Thursday 22 June 2023

Review: Not So Perfect Strangers by L.S. Stratton

 NB: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Blurb: Two strangers – a Black woman and a white woman – who discover that each has a husband she’d be better off without, find their lives entangled in increasingly sinister ways following one fateful encounter, leading to a shocking and violent conclusion.


Tasha and Madison may live in different parts of the country and have different everyday realities, but they have one thing in common: marriages they need out of. Tasha and Madison want to help each other, but they have very different ideas of what that means…The women are on a collision course that will end in the case files of the D.C. MPD homicide unit. Unravelling the truth of what really happened may be impossible…and futile. Because what has the truth ever done for women like Tasha and Madison?


Combining dark humour with classic domestic thriller tropes, Not So Perfect Strangers offers a fresh take on a classic story, in a brilliantly updated homage to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Featuring a cast of diverse female leads living in modern America, L.S. Stratton’s latest release delves into pressing contemporary issues regarding feminism, gender dynamics, racism, and the white saviour complex.  

Trigger warning: the book contains descriptions of domestic violence, grooming, and childhood sexual abuse. Please take care while reading.

From the very first page, this book is a thrilling and fast-paced adventure that will have you on the edge of your seat or sat up straight in bed reading late into the night. 

Madison and Tasha come from very different worlds - Madison is one half of a Washington D.C. power couple, while Tasha is pulling herself up by her bootstraps. What they have in common, though, is that they want to escape their marriages - albeit for different reasons. Madison's husband is serially cheating on her, while Tasha is being emotionally and physically abused by her husband. 

Tasha has just escaped from her husband, taking her son with her, when she discovers that her son has decided to go back home to his father. Tasha, wishing to protect him, follows him home despite knowing what is in store for her. En route, she discovers a desperate Madison wanting to leave her husband.

Sometime later, Madison offers Tasha a shocking proposal - she will kill Tasha's husband if Tasha returns the favour. Shocked, Tasha leaves but with the impression that she has agreed to the deal. When Tasha doesn't reciprocate, Madison becomes increasingly htreatening. 

Tasha and Madison are equally brilliantly written characters. It would be very easy to make them 2D characters - one, the submissive and downtrodden one, and the other, a hysterical psychopath. But the author imbues and layers both characters with much more nuance than that and we have insights into their backgrounds that go someway into explaining how they arrived at their present states. 

The novel flicks between past and present. The opening - NOW - sees Tasha having escaped from Madison's house, now on fire, and her subsequent arrest and investigation. BEFORE shows how Tasha and Madison fell into each other's lives and the deadly consequences of it. 

Despite Madison's character and the objectively awful choices she makes, the completion of her story arc left me feeling defensive on her behalf - to explain why would spoil it, but if you have read HOW TO KILL YOUR FAMILY by Bella Mackie, you will probably know what I mean. Tasha's story arc feels much more satisfying. 

If you are a fan of dark humour, tragi-comedies, and books like HOW TO KILL YOUR FAMILY by Bella Mackie, this book is for you. 

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Review: A Banker's Journey by Daniel Gross

 This incredibly meticulous and well-researched book takes a look at the life of a man called Edmond Safra, a man who rose from family banking origins in Beirut to become one of the world's most respected and trusted bankers. 

At only 15 years of age, Edmond's father entrusted him to go to Milan, one of the most relatively stable parts of the world at that point, in order to set up new banking and business ventures. Though so young, Edmond showed wisdom, courage, determination, and grit far beyond his years. 

After the horrors of World War 2 and collapse of imperialism in the Middle East - though not without decisions whose ramifications are still being felt to this day - Edmond did what he could to help Jewish communities moving around or leaving the Middle East - particularly Syria and Lebanon - completely. Everywhere he went, he sought out community and helped people as much as he could while setting up lucrative, profitable, yet measured, business and banking institutions wherever he went. From Milan, to Switzerland, to Brazil, and New York, Edmond built up trust, respectability, and wisdom, as well as acquiring huge amounts of knowledge needed that came along with the quick evolution of global financial systems. 

Despite Edmond reaching dizzying heights of success and wealth, he never forgot nor begrudged the responsibility to community instilled in him by his deep sense of faith. From personal gifts (such as paying friends' hospital bills) to institutional giving (demonstrated by the Safra Foundation to oversee the distribution of his wealth after his death) Safra showed both in life and death that wealth and success give one more opportunities to be generous and change countless lives. 

Friday 7 October 2022

Review: Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday

 Ryan Holiday has just released the second in his series about the four principle Stoic Virtues. The first was "Courage is Calling" and he follows up now with the second virtue - Temperance, referred to in this book as "Discipline".

Using a mix of ancient thought and examples of public figures throughout history, from Roman Emperors to sports players, Ryan Holiday explains why the power of discipline and self-control is so important, in our lives, no matter our station or ambitions. 

The part that impacted me the most was how using this principle of temperance, or self control, in a society so given to distraction and alleviation from boredom, can actually enrich our lives and make it better. I am one of many people who are all too ready to reach for the phone at our fingertips to provide some sort of distraction. Using this practice of self-restraint can release a flow of creativity or thinking about how we want to make our lives better. 

There were some parts of it that I found could have been explored in terms of their nuances more thoroughly, such as the section on Queen Elizabeth II. Her personal characteristics and virtues were extolled wonderfully, but ignored/whitewashed the historical context of empire that is necessary to look at while examining such political figures; (the same for Winston Churchill). 

There were some incredible examples of people going against the grain of current political/intellectual/moral thought, such as when President Jimmy Carter, in 1977, exhorted the U.S. government to act on climate change - how much better would our current climate forecasts look if the world had listened to him??

Another section which I found incredibly meaningful/impactful was not just the importance of determination/persevering, but also knowing when to stop, such as the baseball player, Lou Gehrig. 

Overall, part motivational and part historical, Discipline is Destiny is a wonderful way for us to challenge ourselves and get out of our own way by acting on very straightforward precepts, even if the journey is not always easy. 

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Review: The Mortification of Grace Wheeler by Colette Dartford

 No doubt a story that will resonate with many empty nesters, Colette Dartford's debut novel brings the intricacies of a close-knit family into the spotlight and examines what cracks appear when big changes come. 

Grace, the leading character, is struggling when her son, Josh, heads to university. After a shocking revelation from her husband, Cal, Grace is anxious about if she wants to keep pursuing her marriage. Wanting to feel closer to Josh, she signs up for fishing lessons - a great hobby of his - and gets drawn into the orbit of her young, handsome fishing instructor. 

Grace, whom has never had an affair, or done anything outside the box, finds a new thrill to pass her days. But a secret like this will never last long, and soon it threatens to tear apart not just her marriage, but those closest to them. 

Colette Dartford examines the different choices that the characters make without judgement or shame; it's emotional, tense, and deeply empathetic to the situations adults can  find themselves in later in life. It's a story that is well-paced and carries through to an ending that's surprising but fitting. 

Sunday 7 August 2022

Review: The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys, by Jack Jewers

 The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys imagines what would have happened after Samuel Pepys had stopped writing his famous diary. 

The start of the novel sees Pepys escaping barely clothed from a brothel in London that has been set on fire. When he eventually returns home - dragging his feet, wanting to avoid confrontation with his wife - he discovers that she has cracked his not-so-cryptic code and finds out how he's been playing around behind her back. 

Shortly after, the Duke of Albermarle gives him a dangerous task - to go to Portsmouth and uncover what he suspects to be corruption, as well as the murder of an agent of the Crown. 

When Samuel arrives in London, along with his assistant Will, they quickly discover that there is far more to this than a simple cover-up. 

Hilarity, chaos, and tensions ensue, not just domestically but with serious threats from aboard. The story quickly evolves from a straightforward whodunnit to a mystery that is reminiscent of Sherlock, though Samuel and Will are not quite so quick off the mark as Sherlock and Watson were. Samuel and Will discover layers and layers of secrecy, not least of all from Charlotte de Vere, a wealthy widow with a lot more to her than meets the eye. 

Described as "Bridgerton meets Sherlock", I would describe this novel as heavy on the Sherlock and not so much on the Bridgerton (there is no romance in it, after all, and takes place way before the Regency period". It's more of a historical mystery with good lashings of the thrill of the chase, topped off with a good illuminati-esque reveal. It's very entertaining, puzzling, with a satisfying reveal at the end. 

Monday 25 July 2022

Review: How To Kill Your Best Friend by Lexie Elliott

 What could have been the holiday of a lifetime quickly turns into a holiday from which to be rescued...

Georgie, Lissa, and Bronwyn - best friends since university - were inseparable, but Georgie and Lissa even more so. However, circumstances created distance between them all.

Lissa and her husband, Jem, opened a luxury resort on an island in South-East Asia. Georgie worked in New York, and Bron became a stay-at-home-mother after a successful career in accounting. 

All are summoned to this island when Lissa is pronounced dead after witnesses saw her go swimming, never to return. 

Business trickles slowly away, and suspicions arise amongst the remaining guests - all those who knew Lissa. Georgie is the first to air these suspicions, and once the can of worms is opened, nothing will ever be the same. 

The novel is well-paced, laced with adrenaline and red herrings, and utterly readable in one sitting. I wouldn't recommend reading well into the night - you'll start to jump everywhere you look - but it is a perfect combination of a beach read and thriller. 

Review: Here Be Icebergs, Katya Adaui (English translation by Rosalind Harvey)

 This brilliant Peruvian writer has distilled a plethora of different family and relationship dynamics into twelve short stories. 

They range from the ordinary (The Hunger Angel, with 68 distinct memories that coalesce into a stark picture of life from 2 to 68) to the fantastical (Where The Hunt Takes Place, in which a family are contending with a mysterious beast that attacks their house nightly). Some, like We, the Shipwrecked, read more like poetry than prose. 

Every reader will be able to identify with the sharp flashes of memory this collection of short stories invokes, from the most mundane and random, to memories or periods of time we would rather bury (such as This Is The Man). There is no neat ending, or order, per se, to these stories. They are like a series of vignettes that allow us to examine the fictional lives of others and see if they reflect our own experiences. 

Here Be Icebergs is publishes by Charco Press.