Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Image Description: The cover of The Paris Apartment shows a partially open door against a black background. Yellow light from the door emits the outline of the Eiffel Tower onto the floor.

Welcome to No.12 rue des Amants

A beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine.

Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.

The watchful concierge
The scorned lover
The prying journalist
The naïve student
The unwanted guest

There was a murder here last night.
A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.

Who holds the key?

Foley’s previous novels, The Hunting Party and The Guest List (both read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly), were deliciously plotted thrillers that revelled in revealing dark secrets and painful lies within friendship groups stuck in isolated settings. Her latest, The Paris Apartment, is a slightly different kettle of fish, although no less enjoyable for that.

Set in an exclusive apartment building, The Paris Apartment removes the isolation of her previous books and instead plonks main protagonist Jess right into the heart of sophisticated and elegant Paris. Down-on-her-luck Jess has come to stay with her half-brother, Ben, who has – somehow – managed to secure himself a luxury apartment in the heart of the city. But when Jess arrives in Paris, Ben is nowhere to be found. And his fellow residents of 12 rue des Amants seem to know more than they are telling about his disappearance. Determined to find her brother, Jess begins digging beneath the refined facade of 12 rue des Amants – and soon reveals some sordid truths beneath the glamour of this elegant Parisian building and its occupants.

As with her previous novels, The Paris Apartment flits between narrators, providing a number of compelling perspectives on events. Whilst Jess is firmly situated at the heart of the novel, we also get insights from a number of other characters including aloof penthouse-owner Sophie, Ben’s university friend Nicholas, terrified artist Mimi, and the mysterious, watchful Concierge. As the truth behind Ben’s disappearance – and the secrets of 12 rue de Amants – come to light, moving between these perspectives ups the tension and pulls the reader into a tangled web of half-truths, secrets, and deceptions, making for a page-turning and compulsive read!

I can’t say that I found the characters quite as compelling – this was, for me, definitely a novel that relies on propulsive plot and plenty of shocking twists and turns – but, despite their being a fairly large cast, I was able to clearly distinguish between their voices and perspectives. Foley is also brilliant at portraying unlikeable, dysfunctional, and amoral characters. Even Jess and Ben are shown to be deeply flawed – and, in Jess’s case, deeply traumatised – human beings, capable of acting immorally if it suits their own situation and needs. This amorality, whilst it might not be to every reader’s taste, does give the occupants of 12 rue de Amants a depth that can sometimes be lacking in thrillers.

Saying too much about the plot would be to giveaway the pleasure of reading The Paris Apartment but, safe to say, it’s packed with twists, turns, and secrets. The facade of 12 rue de Amants hides some seedy and unpleasant secrets so readers should be aware of trigger warnings for strong language, sexual content, sexual abuse, trafficking, alcoholism, domestic violence, drug abuse, violence, and suicide. Foley really ramps up the atmospheric tension in this novel as she peels back the layers of faded glamour to reveal the corruption and exploitation that lie beneath the lives of her characters, and there is a real sense of both dread and menace throughout the novel.

The Paris Apartment is sure to delight Foley’s existing fans. Although it moves away from the isolated settings of her previous thrillers, it definitely hasn’t lost that readability and page-turning ‘I need to know what happens next, TELL ME NOW’ quality! If you’re not a fan of suspense thrillers, The Paris Apartment is unlikely to convert you to the genre but if, like me, you enjoy the occasional compulsive read that will have you gripped for the whole of the weekend, you should definitely get Lucy Foley’s latest on your radar!

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley is published by HarperCollins and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!!! The Fell by Sarah Moss

Image Description: The cover of Sarah Moss’ The Fell has a painted image of an isolated fell against a stormy sky.

At dusk on a November evening in 2020 a woman slips out of her garden gate and turns up the hill. Kate is in the middle of a two week quarantine period, but she just can’t take it anymore – the closeness of the air in her small house, the confinement. And anyway, the moor will be deserted at this time. Nobody need ever know.

But Kate’s neighbour Alice sees her leaving and Matt, Kate’s son, soon realizes she’s missing. And Kate, who planned only a quick solitary walk – a breath of open air – falls and badly injures herself.

What began as a furtive walk has turned into a mountain rescue operation . . .

Having adored Summerwater and been intrigued by Ghost Wall, I was interested to learn that Sarah Moss was turning her piercing authorial gaze upon the pandemic. Although it is somewhat inevitable that ‘pandemic fiction’ will be come a thing, Moss’s previous novels demonstrate both a perceptiveness of human nature, and a pervasive sense of menace that suit the subject matter. If anyone can convey the strangeness of lockdown, it is Moss.

And sure enough, The Fell is a wryly observed study of blame-shifting and governmental edicts and, at the same time, a deeply humane examination of isolation, guilt, and gratitude. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Kate, a furloughed café worker whose covert mid-quarantine stroll results in a mountain rescue operation; Kate’s son Matt, whose schooling and social life have both been forced online; Alice, Kate’s retired next door neighbour, trapped indoors thanks to shielding; and Rob, the mountain rescue worker pulled from a long-awaited weekend with his daughter to go and find Kate.

As the narrative progresses, we find out attitudes towards these characters, and our attribution of the ‘blame’ – a dynamic that, Moss argues, was as much a part of the UK’s first lockdown as isolation – shifting. As in Summerwater and Ghost Wall, Moss is exceptionally good at nailing the impetus behind each character, and using this to examine wider societal concerns. Alice berates herself for feeling lonely and frightened because she’s still breathing: still alive when so many others aren’t. Matt is uncertain about calling the emergency services when Kate doesn’t return because he knows how stretched they are in the pandemic. Rob’s teenage daughter, Ellie, can’t understand why her Dad forgoes time with her to rescue strangers who have put themselves in danger. Guilt, fear, doubt, and conflict – all are examined and, through examination, all of them turn a sharp and piercing eye upon governmental decisions that created the situation these characters find themselves in.

Questioning – both of the characters and of the reader – is a key component of The Fell. Kate breaks quarantine and heads out for a walk because she can no longer breath within the four walls of her home. Her confinement has become stifling – as have the worries about how she will keep a roof over her son’s head and food in the cupboard without her full income. As she wanders up the lane towards the titular fell, she is convinced her walk is ‘essential’ to stop her from going mad. This question of what is ‘essential’ – for stopping the pandemic, for preserving humanity in the midst of a crisis, for keeping the self sane – is asked constantly. Yes, Kate is breaking the rules and yes, Alice has seen her do so, but Alice isn’t about to shop her to the police for it – despite what her judgemental daughter would say – because Kate and Matt are also the only people checking in on Alice, and making sure their shielding neighbour has food and other necessities. And besides, Alice feels guilty for asking them to pick up ‘non-essential’ items such as Hula Hoops from the shop for her.

As in Summerwater, these small moments of everyday crisis stand within a wider pervasive sense of menace. Moss is brilliant at writing novels that, whilst seemingly ‘quiet’, carry with them a constant whisper: something is coming. The tension that builds as a result brilliantly conveys the feelings of that first lockdown, with the beautifully painted but ominous landscape of the Peak District providing the perfect backdrop to the suspenseful action.

The Fell both is and isn’t a ‘lockdown book’. As a piece of pandemic fiction, it brilliantly captures the tumult of the first UK lockdown, from the rightwing impetus behind the government’s rhetoric, to the tensions that arose within individual communities and households as a result. Nor is it an ‘anti-lockdown’ book, per se. Although it presents a human story behind Kate’s illegal action, the inclusion of Rob and Alice’s perspectives allow us to see the people who both risk their lives and those who are put at risk by such actions.

What The Fell does so brilliantly is spark a conversation – filling in the gaps of our individual lockdown experiences by encouraging us to consider and question the experiences and attitudes of others, as well as the motivations behind wider governmental and societal decisions and edicts. What it is, above all else, is a piercing and insightful examination of human nature and human experience that is fully deserving of all the accolades I am sure will come its way upon publication.

The Fell by Sarah Moss is published by Picador on 11 November 2021 and is available to order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to Camilla Elworthy at Macmillan for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Violet by SJI Holliday

Violet JacketWhen two strangers end up sharing a cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express, an intense friendship develops, one that can only have one ending …

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Hold onto your hats folks because we are in for one wild ride with this week’s blog tour! Following on from the success of creepy supernatural suspense thriller The Lingering, SJI Holliday is back – and this time, she’s putting the psycho in psychological thriller with Violet, a tale of two women, one journey, and a dangerous obsession.

Violet was meant to be on the trip of a lifetime. But having been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, she’s stuck in Beijing at a loose end. Carrie was supposed to be taking in the world with her best friend. But following an unfortunate accident that has left her travelling solo, she’s got a spare ticket and an itch to meet new people. When the two women strike up a conversation in a hotel bar, a firm friendship is soon established. But, as they journey further into the Trans-Siberian wilderness, it quickly becomes apparent that both of these ladies are hiding something. And one of them might have a secret so dangerous that it could be the death of them…

I am in absolute awe of SJI Holliday’s ability both to set pace and to keep a reader guessing! From the very first sentence until the final staying-up-past-my-bedtime-to-finish-this turn of the page, I was utterly drawn into this tale of female obsession and deadly manipulation. I finished it over the course of a weekend, desperate to know what was to become of Violet and Carrie. And I wasn’t disappointed when I turned the final page!

Told primarily from the perspective of Violet, with emails from Carrie to friends and family back home giving an alternative viewpoint every few chapters, Violet is a taut, tense psychological thriller with Patricia Highsmith stylings. To say too much about the plot and the characters is to veer into spoiler territory however I was extremely impressed by Holliday’s ability to drop unsettling hints that all is not as it seems with Violet and Carrie, whilst maintaining the suspense throughout. Even with the benefit of a first-person perspective, it becomes impossible for the reader to tell who is the hunter and who is the prey in this twisted tale of toxic friendship.

As with The Lingering, Holliday also excels at writing unreliable – and even unlikable – narrators. Her portrayal of Violet in particular is masterful, gradually unsettling the reader as we’re allowed greater access into her thoughts and her past. The interspersed emails from Carrie successfully give her a strong voice in the narrative whilst providing a layer of hidden motivation. Violet’s inner voice might be unreliable but Carrie is hidden from the reader, revealed only in the public narrative she chooses to tell her friends and family back home. It’s a brilliant way of creating suspense, whilst giving the reader just enough of a connection to the two women to care about what happens to them.

I also loved the travel narrative element to the tale. In contrast to The Lingering, which played with the claustrophobia that comes from a self-contained location (a location that gets a brief but smart nod in Violet that is sure to make returning reader smile), Violet builds its suspense from the vast freedom and limitless potential of spontaneous travel. Evoking the sights and sounds of the various destinations that Carrie and Violet travel through, Holliday captures the giddy exuberance that comes from being young and free and with the whole world to explore. The style and tone (as well as some of the experiences) reminded me a little of the trouble-in-paradise narrative in Alex Garland’s The Beach and if you liked that novel, I would certainly recommend getting Violet on your To Be Read list.

In fact, I would recommend you get Violet on your To Be Read list sharpish anyway! This is a smart, taut psychological thriller that really will keep the pages turning. Perfect for curling up with by the fire on a cold night, Violet will grip you from the first and keep you guessing until the very final page.

Violet by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including Orenda’s own website, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher, Orenda Books, for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out the other stops for more reviews, guest posts, and content! 

violet 2019

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

The Lady in the Lake CoverCleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn’t hard to understand why: it’s 1964 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.

Maddie Schwartz – recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun- wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that’s been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print.

What she can’t imagine is how much trouble she will cause by chasing a story that no-one wants her to tell.

Having read, reviewed and enjoyed Laura Lippman’s complex psychological thriller Sunburn last year, I was excited to learn she was turning her attention to historic crime for her latest standalone novel, The Lady in the Lake.

However, in the same way that Sunburn wasn’t solely a psychological thriller – instead playing and subverting with the tropes of classic noir fiction – The Lady in the Lake isn’t a traditional ‘crime’ novel. Lippman is a writer who defies narrow genre boundaries and, whilst the events leading up to and the investigation of two very distinct murders in 1960s Baltimore provide the driving force for the book, there’s more to The Lady in the Lake than finding out whodunnit.

At the heart of the book is wannabe journalist Madeline Schwartz. Recently separated from her lawyer husband, Maddie is a woman trying to define herself on her own terms for the very first time in her life. Ambitious, observant, and calculating, Maddie makes for a compelling lead and, whilst I couldn’t always agree with her methods, I admired her spark and her determination. As with Polly in Sunburn, Lippman has a gift for creating psychologically complex female leads – whilst I’m not sure I would want to be her friend, I definitely wanted to get to know Madeline Schwartz.

Unafraid to play with narrative conventions, Lippman has fun with the trope of the unreliable narrator here too. Interspersed amidst Maddie’s narrative of her investigation into the murder of Cleo Sherwood are chapters from a range of alternative viewpoints. From ‘Lady Law’, Baltimore’s first black female police officer who Maddie is sent to interview, through to ‘Mr Helpline’, the ageing reporter who fears she will steal his job, these alternative narratives provide a fascinating counterpoint to Maddie’s own construction of her self and her actions. And then, of course, there are the intermissions from Cleo Sherwood herself; the ‘Lady in the Lake’, who is less than eager for her secrets to be discovered.

What struck me most reading The Lady in the Lake is Lippman’s talent for observation. Maddie is an observer at heart, an unflinching chronicler of both herself and those around her. What makes her a good journalist is her ability to use that to charm or manipulate her way to the information she wants. Lippman is also an observer and she has created a compelling account of 1960s American life that leaps off the page and charms the reader in spite of the messy, segregation-era politics that abound amidst the pages. The city and its denizens felt alive whilst I was reading and each of the many voices in the novel felt distinct –  a real testament to Lippman’s ability.

As with Sunburn, The Lady in the Lake is a marathon, not a sprint. Although the narrative and the characters are compelling, this isn’t a ‘page-turner’ because of the action or multiple cliffhangers. Instead, the prose invites you to take a leisurely stroll through the pages, savouring the descriptions and revelling in the company of the characters and the evocation of the past that Lippman has conjured onto the page. The Lady in the Lake is a worthy successor to Sunburn, and a fantastic addition to any mystery suspense fan’s reading list this summer.

The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman is published by Faber & Faber and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to Lauren Nicoll and Namra Amir from Faber & Faber for providing me with a copy of the book and inviting me to take part in this blog tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The tour continues until 11 August 2019 so do check out the other stops along the way for features, reviews, and more!

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