Book Reviews – What I’ve been reading in April 2018

***Trigger Warning*** Please note that a couple of the books I review deal with maternal mental health and the blurbs mention depression, rape and post-partum psychosis.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Some of what I’ve read has been great, and some of what I’ve read would have been money much better spent on cake, so here are my recommendations on what to buy and what to avoid.

Worth paying full price for

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

From Goodreads; At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

What I thought; Some reviews say that they found it hard to follow, but I didn’t find that to be true. There are a good many threads and plot lines you need to keep straight in your head, but the author spells things out clearly without becoming facile.

A gripping and fun read, and I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. I absolutely raced through it and couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending, hence giving it four stars rather than five.


Dead Babies by Molly Stroud-Smith

From Goodreads; In this psychologically-fuelled drama, Molly Stroud-Smith tells the heart-wrenching story of a mother teetering on the edge of the unthinkable as she suffers with undiagnosed postpartum psychosis.
As a teenager, Doreen Rutherford is the victim of a brutal gang rape that shapes the course of her life. Shamed by her detached, religious parents, young Doreen is convinced that her rape had been a divine punishment, and commits to avoiding further wrath by living a life of submission and repentance. However, obeying a heartless husband who believes she should provide as many children as her body will allow, has left her depleted and frazzled, and becoming increasingly more physical with her five young children.
Following a particularly concerning act of aggression toward her youngest daughter, Doreen seeks professional help where she begins to confront her childhood, rehash her greatest traumas, and unravel the beliefs she has come to rely on. Eventually shaking lose a secret she has worked a lifetime to keep hidden.
As her condition deteriorates Doreen becomes frequently confused, and begins hearing a voice she believes to be God’s. It is this voice, which brings her both solace and concern, that begins to offer a solution she has never considered. A solution that terrifies her. Overwhelmed and feeling as if authentic help will never arrive, she must fight to regain clarity in order to make a choice. Will she silence the voice that urges her to do the unimaginable, or will she follow its advice and accept the permanency of the consequences?
Told in raw, visceral prose Dead Babies is a powerful, heartrending novel that looks at a mother on the brink, and forces us to examine the very humanness in those we would rather consider monsters.

What I thought; Excruciating, bleak and compelling. I can’t remember how I came across this book. I think perhaps on Instagram? I downloaded a sample onto my Kindle and had forgotten about it. When I was wide awake one night feeling poorly, I read it and was instantly gripped and bought the book. I stayed awake and read the whole thing in one sitting. It’s simply brilliant but absolutely harrowing and painful too. The Goodreads blurb overstates the drama and understates the tight, excruciating plot.


The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

From Goodreads; “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.”

The request seems odd, even intrusive – and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant – and it does.

[I’ve taken out the rest of the blurb!]

What I thought; Fun to read as a minimalist! The ending was a bit silly, but still satisfying. The main body of the story is compelling and the characters are interesting. I didn’t predict the ending. I was surprised to find out that the author is male, given that the women in it are very believable; there’s no “breasting boobily” here. I had lost the dustjacket for this book, so I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely think the blurb gives too much away so if you fancy reading it, avoid the blurb!

Worth borrowing/ getting from a charity shop but I wouldn’t buy again

The Stranger In My Home by Adele Parks

From Goodreads; Alison is lucky and she knows it. She has the life she always craved, including a happy home with Jeff and their brilliant, vivacious teenage daughter, Katherine – the absolute centre of Alison’s world. Then a knock at the door ends life as they know it. Fifteen years ago, someone else took Alison’s baby from the hospital. And now Alison is facing the unthinkable.

The daughter she brought home doesn’t belong to her.

When you have everything you dreamed of, there is everything to lose.

What I thought; I expected something creepier based on the tagline on the cover [I thought she was my daughter. I was wrong.] but it’s very ‘normal’. The ending is a bit silly but it’s an enjoyable book and a quick, easy read.


Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

From Goodreads; Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She’s never even been on a romantic weekend away–to anywhere–before. Travelling abroad isn’t really her thing. But when Nell’s boyfriend fails to show up for their mini-vacation, she has the opportunity to prove everyone–including herself–wrong. Alone in Paris, Nell finds a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid. Could this turn out to be the most adventurous weekend of her life? Funny, charming, and irresistible, Paris for One is quintessential Jojo Moyes–as are the other stories that round out the collection.

What I thought; It’s Jojo Moyes so you know what you’re getting. Easy, pleasant fluff. All the stories felt the same.


Don’t bother

The Lie of You: I Will Have What Is Mine by Jane Lythell

From Goodreads; Can you hide your deepest fear?

To the outside world, Kathy is the very picture of a happy and fulfilled modern woman. She has a beautiful baby boy, a clever, handsome husband and a glamorous, high-powered job.

But not everybody is fooled. Her employee, Heja, knows the truth: the cracks in Kathy’s marriage, her self-doubt, her fear of failure at work. Heja is perfectly placed to destroy Kathy’s life. And if she succeeds, she can claim the one thing she wants most…

What I thought; A quick, easy and unsatisfying read. The first two-thirds are fine and quite interesting, but the final third is ludicrous. All the significant characters are odious by the end. Don’t plod on with this book in the hope of redemption or a lesson learnt for the characters; it doesn’t come!


Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

From Goodreads; Anna was a good wife, mostly.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno – a banker – and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.

What I thought; A bleak, grinding drudge. There’s not one character to like, to feel sympathy for or to care about. I persevered and read the whole thing when really I should have given up and read something better.


What I’m reading next

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh 

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

I’m always looking for recommendations, so if you have any, please send them my way!








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