Book Reviews

My Book Reviews for April 2021

My Book Reviews for April 2021 are of a literary novel, a character-led thriller and a horror anthology. A varied bunch of books with one thing in common: they are all well written.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Journalist Jean pursues the story of Gretchen who maintains that her ten-year-old daughter, Margaret, was conceived when Gretchen was still a virgin. In pursuit of this spicy and bizarre subject, Jean spends time with Gretchen and her family and learns as much about herself as she does the investigation.

Set in North Kent in the 1950s, the story evokes the scenery, décor, food and mores of the era and situates Jean in a world with a very specific view of the role of women.

Wonderfully dry, it is not unlike a Barbara Pym novel. A story of doomed love and lives unfulfilled – heart-warming, tragic and beautifully written.


The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

The Tuckbox café in South London is serving breakfast when a gunman bursts in and shoots the owner.

We hear from the viewpoints of several people caught up in the hostage situation that ensues:

Mutesi – a nurse who has called into the café at the end of her nightshift to meet her daughter-in-law and grandson. It is not the first time she has stared down the barrel of a gun.

Abi – a no-nonsense barrister who is missing two important appointments while trapped in the café.

Neil – a homeless man who is only in the café because of a £4 windfall. He thought it was his lucky day.

Rosie – the barista caught in the crossfire who may know more than she’s letting on.

Eliza – the police negotiator whose husband wishes she’d put as much effort into family life as she does into her work.

Sam – the gunman who is wired, dangerous and sad.

The author provides a masterclass in character, backstory and tension. Although it covers similar territory to Rosamund Lupton’s Three Hours (see my review here) – and fans of one will likely enjoy reading the other – The Secrets of Strangers has its own distinct cast and storyline. It is very much a page-turner and I really liked it.


After Sundown – edited by Mark Morris

I’m not a big horror reader yet, although I’m getting there and I thought an anthology of short stories would be a way of dipping my toe in the horror water. I enjoyed these pieces and think they would appeal to general short story fans; you don’t need to be after a chiller thriller to appreciate the writing.

The anthology comprises twenty stories:

BUTTERFLY ISLAND by C.J. Tudor – this adventure made me laugh and would make a chapter of a full novel.

RESEARCH by Tim Lebbon – the main character, an author, comes a cropper in suburbia.

SWANSKIN by Alison Littlewood – a prize-winning story, surely. Literary and ethereal.

THAT’S THE SPIRIT by Sarah Lotz – humorous with a satisfying twist.

GAVE by Michael Bailey – thoughtfully speculative. Readers will enjoy making their own interpretation, especially in these pandemic days.

WHEREVER YOU LOOK by Ramsey Campbell – Here’s another author character caught in their worst nightmare.

SAME TIME NEXT YEAR by Angela Slatter – poignant and haunting.

MINE SEVEN by Elana Gomel – danger and threat in the Arctic.

IT DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT by Michael Marshall Smith – the perils of parenting laid bare with ever-increasing menace. Terrifyingly relatable.

CREEPING IVY by Laura Purcell – a ghostly presence and a diary – perfect horror story ingredients.

LAST RITES FOR THE FOURTH WORLD by Rick Cross – environmental horror.

WE ALL COME HOME by Simon Bestwick – supernatural childhood trauma revisited.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ORAL HYGIENE by Robert Shearman – a very dark and gothic tale of abusive dentistry.

BOKEH by Thana Niveau – another one featuring a child. Chillingly creepy.

MURDER BOARD by Grady Hendrix – fun and games with an Ouija board. A highly enjoyable mix of farce and horror.

ALICE’S REBELLION by John Langan – Alice in Wonderland made even more grotesquely satirical than the original.

THE MIRROR HOUSE by Jonathan Robbins Leon – a relatable main character and an imaginative premise.

THE NAUGHTY STEP by Stephen Volk – this one reads like a crime novel, with psychological and supernatural undertones. Excellent character portrayal.

A HOTEL IN GERMANY by Catriona Ward – a well-written dystopian story.

BRANCH LINE by Paul Finch – a traditional ghost story. A great way to round off this varied collection.


Hope you enjoyed my Book Reviews for April 2021. I have more books loaded on my Kindle for next month and I am preparing Publication Journey posts for the blog from two terrific suspense writers.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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