A(nother) Review – The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley

This might seem a bit of a departure for me, but The Love Letter is a novel I really enjoyed earlier this year, and now as I write the review I googled it to remind myself of some of the finer points.

 

In doing so, I discovered the story behind The Love Letter – originally published as Seeing Double back in 2000 it seems the publisher at the time lost faith in the book and pulled all of the publicity and marketing for it, leading to disappointing sales for the author.

 

The reason for it? Riley has created a fictional version of the Royal Family, in which a journalist stumbles upon a secret that could tear the monarchy apart.

 

It all begins when our journalist – Joanna Haslam – is forced to cover the funeral of a famous actor. Tucked in at the back of the church she befriends an old lady who has snuck into the ceremony.

 

From this moment on Joanna is on a path that will take her into a dangerous world where some parts of the establishment will do anything to keep the secret from coming out.

 

This book wasn’t what I expected it to be at all when I picked it up. I’d never read a Lucinda Riley novel before, but I had pigeon-holed her in my head into writing sentimental love stories and family sagas.

 

That’s a fairly reasonable judgement to make, even the publishers themselves make it – if you take a look at the category on Amazon, it places it in both historical romance and sagas. But this book is much more than that.

 

I found it much more like a thriller with one of those endings that left you flicking through the pages breathless as you barrel towards the ending. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and was good enough to make me consider picking up more by Riley.

 

The Love Letter is available now from Pan

A(nother) Review: The Other Woman by Sandie Jones

We’re on our penultimate book of the Thumping Good Read Award shortlist and we’re onto one of my favourites (Yes, ok I’ve said that before, but to be fair, they wouldn’t be on the list if I didn’t enjoy them!).

 

Before we get into The Other Woman – that didn’t come out quite the way I intended, but I’ll leave it there – I should let you know that there is only a day and a half left to vote for your favourite.

 

Head over to the WHSmith blog where you can find out more about the seven shortlisted titles – including the only one I’ve not featured yet One Of Us Is Lying (it’s another one of my favourites!). You have until the end of Friday 6thJuly to vote for your favourite and help decide who will win the £10,000 prize.

 

But back toThe Other Woman– what’s it about? It’s not about a mistress as you might initially think. Instead, it’s about a mother-in-law. Pammie.

 

Pammie.

 

You can just tell by that name that she’s going to be difficult, and boy does she cause trouble.

 

It’s been a couple of month since I read The Other Woman and I can still remember her name. I read a lot of books, all of them with a lot of characters and a lot of names. The plots stay with me – for better or for worse – but you can tell when a character is well-written, because they linger in your mind for ages.

 

The other way you can tell a character is well described is when you talk about the book with someone else, and you both say the character reminded you of the same person. In this instance @LucyHine and I both said Pammie was Bridget Jones’ mother.

 

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This might be all you need to know about her… but I’m going to tell you more. At least about the book.

 

Emily meets Adam and they instantly fall head over heels with each other. Things are going really well right up to the moment Adam takes her to meet his mother. This is where things start to take a turn.

 

Adam and Emily argue on the way to see Pammie, their first proper argument, but this is overshadowed by Pammie’s reaction to Emily. In public, she’s all smiles, but in private, she undermines Emily, starts playing games.

 

Emily starts to wonder if she’s imagining things, but it soon becomes clear that Pammie has taken a dislike to Emily, and is intent on doing anything to split her and Adam up. Not that Adam can see this.

 

The whole book is like a car crash, you can’t help but watch it, though you know how badly things are going to turn out.

 

The decline of Adam and Emily’s relationship is gradual, as an outsider, we can see it happening, in the same way that we sometimes look at our friends relationships and can see that it’s not working. But when you’re Emily, when you’re in the middle of the relationship, you just can’t see it.

 

The Other Woman is a compelling slice of relationship drama with an antagonist that is so vivid and ever-present that it’s hard to shake her months later. The only problem is that the character development of Pammie comes at the detriment to some of the other characters.

 

An example: Emily has a best friend whose sole function in this story is to be Emily’s friend, he has no life of his own, at least one that’s not explored – the few times we meet him, he’s a mouthpiece to Emily’s issues, we learn nothing about him – barring a few identifying clichés – and we skim over the conversation that’s not about Emily.

 

Generally, that’s ok, secondary characters are secondary for a reason, but the problem here is that because the story is told from Emily’s point of view, it colours her character and she comes across as self-centred and a little vacuous, which in turn hinders the amount of sympathy we’re being asked to direct to her.

 

But it’s a little gripe and is made up for entirely by a memorable villain and a brilliant, unexpected ending. This book ain’t going where you think it’s going.

 

The Other Woman is published by Pan and is available now as part of the Thumping Good Read award in WHSmith stores.

A(nother) Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Back in February I read the latest Frank Cottrell-Boyce and I said he was one of those authors that I ought to have read before.

 

This latest one is of a similar ilk. I really ought to have read Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman long before now.

 

It’s taken the announcement of The Book of Dust – which is neither sequel or prequel, rather an equal – to make me finally get around to it.

 

For those of you that don’t know, Northern Lights is about a young girl named Lyra who lives in an alternate version of Oxford, where ever human has a constant companion, a dæmon. In adulthood the dæmon’s form is permanent, but in childhood the dæmon switches through various animal guises.

 

The dæmons – Lyra’s is named Pan – are seen as a physical manifestation of the soul of a person.

 

As an orphan, looked after by the scholars of Jordan College, Lyra’s bond with Pan is more precious than most.

 

When children start going missing, Lyra embarks on a journey to find her absent friend Roger.

 

It becomes quite the adventure with Lyra not quite aware of how high the stakes have risen.

 

Lyra is a good character, but she is the only constant one – apart from Pan, who doesn’t seem to be used as much as he should be – and with any book, a large revolving cast of secondary characters becomes confusing at times.

 

The plot – the missing children, and the mystery of dust – is intriguing and keeps the pages turning, but Lyra is such a hard and matter of fact character that the emotional impacts of the twists and betrayals don’t resonate. This is despite the fact that the character witnesses some quite gruesome events… she barely cares.

 

The ending is… odd, a definite set up for the next book, but no sense of conclusion or resolution to many of the events that occur.

 

Will I read the next two in the series? I’m not in any rush to. I’ll probably watch the television adaptation later this year, and the idea of a Pullman enriching his world via new companion novel does intrigue me, so it’s not a straight out never.

 

But this might be why I’ve never read Pullman before – there are many other, better things to read first.