Book Review: The Book Club by C.J. Cooper

Chilled me to the bone, you’ll never question your instincts again!

Lucy believes she has left the drama of her life behind. Cosied up in a cottage in the Cotswolds, she spends her days reading, attempting to garden and trying to fit in with long term locals Rebecca, Maggie and Tom. But all that changes when Alice Darley moves in next door.

Alice has an uneasy air about her, she has a sweet smile that is a bit too convincing, and once friendly dogs turn feral at the sound of her foot steps. From the moment Lucy meets Alice, she knows in her gut that something isn’t quite right about her. We’ve all had that odd first impression of a new face, and most of the time, we’re proved wrong. If we acted on every bad feeling, things may turn out very badly indeed…right?

Lucy, taking this into account, welcomes Alice, who starts a book club for the locals. But what starts as a simple neighbourhood book club becomes something far far sinsister. The Book Club will have you guessing at every page, and even when I was convinced I’d worked out the twists, there was something else to add into the mix.

One of the strongest parts of this novel are the characters themselves. In a lot of thrillers, it is the easy option to have your characters be blissfully unaware of what is going on around them, and that can add to a larger shock at the end. However, C J Cooper’s characters are all smart individuals, and it is their inklings of doubt about Alice, and even each other, that make The Book Club such a page turner, because the reader discovers threads at the same pace as the characters themselves for the most part.

Whilst the story is mainly told from the perspective of Lucy, there is still plenty of time given to Rebecca, Maggie and Tom, and their own personal struggles. At one point Alice is clearly amused by all the drama happening in the small villages, which are meant to be peaceful escapes from the madness of inner city life, and the irony is definitely not lost.

The ending, which I won’t spoil, was just as thrilling as I hoped for, and left me as a reader with some ideas about what is next for specific characters. I loved C J Cooper’s writing style, she poured life into all her characters, so that despite their glaring differences, I felt at the end like I knew each and every one. Alice is an unstable, charismatic villain, and one to remember.

I’d recommend this book to all even if you aren’t used to thrillers. It questions your gut instincts, and makes you question just how well you know your neighbours. The Book Club is a truly gripping read, as it submerges you into the mind of the villain, and doesn’t let go, even when you’re gasping for breath.

5 out of 5 stars

2021 Reading Challenge – Book 11 out of 50.

My First Book Subscription Box!

Please note that this post is NOT sponsored – I have been eyeing up book subscriptions for a while so thought I’d give it a try!

It’s no secret that people are reading more than ever, partially due to the pandemic and people getting the chance to delve into books when they previously didn’t have a chance. And whilst that’s a wonderful sight to behold, unfortunately in the UK, 77 million books are destroyed every year, with 83% of them pulped before being read.

A Box of Stories seeks to reduce this number, by saving the books due to be destroyed and sends them out in subscription boxes, in the hope that the reader will discover a new story that they will love and share on, saving the book and keeping the story alive.

There are multiple types of subscription on their website but I went for a 4 book Fiction box to be delivered every 3 months. Upon subscribing, they email and ask for your Goodreads name so they can automatically filter out books you have already read, which I thought was really innovative. You can also auto-exclude up to two genres, lessening the chance of receiving something you wouldn’t read.

My box arrived yesterday, and I was quite surprised and impressed with the books I’ve received! I’ll add a blurb of each book in case they pique anyone’s interest!

Book 1 – The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer / 2019 / Romantic + Historical / 367 pages

‘I’d rather take a picture than be one,’ Lee Miller declares, as she arrives in Paris one cool day in 1929. Lee has left behind her life in New York and a successful modelling career at Vogue to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. She soon catches the eye of renowned Surrealist artist Man Ray and convinces him to hire her as his assistant. Man is an egotistical, charismatic force, and as Lee becomes both his muse and his protégé, they embark upon a passionate affair.

Lee and Man spend their days working closely in the studio and their nights at smoky cabarets, opium dens and wild parties. But as Lee begins to assert herself, and to create pioneering work of her own, Man’s jealousy spirals out of control, and leads to a betrayal that threatens to destroy them both . . .

Transporting us from bohemian Paris to the battlefields of WWII, The Age of Light is a powerful and intoxicating story about love, obsession and the personal price of ambition. Based on the incredible true story, in her debut novel Whitney Scharer brings a brilliant and revolutionary artist out of the shadow of a man’s legacy, and into the light.

Comments – This is a tall paperback, and quite thick! I don’t think I would have chosen this myself, but the concept looks interesting and I am a sucker for historical fiction with a hint of romance!

Book 2 – The Colour of Lies by Lezanne Clannachan / 2018 / Thriller + Mystery / 371 pages

Tell me, where did Lily go?

When Anna takes a job with a family whose niece is missing, she finds herself increasingly haunted by the mystery around her disappearance.

As rumours and gossip circle the family, Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl. The more she learns, the less she knows who to trust.

But Anna has her own secret. She knows what lies look like – she can see dishonesty stain the air. Only her sister knows about her synasthesia and how she can read emotions, even when people are trying to hide them.

Now suspicion is beginning to gather around the one man Anna knows to be innocent. She just has to find a way to prove it…

Comments – This looks like a classic thriller with a twist – The protagonist can see emotions in colour, which will help her in her mission to locate Lily. I really love this idea, and I love a good mystery!

Book 3 – Ok, Mr Field by Katharine Kilalea / 2018 / Psychological / 200 pages

Mr Field, a concert pianist travelling back from a performance in London, fractures his left wrist in a train crash. On a whim, he uses his compensation cheque to buy a house he has seen only in a newspaper, a replica of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye built on a stretch of coast outside Cape Town. When he moves there with his wife Mim, the house – which Le Corbusier designed as ‘a machine for living’ – has a disturbing effect. Mim disappears without apology or explanation and Mr Field can barely summon the strength to search for her.

OK, Mr Field is funny and beguiling and like nothing you’ve ever read. It dwells in the silences between words, in the gaps in conversations, and in the distances between people. It confidently guides us into new fictional territory.

Comments – This is the shortest book of the box, a mere 200 pages! Short novels always interest me, as the author has managed to pack an entire plot in a significantly smaller page count. From the cover, I would have assumed this was a non fiction book if I was in a book shop. After reading the blurb, I am curious as this does appear a bit spooky with a quirkiness to it, definitely interesting!

Book 4 – Dead Girls by Abigail Tarttelin / 2018 / Thriller + Mystery / 433 pages

A quiet community is shocked by the murder of an eleven-year-old girl. As police swarm the village looking for a killer, fear compels parents to keep their children indoors. Unbeknownst to her mum and dad, though, one girl roams free.

That girl is Thera Wilde.

Thera was the murdered girl’s best friend. Together they were unstoppable and, even alone, Thera is not afraid. It’s 1999, girls can do anything – and Thera reckons she can find the killer first.

Comments – The above is the blurb from the back of the book, though searching online, there seems to be so many different blurbs, most mention ouija boards and Thera communicating with other dead girls, which is such a fascinating and heartbreaking concept. I wish that had been on the blurb of this copy as it’d make me more eager to pick it up if I was browsing a shop myself.

Despite that, Dead Girls is the book that I am most looking forward to reading out of the four, especially as it’s set in the 90s, being a 90s baby myself!

Have you read any of the above books? What did you think? Let me know!

Book Review: Confessions of a Karaoke Queen by Ella Kingsley

A fluffy read with plenty of cheesy humour with an interesting concept.

First things first, I absolutely love chick lit. It’s relatable, it’s easy to read, and it’s funny. In fact, my first attempt at a novel (a part of which ended up being a piece for my degree) was chick lit, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So when my friend Jane sent me a copy of Confessions of a Karaoke Queen in a much needed care package (thank you!) I was absolutely thrilled.

Confessions of a Karaoke Queen tells the tale of Maddie Mulhern, who is the daughter of Rick and Sapphy, or as they’re more commonly known, 80s pop duo Pineapple Mist. As a result, Maddie has been raised around awards, crazy outfits, and the constant shadow of Pineapple Mist’s one hit wonder playing at every party she has ever been to.

In a very quick turnaround of events, Pineapple Mist decide to embark on a comeback tour with other 80s acts, and Maddie is left with no choice but to run their karaoke bar Sing it Back. The club is outdated, and in an awful financial position, and all the implications of that are left to Maddie without so much as a moment’s notice, despite her having her own life and career.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the premise, though I wish the author had written more about Rick and Sapphy as characters, as it felt quite rushed at the start. Maddie always says that her parents were supportive growing up and always put her first, though the handover of the club seems very uncaring and thoughtless, especially as Maddie is an adult who no longer lives with them, and has responsibilities of her own.

In her desperation, Maddie and the staff at Sing It Back see an advert looking for clubs to take part in a reality TV show. She signs up almost immediately, in the hope of her financial prayers being answered and giving the club a much needed face lift. From there, a whirlwind of a story unfolds, with plenty of laughs, but also some more sinister characters emerging as the reality show starts broadcasting, and the whole of the country starts to tune into the day to day events at Sing It Back.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book, but after that, I did struggle in parts to follow along. There are many secondary characters in the story, all unique in their own way, but it seemed that each had their own complex arc, and that made it a bit difficult to keep up with.

However there is one secondary character that the author creates, who everyone can relate to. He is the old man that sits at the bar in silence every week, orders the same drink and leaves at the same time. The author has created this man, but added a weekly painfully bad rendition of Bat Out of Hell, earning this old man the nickname Loaf. He saved the story in places for me, and I found him very memorable, partially because I’ve worked at a bar myself in the past and could fully relate to him.

It is probably wise to note that this book came out in 2011, so some of the pop culture references are outdated, but that is not a fault of the book. I think this book would also be best suited to someone who enjoys 80s music, especially as each chapter title is a hit from that era. There is also a playlist guide at the end along with karaoke tips, which I thought was a great touch.

The name Ella Kingsley is a pseudonymn of a women’s fiction author apparently, and despite reading other reviews and interviews, I could not find any hint as to who she is. I have my suspicious based on similar books I’ve read, but nothing concrete! No further books have been released despite an interview when Confessions of a Karaoke Queen came out, saying that we had not heard the last of Maddie Mulhern. It’s a shame really, as despite some issues regarding arcs, I did enjoy this book and would happily read further.

3 out of 5 stars

2021 Reading Challenge – Book 10 out of 50.

Book Review: Hold Back The Tide by Melinda Salisbury

Chilling, and difficult to put down. Read when around water for an additional layer of fear!

I’ve read my fair share of thrillers, mysteries and crime novels, but I’ve never really stepped over the line into horror. Hold Back The Tide is a horror standalone, with a young adult audience in mind, but is also just as captivating for adult readers.

Hold Back The Tide focuses around a young girl named Alva, who belongs to a family who have guarded the loch in her town of Ormscaula for generations. From the first line, you are drawn in and led to understand that every second of Alva’s day to day life is riddled with fear, mistrust and a desperate longing to escape the small town that is all she has known. At first you could be fooled into thinking that the story is just going to be about Alva, but it grows into so much more, and a world develops that is so sinister and menacing, it is hard to not read on.

What starts as Alva’s story becomes a story of a town that has let nature be forgotten, residents turning the other cheek to any damaging effects to Ormascaula. What is so powerful about Hold Back The Tide, is that not much is given away, though Salisbury reveals just enough to make your hairs stand on end, as you know something isn’t as it seems. Every page is a frantic guess as to what, or who is around the corner, and at times I even found myself holding my breath as the story developed.

There are also some really interesting secondary characters, especially one who could be perceived as the true villain of this story, but I’ll let you see that one for yourselves. No spoilers!

The book is under 300 pages, so I was able to read it quite quickly, but I think if it had been any longer, it would have ruined the punch that the story packs. From reading other reviews, the ending seems to have mixed reactions, which I can understand, though I personally found it apt.

I’m eager to read more by Melinda Salisbury, and will be picking up her The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy in the future.

4 out of 5 stars.

2021 Reading Challenge – Book 9 out of 50.

Book Review: The Last One At The Party by Bethany Clift

The Last One At The Party is an explosive debut that will tug at your heartstrings from page one and never let go.

Let me start by telling you one thing – This book made me cry within 50 pages. Books never make me cry, it is very rare that I’ll even laugh out loud. I maintain a straight face and feel all my emotions within my head. The Last One at the Party changed that.

I became so consumed within this book, that I didn’t even notice until I reached the end that you never learn the protagonist’s name. How could I have connected with someone and became so wrapped up in their journey without even having a name to call them by? That’s how good Bethany Clift’s writing is – She has created a dystopian world with a relatable protagonist that speaks her mind, in both heartbreaking and hilarious ways.

What makes The Last One At The Party feel so real, is that it’s set in the near future, and even references Coronavirus and the horrific year that was 2020. A virus named 6DM (Six Days Max – Aptly named as six days is the longest anyone has survived before succumbing to the illness) has ravaged the world, and the protagonist is the only person not affected.

Her priorities change, and she spends a lot of time reflecting through her memories as she tries to process the new normal, watching how the world changes without humanity in it, and seeing where, if anywhere, she can fit. Sure, she can now have everything she ever wanted – Cars, handbags, hotel stays, but is it worth it without no one to enjoy the experience with? No buzz of conversation around her, no cars passing by?

Bethany Clift has taken the raw emotion that worldwide trauma brings and progressed it to something that is both unimaginable and yet imaginable in the same breath. After the past year, we can all relate to loss and fear in some way, and this is what helps this story pack the punch it does. 6DM is a horrendous disease, the effects of which are hard to read about, but seeing it through eyes that are forever adjusting, makes this book absolutely impossible to put down.

I can’t wait to read further books by Bethany Clift – She is definitely an author to remember.

5 out of 5 stars

2021 Reading Challenge – Book 8 out of 50

P.S The Waterstones Exclusive Edition of this book has the most beautiful neon pink edges ever.

P.P.S My spine was upside down on my version and I absolutely love it!

The Fear of Negativity in Reviews

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – The fear of including negativity in book reviews. As reviewers, your audience relies on you to tell the truth, and for the most part, we do. But it is extremely easy to ONLY review the books that you adored, the 5 out of 5 stars, the creme de la creme of the reading experience. I was exactly the same myself, especially after receiving an off hand comment from an author following a semi-negative review I’d given in one of my videos back in the day. I don’t believe I’d tagged them so how they found it, I do not know, but it definitely put me off instilling any form of negativity into my reviews.

I think it goes without saying that if you’re posting a review of a book you didn’t like, don’t tag the author, that’s just basic etiquette. That book was the result of the author’s hard work, endless cups of coffee and numerous revisions so just because you didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that they personally need to know. No one is going to have the same opinion, which is what makes art such a versatile form, it’s open to interpretation by all who read it, obviously with the exception of the rare few who create purposefully offensive material.

I guess this post is my vow to be honest in my reviews, not brutal, not bitchy, but be constructive as a reviewer and explain the parts of the story, or the characters that I didn’t personally gel with, but opening the door for those who may connect with the book in a better way I did.

There will always be the chance of backlash, but I believe as long as a review is structured in an honest way that is also impartial and fair, it will promote readership regardless of the overall star rating.

I’ve spoken to many other bloggers who were fearful of this as well as myself, so I thought it’d be an interesting topic to consider on my short break this afternoon.

Any comments or thoughts on this would be useful, lets take away the fear of negativity and embrace impartiallity into reviewing, and stick together!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful afternoon.

Thanks for listening!

Book Review: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Pippa Fitz-Amobi (known as Pip) could be seen as your average teenager from the surface. She’s a model student, whilst still finding her way in life, and can see the good in everyone. She also values the truth above else, which is why Pip chooses to personally investigate a murder that happened in her small hometown of Kilton five years ago, where a student from her school, popular girl Andie Bell was allegedly killed by her boyfriend Sal Singh, who committed suicide before any confession could be made, or Andie’s body located.

The majority of Kilton’s community are happy to believe that Sal murdered Andie, and have all but vilified his family despite Sal never having his day in court. Pip is confident that all is not as it seems, and sets out to unravel the truth by any means necessary.

True to her academic goals, Pip makes the investigation the basis of her extended project for school, and throughout the book, the format changes to show transcripts of interviews, logs and pictures. Holly Jackson perfectly combines the Young Adult and Thriller genre, without overstepping the mark too much on either. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is not so graphic that it would be unsuitable for the younger readership it is aimed towards, whilst at the same time, is interesting and detailed enough to appeal to other audiences as well.

What made this read even more interesting was as you can see the logs that Pip writes, the reader feels almost as if they are working with her to discover the true identity of the killer. So, as the plot develops and twists appear, the reader becomes just as frustrated with Pip and the book becomes impossible to put down.

One of my favourite elements of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is how Holly Jackson writes teenagers in general. I’ve read a lot of Young Adult novels that shy away from having their teens swear, or drink, or behave in anyway that could seem unsavoury or prompt the young readership to behave in the same way. However, Holly Jackson gets the balance spot on, and whilst Pip and her friends do swear and meet up for the odd beer, it’s never the main focus. The focus is always on the bigger picture, with the other elements just part of the group dynamic, and the society that these teens are in.

Even though I’m not a teenager, Pip felt a lot more reliable as a character with these descriptions, as I could link how she acted to my own experience, along with other teenagers. Holly Jackson also describes body language brilliantly, which made the process of trying to figure out who was lying when Pip interviewed them, even more thrilling.

In conclusion, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a great read for young adults who are looking at reading a thriller for the first time, as it opens the door into the genre, whilst at the same time being just as thrilling for those who are familiar with suspense and murder mystery.

5 out of 5 stars.

2021 Reading Challenge – Book 7 out of 50.

The Book Community

So, here it is. My first blog post. It feels nearly as awkward as when you start a new class or job, and the trainer/teacher/whoever happens to be in charge asks you to say your name and a few things about yourself. Cue, a few seconds of panic as you try and remember what your name actually is and whether anyone cares that your favourite colour is red, and you like to eat A LOT of cheese in your spare time. Given that I was always at the end of the register alphabetically, I was usually able to copy someone else, normally by mumbling about a football team and breathing a sigh of relief when it was all over.

Come on Tasha, you’re in your late 20’s now, it’s not high school.

Despite my waffle, an introduction has changed in the book community to what it was in the past. I used to review books on YouTube, around 2012/2013/2014 when BookTube as it’s called was starting to become popular. It was a comforting environment, though quite nerve-wracking at times. Subscriber count seemed to matter a little too much, with those who had the high numbers put on untouchable pedestals, and just added more pressure to the smaller accounts, meaning that everyone was reading the same book whether they were interested in it or not. It was just a way to get noticed.

It wasn’t all negative, but the level of pressure and expectation from viewers back then was definitely not something I was prepared for. That, combined with people in ‘real life’ finding videos and sharing them to mock me, made reality come crashing down.

So I quit YouTube, and all my videos are privatised. Looking back, it’s nice to have a reminder of who I was in my early 20’s, but onwards and upwards as they say.

2020 has changed all of us, whether we admit it or not. I think we can all agree that we have realised what we take for granted, whilst also holding those close to us, just a little bit closer. It’s also for the most part, brought a sense of camaraderie online, even between strangers. I became more active on Twitter during the first lockdown, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Suddenly, that book community that I was a part of in 2012 was there, but bigger and better than ever. Authors were debuting with shops closed, and relied heavily on the community to promote and buy their releases. Authors asked, and the readers answered. It was fantastic to behold.

Strangers were taking part in book exchanges, looking at wishlists and buying from them, just to make someone who they had never met smile. I cannot put into words how helpful receiving the odd package or two with a kind message from a stranger helped in lockdown. People were writing more, whilst also helping those who were writing less. Important issues got brought to light about inequality within the industry, and steps were finally taken to start to address these points and provide wider representation.

And through all this, I read the posts, I joined groups and spoke to readers and writers alike, originally to discuss books but over time, to discuss our days and how the pandemic was effecting our lives. When I lost my Nana to COVID earlier this year, that group was there for me to talk to impartially, and I felt comforted and supported by people of all ages and locations.

Books brought us together, and in turn, brought us hope.

I joined webinars with publishers, agents and authors, learning about the industry and any tips I could use to write. I wrote a 62,000 word draft of a novel in 38 days to keep my mind busy whilst working, and whilst I’m unsure whether I will pursue that particular work further, it was cathartic in processing some of my own experiences.

To summarise, the book community online is such a welcoming place. It is easy to stumble on other parts of the Internet, and instantly feel worried or scared about the way the world is, whether that’s over a headline or seeing someone’s profile and thinking you’re doing everything wrong. They call it doom scrolling for a reason.

I’m happy that the community has changed, and has grown in such volumes over the past few years. I’ve made friends that I feel comfortable speaking with, even though we have different lives and may never meet, and have like minded people that I can discuss books with, without fear of reprimand.

It’s good to be back!