Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review: A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and it was the cover of this book that made me download it, as I had never heard of the author*. From the vintage look and the blurb, I got it into my head the story was going to be a glamorous 'golden age' murder mystery set on board a ship. A kind of Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey. In fact, the story is a very clever psychological suspense - one of those stories that slowly draws you in and builds up the tension until you can practically feel it closing in on you.

The story is about Lily Shepherd, who is travelling from England to Australia on the Orontes as part of the Government's assisted-passage scheme. Once she arrives, she will apply to work as a maid in one of the large houses in Sydney. It is 1939, and Britain is on the brink of war. Why would Lily want to leave her family, whom she loves very much, and travel to the other side of the world to work in domestic service - something she has sworn she would never do again?

Lily will be sharing her cabin with Audrey and Ida, two former chambermaids from Claridge's Hotel. While Audrey is friendly, Lily takes an instinctive dislike to Ida, who can't seem to say anything nice. At dinner, Lily finds herself seated on the same table as Edward and Helena Fletcher, a brother and sister who appear to have fallen on hard times. Lily is increasingly attracted to the good-looking Edward, but he seems to be obsessed with glamorous socialite Eliza Campbell. Eliza, meanwhile, takes Lily under her wing, paying for her excursions and lending her designer clothes - but are her motives entirely altruistic?

I loved the incredibly detailed descriptions of life on board the Orontes, and the places Lily visited, from the pyramids of Egypt to a Buddhist temple in Ceylon. I felt as though I'd travelled back in time and was taking the cruise along with Lily. The cast of characters, who all seemed to be running away from something, were fascinating. The author allows the reader to get to know character in turn, letting us discover their real personalities one flaw at a time. Which character's behaviour will result in their murder? Which character will be goaded into carrying out that murder?

A Dangerous Crossing is an absorbing and compelling read about an eclectic cast of characters forced into claustrophobic proximity with people they would normally cross the street to avoid. I loved it! Also, what a brilliant title!

If you love reading historicals with a bit of a mystery, or tightly-wound psychological suspense, you will love this book. If you're a fan of fast-paced murder mysteries then this might not suit, as the first murder does not take place until a good three quarters of the way through the book.



*Rachel Rhys is the pen name of Tammy Cohen/Tamar Cohen

Thank you to Rachel Rhys, Doubleday and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.


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Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: Mystery at Maplemead Castle by Kitty French

I absolutely love, love, love this series. I'm at that point where I wish Kitty French was a new-to-me author, and had written ten books in this series already, and I could read them all back-to-back. Why do I love them so much? First, it's the characters. I adore them. I want to go ghostbusting with them. I want hot reporter Fletcher Gunn to shadow my every move (don't tell my husband) and Marina to bring me cakes fresh from Nonna's kitchen. I wouldn't even mind giving Leo Dark advice on unrequited love - although it would be very tempting to tell him to get his hair cut and to ditch the cloak.

Confused? Let me explain. At the grand old age of 27, Melody 'I see dead people' Bittersweet has decided to stop fighting the unique talent which is persistently getting her fired/losing her potential boyfriends, and has set up The Girls' Ghostbusting Agency. Along for the ride are best friend Marina, the terrifyingly efficient Glenda, and naive young Artie, who has just enough sense to dig the girls out of trouble if they need it. Each book has a haunting and it's Melody's job to find out what is keeping the ghost or ghosts from moving on. In this story Maplemead Castle is haunted by circus folk - two trapeze artists and their ringmaster - doomed to repeat the events that led to their deaths every single night. And also haunted by something else I won't mention, because you'll have far more fun reading that scene without a spoiler!

This series would appeal to fans of romantic comedies, mysteries and the kind of ghost stories that don't take themselves too seriously. Imagine a cross between Scooby Doo and the Shopaholic series - only with ghosts instead of designer handbags. You don't have to read this series in order, but you would be missing a treat if you didn't. Thoroughly recommended! One of my favourite books this year.


Thank you to Kitty French, Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I chose it myself, no one asked me to review it and I don't know the author.

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(now published as The Skeletons at Scarborough House)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Review: Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister

The cover and title attracted me to this book but, as it turned out, it was a different story to the one had I been expecting! I thoroughly enjoyed it though!

The story is about Rachel and Jack, who have been together for a very short time and who are expecting a baby together. Everything is going well until Rachel sees part of an email on Jack's iPad: 'Douglas's Atrocity Rears Its Head Again'. So who is Douglas and what did he do that was so terrible? This question begins to eat away at Rachel until it is all she can think about. It doesn't help that when she meets Jack's family and friends they seem to be hiding something from her, but the more she digs about in Jack's past, the more questions are raised.

And as we learn more about Jack, we also learn more about Rachel - that she split up with her last boyfriend because she didn't trust him, and that she has a huge secret in her own past ...  

I was expecting a psychological thriller, but it wasn't really. No one is murdered, there are only a few scenes when the heroine feels she is in jeopardy, there is no race against time to catch a killer. Instead we have a very cleverly written psychological suspense/domestic noir, with brilliantly drawn characters - I did love Jack! The clues are dripped in a little bit at a time and, although it is quite a leisurely read, I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what happens. Each time Rachel catches Jack out on a lie, the tension racks higher and higher, and at the same time we find out more about Rachel's own secret; it was like watching a car crash in slow motion and being unable to stop it.

So, Everything but the Truth is a gripping and compelling read, with a moral about being honest - and that if you're going to snoop around in someone's past, you really ought to be prepared for what horrors you might find. Recommended!


Thank you to Gillian McAllister, Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Review: The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister is set in the mid-1600s and opens with Alice returning to Essex to live with her brother, Matthew Hopkins. Her husband is dead and she is pregnant and destitute. Alice and Matthew were very close as children but they parted on bad terms when she married the son of their old servant, Bridget - the woman Matthew blames for the accident that left him scarred.

Alice is uneasy to realise that not only is their childhood bond is no more, Matthew intimidates her. One of the servants tells her he has a great book that has the names of all the witches written down in it. Yet this is the 17th century - who believes in witches?

But in the town there is talk. Young children have died and people are saying it was done with witchcraft. Alice assumes the gossip will come to nothing. The women arrested are obvious choices - elderly, eccentric, living alone. Despite Bridget's pleas for her to speak to Matthew, to do something, Alice remains quiet, believing the women will be found innocent. Instead, more women are seized and Matthew turns his attention to other towns and villages - and now he wants Alice to help him.

The Witchfinder's Sister is one of the best books I've read this year. It is beautifully written with so much historical detail I felt as though I was there, witnessing it all. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with the occasional hint of the supernatural. The subject matter is bleak; it is based on real events, so anyone familiar with history will know there can be no happy ending for some of these women. However, the author has mixed fictional characters in with the real ones to keep the reader on edge, and there are a few very clever twists - including one I'm still thinking about! 

From our 21st century perspective, it is easy to laugh at those who believed in spells, charms and witchcraft. But then you realise how easily a petty squabble can be blown up out of proportion, how easy it is to blame someone else for your misfortune - and suddenly The Witchfinder's Sister seems horribly topical.

There is not much actual violence in the novel, the subject matter is disturbing enough, but it is bleak in places. Anyone who enjoys well-researched historical novels, or real-life stories of witches, will love this. The cover is absolutely beautiful and the final line is brilliant. I'm hoping there's going to be a sequel!

I definitely recommend it - I'd give it six stars if I could.


Thank you to Beth Underdown, Viking (Penguin Random House) and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review: To Kiss a Thief by Susanna Craig

This story popped up as an 'also bought' recommendation from Amazon and the title intrigued me. I am wary of buying books by authors I don't 'know', so I read a sample and was hooked. Sarah Pevensey is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and has recently married St John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax. It is an arranged marriage and neither parties are particularly happy about it. Her father wants a title for his daughter and St John's father needs her large dowry as the family are broke. Sarah and St John have only been married for a couple of weeks when Sarah is found sitting on the lap of Captain Brice, her clothing in disarray and the priceless Sutliffe sapphires missing from around her neck. She tries to explain her innocence to her husband, but he just walks out of the door. Her father-in-law calls for the Bow Street Runners and only her mother-in-law is sympathetic - arranging for Sarah to escape the house to a small fishing village on the Devonshire coast. When a body is pulled from the Thames a few weeks later, it is identified as Sarah's and everyone believes she is dead. 

Meanwhile, unknown to Sarah, St John fights a duel with Captain Brice, survives, but leaves immediately to the West Indies, only returning three years later. St John is told his wife is dead, but then finds a receipt for her pension in his step-mother's possession. He heads off to Devonshire to find out what is going on.

As it turned out, the plot of this story is similar to one I read a few weeks ago, but it did not spoil my enjoyment. I liked that at the start Sarah is a 'little mouse' but when she begins to make friends with the villagers, and realises how hard their lives are, she begins to work to help them them and her own confidence improves. By the time St John turns up she is more than capable of dealing with him - but he still believes she's a liar and a thief ... 

The author creates lots of problems for the characters to work through. Just as you think they are finally due a happy ending, something else pops up. There is a mystery to solve too, regarding the disappearance of the jewels, and where they have been for the past three years, although that was not too hard to solve.

This story is the first in a series of three, loosely tied by the heroes having recently returned from the West Indies and the heroines running away from something. But I did enjoy it and have downloaded the next one.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

A Secret Garden is a delightful story about three very different women and the garden they are restoring.

Lorna is the gardener at Burthen House and has had a crush on the owner Peter, her childhood friend, since forever. He, meanwhile, has been enthusiastically dating women he's met on the Internet but has recently become serious about Kirstie, a very managing type. Lorna realises it is finally time to move on - and then meets Jack. Jack is handsome, very fit, somewhat younger than her - and is convinced he knows her from somewhere else ...

Philly lives with her grandfather, known as 'Grand', in a 'tumbledown money pit' that they bought mainly for the attached smallholding - where Philly can grow her plants and sell them on her market stall. Since Grand was widowed, he's become addicted to TV shows like Bake Off and discovered a hidden talent for baking the most delicious cakes, which he now sells on Philly's stall. While waitressing at a party, Philly meets Lucien, a chef who would rather be an artisan baker. He thinks she's great but his family are very 'posh' and Philly's ... aren't.

I loved all the talk about gardens and gardening. My parents used to grow plants in the same way as Philly does, so it brought back a lot of memories! And I always love reading books with big old houses in them. I think my favourite scenes were where Philly and Lucien visit his godfather and meet his old nanny - or 'Evil Mary Poppins', as Philly calls her - and the bit when Lucien's parents turn up unexpectedly! I loved all the characters but I think my favourites were Grand and Lady Anthea - whose 'secret' garden is the one being restored.

A Secret Garden is a romance but it is as much about the lovely friendship between Philly, Lorna and Anthea as it is their romantic relationships. There are no sex scenes and very little kissing, but it was lovely to see Lorna and Philly's developing romances with Jack and Lucien, and root for them to have their own happy ever after.


Thank you to Katie Fforde, Century and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: The Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

The heroine of The Devil in Spring is Pandora, one of the three daughters of the (thankfully) now deceased Earl and Countess Trenear - so neglectful they might as well have allowed their offspring to have been raised by wolves. Pandora is particularly eccentric. She dislikes society, hates dancing (we find out why later), does not wish to marry (she would lose everything she owns to her husband), and would much rather create board games. If this sounds a little far-fetched for a Victorian heroine, Lisa Kleypas does mention in her notes that the character was partly inspired by Elizabeth Magie, who created a precursor to Monopoly called The Landlord's Game.

Our hero is Gabriel Challon, the son of Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter (#3 Wallflowers series)Unlike his father, Gabriel is not a devil at all but a thoroughly nice man with a great sense of humour, who finds himself absolutely fascinated by Pandora, but rather taken aback that he has to convince her to marry him.

I found the character of Pandora highly original, although I can see some readers might find her annoying as she is so unconventional. Or as her equally original lady's maid puts it, 'only a donkey-headed halfwit' would turn Gabriel away. And I did love the way the two characters meet - Pandora gets tangled up in a piece of furniture and has to be rescued by Gabriel - brilliant! 

So, I loved the characters. I loved meeting the new generation of the Challon family (I do hope they get their own books!) and catching up with Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter. I loved the bit about the board games. The only thing that stopped this from being 5 stars is the rather random thriller plot at the end. I can't explain further because of spoilers. It just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story, which is very character driven.

Recommended if you love historical romances, particularly the kind of books written by Eloisa James and Julia Quinn. You might want to read The Devil in Winter (#3 in the Wallflower seriesfirst though. And if you love unconventional heroines, you might also enjoy Love in the Afternoon (#5 Hathways series) by the same author.