Book Reviews Over 50s Lifestyle

What’s On Your Bookshelf? – My top ranking books for September 2023

September 15, 2023

It’s time for the What’s On your Bookshelf? link up! I’m looking forward to you sharing what you’ve read at our monthly link up co-hosted with my friends Deb from Deb’s World, Donna from Retirement Reflections and Jo from And Anways. Remember to check out what has been on their bookshelves as well.

September brought several surprises in reading. I read some based on the 52 Book Club 2023 Challenge and was introduced to new authors and genres. I also used Audiobooks more and listened to them on my daily one hour walk. I’ve discovered I love both – daily walks and listening to audiobooks.

Over the last month, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the books that I’ve read. Some left me thinking about them long after I’d finished.

My top ranking books for September 2023

None of this is true by Lisa Jewell – My rating ✭✭✭✭✭

I listened to the audiobook narrated by one of my favourites,  Nicola Walker, of Unforgiven, Anika and The Split fame (I might have a girl crush) and  Louise Brealey another British actor who I had not heard of. They were both excellent narrators and brought the story to life.

‘Lisa Jewell returns with a scintillating new psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself the subject of her own popular true crime podcast.

Celebrating her forty-fifth birthday at her local pub, popular podcaster Alix Summers crosses paths with an unassuming woman called Josie Fair. Josie, it turns out, is also celebrating her forty-fifth birthday. They are, in fact, birthday twins.

A few days later, Alix and Josie bump into each other again, this time outside Alix’s children’s school. Josie has been listening to Alix’s podcasts and thinks she might be an interesting subject for her series. She is, she tells Alix, on the cusp of great changes in her life.

Josie’s life appears to be strange and complicated, and although Alix finds her unsettling, she can’t quite resist the temptation to keep making the podcast. Slowly she starts to realise that Josie has been hiding some very dark secrets, and before she knows it, Josie has inveigled her way into Alix’s life—and into her home.

But, as quickly as she arrived, Josie disappears. Only then does Alix discover that Josie has left a terrible and terrifying legacy in her wake, and that Alix has become the subject of her own true crime podcast, with her life and her family’s lives under mortal threat.

Who is Josie Fair? And what has she done?’ – (Goodreads)

Stunned and speechless was how I felt after reading Lisa Jewell’s None of this is True. I actually listened to the audiobook and found myself walking longer, driving longer and listening every moment that I could. I was riveted from the first page and as the story developed I felt a range of emotions – shock, horror, anger, frustration, disbelief – but I was hooked.

Two women meet unexpectedly as they both celebrate their 45th birthdays at the same restaurant. Born in the same hospital the ‘birthday twins’ couldn’t be more different. Alix Summer, married with two children, looks great and appears to have the perfect life. Josie, also married with two children comes from a council estate and carries dark secrets.

When Josie has a brief chat with Alix and discovers Alix has a successful podcast, Josie asks Alix for the opportunity to share her story and what unfolds is unbelievable.

Lisa Jewell weaves a story that is a psychological thriller and even at the end you are left wondering. I highly recommend None of this is True but be prepared to be unable to put the book down, or stop the audiobook until you have finished

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson – My rating ✭✭✭✭✭

Black Cake was listed on Goodreads as a suggestion for prompt 17 – by a Carribean author for the 52 Book club 2023 Challenge. I have never read any work by a Carribean author and wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m so glad I did.

We can’t choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?

Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch. – (Goodreads)

I enjoyed this book immensely and the way the story unfolded. I believe we can relate to the difference characters and their life experiences. So many emotions for the reader and the characters – Shock for Bryon and Benny as they listen to their Mother’s final explanation of her life. Questions – did they really know here? Anger at learning their Mother hada different life story to the one they had know. Loss and regret, when we lose a loved one and esepcially if things are not settled with them.

Surprise at the discovery of her past. I reflected on the story and Eleanor’s story and realised that perhaps we have all lived with secrets in our lives and that we are all human. Eleanor didn’t make any mistakes – her life was manipulated by others and situations she found herself in. We are sometimes too quick to judge rather than looking at a person’s life through their lense.

Murder in Mount Pleasant by Sarah M Stephen – My rating ✭✭✭✭

I received an advance review copy for free through Book Sirens, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

He chases crooks in the nineteenth century. She researches the past in the twenty-first. When a long-lost necklace is found, can they solve the deaths of the women who wore it last before tragedy strikes again?
Vancouver, 1898. Detective Jack Winston investigates when a necklace disappears and two women who wore it are dead.

Vancouver, 2018. Riley Finch’s sister falls ill shortly after wearing a necklace recently found within the walls of an old house.

Unsure where to find answers, Jack and Riley team up again through their journal to uncover the truth. Can the pair solve the crimes before it’s too late? Murder in Mount Pleasant is the third book in the Journal Through Time historical mystery series. If you like time-bending mysteries, you’ll love this twisting tale.(Goodreads)

Murder in Mount Pleasant is the third book in the Journal Through Time Mysteries by Sarah M Stephen. I received an Advance Copy to review through Book Sirens and didn’t realise the book was part of a series.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book which can be a stand alone read although reading the first book in the series would explain the Journal that links detective Jack Winston living in Vancouver in the 1890s with Riley Finch, an historical researcher who lives in Vancouver 2018. Together they solve crimes – a novel idea which works.

The journal is a way for the two to communicate through time and Sarah M Stephen has done a great job in making the idea plausible. In fact, as I read the story I hardly noticed the time change.

When Mrs Penelope Shuttleworth dies and later her maid, Kate Block is found dead in her apartment Detective Jack Winston and Constable Miller discover foul play and with a little help from Riley and the journal, Jack solves the case.

I will be looking for the two previous books in the series and await the fourth which is due in 2024.

Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman – My Rating ✭✭✭✭✭

I was fortunate to receive this book as an ARC through Book Sirens and thoroughly enjoyed it.

After losing her job as an investigative reporter for The Phoenix Gazette, Kat Lawson has a new gig.

The FBI has asked her to work undercover as a reporter for Travel International to cover Munich, Germany’s festive holiday scene—an excuse to get close to Hans von Hausmann, a very charismatic and popular museum curator suspected of hiding a cache of stolen masterpieces believed to be part of the World’s Largest Art Heist.

The job comes with lots of perks: airfare, travel expenses, the opportunity to see the world…and for a seasoned reporter like Kat, nothing she can’t handle. But, when a trusted source is found dead, Kat realizes the tables have been turned.

Armed with evidence that will expose a cache of artwork stolen from museums and the homes of wealthy Jews during the 2nd World War, Kat must find a way to avoid being caught by the German Polizie, who have enough evidence to charge her with murder, and those who want her dead to keep their hidden treasures forever secret. The hunter has become the hunted; now, Kat has a target on her back. (Goodreads)

Passport to Spy is the second book in the Kat Lawson series by Nancy Cole Silverman. Having read the first book The Navigator’s Daughter I was keen to see what Kat was up to in Book 2. Kat, an investigative journalist who lost her job at The Phoenix Gazette has now stepped up and is working for the FBI undercover as a journalist for Travel International.

Her brief: to find out information about the world’s largest art heist during WWII. The story unfolds and Kat must use all her wits to survive.

I enjoyed how the story developed and found the subject interesting. So many masterpieces had gone missing during Hitler’s reign and many have never been discovered.

I think I enjoyed this more than Book 1 and the story certainly picked up pace as I read on.

I hope there will be another assignment for Kat Lawson and look forward to more of her adventures.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – My rating ✭✭✭

Prompt #34 in the 52 Bookclub Challenge is ‘Featuring Mythology’. I had not read any mythology since learning about Greek mythology in school days and certainly haven’t been tempted to explore the genre. I wanted a book that fit the prompt but was also not a difficult read. I selected Song of Achilles despite mixed reviews.

Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. (Goodreads)

I am not a literary scholar and have never read The Illiad. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed The Song of Achilles when I eventually took the time to ‘get into’ the story. Song of Achilles is the first novel of Madeline Miller, who has BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students.

Based on Homer’s, Illiad, which details Achilles’ deeds in the Trojan War, Song of Achilles is narrated by his lover Patroculus. Friends from childhood, then lovers the story follows the lives from boyhood to manhood and war. Achilles changed as he became the war hero that was expected of him and I started to believe his own importance and I thought he let Patroculus down badly. Patroculus is too ‘clingy’ but despite that, he proves his love for Achilles by overcoming his fears. I enjoyed the book, which was easy to read, although the pace slowed during the midsection of the book, and brought the classic to life from a different perspective. I found the Glossary of Gods and Immortals interesting.

This is a story of undying love, power, greed, gods, mortals and war.

“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands mee, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun” (the final paragraph)

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, Karen Blixen – My Rating ✭✭✭✭✭

Out of Africa was the selected reading for our Classics Book Club. I had heard of the movie but have never seen it, (despite having my teenage ‘heart throb’ actor, Robert Redford teaming up with Meryl Streep) or read the book. I listened to the audio version on my daily walks, as well as reading the hard copy.

Out of Africa is Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself, visited frequently by her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up stories “like Scheherazade.”

In Africa, “I learned how to tell tales,” she recalled many years later. “The natives have an ear still. I told stories constantly to them, all kinds.” Her account of her African adventures, written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark, is that of a master storyteller, a woman whom John Updike called “one of the most picturesque and flamboyant literary personalities of the century.”

Isak Dinesen (1885–1962) was born Karen Christence Dinesen in Rungsted, Denmark. She wrote poems, plays, and stories from an early age, including Seven Gothic Tales, Winter’s Tales, Last Tales, Anecdotes of Destiny, Shadows on the Grass and Ehrengard. Out of Africa is considered her masterpiece. (Goodreads)

Hauntingly beautiful and descriptive, Isak Dinesen has captured the beauty of the landscape, the nobility of it’s people and the difficulties of living off the land in Africa. Dinesen writes: ‘“Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”

Living on a four-thousand acre coffee plantation, Dinesen writes about her life and experiences during the 1920s/30s – a different time and attitudes. Despite that, I felt her genuine love for Africa and the people she employed and befriended.

Kamate, in particular was a favourite of mine. A young boy who was ill and Dinesen took to the hospital became a steady figure in her life. I loved his attitude to life, his humour and logic. I could feel her deep sadness and despair when she lost her farm and had to leave her beloved Africa.

“We ourselves, in boots, and in our constant great hurry, often jar with the landscape. The Natives are in accordance with it …….it is Africa wandering, dancing, and entertaining you.”

52 Bookclub Challenge Update

I’ve almost completed this challenge with only four prompts to go. I will definitely be taking the challenge again next year as I’ve discovered some new genres and authors and I’ve also discovered what I like to read and what I don’t enjoy.

Well that’s what has been on my bookshelf during the month, What’s been on yours? I would love you to share with me.

Happy reading and remember to pop over to read what books have been on my co-hosts shelves.

The next #WOYBS will be Thursday October 19/Friday October 20. I’m looking forward to seeing and reading What’s Been on your Bookshelf? during the month.

Sue Loncaric

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  • Reply Retirement Reflections September 15, 2023 at 08:39

    Hi, Sue – It looks like you have had a terrific month in books. I’m delighted that your reading included a soon-to-be-released novel by a Vancouver author. I am also thrilled that you loved “Out of Africa.” I saw your review for it on Goodreads yesterday. It is incredibly well-done!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:38

      Hi Donna, I agree I had a terrific month with different books and enjoyed them all. I’ve been trying to be more selective although there are times when I just want something easy to read without having to think about it. I’m looking forward to our Book Club meeting. x

  • Reply Debbie September 15, 2023 at 13:56

    Hi Sue, what a fabulous round up of books you’ve had this month. I’m jotting down some of these to add to my list in the future and really appreciate your well written reviews. Thanks for being a great co-host and sharing your reading journey with us, especially the 52 book challenge 🙂

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:39

      Hi Deb, my list is never ending and there are just so many good recommendations that I see in our monthly WOYBS? link up. Thanks for your comment re my reviews. I’m never confident writing them really so it’s always good to get feedback. x

  • Reply Janine September 15, 2023 at 14:31

    Hi Sue – you have a very interesting range of different subject matters and genres in your book reviews this month. Congratulations on nearly completing the 52 books challenge. As you say, the challenge does seem to help broaden the range of books you might usually read. I know I tend to stick to just one or two genres.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:41

      Hi Janine, it certainly was a month for trying different genres and I really enjoyed all of the books I read. I tend to stick to British Crime series but with the 52 Book Club Challenge I’ve broadened by horizons. I think I will do it again in 2024. x

  • Reply Joanne September 15, 2023 at 22:23

    OH wow; it sounds like you had a great reading month! I’m definitely adding a few of these to my list.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:42

      Hi Joanne, I don’t think you will be disappointed with any of the books I’ve recommended this month. x

  • Reply Carol @ Reading Ladies September 16, 2023 at 03:32

    I loved Black Cake!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:42

      I did too, although it received mixed reviews. I rated it highly x

  • Reply Darlene September 16, 2023 at 03:38

    A fabulous review of Out of Africa, one of my favourite books. Well done on this challenge.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:43

      Thank you, Darlene for your lovely comment. I’m never sure about myself and writing reviews so feedback – positive or constructive is always appreciated. x

  • Reply Jo September 16, 2023 at 05:50

    What an eclectic mix this month. I’m definitely picking up the Lisa jewell – I need a reason to walk longer!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:44

      Jo, Lisa Jewell is gripping. I found myself walking longer to finish the chapter or going for two walks if I wanted to hear more. Nicola Walker of course is an added bonus. x

  • Reply marsha57 September 16, 2023 at 10:25

    I have Black Cake on hold. I haven’t read this book by Lisa Jewell but I really like her writing. This one sound quite intriguing!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:44

      Lisa Jewell’s book had me gripped and loved the twists and turns. I unexpectedly enjoyed Black Cake also and I would be interested to hear your thoughts when you read it. x

  • Reply Jennifer Jones September 16, 2023 at 15:14

    The only one of these books that I’ve read is Out of Africe and that was many years ago, but I remembered that I enjoyed it. The Lisa Jewell book is one for my pile as I’ve read a couple of her books and they were great. Thanks for the recommendations.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:45

      Hi Jen, I’ve never read Out of Africa or seen the movie so it was completely new to me. I’m sure you will enjoy Lisa Jewell’s book – I couldn’t put it down. x

  • Reply Gail Is This Mutton September 18, 2023 at 17:23

    Well done on nearly completing the challenge! I love reading your reviews. I’m watching Annika series 3 at the moment and also have a girl crush on Nicola Walker, so I like the idea of listening to her narrating the latest Lisa Jewell novel.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric September 22, 2023 at 09:46

      Thank you, Gail, I’ve enjoyed the challenge and will probably do it again next year. We are watching Annika as well at the moment although Series 2. I like anything Nicola Walker is in. x

  • Reply October 11, 2023 at 13:27

    I enjoy book review posts so much. You have a banner crop of books in this review. I remember reading reviews for Black Cake and thinking it sounded very good. Glad to read your review confirms this. Will give it another look.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 12, 2023 at 08:23

      Hi Leslie, I do think you would enjoy Black Cake – it was definitely a surprise for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. x

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