Blog Tour – June 2022 – Tasting Sunlight – Ewald Arenz

Another wonderful Orenda tour! But this isn’t crime fiction, unusually for you…

No, but I loved the book’s premise, and that’s what drew me to participating in the blog tour. It’s a German translation (Karen Sullivan from Orenda has a knack for tracking down foreign gems for our delight) about a troubled teenager, Sally, who’s walked out of the clinic where she’s being treated for eating disorders, and leaves the city for the country, where she feels she’s less likely to be bothered. There she meets Liss, a quiet 40-something farmer who enjoys peace, quiet, and hard work on the farm.

Having grown up on a farm, which my father and sister still work, I was keen to read the descriptions of the countryside, and I wasn’t disappointed – Arenz has clearly spent a lot of his life working outside, and his writing about the outdoors is highly evocative, not to mention downright beautiful.

So what happens – does Sally stay on the farm?

She’s a naturally cynical girl, but she slowly comes to trust Liss and understand she wants nothing from her, although Sally does some work on the farm to gain her keep, which she begins, to her surprise, to enjoy. She’s used to people always wanting something, or pushing her to do things she’s reluctant to do, so that relationship, coupled with the fresh air, the natural tiredness (and hunger!) that comes from physical work, is a revelation to her.

Slowly the relationship between the two women allow them both to heal – but really it’s the countryside, and the satisfaction of working in the open air, seeing weather – and seasons – change, plants growing until they can be harvested…all that is really the catalyst for healing.

And you were surprised the writer was male, weren’t you?

I was – due to the name being new to me, it’s only when I saw the picture below of the author that I realised it was a man writing. At the danger of sounding sexist – apologies if I do! – it’s really unusual to meet a man who can write about women, and the relationship between two women, and make it sound so real.

His writing about the countryside is truly beautiful – I don’t read about the countryside a great deal; I think it’s because I was brought up there (and couldn’t wait to get out, although I do have wonderful memories of watching – and “helping” – my father work – and by God did he work, and still does at 80 years of age!) But some of the writing here is so wonderfully descriptive and, as I said earlier, evocative, I was reminded of my favourite poet, Seamus Heaney, who I started reading for Higher English, and who was from a farming background too – and given that he is a Nobel Laureate, I don’t think I can offer higher praise!

So who would you recommend this book to?

I’ll be honest – anyone who enjoys good writing! It’s a beautiful book – one to savour, and perhaps mark favourite passages of yours for future reference. I’m gutted I don’t yet have a hard copy to annotate – and that’s something I rarely do, unless it’s a book I know I’ll keep, and go back to. I wouldn’t be surprised if readers also feel healed by the gorgeous descriptive passages! Just a wonderful book…

Do not miss this massive German bestseller – it’s utterly fantastic!

I would like to thank Anne Cater at Random Things TTours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the eARC. That has in no way influenced my opinion, and this is an honest review.

Author Ewald Arenz

Check out the other wonderful bloggers’ thoughts on the blog tour!

BLURB: Teenager Sally has just run away from a clinic where she to be treated for anorexia. She’s furious with everything and everyone, and wants to be left in peace.

Liss is in her forties, living alone on a large farm that she runs single-handedly. She has little contact with the outside world, and no need for other people.

From their first meeting, Sally realises that Liss isn’t like other adults; she expects nothing of Sally and simply accepts who she is, offering her a bed for the night with no questions asked.

That night becomes weeks and then months, as an unlikely friendship develops and these two damaged women slowly open up – connecting to each other, reconnecting with themselves, and facing the darkness in their pasts through their shared work on the land.

Achingly beautiful, profound, invigorating and uplifting, Tasting Sunlight is a story of friendship across generations, of love and acceptance, of the power of nature to heal and transform, and the goodness that surrounds us, if only we take time to see it…

Blog Tour – June 2022 – The Other Guest – Helen Cooper

So – a psychological thriller with two protagonists; one in Derby, one in Lake Garda, Italy. How did you enjoy The Other Guest?

I absolutely adored it! It kept me up late on more than one night, and I absolutely flew through it (and I’m not the fastest reader – plus some of the meds I’m on for nerve damage cause me to fall asleep and wake up sitting up, with specs on and a cold hot chocolate next to me!) The Italian setting, particularly, was heavenly sounding – an exclusive resort, run by a glamorous family. But, it being a psychological thriller, there were secrets lurking behind the facade – as was the case in Derby, too…

Tell us a little bit about the basic storyline, and the two characters who propel the plot along…

It’s really about the death by drowning of Amy, one of the daughters of the family who run the highly exclusive resort set on a remote part of the shores of Lake Garda. The book is set a year after her death, and it’s the first time since before it happened that her aunt, Leah, has felt able to return to see her sister Charlotte, brother-in-law Gordon, and remaining niece Olivia, who all run the resort. Leah’s very different to the glamorous Charlotte and Olivia – she was more similar to Amy, who wanted more from life than running the resort. Leah’s a successful lawyer, and enjoys pushing herself with fell running and other sporty pursuits.

The other character, in Derby, is Joanna, who works as a university counsellor. She’s just recovering after a painful breakup with Luke, who she’d bought a “forever house” with before their relationship inexplicably imploded, with Luke ending it. She meets a barman, Callum, who’s just arrived in Derby, knowing no-one, and started work in a pub close to her new home she occasionally drops into. Like all the best barmen, he’s a great listener, and so the two become friends. But Joanna’s somewhat shocked to be summoned to the hospital after Callum is involved in a hit-and-run, leaving him with broken ribs and covered in bruises. Joanna feels somewhat railroaded by the busy hospital into allowing him to move into her spare room…until it occurs to her that she really doesn’t know this man at all. Who is the stranger she has allowed to move into her home?

And in Italy…?

“Auntie Lee,” as she was known by both her nieces, is continuing her investigation into Amy’s death, by, amongst other things, questioning her friends in the nearby village. But her brother-in-law Gordon is trying to intimidate her into dropping her investigation, seemingly more concerned for the PR of the resort – or has he another reason for getting her to drop it? And someone in the household steals photos and a SIM card given to her by Amy’s best friend, and replaces them with photos of Leah taken around the heavily camera-ed resort – along with a threat to drop her investigation into Amy’s death…

It’s not difficult to see where the two situations dovetail – it’s not intended to be, but, beyond that, Helen Cooper keeps you guessing beautifully…the sinister background behind the beautiful and luxurious facade of the resort is wonderfully portrayed, as is Joanna’s growing unease at Callum’s residency in her home. What does he want from her? She realises how much she’s isolated herself, and how naive her behaviour would look to any friends or family. Is she just jumping at shadows, and there’s really nothing threatening about Callum? And she then runs into her ex-partner Luke, and is shocked at how much weight he has lost and how ill he looks…

It all sounds very dramatic…

It is, wonderfully so, like all the best psychological thrillers. And, also like them, you’re jumping ahead, guessing at possible outcomes – and if you’re like me, you’ll get them all wrong! The book suggests that Helen Cooper is an author to keep your eye on – and this book is the perfect summer read. (I’ll also be seeking out her debut, The Downstairs Neighbour.)

Perfect holiday reading!

Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for my proof copy. This is an unbiased review and reflects my true opinion of the novel.

BLURB: After a shocking death at a luxurious Italian resort, two very different women must question everything—and everyone—they love in order to untangle truth from lies in this twisty, captivating read.

One year ago, Leah’s feisty 21-year-old niece, Amy, mysteriously drowned in the beautiful lake near her family-owned resort in Northern Italy. Now, Leah’s grief has caught up with her, and she decides to return to Lake Garda for the first time since Amy’s death. What she finds upon her arrival shocks her—her sister, brother-in-law, and surviving niece, Olivia, seem to have erased all memories of Amy, and fought to have her death declared an accidental drowning, despite murky circumstances. Leah knows she must look beyond the resort’s beautiful façade and uncover what truly happened to Amy, even if her digging places both her family ties and her very life in danger.

Meanwhile in Central England, thirtysomething Joanna is recovering from a surprising break-up when she is swept off her feet by a handsome bartender. But when she learns that he is on the run from something in his past, and that their meeting may not have been a coincidence, Joanna realized that he may just a bit too good to be true.

What follows is a propulsive cat-and mouse game set against the Italian lakeside as the two seemingly-unconnected women are caught up in a dangerous conspiracy.

Blog Tour – June 2022 – The Loyal Friend – A.A. Chaudhuri

There’s nothing I enjoy better than a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing…

And The Loyal Friend is certainly that – it’s a story about four women (psychological thrillers generally are, aren’t they? Men are much less complicated, although there are exceptions, obviously! I’m instantly thinking of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley as an example.) There’s Jade, who’s an instructor at a fitness class three times a week, and the story concerns three regulars at these classes: Grace, Natalie, and Susan. Jade seems almost perfect – she’s generous, has lots of friends, is attractive, and just a generally lovely person. So why on earth would someone engineer her disappearance – possibly murder? And could it be one of her (so-called!) friends? I must say, I loved the tagline for this book – “She has your back. And may stab you in it.” It perfectly sums up this book, which I whizzed through, putting off all sorts of chores to read just…one…more…chapter… And isn’t that so the definition of a really juicy psychological thriller…?!

So spill the beans on this disappearance…

When one day Jade doesn’t turn up to take her usual class, Natalie seems the only one concerned enough to call round on her. Her car is outside but, getting no reply, Natalie uses keys she has to let herself in. There’s no sign of Jade, but there’s blood in her bathroom and an abandoned mobile.

DI Donovan Bailey and DS Javid Singh are given the case, and the story unwinds with chapters told from the perspective of the four main characters. The three class members are very different. Susan is pampered, spoilt, and likes to boast about her easy life, in which she pays people to do all the awkward things in life. She’s easy to dislike. Natalie is in her late 20s, works in a library and has little confidence, but is finding her life is getting better under Jade’s encouragement to come to the fitness class, which is helping her lose weight. Grace is somewhat put upon – she tries to be a devoted wife and mother, as well as caring for an elderly parent, but is struggling to keep it all together – understandably. They make an unusual loose group of friends, but that could all unravel with Jade’s disappearance, as her class was the reason for this friendship.

And all the women have secrets, don’t they?

They have indeed – and they definitely don’t want them revealed! And when rumours spread that Jade has a diary where she writes everything she hears, the trio are worried that their secrets will not stay hidden for much longer. But does one of them have a secret that’s so explosive it’s worth killing to keep under wraps…?

Wow! This really does sound like a cracking psychological thriller!

Believe me, it is! It’s been a flooded market since Gone Girl, but this is one of the most compelling psychological thrillers I’ve read for a long time! A.A. Chaudhari wrote the well-received She’s Mine, and is a name to seek out if you’re a fan of books that keep you guessing – and changing your mind, and guessing again – until the very last page…!

Superb stuff! Clear your diary!

I received an eARC courtesy of Hera Books and Netgalley, but it has not affected my opinion of this book, and this is an honest review.

BLURB: She has your back.

And may stab you in it.

Wealthy, pampered Susan is living the perfect life in leafy Kingston. She’ll never let anyone see the darkness she’s concealing behind the diamonds and rosé.

Grace is new to the group, seemingly the perfect wife and mum. Yet no one knows the truth of what’s happening behind closed doors.

Loner Natalie hides the pain of her childhood behind a carefully ordered life. But how long can the past stay hidden?

Three unlikely friends, brought together for a weekly class run by beautiful, friendly, instructor, Jade.

But when Jade goes missing in mysterious circumstances, the group starts to unravel. And as their darkest secrets come to light, it seems that no one can be trusted. Even their closest friends…

June 2022 – Blog Tour – Believe Me Not – Natalie Chandler

This looks rather exciting – tell me more about that dramatic tagline, “They say your baby isn’t real. But you know he is.” That piques your interest straight away, doesn’t it?

It so does, doesn’t it? So, here’s the beginning – Megan wakes up in hospital. She knows she’s had a baby – she even has a caesarean scar, and she also has a name – Luka – for the child, as well as fractured memories! However, she soon begins to realise that this isn’t a hospital for physical ailments, but a psychiatric hospital – she’s had a psychotic break.

So, what’s happened to Luka then? Where is he?

Well, this is the premise of the entire book – everyone else denies his existence. There’s Stef, her husband; Sophia, her sister: Dr Mac, the hospital doctor; Gemma, the nurse…and Megan’s told the “caeserean scar” is actually the result of a hysterectomy, which is sort of plausible….

Is the story told entirely from Megan’s perspective?

No, there is some background told from Stef’s viewpoint, where we learn about his twin brother Isaac.

So who’s telling the truth? Has Megan had some kind of breakdown, or are some – or all – of the people in her life lying to her? If so, why??

That’s the thing with psychological thrillers – you’ve got to try to figure out who to believe! I found certain characters somewhat shifty, but then I started thinking, is this just the author manipulating me to think this way, as a red herring? Because you have to have a few of these in any good psychological thriller! Stef, and Dr Mac particularly, seemed the most dodgy, but Sophia, Megan’s sister, had plenty of problems in her own background – are these relevant, though, I found myself asking myself. She has a daughter too – Amelia.

The big question – did you enjoy this book? And would you recommend it?

I did enjoy it, although it took me a little while to switch from my “police procedural” head – I’ve clearly been reading too many of these recently, when in the not-so-distant past I was reading mostly psychological thrillers! The author’s background in psychiatric medicine means the topic of mental illness was treated realistically – in my (layman’s) opinion – but sympathetically. The book really sped up towards the last third or quarter, and kept me on my toes – not that it was slow-moving previously, but you did notice it shifting up a gear towards the climax!

All-in-all, it was a really promising debut, and I’ll definitely be looking out for the next novel by Natalie Chandler. A thoroughly enjoying way to spend my time while I enjoyed my hot chocolate last week!

A very promising debut psychological thriller, recommended for fans of this genre!

With thanks to Headline Publishing for inviting me on this Blog Tour, and for the ARC. This in no way affected my opinion and this is an unbiased review.

Follow all the other wonderful bloggers on the rest of this Blog Tour!

BLURB: What if everyone you love is lying to you?

When Megan wakes up in a hospital bed, her first question is: where’s my baby?

But her husband, her sister, and her doctor said he doesn’t exist.

Megan’s not in a maternity ward, she’s in a psychiatric unit.

Convinced that they’re lying to her, Megan is determined to find out the truth.

But how can you prove your baby exists when you can’t trust your own memories?

An utterly chilling psychological thriller with a heart-stopping twist.

Blog Tour – June 2022 – Brazen – Julia Haart

This is a biography about a woman who went from one highly unusual world into an entirely different one, isn’t it?

It is – and she’s a hugely inspiring character. Her life began in the strictest, most limiting – particularly for girls and women – community of Orthodox Judaism, which she followed to the letter. The one thing that did interest her, apart from becoming a good Jewish woman, was fashion. She’d sneak looks at Vogue and sketch fashion designs in her spare time, but it looked as though her future lay in being an obedient Jewish wife and mother. She explains the complex Jewish Orthodox rules for women in layman’s terms – and they’re shockingly limiting! I admit to finding her explanations of them fascinating and educational too, though. I used to see Orthodox Jews passing my friend’s hairdresser, around the Eastwood area of Glasgow where most in the city live, and my partner worked for a time as security guard for a Jewish primary school there – and the fact that that was needed in this day and age is both shocking, and sad!

So she ended up getting married off to a Jewish man?

She did, and had four children. It’s only when her youngest daughter started to question the stringent Jewish clothing laws that Julia realised if she didn’t leave, her children would be stuck in a similarly restrictive life. So she began to squirrel away an escape fund, and, at the age of 42, made her escape into the real world, finding a job in fashion – and climbing the ladder incredibly quickly. Within a few years she became creative director of La Perla, the luxury lingerie brand, which is about as far from her previous life as it’s possible to come!

So what did you make of Julia after spending so long in her company? It’s quite a long book… (441 pages!)

I must admit, I really liked and admired her. She demonstrates that it’s never too late to go for what you dream of (remember that, all you bloggers who are wannabe writers!) It goes without saying that she’s highly intelligent, too – and beautiful, as is to be expected from someone who works in fashion! The book came across like spending several hours in the company of a really nice new friend who’s telling you all about their incredible early life. Every time I had to put it down to do something around the house, I was irritated at getting torn away from my new friend!

I had no idea there was a Netflix series, My Unorthodox Life, about her (I rarely watch TV and always question why I pay for Netflix every month!) but I will definitely be seeking that out, to watch how she comes across as a walking talking person, if that makes sense.

The book does end rather suddenly, but that’s perhaps for there to be room for a part two – I have no doubt the second half of Julia’s life will contain enough adventures to fill another volume!

Hugely enjoyable, particularly for fashion fans!

Follow all the other fantastic bloggers taking part in this blog tour!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random ThingsTTours, who invited me to participate in this blog tour, and to Endeavour Press for my ARC. All views are my own and this is an unbiased review.

BLURB: Ever since she was a child, every aspect of Julia Haart’s life – what she wore, what she ate, what she thought – was controlled by the rules of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. At nineteen, after a lifetime spent caring for her seven younger siblings, she was married off to a man she barely knew. For the next twenty-three years, her marriage would rule her life.

Eventually, when Haart’s youngest daughter, Miriam, started to innocently question why she wasn’t allowed to sing in public, run in shorts, or ride a bike without being covered from neck to knee, Haart reached a breaking point. She knew that if she didn’t find a way to leave, her daughters would be forced into the same unending servitude.

So Haart created a double life. In the ultra- Orthodox world, clothing has one purpose – to cover the body, head to toe – and giving any more thought than that to one’s appearance is considered sinful, an affront to God. But when no one was looking, Haart would pour over fashion magazines and sketch designs for the clothes she dreamed about wearing in the world beyond her Orthodox suburb. She started preparing for her escape by educating herself and creating a ‘freedom’ fund. At the age of forty-two, she finally mustered the courage to flee.

Within a week of her escape, Haart founded a shoe brand, and within nine months, she was at Paris Fashion Week. Just a few years later, she was named creative director of La Perla. Soon she would become co-owner and CEO of Elite World Group and one of the most powerful people in fashion. Along the way, her four children – Batsheva, Shlomo, Miriam and Aron – have not only accepted but embraced her transformation.

Propulsive and unforgettable, Haart’s story is the journey from a world of ‘no’ to a world of ‘yes’, and an inspiration for women everywhere to find their freedom, their purpose and their voice.