Book Reviews

My Book Reviews for December 2020

My Book Reviews for December 2020

Here are my book reviews for December 2020 – an unexpected 5-star read, a horror thriller, a chic-lit-meets-horror virus story (yes really…) and a gritty crime novel.

The Glass House by Eve Chase

Last week I posted my Best Reads of 2020, little realising I still had one more favourite ahead of me.

At Christmas I like a break from my usual crime and thriller fare for something cheering. But I wasn’t expecting The Glass House to be this year’s heart-warmer as it was number one in a gothic suspense chart at the time I downloaded it. However, it turned out to be the most heartening story I’ve read since Once Upon a River.

The narrative is told from three viewpoints across two timelines:

Rita is nanny to Hira and Teddy in 1971. After a fire at their London home, the family has decamped to a house in the Forest of Dean. Rita tries desperately to compensate for the emotional distance of the children’s mother, who is mourning the death of another baby shortly after birth.

Hira is a deeply unhappy child who wants to please. When she finds a newborn baby abandoned in the forest, she sees a way to make everything right again, unaware of the chain of events her actions will set in motion.

In present-day Devon, we hear from Sylvie whose mother, Rita, lies in a coma following an accident.  Not only does Sylvie worry about her mother, she has grave concerns about the monumental decision her own daughter is about to make. Somehow the turmoil in all their lives seems linked to the time Rita spent in the Forest.

The story starts at a gentle, absorbing pace, but, by the last third, my heart was racing as I sped through the pages, desperate to know how all the threads of this well-woven mystery would tie together.

There were a number of similarities with Once Upon a River: both feature foundlings, both are well-written literary stories and both scored rare five-star reviews from me.

I will seek out other books by Eve Chase.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

I have vague memories of borrowing this book from the library when it first came out but returning it only half read because I didn’t like it. I must have been in a parallel universe (well it was pre-2020…) because I’ve just bought a copy and it’s one of the best books I’ve read lately.

It tells the story of Eddie and his pals, Fat Gav and Hoppo. Although they are now in their forties, they have never been able to grow up and away from what happened when they were twelve years old and a childish game with chalk drawings turned sinister. With ex-friend Metal Mickey back in town, the past is about to pursue them into an even darker present.

It is a masterclass in how to write a thriller: well-drawn characters (no easy feat with such a large cast); snappy dialogue; a page-turning plot; good twists; and a sneaky sleight of hand in the first half. There are blood and guts and spooks, but the bit that got my heart pounding was the very last page.

Highly recommended.

 

Last One at the Party by Bethany Clift

I hesitated to post this review this month when the virus situation is so utterly grim for so many people. However, the author wrote the story in 2019 and I completed my rather light-hearted review before the latest surge in infections. It’s a good survival story that deserves to be read, but if you’ve heard enough about viruses right now, please move onto my next review.

Just as World War Two spawned the war novel, so Covid 19 has bred the virus novel. And, well, yes, Last One at the Party will join the new genre’s ranks even though the story isn’t really about a virus. As the author explains in her introduction, a deadly pandemic triggers the end of civilisation, but it could just as easily have been a nuclear explosion or an alien invasion. A virus is the means to catapult the main character into a post-apocalyptic world.

Going mad in Harrods takes on a whole new meaning when a Londoner finds herself the only one left alive after a virus nicknamed 6DM (6 Days Max) kills the rest of the world in less than a week. More like a Bridget Jones than a Lara Croft, our heroine embarks on an alcohol-fuelled rampage through five-star hotels and upmarket shops. Thanks to her pre-virus recollections, we soon realise this is a woman who was neurotic long before dystopia hit town. And it isn’t long before decay and danger encroach on her drug-enhanced cocoon of denial. Will she find an inner-strength to survive when all her life she’s relied on the support of others?

There’s lots of backstory to explain why the woman is like she is, but I found myself racing through it to get back to her adventures in her less-than-brave new world. Descriptions are vivid, toe-curling, stomach-turning and, at times, laugh-out-loud. And, frankly, uncomfortably believable.

Well-realised dystopia mixed with dollops of horror and dashes of chic lit. It worked for me.

With thanks to the author, publisher and Net Galley for allowing me to read an advance copy.

 

One Way Street by Trevor Wood

My first review of the year was for Trevor Wood’s debut The Man on the Street so it’s a nice symmetry that I’m ending my last review blog of the year with the sequel One Way Street.

Things are looking up for ex-navy veteran, Jimmy. He has a place in a hostel, he’s established a relationship with his daughter, he’s started seeing Big Issue seller Julie and he’s in the good books of local cop DS Burns. But when Jimmy’s young friend – homeless drug addict Deano – receives devastating news of his brother’s death after taking a bad batch of spice, Jimmy risks everything in pursuit of the drug suppliers.

In many ways it’s a warm-hearted story of the friendship between Jimmy, Deano and third homeless musketeer, Gadge. But it is also a complex tale of the grim realities of drug-related crime that insinuates its way into the lives and bloodstream of young teenagers.

After two novels, this gritty series has hit its stride and is set to become a classic of the crime genre.

So there are my book reviews for December 2020. My Kindle is already loaded with several new goodies so I look forward to writing my first review blog of 2021 at the end of next month.

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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