Book review: So Happy For You

When I started this book, I thought we were in romance territory and that I knew exactly where it was heading. Wrong on both counts!

The exciting thing about So Happy For You is that it’s lesfic that gets to be something else – part thriller, part dystopia, perhaps. I’ve seen some apt comparisons to Black Mirror.

The book is set in a misogynistic near future in the US, where the government incentivises marriage and severely limits abortion. (So far, so real.) Women are ‘leftovers’ in their late 20s and ‘rotten’ by their 30s. Then there are the ‘wedding charms’, the weird hazing-esque rituals that brides undertake to ensure the success of their wedding, and future fertility.

Robin, the main character, doesn’t buy into any of this – in fact, she roundly rejects the institution of marriage and is happy with her partner, Aimee. But Ellie, Robin’s best friend since childhood, is getting married, and she wants Robin to be her maid of honour. Robin is torn between her principles and her loyalty to Ellie.

As the wedding approaches, Ellie’s behaviour becomes bizarre, to say the least. The book gets dark quickly, and the second half is a weird, wild rollercoaster that kept me hooked. I honestly didn’t know what was coming next.

I really liked Robin, though she’s probably a ‘Marmite’ character. She’s witty, with a dry sense of humour, and a vulnerability which manifests as cynicism. Her ‘coming out’ story is addressed in the novel, but it’s not central to the plot. I really warmed to her and found myself rooting for her throughout.

This was a rip-roaring book that manages to do humour, satire, gut-wrench and edge-of-the-seat thriller… sometimes all in the space of a few pages. It’s refreshing to see lesbian fiction that’s permitted to be outside-the-box and genre-bending. I’m definitely off in search of more Celia Laskey.

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in return for an honest review.

Book review: Watching from the Dark

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Readers of the Richard & Judy book club pick, ‘She Lies in Wait’, have come to expect a fast pace, intricate, meticulous plotting and nuanced, compelling characters from Gytha Lodge. The second in the DCI Jonah Sheens series, ‘Watching from the Dark’ certainly does not disappoint.

Aidan Poole logs on to Skype to chat to his girlfriend, Zoe Swardadine. But he doesn’t expect to see a stranger enter her flat. To hear a desperate struggle and then a dreadful silence. Aidan is desperate to find out what has become of Zoe, so why is he hesitant to contact the police?

The book switches deftly between the present-day investigation and the run-up to Zoe’s murder, as well as furthering the stories of Jonah’s likeable team – not least the magnetic Lightman and the vulnerable but smart Hanson.

It’s ideal for the hardened thriller reader, with twists and tangles aplenty to keep you guessing and a complex cast of characters, each with their own secrets to hide.

With thanks to Gytha Lodge and publishers, Michael Joseph, for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book review: All in Her Head

All in her head

At first glance, Alison has a simple life. She works in a library and returns to her tranquil flat. But something is very wrong. Alison believes that her husband, Jack, is stalking her, leaving messages in her flat and tracking her down at the library. What did he do and why did he leave? And who is the woman who keeps talking to Alison in the cafeteria? Where does Alison remember her from, and how is she involved with Jack?

I have followed Nikki’s journey to publication with interest, and have heard a lot about this book, but happily not enough to have anticipated the ending.

It’s everything you want from a psychological thriller: it’s cleverly plotted, engaging and creates tension and an atmosphere of foreboding right from the outset. What’s more, it has an incredible twist that pulls the rug from under your feet and sends the story hurtling in a new direction, towards a satisfying and heart-warming conclusion. Like all the best twists, the clues are there on reflection, but the answer is well-hidden until the big reveal. I’m willing to bet not many readers will see it coming.

Nikki demonstrates her mastery of both characterisation and plotting in her debut. She weaves the story together from Jack’s perspective as well as Alison’s, and both characters are well-rounded and sympathetic but also compelling and complex.

It’s difficult to maintain so much mystery whilst giving the reader enough to keep track of what’s going on, but Nikki’s handling of the narrative makes it look easy and keeps the pages turning.

Don’t miss this incredible book – and keep an eye out for Nikki Smith in future!

With thanks to Nikki Smith, publishers Orion and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.