If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

If I Had Your Face plunges us into the mesmerizing world of contemporary Seoul – a place where extreme plastic surgery is as routine as getting a haircut, where women compete for spots in secret ‘room salons’ to entertain wealthy businessmen after hours, where K-Pop stars are the object of all-consuming obsession, and ruthless social hierarchies dictate your every move.

Navigating this hyper-competitive city are four young women balancing on the razor-edge of survival: Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive ‘room salon’ is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hair stylist living down the hall, whose infatuation with a fresh-faced K-Pop star drives her to violent extremes.

I have never read a book which is set in Korea before, so that is already a first with this story. I have always been fascinated by the country but I just don’t see books based in that area at all.

The writing is very stylish and skilled and I was very impressed to find out this is a debut novel. It’s descriptive without being too rambling and I believe every word was chosen with great deliberation.

The storyline made me sad to think there are people out there who are willing to put their lives in danger all for the sake of beauty. There is a trend at the minute – particularly on social media – that everyone needs to be perfect, and this is explored in the plot.

The general feel of the story is quite grim and disheartening, as I can imagine the general narrative is quite accurate to the image of beauty in certain countries. It’s sad to think the pressure to look forever beautiful and young is so strong in some places drives people pretty much to the point of insanity, and although I found it interesting in the context of this story, I wish it were just a fantasy.

This isn’t exactly an uplifting read, but if you’re interested in the dark side of beauty, this is highly recommended.

Publication date: 23rd April 2020

Publisher: Penguin Books UK

The Liar’s Daughter by Claire Allan

Joe McKee – pillar of the Derry community – is dead. As arrangements are made for the traditional Irish wake, friends and family are left reeling at how cancer could have taken this much-loved man so soon.

But grief is the last thing that Joe’s daughter Ciara and step-daughter Heidi feel. For they knew the real Joe – the man who was supposed to protect them and did anything but.

As the mourners gather, the police do too, with doubt being cast over whether Joe’s death was due to natural causes. Because the lies that Joe told won’t be taken to the grave after all – and the truth gives his daughters the best possible motive for killing him…

I really like novels which make you think and wonder what’s happening next. However I haven’t read many crime dramas, they seem to have passed me by for some reason. Having said all that, out of the few crime dramas I have read, this is one of the better ones.

The tension was solid throughout, and it was pretty intense. The characters are well written and believable and I think this was one of the main reasons I enjoyed this (if enjoyed is the right word to use in this context, that is!). The cruelty and nastiness of certain characters was palpable and I genuinely felt the characters were talking to me directly at times!

I was kept guessing all the way through and no spoilers, but please if you start reading this, you need to continue! I found I was constantly shocked and second guessed, and this is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy.

I need to seek other books by this author, because I really hope this isn’t a one off (I hear good things about her other novels, so certainly looks promising!). Definitely recommended for those who enjoy psychological thrillers.

Publication date: 23rd January 2020

Publisher: Avon Books UK

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

In the last year, Meg Mackworth’s beautiful hand-lettering skills have seen her rocket to social media fame, and now she has a booming business crafting stationery for the stars. But she has a secret: sometimes, she just can’t resist hiding messages in her work. Slightly unprofessional, maybe – but harmless. Right?

Analyst Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée had their future mapped out. Until he noticed a pattern in his wedding invitation that made him think twice.

When Meg looks up from her desk one day and sees Reid standing in front of her with no wedding ring, holding the invitation she created, she thinks that her career is over. But her life may be about to begin . . .

This is an idea for a story which I’ve never heard before (and believe me, I’ve read A LOT).

I did find this a little slow to get into, but as I got into it I found the letter writing aspect of this narrative a fascinating angle to the romance genre. You do find you really need to focus though, I mean unless you’re watching the action taking place, it can be a little difficult to imagine how the letter would be formulated.

I’d actually describe this more as a drama than a romance. The romance is a bit part of the storyline, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It wasn’t just a plain story, and there were lots of branches which definitely contributed to the “will-they-won’t-they” narrative. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found this held my attention and made me want to find out what happens to them.

This story has made me desperately want to learn calligraphy and I wish I had more time to be able to do this. Building a business on beautiful writing (both literally and figuratively in a novel sense) sounds like my idea of heaven.

Publication date: 31st December 2019

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

The Afternoon Tea Club by Jane Gilley

Everyone’s welcome at The Afternoon Tea Club…

Marjorie, Stacy, Raymond and Dora each hold a different story to their chest – lost loves, abandoned dreams, crippling self-confidence issues, and simply feeling invisible. For each of them, the thought of letting those stories out is almost as terrifying as letting strangers in, and that makes for a very lonely life indeed.

But when these four strangers who have struggled, to “fit in” end up on the same table for an event at their local community centre, little do they know that their lives are about to be entwined and changed forever because of an Afternoon Tea club.

Cue an unexpected journey of self-discovery, some unlikely new companions , and plenty of tea and biscuits along the way…

This book is very good if you wish to have a happy escape from reality. It’s sweet to the point of possible tweeness (is that a word?!), but that’s definitely something we all need once in a while.

I found I struggled a little with the amount of different characters, which hindered my enjoyment slightly. However I realise that’s sort of necessary in this – I mean, it’s a “club”, you’re not exactly going to have only one main character in something like that! Once I was into the book, I found it slightly easier to keep track of the characters.

I felt by the end that I wanted to know the characters in real life. They were all so likeable and I felt they were becoming a sort of extended family. It was a pleasure to get to know them and they all had their quirks which made them interesting and multi-dimensional.

This was a great study of human relationship and behaviour and I really want to read more from this author!

Publication date: 12th December 2019

Publisher: Avon Books UK

Never Have I Ever – Lucy V Hay

Twenty years ago

Four teenagers discover a new game.

They add their own rules, going from sharing secrets to sharing firsts.

And then it all goes spiralling out of control.

Now

A woman gets a note through her door which chills her blood.

‘Never have I ever been punished for what I have done’

She thought this was over. But it looks like it’s her turn to play.

Because no matter how far it goes, you have to obey the rules of the game. And the game is never really over.

This was an interesting take on something I used to play during my student days. Never Have I Ever is basically the game which defined my fresher’s week and I’ve been left mentally scarred by some of the things I discovered that week, believe me!

The synopsis for this story sounded very exciting and I definitely wanted to see what happened. This was very dark and as many people who read my blog know, this is the genre I tend to gravitate towards. I can’t say this is the best thing I’ve ever read (because that would be a stretch!) but it certainly lived up to the excitement I got when I read the premise of the story. I think this may come from the fact I didn’t particularly like the main character. I like to have a character to root for and this didn’t really happen for me in this story. I also found the pace was a little slow to keep my interest, however I did find it interesting enough to keep going.

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy playing the “game” and would be interested in seeing other stories of a similar genre.

Publication date: 12th December 2019

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

Happy 2020 everyone! Here is my first blog post of the year!

Thirteen-year-old shepherd Tom must defend himself against a ruthless killer, tracking him through the outback in this thriller set in colonial era Australia. It’s 1840, and life in colonial Australia is brutal. Thirteen-year-old convict Tom Clay lives in an outback shepherd’s hut, protecting his master’s sheep from wild dogs. He keeps company with fellow shepherd Rowdy, who barely stops talking. The sheep dogs are Tom’s real friends. When a murderous former camp-mate returns, bent on silencing witnesses to crimes he committed as a shepherd, Tom and Rowdy must flee into the bush. The novel covers only a few days, and moves at a breakneck speed that matches the panic and movements of young Tom as he fights to survive against a ruthless pursuer.

This was a tension filled suspense fest which really grabbed my attention. It was fast moving and really made me want to know what was going to happen next. Although it did start a little slow, it more than made up for it towards the middle as the action started. Although it’s almost a historical fiction, I found it quite easy to follow what was happening and the writing really helped with immersing me in that sort of lifestyle.

The scariness comes from the characters, and also the horrible violence and gore which happens. This definitely isn’t for the faint hearted.

I found Tom a very strong lead character and his love for animals made him quite endearing. It was nice to see a strong teenage character.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself the hugest fan of historical fiction, I enjoyed this for its scariness and tension, which appeals to my gothic horror taste.

 

Publication Date: 22nd May 2020

Publisher: Text Publishing

Christmas Secrets by the Sea by Jane Lovering

Tansy Merriweather is down on her luck. She’s lost her business and her relationship, and instead of a glamorous London apartment, her home is now a campervan on a Dorset beach. And as if things couldn’t get any worse, a scruffy dog called Brian with a taste for sardines has adopted her.

When Tansy’s new-found friends at the cafe in the bay help her find a job as a location scout for a new TV show, things start looking up. However, when she finds herself babysitting the show’s grouchy star, Davin O’Riordan, she’s not sure she wants to stay around. But when Brian forges a touching romance with Davin’s elegant whippet Seelie, Tansy begins to see another side to Davin.

As Christmas approaches, secrets emerge and Tansy and Davin discover a bond between them. But how will they cope with the storms headed their way – and can they save the cafe from closing?

I thought it was about time I spoke about a Christmas book!

This was a very charming book and I found it very warming. I would predominantly describe this as a festive romance (snowmance?!) but there is a lot to it. The characters are well written and easy to relate to. They’re developed more than a lot of romance novels I’ve seen and the relationship was built in an appropriate but well-paced way. The “fluff” of a regular romance is sort of forgotten and as much as I occasionally like the fluff, I was very pleased to see a Christmas novel which doesn’t have this.

AND THERE ARE DOGS.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I do like books which are based by the sea and personally I think it’s quite rare to find Christmas books based by the sea. I enjoyed seeing how this was used as a plot point and have made a mental note to look out for more of this in the future. The setting adds to the community feel and I always finish these stories feeling a little jealous I’m not sat by the sea. Regardless of how cold it is, I’d be very happy just to see the water!

It’s been lovely stepping into the world of Tansy and Davin, and DID I MENTION THERE ARE DOGS???!!!

Publication date: 13th December 2018

Publisher: Farrago

Below the Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin

When forty-year-old Rabbit Hayes dies, she leaves behind a family broken by grief. Her mother Molly is distraught and in danger of losing her faith. Her father Jack spends hour upon hour in the family attic, poring over his old diaries, losing himself in the past. Rabbit’s brother Davey finds himself suddenly guardian to her twelve-year-old daughter Juliet. Juliet might be able to fill a hole in Davey’s heart – but how can he help Juliet through her grief when he can barely cope with his own?

Meanwhile, Rabbit’s sister Grace is struggling with the knowledge that she carries the same gene that made her sister ill, and Rabbit’s best friend Marjorie is lost, struggling to remain a part of a family she has always wished was her own now that her link to them is gone.

But even though the Hayes family are all fighting their own battles, they are drawn together by their love for Rabbit, and their love for each other. In the years that follow her death they find new ways to celebrate and remember her, to find humour and hope in the face of tragedy, and to live life to its fullest, as Rabbit would have wanted.

I read The Last Days of Rabbit Heyes when it first came out in 2014 as the story intrigued me. I absolutely loved it and it really resonated with me as a close family member had cancer around the same time as the book was released (she’s fine now, thankfully).

This is the sequel and happens after this and although I definitely recommend reading the other book first, I’m sure this would be great as a standalone too. The family are very genuine and authentic and I can’t help but feel they may be based on a real family. The personalities fit people who I know in real life and although I can pinpoint real people to the characters, I still wish I was able to meet these characters in real life.

This is a brilliant, hilarious book full of light and shade and real family ties, which makes it all the more touching. Anyone who enjoys an uplifting but tragic story will not be disappointed. And if you only read this, please read the book which comes before this too!

Publication Date: 16th April 2020

Publisher: Bonnier Books UK

The Paris Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe

Three macabre and confounding mysteries for the first and greatest of detectives, Auguste Dupin

An apartment on the rue Morgue turned into a charnel house; the corpse of a shopgirl dragged from the Seine; a high-stakes game of political blackmail – three mysteries that have enthralled the whole of Paris, and baffled the city’s police. The brilliant Chevalier Auguste Dupin investigates – can he find the solution where so many others before him have failed?

These three stories from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe are some of the most influential ever written, widely praised and credited with inventing the detective genre. This edition contains: ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ and ‘The Purloined Letter’.

As long term readers of this blog know (as I’ve gone on about this enough), I’m a huge fan of Gothic horror and one of my favourite writers of this genre is Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve read his poems so many times and even have a t-shirt with “Nevermore” splayed across the stomach (yes, I’m sure that’s a beautiful image to have in your head while you’re eating your cornflakes.)

I read these 3 tales a long while ago as part of another compilation of stories when I was just starting to get into the horror genre. Now Pushkin Vertigo are about to reprint, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to re-read! Although I wouldn’t describe this as horror so much, more mystery, I still found I enjoyed these as much as I did the first time.

The prose is very flowery and descriptive, and those who enjoy an easy read may struggle with this, as is Poe’s writing style. I imagine if you’re after something “easier” you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards Poe’s work! I found these chilling and thrilling (aye!) and if for any reason you’ve read Lovecraft but haven’t read Poe, this would be a good introduction to his work (more so if you’re not used to Gothic horror and want to dip your toes in. There are much darker tales in his repertoire. Yes, really.)

I can also imagine the cover for this when it’s published will be BEAUTIFUL! (I can’t comment as I haven’t seen it, but it’s certainly promising).

Publication Date: 28th April 2020

Publisher: Pushkin Press