Review: The Safe Place

Anna Downes

Genre: Mystery / Thriller /Domestic Thriller
Release Date: July 2020
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly. 

This was the winner of last week’s Try a Chapter: Choosing my next Thriller. I said in that post that this isn’t the kind of thriller that throws you headlong into nonstop action. It starts gently, introducing us to Emily and then Scott, and showing us how things unfold. And the story was compelling, at least to me.

I loved the way the tense atmosphere built up bit by bit. The theme of the naive young woman drawn into a domestic situation that alternately alarms her and then reassures her that she’s just imagining things, struck echoes in my mind with gothic novels such as Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Of course, the reader knows Emily is not imagining the danger she’s in, and is internally screaming at her to get out while she still can.

There aren’t a lot of twists, but there is a reveal about two-thirds of the way through that I didn’t see coming, and from there the pace and action both sped up, making the book very hard to put down from this point on.

It was only the ending that prevented this from being a 5 star book. It just didn’t quite ring true somehow, and wasn’t as satisfying a payoff as the quality of the rest of the novel had led me to expect.

Even so, this is still a very solid 4 star novel for me. The characters are wonderfully imagined, fully fleshed out and fascinating. The writing is really good, too. The mystery kept me enthralled right to the end.

If you’re after a thrill-a-minute ride and explosive twists, this isn’t the thriller for you. But if you’re in the mood for a slow burning, atmospheric, psychological mystery, I’d encourage you to pick this one up.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this novel from Minotaur Books through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

What I Read in April 2020

April started off slow as a reading month, but gathered speed by the end, for a total of 8 books, bringing my 2020 total so far to 26.

I read:

1 novel (science fiction)
4 non-fiction books
2 novellas (fantasy)
1 picture book

My average rating was 4.2, continuing this year’s theme of enjoying what I’m reading. Here are the books:

SEMIOSIS by Sue Burke

Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

I said I was hoping for Speaker For the Dead (Orson Scott Card) vibes from this novel that follows several generations of a human colony on an alien planet with sentient plants, and there were similarities at first. But in the end, I liked it, but didn’t love it. The plotting is good, and the ideas are good, and even the characters, so it took me a while to work out where it fell short for me. I think it’s just that it engaged my brain but not my heart, whereas Speaker for the Dead did both. I just wanted more. Still, 31/2 stars isn’t a bad rating. This is the first book of a duology, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue.


BEHIND THE EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN by Michael Bachelard

Genre: Non-fiction/ investigative journalism.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was a hard read, and I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it’s a very thorough dissection of the history and influence of The Exclusive Brethren, focusing primarily on Australia, including case histories of people who have left and how that has affected them. It was shocking in parts, and heartbreaking, but I think it’s an important book, especially considering the influence this organisation has had and still has on Australian governments. A worthy read, but not a fun one.


NORSE MYTHOLOGY by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Non-fiction / Mythology
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Looking around for something I was pretty sure I’d enjoy after the Brethren book, I picked this up and wasn’t disappointed. Gaiman has a fun way with words and he tells the familiar stories about Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki and the other Norse gods in a fresh and colloquial style, with plenty of humour. The first section, the creation myths, is the driest, but once he gets into the stories, it’s pure gold. I raced through it and absolutely loved it. Highly recommended.


VALKYRIE: THE WOMEN OF THE VIKING WORLD by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Genre: Non-fiction/ History and Mythology/ Sociology
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It was somehow fitting that while I was reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, I was offered an Advance Review Copy of this. It almost seemed like fate. Perhaps the Norns were at work!
This is an impressively scholarly treatise about a fascinating topic. The author begins with the same mythological sources that Gaiman’s tales are based on: the Elder (or Poetic) Edda and the Younger (or Prose) Edda. She draws from them what they have to tell us about the way the writers viewed the women of the viking age, via their portrayal of Valkyries and goddesses. Later, she mines the sagas and the archaeological evidence to give a picture of the position and lives of women of various social strata.
Much of this is necessarily speculation, as we have no writings from the point of view of the women themselves, but it’s thorough and intelligent speculation.
Parts of this book were definitely 5-star, but I’ve dropped the rating to 4 simply because there is a lot of repetition, which made some sections a bit hard to get through. But overall, it’s excellent, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody

Genre: Non-fiction/ Writing craft
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read through this very quickly without doing any of the exercises, just to get a good overview and judge if I felt it would be useful. The answer is a resounding yes! This is such a thorough analysis of story structure, plotting, character arcs, all that good stuff, and I can see myself applying it at every stage of the writing process from brainstorming through first drafts, structural revisions, editing, and writing marketing copy. It has already earned a permanent place on my shelf and I expect it to fall apart from constant use in a few years.


CHICKABELLA COUNTS TO TEN by Veronica Strachan and Cassi Strachan

Genre: Picture Book / Counting
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is so cute! Simple text, gorgeous illustrations, and Chickabella is counting backwards, which is a nice variation on all the counting up to ten books out there.
And on the final page, your child can have the fun of cleverly pointing out to you where all of Chickabella’s friends are hiding.
Definitely one for the cuddle-up-and-read-together shelf.


I received an Advance Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


TROLL HUNTER: WITCH FOR HIRE by P.A. Mason

THE DAMSEL GAUNTLET by P.A. Mason

Genre: Fantasy / Humour/ Novellas
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read these two short novellas one after the other and it was like enjoying a couple of petit-fours (if petit-fours were funny as well as delicious).
They are the first episodes in a humorous fantasy series that I’m delighted to report is every bit as much fun as it sounds. I truly love the character of the hapless witch Gretchen, who is inept at spells and potions, but not by any means naive or stupid. The secondary characters are fun, too, and P.A Mason takes the idea of a fairy tale retelling and runs with it in an original and engaging way.
I now want to read all of Gretchen’s forthcoming misadventures, and it’s worth noting that there are lots of fun extras on the website http://gretchensmisadventures.com including examples of Gretchen’s execrable poetry, follow-up stories to the main episodes, and articles about the Gretchenverse.

I received an Advance Review Copy of the second novella in exchange for an honest review.


So, those were my 8 books for April. How was your reading month? What was the best book you read?

What I Read in March 2020

Hello again, lovely readers! It’s a very strange time, with all of our lives disrupted one way or another. How has it affected your reading? Are you reading more, less, or about the same? Have your genre tastes changed?

I read 6 books in March, about the same as January and February. They were split between Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Romance and Non-fiction. Four were paperbacks and two were Ebooks, both of which were ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). So, reading-wise, March was a pretty normal month for me. I find this a bit surprising, because it didn’t feel normal at all. Here are the books, on a background of one of my favourite roses, blooming now on an arch in my garden:

Climbing Rose ‘Fourth of July’

My average rating for March was 3.83, quite a bit lower than the past couple of months, but there were two 5-star reads in there, so it wasn’t a bad month by any means. I’ve presented the books in order from lowest rated to highest.

THE SEVENTH LINK (Village Mysteries #4) by Margaret Mayhew
GENRE: Crime/ Cozy Mystery

RATING: ⭐⭐

A retired English Colonel is pleased when an old friend invites him for the weekend, to coincide with a RAF reunion event. His fellow guests include a Lancaster bomber crew, reunited for the first time. But everything is not as it seems, and the Colonel finds himself taking on the reluctant role of sleuth once more when tragedy strikes . . . 

I borrowed this from my library on a whim, and I was enjoying it, just the kind of easy, familiar read I was in the mood for, until it abruptly ended in a way that to me is unforgivable in this genre. To be blunt, the mystery is not solved, not for certain. I mean, the reader is not told what really happened. And the amateur sleuth just kind of shrugs and goes home to his cat. No. Just no.

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
GENRE: Non-fiction/Writing

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐

A step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

This was a book I was looking forward to, and it was a disappointment. It’s well-written, as you’d expect from Anne Lamott, but the further I read, the more I disliked her. This is supposed to be part memoir, part writing craft book, but really, it’s all about Anne. Her insecurities, her jealousies, her fragile ego. I would not want to take one of her classes. And despite the glowing blurb, it’s not much of a guide, pretty basic advice and very repetitive. I know people love this, and if I had gotten on better with Lamott’s personality, I probably would have liked it too, hence the 3 stars. But I found nothing to identify with here.


THAT NIGHT IN PARIS (Holiday Romance #2) by Sandy Barker (ARC from Netgalley)
GENRE: Romance

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To Cat Parsons, a European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.
Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

I enjoyed the first book in this series, One Summer in Santorini, but this one was better. I loved the tour aspect, and the descriptions of the different places. I really want to go to Lauterbrunnen now! The romance was fine, and not as cringy as most (I’m not a huge fan of romances in general). But for me, the best part was the relationship between Cat and her “bus besties”, especially Lou. As others have said, Cat begins the trio as somewhat self-obsessed, but she fully realizes this and really grows by the end. A satisfying escapist read, full of heartfelt and touching moments, and just the kind of thing we all need right now. 

HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE (A Bradecote and Catchpoll Investigation #4) by Sarah Hawkswood (ARC from Netgalley)
GENRE: Crime/ Historical

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

January 1144. Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed heading off on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth at Polesworth, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem Heaven sent as escorts, right up until they are captured by a renegade who wants his forger out of the lord sheriff’s cells; a renegade who loathes the Benedictines, and kills for pleasure.

This invites comparisons to Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Mysteries, and while it isn’t quite on that level for me, it was an enjoyable story with engaging characters and a solid plot. My favourite character was Christina, and I would have liked to see more of her. Hugh was a little colourless, except when he was thinking about her, when he suddenly came to life in my imagination. Catchpoll is well-realised and a nice contrast to his superior. A good read.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
GENRE: Science Fiction/ Time travel

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

This seems to be a polarising book, but I absolutely loved it: the writing, the structure, the story, the characters. It’s short, but it packs an emotional and cerebral punch. The authors don’t spoon-feed you, which I suspect is the reason some readers haven’t enjoyed this. You are dropped straight into the action with very little explanation, and off you go, figuring things out as you go along. I was hooked from the first page and remained mesmerised all the way through. I really hope this duo is planning more collaborations in the future.

LEVIATHAN WAKES (The Expanse #1) By James S.A. Corey
GENRE: Science Fiction/ Space Opera

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

Why did I wait so long to read this? There’s Space Opera and then there’s SPACE OPERA, and this is close to perfection. Holden and Miller are so well-realised, their personalities and motivations so clear, it was as if I was getting to know real people rather than characters in a book. The action is perfectly paced, the settings brilliantly imagined, the ending surprising and at the same time inevitable. Have I said enough to convince you yet? If you like Science Fiction at all, I can’t imagine you won’t love this one. And there are 7 more books in the series!

So, that’s what I read in March. Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what did you read last month?

QLTR* March 2020

*Quite Like To Read: full explanation here, if you’re interested.

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I’m hoping to read six books in March: five fiction and one non-fiction. Two are digital ARCs from Netgalley, two are books I bought for myself, and the other two are from the library. The genres cover: fiction writing, historical crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. It feels like a nicely balanced, varied group, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Here are the blurbs:

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BIRD BY BIRD
By Anne Lamott
Genre: Non-fiction/Writing


A step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.
If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

This is a classic writing craft book that I’ve been wanting to read for years. I bought myself a copy and can’t wait to get into it.


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HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE
By Sarah Hawkswood
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction

January 1144. Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed heading off on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth at Polesworth, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem Heaven sent as escorts, right up until they are captured by a renegade who wants his forger out of the lord sheriff’s cells; a renegade who loathes the Benedictines, and kills for pleasure.
Against a backdrop of a hard winter and even a frozen River Severn, Bradecote and Catchpoll are struggling to rescue the clerics, and Christina, before a psychopath does his worst, the lord sheriff loses patience, and Bradecote cracks under the pressure.

I absolutely love reading stories set in Britain in this time period, and the blurb reminds me irresistibly of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. Should be thoroughly enjoyable.


LEVIATHAN WAKES
By James S.A. Corey
Genre: Science Fiction

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

I have been holding off watching The Expanse on Netflix until I’ve read this series, and am determined to at least start this in March (it’s LONG).


THE MAD SHIP
By Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

The Farseer trilogy continues the dramatic tale of piracy, serpents, love and magic. The Vestrit family’s liveship, Vivacia, has been taken by the pirate king, Kennit. Held captive on board, Wintrow Vestrit finds himself competing with Kennit for Vivacia’s love as the ship slowly acquires her own bloodlust. Leagues away, Althea Vestrit has found a new home aboard the liveship Ophelia, but she lives only to reclaim the Vivacia and with her friend, Brashen, she plans a dangerous rescue. Meanwhile in Bingtown, the fading fortunes of the Vestrit family lead Malta deeper into the magical secrets of the Rain Wild Traders. And just outside Bingtown, Amber dreams of relaunching Paragon, the mad liveship …

I buddy-read the first book in this series, Ship of Magic, back in January with a group on Goodreads and loved both the novel and the experience of discussing it chapter by chapter online. And now I’m ready to do it all over again with the second book. Can’t wait to see what happens to all my favourite characters.


THAT NIGHT IN PARIS
By Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance

Note to self: don’t sleep with your flatmate after a curry and three bottles of wine… especially if he’s secretly in love with you and wants you to meet his mum.
Cat Parsons is on the run. She doesn’t do relationships. After ten years of singlehood even the hint of the ‘L’ word is enough to get Cat packing her bags and booking herself onto a two-week holiday.
A European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.
Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

I read One Summer in Santorini, which was a fun, light romance with terrific travel vibes. So I requested this second book from Netgalley and was so pleased to be accepted to receive an ARC. I’m expecting more travel, more romance and no doubt more enticing descriptions of delicious food.


THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR
By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space. 


This sounds so unique and intriguing. I’m a sucker for time travel stories and time travel agents? Even better. Plus, it’s nice and short, an important factor this month with two huge tomes in the list.


So that’s what I’m thinking I might Quite Like To Read in March. How about you?