A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the Dark is an impressive debut novel set in Louisiana. Chloe Davis is a psychologist with a troubled past. Her father has been in prison for twenty years, having murdered six young women, and the unresolved trauma, for which she self-medicates with pills and alcohol, leads her to behave in an irrational and often self-destructive way, imagining connections that might not be there.

The characters are well rounded and believable but flawed, and at some point in the narrative they all look guilty and appear to be hiding something. Stacy Willingham keeps pulling the rug out from under the reader, has you believing one thing then turns it on its head. Several times I thought I had it all figured out, but I was wrong. Unlike most of the other reviewers, I did not guess what had happened, but then again I rarely do.

The writing is atmospheric and creepy, bringing the Louisiana setting vividly to life, but overly descriptive in places. I liked the way Chloe’s memories and flashbacks were woven into the narrative, avoiding the need for the more usual alternating past and present chapters.

There is a cinematic quality to the writing which probably explains why A Flicker in the Dark is to be made into a TV series. I look forward to watching it brought to life on the screen, and will certainly put the next book by this author on my reading list. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

We Belong Together by Beth Moran

We Belong Together by Beth Moran

Eleanor Sharpley has reached the end of her tether. Her position as an online influencer and restaurant critic has become toxic; she no longer wants this life. Feeling threatened and vulnerable, she packs up her stuff and runs to the one person she knows will understand. She has not been able to reach her friend Charlie recently, and is shocked to find out about her death several months before. She finds solace in staying on at Damson Farm, helping Charlie’s brother Daniel look after her daughter Hope, and trying to bring Charlie’s vision for the farm to fruition.

Based loosely on a real life story, the nearby village of Ferrington in Nottinghamshire has been split in two since the Miner’s Strike in the 80s – Old Main Street and New Main Street – with neither side able to compromise. Eleanor makes friends on both sides of the river and would dearly love to heal the rift, but is this even possible?

We see the world solely through Eleanor’s eyes, and her character does evolve as the story progresses and she tries to make amends for her past behaviour. Daniel is also a solid believable character, despite none of the story being told from his point of view. However, I did not feel that Charlie was fleshed out well enough, and would have liked a few more flashbacks to get a better sense of who she was.  

Some elements of We Belong Together reminded me of Katie Fforde’s novels, especially the old buildings in need of renovation so that they can run Damson Farm as some kind of business.  I particularly enjoyed Eleanor’s visit to her family’s guesthouse in the Lake District, where they still did everything the old-fashioned way. Her family were wonderfully ‘strange’ and very entertaining.

It was also good that the romance between Eleanor and Daniel was given time to develop in a realistic fashion despite their living in close proximity; they were allowed to become friends first of all, but I would have liked an epilogue just to see how everything worked out.

We Belong Together is a heartwarming story of the importance of community spirit and second chances. It also highlights the darkness at the heart of social media. The characters are well drawn and relatable, and the Nottinghamshire countryside is vividly evoked. I have not read any other books by Beth Moran, but will definitely be adding them to my list in the future as I thoroughly enjoyed reading We Belong Together. Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

A Home in the Sun by Sue Moorcroft

A Home in the Sun by Sue Moorcroft

At the beginning of the book, Judith has a wonderful life in Malta, living with her much younger partner and working for her uncle’s estate agency. When Giorgio dies in a tragic accident, Judith goes back to Northamptonshire to escape the memories. She is heartbroken and finding it hard to come to terms with her loss, and this is exacerbated by his family’s old-fashioned, traditional attitudes to her and her place in his life.

The contrasting settings of Malta and Northamptonshire are vividly described. The characters are well drawn and relatable, though not always particularly likeable. It took me quite a while to warm to Judith, and Giorgio always seemed fairly superficial. Back in England her life is complicated, but the various problems she faces are lightened with humour as she tries to find closure and decide what to do with the rest of her life.

I had read and enjoyed most of Sue Moorcroft’s early books, but must have missed this one as it turns out to be a reissue of her very first book Uphill All the Way from 2005. It is darker in mood than some of the others, and the change of title does not make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, I enjoyed A Home in the Sun and look forward to reading Sue Moorcroft’s next book.

Thanks to Avon for the invitation to read and review A Home in the Sun, and NetGalley for providing the digital copy.

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson

The Killing Tide by LIn Anderson

The Killing Tide is book sixteen in this series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. In Glasgow, the badly burned body of a young woman has been found in the backyard of a tenement building. During a severe storm, a ‘ghost’ ship has run aground off the Orkney coast, and the shocking discovery of three bodies onboard sets in motion an investigation that will uncover a far-reaching conspiracy. What links them is a company called Go Wild that caters for the whims of the rich and powerful, and will go to any lengths to protect its wealthy clients.

I have been reading this series since the beginning, and what makes it so special is the cast of familiar characters who by now feel like old friends. While you could easily read The Killing Tide as a standalone, you would gain so much more from reading the books in order and finding out what makes these characters tick. The settings are important and range from the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the Orkney Islands, via the streets around Glasgow University where Rhona works that are so familiar to me, to cosmopolitan London where DS McNab does not get a warm welcome.

The Killing Tide is a fast-paced and tense thriller that shines a light on some very dark places. It is well written with a wonderful cast of characters who will leave a lasting impression. I look forward to reading Lin Anderson’s next book which I believe is a standalone – The Party House – and hope that there will be another Rhona MacLeod adventure before too long. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Love Life by Nancy Peach

Love Life by Nancy Peach

Tess is a doctor working in a hospice as part of her training to be a GP. When Mary is admitted with terminal cancer, her son is angry and obstructive as he can’t accept she is dying and wants her to undergo more treatment even though it will make no difference to the outcome. Tess realises that she has met Edward before, but he gives no indication he remembers her.

A hospice might not be the ideal setting for a romance novel, but this part of the story is handled with great sensitivity. Also Love Life cannot really be described in this way as romance plays such a small part in it.  A lot of difficult topics are introduced, but only explored in a superficial way, and perhaps some could have been omitted without adversely affecting the story. A case in point is Tess’s struggle with bulimia; it is mentioned several times but never really resolved.

The story is mostly told from Tess’s point of view, with occasional contributions from Edward. Tess struggles a lot with self-doubt and battles with the critical voices in her head, who take the form of an acerbic talk-show host and Jane Austen. While this is an interesting trope, I found it interrupted the flow of the narrative, and thought the talk-show host’s voice was unnecessarily vicious.   

The story is well written and the characters are believable (plus there is a cat). I would have liked to hear more from Mary’s point of view as she was an interesting character. I also liked the Jane Austen references throughout the book. Love Life is an assured debut novel and I look forward to reading Nancy Peach’s next book.  

I was offered a copy of Love Life by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins/One More Chapter for providing the digital copy.