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The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew

I love Milly Johnson’s books. They are always packed full of hope and romance and never fail to cheer me up when I’m feeling down. I love the fact that so many of them focus on characters who are given second chances.

The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew of the title is Sophie, who was brought up in a strict boarding school to believe that her place is supporting a powerful and wealthy man. Sophie Mayhew has become an expert at this, standing by the side of her husband, rising politician John Mayhew, even though he shows little care or support for her.

Then, the tabloids break the news of his torrid affair. Sophie’s family are very clear that she should stand by her man, but at the moment that she should deliver a well-planned supportive speech, she changes her mind. Disappearing to Yorkshire, a place where she once felt happy, seems the best option. When there Sophie reconnects with herself and makes new friends, including handsome local vicar Elliot Bellringer.

I really enjoyed this story. It’s one you’ll want to read in just a couple of sittings. The characters are likeable and as a reader you find yourself empathising with Sophie and the decisions she needs to make. Well worth a read.

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Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

I always enjoy a psychological thriller and have tried to guess the twist in several that I have read. I often try to figure out who the culprit might be and sometimes get it right; genuine surprises are pretty rare.

This story follows Lisa and her daughter Ava. Lisa lives a fairly ordinary life, but is also hiding something about her past… until one day Ava helps a stranger with unexpected consequences.

I honestly don’t want to say any more about the plot because when the twist came it genuinely did shock me: I wasn’t expecting it at all. This book was fast-paced, disturbing, brutal at times, but it definitely met the criteria for a surprising thriller with a shocking twist.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe tells the story of the mythological Greek goddess and witch, Circe, who was exiled to the island of Aiaia by Zeus for using witchcraft. This novel re-tells the classic myth from Circe’s viewpoint, beginning with her life amongst the Titans, then her eventual exile after she creates the sea monster Scylla from a nymph.

Circe, alone on the island, hones her skills of witchcraft using the herbs and plants she finds. Her exile is broken when she is called to help her sister, Pasiphae, in childbirth (and it is no ordinary child). Following her return to Aiaia, Circe encounters many men who she turns to swine, until Odysseus arrives on the island.

I did worry a little that my knowledge of Greek mythology would be too limited to allow me to fully enjoy this novel, but I have to say that it didn’t spoil it for me. The story was interestingly told, and the viewpoint enables the reader to fully empathise with the character of Circe. The pace of the story was good, and it’s a book that I got through in just a couple of sittings.

A really interesting novel. You don’t need to have much knowledge of Greek mythology for it to make sense, as it’s a well-told story in its own right.

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The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

I very rarely read non-fiction, preferring instead to read novels, but I saw quite a lot of publicity about The Five online and knew I wanted to read it.

Hallie Rubenhold tells the stories of the five victims of Jack the Ripper: not the stories of what happened to them as they died, but the stories of their lives.

She details the lives of each victim, from childhood to a life of poverty in London’s East End. In each case it becomes clear that the world was always weighted against them as working class women, but also that with a small change in circumstances their lives could have worked out differently. Rubenhold pieces together the evidence about each woman’s life, showing the reader details of their every day existence.

This was a fantastic book; it brings to life each victim’s own story. Rubenhold is clear that she wants to break down the notion of the victims being ‘just prostitutes’ for two reasons: firstly, there is no evidence of several of the women engaging in prostitution, but secondly because over the years the classification of the victims has such has been used to dehumanise them. Rubenhold shows us that each woman lived a life that was defined by many other aspects.

A fascinating book, especially for anyone interested in the experiences of life for the working classes in 19th Century London.

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No Way Out by Cara Hunter

Late one January night a fire breaks out at a family home near Oxford. It is up to DI Adam Fawley and his team to investigate what has happened, especially when it becomes apparent that it was a deliberate act. The investigation follows many twists and turns until the dramatic conclusion of the case.

This is the third of Cara Hunter’s Adam Fawley novels, all of which see his team of investigators take on unsettling cases. As with the other two novels, this book switches between narrative perspectives and includes newspaper reports, online comments and other sources of information as well as the narrative story.

This is a fast paced and enjoyable crime novel, and one that had the usual good number of twists and turns. Well worth a read, especially if you’ve read Hunter’s previous two novels.