The Car Share by Zoe Brisby

The Car Share by Zoe Brisby

Maxine is a resident in a Parisian care home who decides to go to Belgium so that she can be in control of her own demise as she thinks she has Alzheimer’s. Alex is a deeply depressed young law student who advertises for someone to share his car journey to Brussels; he is expecting a young man called Max but gets a lot more than he bargained for.  

The unlikely friendship that develops between these two very different characters forms the basis of this charming and witty tale. I love a road trip theme in a book or film and this does not disappoint. Maxine and Alex are both on the run from the lives they currently find themselves living. Over the space of a few days, Maxine helps Alex much more than his emotionally unsupportive parents have ever done; she is like the grandmother he never had. And Alex is determined to make Maxine see that she has so much living still to do.

The Car Share is translated from the French though it is not obvious when you are reading it. It deals with some serious subjects, such as depression and our attitude to the elderly, but they are woven into the story and dealt with in a sensitive way. There are numerous music and film references to spot, and every woman surely needs a handbag like Maxine’s.

The characters of Maxine and Alex are well drawn and believable, the mood veers between really sad and very funny, and I can see it being perfect material for a film script. The overriding message is that life is short, and age is just a number, so make the most of every day while you can. If you are curious as to what happened next, at the end of the book is a link to a bonus chapter set five years after the events of The Car Share.  I really enjoyed this uplifting story and look forward to reading more by this author in the future. Thanks to Hodder and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Before the Storm by Alex Gray

Before the Storm by Alex Gray

In Before the Storm, the eighteenth book in this series, it’s not long until Christmas, and a terrorist attack in the centre of Glasgow is believed to be imminent. Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is quietly investigating a suspected leak in his department. The identities of undercover officers were revealed in the press, and they had to be taken off the case for their own safety. One remains embedded in a firm of solicitors thought to be involved in money laundering that is funding the terrorists. But time is running out.

Daniel Kuhi, a refugee from Zimbabwe, arrives in Glasgow seeking asylum. On his way to his accommodation, he sees a man with a bloody knife lurking down an alleyway in the city centre, and his suspicions are aroused. Formerly a DI in his native country, he cannot ignore what he has seen and continues to investigate on his own. He comes into contact with Lorimer, who finds his information useful, and is asked to carry on working unofficially to help catch the terrorists.

It is refreshing to read a police procedural where the main character is stable and trustworthy, instead of troubled and tortured, with a drink problem and failed relationships behind them. Lorimer is fortunate in that his wife, Maggie, has a career of her own and understands the demands placed on him by his job.

Daniel Kuhi is a wonderful addition to the cast of characters as he is so well drawn. I loved his relationship with his new neighbour, Netta, and how they helped each other. The banter between them, as Daniel tries to understand her Glaswegian dialect, provides some light relief from the serious situation. Despite everything he has gone through, he is an honourable man, and hopefully this will not be the last we see of Detective Inspector Kuhi.  

I have read and enjoyed all the books in this series, and they just keep getting better and better. The emphasis here is not just on the horribly violent crimes, but also the human stories behind them. Told from various points of view, with occasional sections from the mystery woman believed to be behind the terrorist threat, we get a rounded picture of what is going on as the tension mounts and the deadline approaches. However, the real star of this series is the setting – Alex Gray paints a recognisably vivid picture of the city that I know so well. I will now have to be patient as I wait to find out what Lorimer does next. Thanks to Sphere and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers is now all alone in the world following the death of her last surviving family members, her grandparents. Never having known who her father was, or why she had such an unusual name, she heads to Italy on an emotional quest to try to discover the truth about her past.

The first few chapters of Under the Italian Sun are fairly slow as we are introduced to a large cast of characters and a complicated family situation. But bear with it and soon you will be fully immersed in the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of the beautiful Umbrian countryside. The author clearly knows and loves this part of Italy, and the evocative descriptions are a large part of what makes this book so memorable.

The characters are fully rounded and believable, flaws and all, though I got a bit exasperated with Zia always answering calls from her manipulative ex, Brendon; she did not always make the best decisions where he was concerned. I particularly enjoyed reading about Harry, her mother’s old friend, and the unconventional life they had lived.  

In the multi-layered plot, Sue Moorcroft skillfully weaves together the various strands into a fascinating tale of secrets and lies, hopes and dreams, and the importance of family. Zia’s relationship with Piero does not run smoothly as he veers between fulfilling his family obligations and following his dreams.  With an attractive cover and a heartwarming ending, Under the Italian Sun is the perfect antidote to the restrictions we are currently living under.

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Dog Share by Fiona Gibson

The Dog Share by Fiona Gibson

In The Dog Share, Ricky and his son make friends with a stray dog on the beach, while visiting his father, Harry, on the Hebridean island of Sgadansay, but it runs off just when they have to catch the ferry to go home. Some time later, Suzy is staying on the island, trying to sort out problems at the distillery caused by the mismanagement of her ex partner, Paul, when a scruffy terrier, looking very cold and hungry, turns up at the door of her rental cottage. When the dog’s owner cannot be found, Suzy decides to keep him and names him Scout. He then acts as a kind of go-between, helping her to forge new relationships, as everyone loves the little dog and wants to help take care of him.

Told in alternating chapters mainly from the points of view of Suzy and Ricky, we get the story from both sides. The main characters are well written, though their romance is a bit underdeveloped; I would have liked a bit more interaction between them for their relationship to be believable, especially as they don’t even meet until quite far into the story. The situation at the distillery also feels underused. I think a bit of backstory and character development would have given a more rounded picture, as I had trouble differentiating the various people who worked there. Cara the artist was also an intriguing  character who deserved a bit more room on the page.

Having enjoyed some of Fiona Gibson’s previous books, I thought I’d give The Dog Share a try as the Hebridean setting appealed to me. The wonderful descriptions of the island scenery made me long to return to Scotland, which I hope to do as soon as it is possible. It was also refreshing to come across a romance between characters in their forties who have lived a bit, but there is no escaping the fact that the scruffy terrier is the star of the show.

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

In The Black Art of Killing, Leo Black has quit the SAS to forge a new career in academia, but is finding it hard to gain acceptance at Worcester College, Oxford. When his former colleague and friend, Ryan Finn, is murdered in Paris, Leo is dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. He no longer wants to kill but, unfortunately, people with his skills are often the only solution.

This intelligent thriller, with its flawed and conflicted main character, will set your pulse racing as well as make you think. Leo Black is an unusual combination of the physical and the cerebral, but this is exactly what makes him so dangerous. The Black Art of Killing is well written and fast paced, with several unexpected twists that I did not anticipate, and an impressive finale where Leo closes in on the bad guys deep in the Venezuelan jungle, though some suspension of disbelief is necessary.

I thought The Black Art of Killing had a cinematic quality, could imagine it being made into a film or TV series, and then discovered why; the author is a well-known screenwriter responsible for the likes of Keeping Faith and The Coroner. I don’t know if Matthew Hall intends to write more books featuring Leo Black, the ending is inconclusive, but I would definitely be interested in reading them if he does.

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