Here we are, in a brand new year which means a brand new Goodreads challenge! I managed to get through 33 books in 2020 which was a massive achievement for me (before lockdown I hadn’t opened a book for at least 6 months!) I’m challenging myself to 40 titles this year. Below is a roundup of what I read in December/January.
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The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?
First things first, I have to say that I would love to be part of the Thursday Murder Club – discussing cold cases whilst eating biscuits/drinking wine is my idea of a perfect afternoon! This book was quintessentially British in every way – it made me laugh out loud at times but was also incredibly poignant in parts. The premise is certainly original and I reckon it would make for a fab film/Netflix series!
Sadly there was also plenty I disliked about this book. Although the characters were well-written and endearing, there were far too many and I found it tiresome keeping up with everyone. The murder mystery was also weak and had little suspense – I hardly cared who the culprit was by the end.
Richard Osman is a very talented writer and I don’t think this was a bad debut by any stretch. My favourite aspect was definitely the characters; however, they weren’t quite strong enough to compensate for the dull plot. Overall, The Thursday Murder Club was an enjoyable read but I wouldn’t bother with the second instalment – as I said, I think it would work better as a film or series.
You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke
Nothing has felt right since Elle rented out her house… There’s a new coldness. A shift in the atmosphere. The prickling feeling that someone is watching her every move from the shadows.
Maybe it’s all in Elle’s mind? She’s a writer – her imagination, after all, is her strength. And yet every threat seems personal. As if someone has discovered the secrets that keep her awake at night.
As fear and paranoia close in, Elle’s own home becomes a prison. Someone is unlocking her past – and she’s given them the key…
Meh. I had high expectations for this as the story sounded right up my street, but sadly it didn’t deliver. The writing style wasn’t to my taste (too flowery) and the dialogue felt artifical. The main character, Elle, was weak and had little personality. The mystery was compelling but there were far too many red herrings and unnecessary subplots.
I’ve given it two and a half stars as it was an easy read and it did pick up towards the end. I also think I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d have read the physical book – I listened to it via Audible and didn’t get on with the narrator at all!
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet. Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty – and meeting her completely takes Laurel’s breath away. Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.
What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? Who still has secrets to hide?
If anyone knows how to write psychopaths, it’s Lisa Jewell! This was seriously disturbing in places although I expected nothing less after reading The Family Upstairs. I guessed the plot pretty early on (although I’m certain that was the author’s intention?) so it felt more like a drama than a mystery. Still, I was hooked the whole way through and devoured it in less than two days.
Our protagonist, Laurel, was terribly frustrating at times but I was rooting for her throughout. Her grief for her missing daughter felt so raw and painful. The other characters were equally well-developed and interesting although I can’t say any of them were particularly likeable (apart from perhaps Ellie).
The last few chapters were slow and fell a bit flat but I liked how everything came together. Four stars!
TW: Child abuse
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
Jack the Ripper has become one of the most famous enigmas of all time and his crimes still have us scratching our heads over 100 years on. While the majority of publications about the Whitechapel murders explore (and often glamorize) Jack alone, The Five focuses on the lives of his victims. The final chapter, ‘They Were Just Prostitutes,’ is incredibly poignant and really drives home the misogyny of the time and what little respect the public had for the Canonical Five.
I feel guilty for giving this such a low rating as it’s such an important book and I’m glad it was written. However, I’m rather ashamed to say that I found it a bit boring. I struggled to concentrate and began skim reading toward the end. Hallie Rubenhold is an incredible writer and I feel privileged to have learnt about the lives of each woman, but overall this just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, it has a rating of 4.1 on Goodreads so please don’t let my review put you off!
Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior
Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica’s closed heart starts to open.
Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about.
I read this as part of a readalong hosted by the lovely ladies over at Beth’s Book Club. It’s a sweet story and a very easy read although I did find the first half a bit dull. It picked up toward the end but I was left wanting more… the book finished just as I was really getting into it!
The plot was original and I loved the characters; especially Pip, the adorable penguin chick. I enjoyed following Veronica’s evolvement – I wasn’t sure about her at the beginning but she very soon grew on me and her diary entries were by far my favourite aspect of the book. I thought the relationships between the characters were well-written (especially between Veronica and Terry) and the story on a whole provided some much needed escapism!
Overall this was charming read – a bit twee for my liking but easy to dip in and out of.
What have you been reading recently? Have you set yourself a challenge for 2021? x