Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a standalone novella featuring characters from Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. Officially it comes in at #12.5 (after the final novel, Duke of Desire) although the only characters to get a proper mention are from #1 (Wicked Intentions) and #10 (Duke of Sin).

The heroine, Mary Whitsun, featured in Wicked Intentions as a child. She was given her unusual surname after being found on the doorstep of an orphanage on Whit Sunday.

The hero, Viscount Blackwell, has been engaged to Lady Johanna Albright since birth. He was previously engaged to her twin sister, who disappeared as a baby. When he meets Mary Whitsun in a bookshop he is convinced she is Lady Johanna's long lost sister. Is Mary about to get a fairy tale 'happily ever after'?

I loved the characters; I found their interaction very engaging. Their romance was sweet and I loved the scene where they met in a bookshop. I wasn't so sure about the 'missing heir' plot, but Elizabeth Hoyt puts her own spin on it. My only complaint was that it ended too soon, almost as though it was missing a chapter. Several plot strands were left unresolved, and the villain's motivation seemed a bit weak. Maybe I'm just being greedy, wanting it to be longer?

But I did enjoy the story and I've already got the final novella in this series on order (Once Upon a Christmas Eve).

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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

It's hard to write a review for The Perfect Stranger without giving away some of the excellent twists. This is one of those mysteries where the clues come thick and fast. At first I wasn't sure about the flipping between timelines during the opening chapters, revealing what happened in the character's past and how she got to where she is now. I felt as though I couldn't connect with what was happening in the present. But then everything slotted into place and by 30% I had really got into the story. By 50% I was completely gripped!

Leah Stevens has to leave Boston in a hurry - resigning from the newspaper where she works before she's fired, and with a restraining order snapping at her heels. Why? What did she do? Uh uh, no spoilers!

Leah's old friend Emmy offers her a place to stay at her lake house in rural Pennsylvania, while she takes a job at the local school and attempts to blend in. Then a girl resembling Leah is found with head injuries and Emmy goes missing, leaving only a broken locket behind. Have the demons from Leah's past finally caught up with her? And why won't the police take Emmy's disappearance seriously? It's almost as though they think Emmy never existed...

I am a huge fan of Megan's writing style. I love that Leah is a flawed heroine who has made mistakes - and looks likely to make the same ones all over again. I love that there are so many twists and turns, that even when the denouement was right there in front of me I could hardly believe it. And I love that there was a bit of romance in there too - Hello, Detective Kyle Donovan!

Recommended if you love your psychological suspense extremely twisty, with a bit of a romance, and if you enjoy reading books such as Lisa Jewell's I Found You

One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Megan Miranda, Corvus, and Netgalley for a copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review - although I loved it so much I've since bought my own copy too!

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins (Thomas Hawkins #2) by Antonia Hodgson

I was attracted to this book because of the gorgeous cover (Georgian gentleman walking into the mist). I did realise before buying that it's actually #2 in a series, but I downloaded it anyway because I liked the sound of the story. And, as it turned out, it works as a stand alone too.

The story opens with Thomas Hawkins on his way to the gallows, charged with murder. But whose murder? And is he innocent or guilty? The story then backtracks to show how the son of a country vicar got himself into such a mess. Of course it doesn't help that Thomas is a lovable rogue with a fondness for drinking and gambling, who's living in sin above a pornographic print shop at the dodgy end of Russell Street. And he's somehow found himself working for both London's biggest crime lord AND the Queen of England. And he's not sure which is the most ruthless, or who he fears most.

I adored this historical murder mystery, which moves at a cracking pace. The grinding poverty of St Giles is horribly authentic, contrasting with the descriptions of St James Palace (despite the rats). I loved the characters - Thomas, obviously, but particularly Kitty Sparks: "Her Majesty can kiss my rain-soaked arse!" She refuses to marry Thomas in case he gambles away her inheritance - that rather dubious print shop. And I particularly liked that part of the plot is based on actual historical events - the author details the real-life stories of some of the characters at the end of the book.

I never thought I'd ever have the occasion to use the word 'rollicking', but this IS a rollicking good read and I thoroughly recommend it! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Review: Wilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle #1) by Eloisa James

It is 1778. Lord Alaric Wilde, the third son of the Duke of Lindow, has spent the past five years travelling around the world and writing books about it. It never occurs to him that those books could make him famous - or rather, infamous - until he arrives home to a rapturous welcome from a mob of infatuated women. In his absence there have been prints circulated about his exploits, merchandise with his image sold, even a sell-out London play. Mortified, he heads back to the family home (Lindow Castle), only to find a house party in progress - and all the female guests really keen to make his acquaintance...except one.

Wilhelmina (Willa) Ffynche is the success of the London Season, mainly due to her ability to keep to the rules and behave in the way that is expected of a society lady. Attending the house party at Lindow Castle, she finds it amusing that so many women are prepared to make fools of themselves over Lord Alaric...until she realises he's not quite the idiot portrayed in that notorious play.

Wilde in Love is a sweet, subtle historical romance, in which the main characters meet, become friends and slowly fall in love, despite their initial feelings that their personalities are polar opposite. And that's about it, which makes the story sound really dull - and it isn't! It's lovely and warm, and so nice to read a book where the characters actually like each other and come across as real people, along with all the associated quirks and flaws.

I particularly loved Sweetpea, the 'American sable' (which reminded me of Manuel's 'Siberian hamster' in Fawlty Towers), and Hannibal the battle-scarred cat! There are also Shakespearean references, and an entertaining villain who prevents the course of true love from running too smoothly. The last chapter of the book is, in effect, the first chapter of the next book.

Recommended to readers who like their historical romance to have a slight fairy tale tone (although there are some sex scenes). I really enjoyed it - and I loved the (Piatkus) cover, featuring a very modern-looking heroine. 

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Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

It is 1348, and the summer heat is 'sucking the life' from Develish. Sir Richard leaves his demesne to visit a neighbouring lord, hoping to find a husband for his spoilt fourteen year old daughter. But he's having far too much fun drinking and whoring to notice his host might have something to hide - that his people are rapidly dropping dead from some mysterious new illness.

Left in charge of Develish is the new steward, who is about to find out that Sir Richard's wife, Lady Anne, has been secretly running his estate for years. She's made changes to improve the health and welfare of the 200 serfs, and even taught them to read. Consequently, Develish is far more profitable than its neighbours. It's Lady Anne who realises the only way to survive this plague is to bring all the villagers inside the castle walls and close the gates on the world - including her husband. With everyone forced to work together for survival, regardless of status, this soon causes resentment, jealousy - and murder. And then the food store begins to run low.

The Last Hours is like one of those apocalypse stories where the few survivors are constantly at risk from attack or starvation. I know very little about this period in history and hadn't appreciated that most serfs never left their village. So when a small group of serfs are forced to go in search of food and news of the outside world, they have no idea how to find their way in what is now dangerous and hostile territory.

I loved The Last Hours and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I really cared about the characters and became completely engrossed in their lives. I loved Lady Anne and the way she used cool logic to outsmart her enemies. Another favourite was Thaddeus, a serf who was determined to get more out of life than a lifetime of slavery. I even loved the villain, who I won't mention because I don't want to spoil it for you! My only niggle is that although the story doesn't end on a cliffhanger, I will have to wait until autumn 2018 to read the next instalment. Argh!

Thank you to Minette Walters, Allen & Unwin (Atlantic Books), and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Do you believe in fairies?

This is the premise of this enchanting novel from Hazel Gaynor, which draws part of the plot from the real-life story of the Cottingley Fairies. When I heard about this book I was intrigued as to the direction Hazel Gaynor would take it. And I wasn't disappointed!

In present-day Ireland, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather's secondhand bookshop. Olivia is at a crossroads in her life. She's engaged to be married, the date is hurtling towards her, and she's inundated with emails from her wedding planner. She certainly doesn't have time to revitalise a failing bookshop. But amongst the clutter she discovers a manuscript written by Frances Griffiths, about her life in Yorkshire, England, at the beginning of the 20th century.

I found it hard to decide which timeline I liked the best, and in the end I couldn't! I loved hearing about Frances's life, and how she and her cousin inadvertently became involved in what was to be known as one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, and why it was so important for the people of that time to believe in magic. I also enjoyed how Olivia, in the present-day, rediscovered her true self and realised what was really important to her. I particularly loved the description of the bookshop (it reminded me a bit of You've Got Mail), and the characters of Ross and Iris.

The Cottingley Secret is a truly enchanting story and I absolutely loved it! I would recommend it to anyone who loves reading historical stories with a little bit of a mystery, or quirky tales with engaging characters and more than a sprinkling of magic! One of my favourites this year. It's like a hug in a book, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy!

At the time of writing, the ebook is available as a 99p download on Kindle.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Review: The Painted Chamber by Katherine Clements

The Painted Chamber consists of two short stories and a sample from one of the author's full-length novels, The Crimson Ribbon. The short stories take about ten minutes each to read, and the sample of the novel starts at 35%. At the time of writing it was 99p to download but I did feel it was worth it because the stories were a beautiful read.

Too much detail and we head into spoiler territory, so I'll just say that the first story, The Painted Chamber, is a beautiful tale of first love between a yeoman's daughter and an artist. The second story, How to Roast a Pig with the Hair on, is about a farmer and his wife. Both stories are historical, although the exact time period is not mentioned. Both stories are exquisitely written, but very dark. Any scenes of sex or violence are implied rather than detailed.

I enjoyed both stories, which had a slight fairy tale quality to them, although I think my favourite was The Painted ChamberRecommended!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Review: Duke of Desire (#12 Maiden Lane Series) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Desire is #12 in the Maiden Lane series of Georgian historical romances written by one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Hoyt. You don't need to have read the others to enjoy the story, as the only characters to reoccur (from Duke of Pleasure) are Iris and Hugh.

On the way back from the wedding of her friend Hugh, Iris is kidnapped by members of the Lords of Chaos (a kind of Hellfire Club) who intend to sacrifice her in revenge for Hugh's campaign against them. She is rescued by the Duke of Dyemore, Raphael de Chartres, who has infiltrated the Lords with the intent of destroying them. Unfortunately Iris, misunderstanding his intent, promptly shoots him! They then spend the rest of the story trying to keep one step ahead of the Lords, who are determined to get their revenge.

I love this series because it's set in Georgian times, rather than the usual Regency or Victorian. The brooding-hero-with-a-bleak-past is one of my favourite tropes, and I always enjoy stories where the heroine doesn't whinge about her misfortune but just gets on with turning her life around. I loved the hero's gothic castle, with its sinister locked doors, and his rather sweet view of Iris bringing light to his dark. I think my only complaint would be that the story seemed to be over too quickly, but then the best stories often are!

Although Elizabeth Hoyt often references fairy tales in her novels, they are much darker and grittier than authors such as Julia Quinn or Eloisa James, and the sex scenes are more explicit - on a par with Sylvia Day's historical romances. So this book might not be to everyone's taste. Also, some might feel that the hero's grim past, as a victim of child abuse, is a little too dark.

But I really enjoyed all the action and adventure. It was a fitting end to a brilliant series, and I look forward to reading whatever Elizabeth Hoyt comes up with next.

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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Halloween Reads 2017

I love stories about ghosts and witches, and things that go bump in the night. I especially love frightening myself half-to-death reading them in the weeks leading up to Halloween! My favourites are ghostly, historical gothics, such as The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell and This House is Haunted by John Boyne, but this year I did step out of my comfort zone with Dark Matter, a brilliant twist on the haunted house story, set in the Arctic circle.

I've rated all these books five star 'Halloween Reads' but they are not all ghost stories. The Witchfinder's Sister is based on real events. The Yellow Wallpaper is a little gem of a psychological suspense (and currently free on Kindle). The humour of Mystery at Maplemead Castle will have you in stitches.

But whatever you love to read, I'm sure there's something for everyone!

Happy Halloween!

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly widowed, arrives at her husband's crumbling ancestral home to wait for her baby to be born, with only the company of a few resentful servants and her husband's widowed cousin, Sarah. When Elsie and Sarah explore the house they find two wooden props, skillfully painted to look like children, hidden away in a locked garret: a girl and a gypsy boy - and the girl looks just like Elsie.

Historical, dual-timeline, psychological suspense, gothic, paranormal.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Despite the age gap between Merry and her older sister Marjorie, they have a close, loving relationship - until Marjorie starts to behave strangely. Is she having a psychotic breakdown, or has she been possessed by a demon? Or is she just faking the whole thing? When the medical profession are unable to help, her parents call in the local catholic priest. It's then that events spiral out of control and the family find themselves starring in a TV reality show called The Possession.

Contemporary, psychological suspense, paranormal.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

It's 1867 and Eliza Caine has just taken the post of governess at Gaudlin Hall - the previous governess is so keen to hightail it out of there, she passes Eliza at the train station on her way back to London. The house is huge, gothic, and very creepy. It appears to run without any servants and there is no sign of any other adult - just two very strange young children. What happened to the five governesses before her? And why does she get the impression that someone really, really doesn't want her there?

Historical, gothic, paranormal.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is a ghost story with a difference. Instead of the traditional haunted house, it takes place on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the middle of an Arctic winter - four months of complete darkness. Five men set out on an expedition, one-by-one they all fall by the wayside until only one is left completely alone in the snowy wilderness. Or is he?

Historical, psychological suspense, paranormal.

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

Newly widowed, Alice returns to Essex to live with her brother, Matthew Hopkins. 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. Intimidated by her brother, Alice remains quiet, believing the women will be found innocent. Instead, more women are seized and imprisoned, and now Matthew wants Alice to help him.

Historical, true-life.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The narrator has recently moved to a large, decaying house with her husband to recover from 'temporary nervous depression'. Her husband, who is also her doctor, has refused to let her work (write), so she has nothing to occupy her mind other than to lounge about their bedroom and obsess about the wallpaper. She feels that, 

"There is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window."

Historical, psychological suspense.

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

In 1932 famous ghost hunter Harry Price and his assistant, Sarah, travel to an uninhabited village on Salisbury Plain, currently being used as a training ground by the British Army, to investigate exactly what it is that has got the soldiers so spooked.

(Released on 19th October 2017).

Historical, gothic, paranormal.

Mystery at Maplemead Castle by Kitty French

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. In this story, Melody and her friends investigate Maplemead Castle and find it haunted by circus folk - two trapeze artists and their ringmaster - doomed to repeat the events that led to their deaths every single night. 

Contemporary, cosy mystery, humour, romance, paranormal.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Psychic Manfred Bernardo has just moved to to the town of Midnight in Texas, which is basically just a few run-down stores around an intersection with one set of traffic lights. His new neighbours seem friendly enough, if a little ... strange ... but he's sure he's going to fit in just fine. He's right about that, because while Manfred has a few secrets in his past, it's nothing compared to those of his new friends.

Contemporary, cosy mystery, paranormal, supernatural.

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Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is a ghost story with a difference. Instead of the traditional haunted house, it takes place on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the middle of an Arctic winter - four months of complete darkness.

The story is told in the form of a journal written in 1937 by Jack Miller. Impoverished by misfortune, he feels he's missed out on fulfilling his dream of being a physicist and jumps at the chance to go on an Arctic expedition. But one by one each member of his team falls by the wayside and soon he is left completely alone in the snowy wilderness. Or is he?

"Gruhuken seems to have had a dismal past. I don't want any of it poking through."

Dark Matter is not the kind of thing I usually read (Arctic expedition, etc) but I absolutely loved it. The style of writing, the incredible detail about life in the Arctic - the amount of research the author must have undertaken! Menace is slowly built up, layer upon layer, until the shocking truth of what happened at Gruhuken is revealed. My nerves were shredded.

If you're looking for a thoroughly chilling (in more ways than one!) Halloween read - this is it. Also, great illustrations! Recommended!

Note: The book is shorter than it looks. On Kindle it ended at 85%. The remainder is made up of the author's notes (fascinating!), a Q&A, and a sample of her next book.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Review: The Lost Village (Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring

I was attracted to this book by the deliciously creepy cover - I do love a traditional ghost story! At the time, I had not read the first book in the series (The Ghost Hunters) but I had seen the ITV adaptation. With hindsight, I should have read The Ghost Hunters first. I have now! There is quite a lot of past history between the main characters, Harry Price and Sarah Grey, explaining their unusual relationship - although the author does cover this in the early chapters.

The Lost Village starts in 1978 when Sarah hears a news story about the discovery of a child's remains in an uninhabited village on Salisbury Plain. It then cuts to 1932, when Sarah and Harry turn up at the same village - used as a training ground by the British Army - to investigate exactly what it is about the place that has got the soldiers so spooked.

The story was far scarier than the first one in the series, quite dark in places, and there are some genuinely chilling moments. While I loved the character of Harry Price in the first novel, here he doesn't seem quite so likeable. And although I can relate to Sarah being fascinated by such a larger-than-life character, I couldn't quite see that there was any more to their relationship than that.

Having said that, I did enjoy The Lost Village. While it didn't terrify me, it was scary enough to raise a few chills. I loved the setting of an abandoned village. There was also a spooky old house, church bells that rang themselves, séances, lots of double-crossing, and a few good twists I didn't see coming. I loved the scene at the end, when Imber's secret was revealed, although the final revelation was possibly a twist too far.

If you're in the mood for a gothic ghost story, The Lost Village makes the perfect Halloween read - but I would definitely recommend reading the first book in the series before this one, to fully appreciate the three main characters and their relationship with each other. 

Rating: 4.5 rounded up to 5 stars
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. The Lost Village will be published on 19th October 2017.

Thank you to Neil Spring, Quercus, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review: This House is Haunted by John Boyne

This House is Haunted is set in 1867, when Eliza Caine takes the post of governess at Gaudlin Hall. She should have suspected something was not quite right when she learned that the advert for the job was placed by the previous governess, not the master of the house. And that the other woman is so keen to hightail it out of there, she literally passes Eliza on the train platform on her way back to London.

In the tradition of all the best ghost stories, as soon as Eliza tells anyone where she works they look shifty and quickly change the subject. The house is huge, gothic, and very creepy. It appears to run without any servants and there is no sign of any other adult - just two very strange young children. What happened to the five other governesses before her? And why does she get the impression that someone really, really doesn't want her there?

I absolutely loved this book. It's brilliantly written, in the style of a traditional Victorian ghost story, but ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek. I adored Eliza, particularly her dry sense of humour and her ability to stand up to all those (male) authority figures who try to tell her she's imagining things when she tells them, 'This house is haunted'.

If you've read a lot ghost stories it won't be too hard to work out how it all ends, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. Recommended, particularly to fans of Susan Hill and stories such as The Woman in Black. One of my favourite books this year! 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Review: The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring

As a teenager I devoured ghost stories, particularly true-life ghost stories, and I soon learnt about Borley Rectory, 'the most haunted house in England' and the man who investigated it - Harry Price. So I was thrilled to discover this series of books written by Neil Spring (the second one is called The Lost Village), which give a fictional account of Harry Price's most famous cases.

The real-life Harry Price was a fascinating, larger-than-life character, and this comes across very well. Despite the title, the book is more historical mystery than ghost story, although there are a few chilling moments towards the end. It covers a twenty year period and, in addition to Borley Rectory, there are accounts of Harry's other well-known cases - he was famous for exposing fake mediums and 'haunted' house hoaxes. The book is packed with historical detail, and the nerd in me loved the illustrations, photographs, floor plans of the rectory, and the newspaper 'cuttings' about other ghostly legends. I loved the character of Harry, even though he was deeply flawed and (in the story) seemed to let down his friends and family on a regular basis.

Fans of traditional ghost stories and jump shocks should look elsewhere for their thrills, but if you love historical mysteries about real-life people and places, with a hint of the paranormal, then this is the book for you. Recommended - and I do love that cover! 

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Review: The  Lost Village (Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I downloaded this one because it was referenced in the last book I read, Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts. Also, it's a short story (about 30 pages) and free - and I'm shallow, what can I say? But I'm really glad I did, because it's a fabulous little psychological suspense about a woman slowly driven mad - by her wallpaper!

"One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin."

The story was written in 1892, in the form of a journal, and has pertinent things to say about how mental illness was viewed in those times, along with women's role in society. Despite the sad subject matter there are flashes of dry humour and the author's introduction at the beginning explains how she was inspired to write the story after suffering from post-natal depression.

The narrator has recently moved to a large, decaying house with her husband to recover from 'temporary nervous depression'. Her husband, who is also her doctor, has refused to let her work (write), so she has nothing to occupy her mind other than to lounge about their bedroom and obsess about the wallpaper. She feels that, 

"There is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window."

It's a little gem of a story, and I'm so pleased I discovered it. There are several free versions available to download, but I chose the Wisehouse Classics one because I liked the cover (yes, shallow!) and it contained the original illustrations.

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