am the slowest reader of E-Books ever… but lockdown being lockdown meant that some of our review books arrived as e-books. So read them I did…
Redhead by the Side of the Road
I confess I chose to read this one first because it is was the shortest, and my alarming inability to read e-reads. I am so happy I did. It was the perfect little escape, just what I needed to read in the middle of a pandemic. This is not a thriller, a crime, or anything dramatic. It is just a story about an ordinary guy, a window into his life and times… of course there is no such thing as an ordinary life. Micah is a forty four year old bachelor, he works in IT and is very set in his ways… he likes everything just so, including his daily run, the way he makes his breakfast and so on. No wonder he lives alone (just saying!!!). His girlfriend, Cass is exactly the opposite… she comes from a boisterous family, full of extroverts and it is surprising that they get along so well.
Everything is just flowing along, until the day that Cass fears she is being evicted from her apartment and a really random teenager arrives on his doorstep with a rather unexpected proclamation. Let’s just say Micah’s order starts to unravel and he has to question nearly every one of the foundations of his life. This book is a a really honest look at life and feelings and its really beautiful. A lovely comfortable read, even though Micah experiences so much discomfort. This is a gem and I am so glad that I have discovered Anne Tyler.
What a book to read in this era where “gender-based-violence” has become a catch phrase rather than the “other pandemic” in South Africa right now. If you find yourself triggered by violence against women then this is probably not a good read for you… but if you are determined to see change and understand what women are going through, then dive in. This is a very compelling read… it begins with the discovery of of Katie Straw’s body at the local suicide spot. Katie was living in a shelter for abused women, each of them is in the home as a result of domestic or emotional violence against them. These women know for certain that she is a victim of a crime. All of the women in the home are extremely vulnerable, anxious, and afraid. Afraid for their lives, afraid for when their previous lives will catch up with them, and afraid for their futures, it is an oppressive fear that seems to threaten every decision that they make. They are not in a position to convince the police that Katie is a victim, the police will have to figure out their own case… with little to no help from Katie’s housemates. This story to be honest, left me reeling long after I had finished it. It was a harrowing read with an astonishing ending. What you see in not necessarily the truth. This book is a tough read, none of the characters are likeable, and the situation is beyond awful, an important read… a look into a world that needs to have its story told. Well done to the author, Jessica Moor, for not softening the blow and telling the story as she saw it.
Love and Miracles of Pistola
I am in the heart of this book right now and loving it. From a home of an Italian Village, full of the most charming characters, and eccentric family life… to a new life in Johannesburg in the 1950s. Pistola is young and in love, as only an Italian hero can be, with his second cousin, Teresa… and she ignores him for the village thug. Pistola’s heart is shattered and he heads for Johannesburg to work to start over. If you love food and family, and epic dramas then this is the book for you… I will have to dive deeper into this book to give you an honest review… but so far so good. Very good.
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These books were given to us for review purposes by Penguin Random House South Africa. (I have bought the audible books myself). This is not a sponsored post and opinions expressed are entirely our own.