Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Well, I read this one in twenty-four hours flat! I picked it up, meaning to read a few pages and return to it later, but was completely and utterly hooked. I ended up reading the last half in the evening without realising it had got dark outside until I hit the last page. And reading this book while sitting in the dark is not really a good idea!

The Silent Companions is a deliciously gothic mystery/horror with a dual timeline - Victorian England and the reign of Charles I. The story starts with a new doctor meeting one of the patients at St Joseph's Hospital for the Insane. The patient is mute so she writes down the events that led to her incarceration a year ago. We then switch to Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly widowed, arriving at her husband's crumbling ancestral home to wait for her baby to be born. She's also running from scandal - her husband was wealthy and the whispers about whether or not his death was natural have already started. Although escorted by her younger brother, he soon leaves her in 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...

As you will have already worked out, I found The Silent Companions absolutely gripping. It's very well-written and very fast-paced - unusual for this kind of novel. Something happens on practically every page and the clever thing is that until almost the very end you are never quite sure whether Elsie is imagining everything that happens, or if she's being 'Gaslighted', or if there really was something evil locked up in that garret.

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended, particularly if you love authors such as Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, stories like The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black - and terrifying yourself half to death on a dark autumn evening!

Thank you to Laura Purcell, Raven Books/Bloomsbury, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.


If you're curious as to what a 'silent companion' actually looks like, you'll find pictures on the author's Pinterest page.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O'Neill

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the stunning cover. I was also intrigued as to how this sequel to the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, would play out. I don't have anything against prequels, sequels and re-imaginings to classic novels, provided it's not a novel (Pride and Prejudice!) that's already been done to death.

After starting this novella, I realised I should have re-read the original, because I only had a hazy memory of some of the characters. But it is very well-written, in the style of a Victorian novella, and I soon became gripped by the story.

Almost seven years ago, murderer Mr Hyde was found dead the same day that Dr Jekyll mysteriously vanished. Only his friend, Mr Utterson, knew that the two men were one and the same. Now that Dr Jekyll has been missing for seven years he can be declared legally dead, and Mr Utterson can inherit his property and propose to the woman he loves. Unfortunately, two days before this can happen, someone moves into Dr Jekyll's old house, changes the locks, and announces that he is Dr Jekyll returned from the dead.

This starts Mr Utterson's obsession with proving the man is a fraud. And, as much as I enjoyed the story, part of me did want to say 'Get over it already!' Also, without going into spoiler territory, I did not like the ending.

However, I did think Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek was a clever story and I liked the writing style (which, for some reason, reminded me of Susan Hill's Victorian ghost stories). I think it would appeal to anyone who likes reading Victorian-style mysteries but fans of the original might be taken aback by that ending.

Thank you to Anthony ONeill, Black & White Publishing, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Review: The Mermaid's Scream (Wesley Peterson #21) by Kate Ellis

I have been a huge fan of Kate Ellis since reading her first Wesley Peterson crime novel (The Merchant's House) about 20 years ago - I won it a competition run by the publisher! I especially love the mix of past and present: DI Wesley Peterson investigates a crime in the present, which usually has a link to something his archaeologist friend is working on.

The story starts with a middle-aged couple on holiday at a caravan park found dead - suspected suicide. Then a journalist, visiting the area to write a biography of a bestselling reclusive author, goes missing. Add to that, an American millionaire anxious to prove his ancestor didn't commit murder a hundred years ago, and this is why I love Kate Ellis's books. There are so many different plot strands it is almost impossible to work out how they will come together - making it ultra-hard to guess the identity of the murderer before the end. A proper puzzle!

The Mermaid's Scream is now one of my favourite Kate Ellis books. I loved the title and the cover, I loved the way the different plot strands tied my poor brain in knots, and the way a certain theme ran through the story - making me want to slap my forehead for not spotting it earlier. A definite 'duh!' moment. There might not be any 'proper' mermaids, but there is a collection of sinister old puppets, and the method the Victorian villain used to bump off his victim was very unique!

So, thoroughly recommended to anyone who loves a murder mystery with a fiendishly clever plot. But if you are new to Kate Ellis, I would suggest starting with one of her earlier books, as there are lots of characters - the police team and the many suspects - which might be confusing.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Day Shift (#2 Midnight Texas) by Charlaine Harris

Day Shift is the second book in Charlaine Harris's Midnight Texas Series - now a TV series - and is set in a small, isolated town, where no one is quite what they seem...

I enjoyed this book more than the first one. Perhaps because the characters had already been set up and it seemed to move with a quicker pace. Manfred, the psychic, finds himself the prime suspect in a murder enquiry when one of his clients dies during a reading, and his friends join together to help clear his name. There is also a new character: a strange young boy who comes to stay with the Reverend. Quinn, a character from one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, makes a cameo. We also learn more about the mysterious Olivia.

I think this is why I prefer the books to the TV series - the characters' secrets are not revealed at once and there's a proper mystery to solve. I would have given it five stars, but the mystery did fizzle out a bit towards the end, although the identity of the murderer came as a surprise! And justice was served - er, literally.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Midnight Crossroad (#1 Midnight Texas) by Charlaine Harris

I bought this one because I'm a huge fan of Charlaine Harris and I loved her Sookie Stackhouse and Harper Connelly books. Unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who downloads ebooks and then promptly forgets I've bought them, so it was only when I saw the trailers for the TV series (Midnight, Texas) based on this book that I remembered I had it!

Midnight Crossroad is the first book in a trilogy. The others are Day Shift and Night Shift, although I did see an interview with Charlaine where she said she might write more. 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.

Midnight Crossroad is basically a cosy mystery crossed with a paranormal. There was a lot I enjoyed. I loved the characters, particularly Manfred, Fiji and Mr Snuggly. I loved the murder mystery, the clever twists and the left-of-field final denouement. I loved the idea of this mysterious town where every inhabitant has a secret, not revealed all at once (unlike the TV series). I liked the fact that it was a quite leisurely read, taking the time to build up the characters, but unfortunately it was a little bit too leisurely at times. There was an awful lot of detail about the way the characters had decorated their houses, what Fiji had planted in her garden, and what was on the menu at Home Cookin'. There are also a lot of characters introduced very quickly and I got a little confused as to who was who.

I wavered between giving this a four or a five star, and settled on four - even though that ending blew me away, and I've just bought the next two books. So I'm feeling a bit mean.

Recommended, but only if you like your cosy mysteries with a gentle pace and supernatural characters - and bear in mind it's a lot different to the TV series.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben

I'm a huge fan of Harlan Coben, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one - and I read it in two days flat! I absolutely loved it!

Fifteen years ago, Nap's twin brother Leo, and Leo's girlfriend Diana, were found dead on the train tracks in a small town in New Jersey. Their deaths were put down to accident or suicide, and everyone moved on. Everyone except Nap, who is obsessed with finding out what really happened that night and if his brother's death is linked to the disappearance of his own girlfriend, Maura. Now another of Leo's old school friends has been killed, and Maura's prints have been found at the scene. Are the deaths connected, and what is the link to that mysterious old missile base hidden in the woods?

Don't Let Go is a fast paced-thriller and one of my favourite Harlan Coben novels to date. I loved the link between an old mystery and one in the present-day, and the way all the characters have secrets of their own. There is a theme running through the novel, very cleverly done, that I can't reveal because of spoilers, along with lots of false trails and red herrings, several of which I utterly fell for, and some great twists. The missile base is a real place, which I thought was a nice touch, and I found the way the story is told as though Nap is talking to his brother was endearing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fiendishly clever mysteries and fast-paced thrillers. Harlan Coben's existing fans will love it. I certainly did!

Thank you to Harlan Coben, Cornerstone/Random House and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Review: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I had not read any books by Lisa Jewell until last month when I read Then She Was Gone, which I loved, so I jumped at the opportunity to download this one. Both books are written in a similar style, with multiple viewpoints, and a clever plot that kept me guessing. Both books are five star reads but this one is definitely going on my list of all-time favourites, mainly because of the ending - which obviously I can't tell you about because of spoilers!

Lily is from the Ukraine, and met her English husband when he attended a course in Kiev. Madly in love, they've only been married for five weeks and she's not had the chance to meet any of his family and friends. When he fails to come home one night, or the night after that, she doesn't know what to do.

Alice lives in a tiny cottage by the sea with her three children and two mad dogs. She's too kind for her own good so, obviously, when she finds a strange man sitting in the rain on the beach, she invites him into her house take shelter. He says he's lost his memory but refuses to go to the police or seek medical help. Should she believe him?

I guessed the first twist fairly early on (I read a lot of books!) but there were a few more that took me by surprise, and I was on the edge of my seat for that ending! I loved the setting (faded seaside town), and the characters, particularly Alice and Frank, who I was really rooting for. All the characters were brilliantly drawn. Alice's teenagers will seem horribly realistic to anyone who has children the same age! I wasn't so keen on Lily, but that was kind of the point. I did warm to her by the end of the story, and really admired her tenacity in trying to find out what had happened to her husband when no one else seemed much interested.

This is a brilliant, superbly-written story, which had me completely emotionally engaged, reading faster and faster until I reached the end. So I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who loves psychological suspense, domestic thrillers and old mysteries. I loved it!

Thank you to Lisa Jewell, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, 14 August 2017

Review: Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

I seem to be reading a lot of books about spooky old houses lately. Not sure what that says about me, other than I like books about spooky old houses, obviously! This one has a dual timeline, set in 1860 and the present day on a Hebridean island called Harris.

In the present day, Ruth and Michael have bought an old Vicarage with the intention of completely renovating it. They have overreached themselves financially, and it doesn't help that the skeleton of a child has just been found beneath one of the rooms, creating a hold up while the police investigate. Distracted from her work, Ruth sets about investigating the history of those who had lived in the house before them, particularly a Victorian clergyman who appeared to be completely obsessed with selkies.

The story is told from three points of view: Ruth, the Rev Alexander Ferguson, and Moira his maid. Ruth is not immediately likeable, but that's due to her past history. I found Alexander's narrative a bit hard going at first, as I've never been keen on stories written in that old style of English, even if it is historically accurate. Moira's story seemed a little bit repetitive, but in the end she became my favourite character.

So at first this story was heading for a solid four stars, but then I became swept up with the characters and their lives, particularly the Victorian timeline and Alexander's tales of mermaids and selkies. I'm English, so I don't know much about Scottish myths and legends, but I found this aspect of the story particularly fascinating. I also enjoyed Alexander's journey from a kind-hearted, slightly naive vicar to - ah, well that would be a spoiler!

Anyway, this one is definitely going on my list of favourite reads and I've already downloaded another book by the same author. Recommended!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Review: Holding by Graham Norton

I don't usually buy books written by celebrities, especially fiction written by celebrities, but I was attracted to this book by the cover, spotted that it had been written by Graham Norton, and couldn't resist reading a few pages. Impressed, I downloaded it, and I'm so glad I did, because this is a thoroughly enchanting cosy crime and I absolutely adored it.

Overweight and completely unfit, Sergeant PJ Collins barely scraped into the Garda Síochána (Irish police) and took the posting in the village of Duneen because it was probably his only chance to make sergeant. When a skeleton is found during the building of a housing estate, PJ is both thrilled and slightly anxious that he'll finally get to investigate a possible crime.  Although when Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne arrives from Cork to take over the investigation, and PJ is reduced to doing house-to-house enquiries, he's not quite so delighted. But maybe the inhabitants of Duneen know more about that skeleton than they're letting on ...

From a writer's point of view, this book is a masterclass in creating characters. And if you love reading cosy crime, particularly village mysteries, you're in for a treat. At first it reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie's Poirot series, but although you have PJ as the police sergeant, each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, so really the reader is the detective. It also reminded me a bit of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, in that the story is more about the lives and past histories of the characters than the crime. So if you prefer a more plot-based story, with lots of unexpected twists, you might feel this is a bit slow. But I absolutely loved it and I really, really hope this is just the first one in a series.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

This is one of the best books I've ever read! The moment I finished it I wanted to flip back to the start and read it again! It is utterly gorgeous! A mystery set over two time periods, the late 1960s and the present day, it's about an old house nicknamed Black Rabbit Hall and the dysfunctional family who used to live there. Atmospheric and completely spellbinding, it reminded me of Daphne du Maurier and Dodie Smith. I absolutely loved it!

The story starts in the present day, with Lorna and her fiancé Jon trying to find a manor house in Cornwall called Pencraw Hall, because Lorna saw a photo on the Internet and wants to get married there. As soon as she sees the house she becomes obsessed by it. Ignoring the fact that it's practically derelict and owned by a very strange old lady, she arranges to stay there over one weekend - without Jon - and is determined to learn its secrets.

In the 1960s Amber Alton spends every holiday at Black Rabbit Hall, along with her parents and three siblings: her twin Toby, Barney and Kitty. Allowed to run wild, it's only a matter of time before tragedy strikes.

I think I enjoyed this story so much because of the setting - the idea of a house with a hydrangea growing through the ballroom floor! - it's beautifully written and the characters were so well drawn, particularly the children. I especially loved Amber, Toby and Lucian.

Black Rabbit Hall is a hard one to categorise, genre-wise. It's definitely a mystery but it's also part gothic romance, part coming-of-age story. I think it would appeal to fans of Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton, and anyone who loves stories about dark family secrets set in spooky old houses. And if you do enjoy this one, Eve Chase's second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde (USA: The Wildling Sisters) is also excellent! Recommended - but I think you guessed that already!

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: Marrying His Cinderella Countess by Louise Allen

While I love murder mysteries and romantic suspense, I suppose you could call historical romance my guilty pleasure - except I don't feel remotely guilty about it! I've read almost all of Louise Allen's books and she is one of my favourite M&B Historical authors. She always comes up with great stories, meticulously researched, which often don't go in the way one would expect - and this is one of those.

It is 1816 and Ellie Lytton is dependant on the charity of her step-brother, Francis. She has money of her own, which he has control of (as was usual at the time), and a small income from writing children's books. Then disaster strikes and Francis dies leaving her destitute - not only had he lost his own money, he'd also managed to lose hers. Ellie has no choice but to pack up and head to Lancaster and her sole remaining inheritance - a small, practically derelict farmhouse. As she has no means of getting there, she manipulates her step-brother's friend, Blake, into taking her in his carriage.

You might think this would be a fairly predictable story (the clue's in the title, etc) but it is so cleverly written that every time you think you know what is coming next, something completely different happens. I also enjoyed the way the main characters actually liked each other and the only thing stopping them getting their HEA was their failure to communicate - both had issues in their past that needed to be overcome.

 So, an enjoyable Regency romance with lovable characters, a few surprises along the way and a very sweet ending. Recommended.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the title and assumed it would be a quirky cosy mystery. It isn't - but I still enjoyed it!

Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (larger than the name suggests) in Denver. One Friday night she's just closing up when she hears a strange noise from the third floor and finds Joey, her favourite BookFrog, hanging from an overhead beam. What could have led him to kill himself, and is the answer hidden in the crate of books he left for her - the pages defaced with neat little holes? The mystery deepens when Lydia finds a photo of herself in his possession - aged 10. 

Again, I can't give too many details because of spoilers, but the story is really in two parts. We have Lydia trawling through the sad detritus of Joey's life, trying to find out why he would kill himself, alongside a backstory of Lydia's childhood and the horrific event she witnessed shortly after the photo was taken. The first half is mostly about Lydia's initial investigation, the second half is how it connects with her past. I did prefer the first half, mainly because I liked meeting the characters who worked at and frequented the bookstore, especially Plath and Joey's friend Lyle. I also liked David but found Raj a bit creepy, and I couldn't understand why Lydia would suddenly become estranged from her father. 

The story is sad in parts, and explores how one tragic event can affect the lives of those involved for years to come. It is also a murder mystery, although I suspect fans of this genre will find the identity of the murderer a bit too easy to guess. As I'm writing this, I still can't decide whether to give it 4 or 5 stars. Perhaps 4.5, rounded up to 5, because it is well-written, enjoyable (despite the sad bits!), and I loved the setting and most of the characters. And, despite guessing the ending, there were some twists that took me completely by surprise.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore will be published in the UK on the 24th August 2017.

Thank you to Matthew Sullivan, Cornerstone Digital (Random House) and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Review: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

This has been on my to be read pile so long I felt it was starting to look at me reproachfully. I have no idea why, other than I mostly read on Kindle these days and I bought it in paperback. I'm also a bit wary about reading psychological suspense/thrillers, as they are not my favourite genre - too many similar plots! However, this one had my brain tied in knots so I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The story is about Nora, who is invited to a hen party at a remote house in Northumberland. The 'hen' is Clare, a school friend whom she hasn't spoken to in ten years. And of course it all goes horribly wrong and someone ends up dead. I did think it might end up being like one of those movies, where each character is killed off one at a time, but it isn't. The author even makes a sly reference to the Agatha Christie story, And Then There Were None. Several times I thought I knew what was going on and what was going to happen next, only to discover the author had been deliberately misleading me. Sneaky!

I worked out what was going on before Nora, but only because I'd been tricked so many times I started concentrating harder! I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot, because of spoilers. So I'll just say that I really liked the setting - a modern house called The Glass House, hidden away in a dark, dark wood. I liked the characters, particularly Nina, who had a great line in sarcasm. The only thing I wasn't keen on was that parts of the story were quite sad, particularly relating to Nora's past relationships. But overall I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who loves reading psychological suspense, and stories such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

I found this one when it popped up as an advert on my Kindle. I usually zone these out but the title caught my eye. I had the idea it was some kind of paranormal about ghosts - it isn't, not in the traditional sense of the genre anyway. I read a sample, thought 'This is the strangest book I've ever read' but was hooked enough to download the rest.

The first chapter is set in the 16th century and is about Edmund, who is shipwrecked and dies before he can reach the shores of America. The next chunk of book is a thriller set in Chicago in the present day, where a sniper has the inhabitants terrified. Special Agent Will Brody and his boss (and lover) Claire McCoy are desperately trying to find him before he can claim his next victim. The blurb on the back of the book gives the next victim away as Will himself. The clue is also in the title, right? But that doesn't necessarily mean the end of Will ...

This story is a mash up of a crime thriller and horror/fantasy, so I can see why the reviews are mixed. The first chapter you think you're reading a horror/fantasy, the next chunk turns into a thriller, then we're into paranormal/fantasy. It shouldn't work but it does. On the cover it says "Imagine the love story of the movie Ghost dropped into The Matrix" and yes, I can see this book appealing to fans of The Matrix (perhaps not so much Ghost!). Also fans of Stephen King (The Gunslinger), Philip Pullman (The Subtle Knife), TV shows such as Supernatural (the hunt for a monster that's not quite understood) and The Waking Dead (a community fighting against a supernatural enemy) - although there are no zombies; the Eaters (enemy) in this story feed on energy/souls.

There is romance between Brody and Claire, but it doesn't dominate the story. There is a little bit of humour. There are a few sex scenes. There is a bit of violence but not too much gore. It's not science fiction and it's not a ghost story, even though most of the characters are dead. Are you still with me?

The only negative for me was that I felt the author, after setting up these amazing alternative realities, didn't know quite how to wrap it all up. I would have liked a longer story, or maybe a trilogy.

Verdict? Seriously weird, totally brilliant! I would definitely recommend it - but it might be worth downloading a sample first to make sure it's the kind of thing you would like too!

Thank you to Marcus Sakey, Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone is a clever psychological suspense about a mother who has never given up hope of finding her missing daughter.

Ellie Mack disappeared ten years ago and the rest of her family, particularly her mother Laurel, have never recovered from the shock. Laurel's marriage crumbled and her relationship with her other children deteriorated until it was non-existent. Now Laurel finally has the strength to move on. She meets a handsome, funny, clever man and begins to fall in love. And then meets his young daughter, Poppy, who is the spitting image of Ellie ...

I usually avoid books about missing children, but the premise of this one intrigued me. As I read the story I thought I had the end all worked out - and I did, to a point. There were some twists that surprised even me. I got about a third of the way through the book, thought I'd just read another chapter before bedtime - and didn't put it down until I'd finished the story at 1.00 am. And then lay awake for another hour thinking about it! It really is that gripping.

I can't say much more because I don't want to spoil it for you. I can't even say it's like a cross between 'x' and 'y', because then you'll work out where the author is going with the story and it will be more fun for you going in without a clue. So I'll just say that if you love well-written psychological suspense you are in for a treat! Recommended!

Thank you to Lisa Jewell, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Review: The Killings at Badger's Drift (Midsomer Murders Mystery #1) by Caroline Graham

I love the Midsomer Murders TV series (I've probably seen every episode), so I'm not sure why I've never read any of the books that the series was based on. Surprisingly there are only seven of them. This is the first, and I picked it up on Kindle for only 99p. Doing my usual read-a-series-in-the-wrong-order thing, I'd somehow already bought #2 in paperback sometime previously. 

The Killings at Badger's Drift (great title!) is a contemporary cosy crime/murder mystery written in a similar style to Agatha Christie. When I started reading I found it a little old-fashioned, but that is because I hadn't realised it was originally written in 1987. The idea of a Detective Chief Inspector doing door-to-door enquiries (although the reason is explained in the story), and the way everyone happily tramples over a crime scene, made me smile. Having said that, it is darker and funnier than the kind of cosy crime published recently, and once I got into it I couldn't put it down. The mix of characters, who all had plausible motives for murder, were so beautifully drawn - the Rainbirds, in particular, were genius. I hadn't got a clue who the villain was and I was completely in awe at the way the intricate plot strands all came together. It's a masterclass in cosy crime.

When retired school-teacher goes orchid-hunting in the local woods, she sees something she shouldn't - and is murdered for it. Only her best friend Lucy Bellringer (a nod to Miss Marple?) is convinced her death was unnatural, and she persuades Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby to investigate - with the help of his sidekick, Detective Sergeant Troy (who inadvertently provides much of the humour).

I loved this book and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one in the series. Recommended for anyone who likes classic, contemporary murder mysteries, and for fans of authors like Agatha Christie. (And I love the cover!)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

I'm a huge fan of Kathy Reichs. I've read and loved all her books. I couldn't wait to read this one, a standalone featuring reluctant private investigator Sunday Night. Yes, I know, that name! It grated on me at first, then I got used to it, and then at the end of the story it was explained how she came by it and all made sense. I'm not sure whether this will be the start of a new series. I do hope so, because I loved the character of 'Sunnie'!

As Kathy Reichs says in her introduction, Sunnie has a 'dark outlook and an even darker past', and I found that intriguing. Ex-military and ex-police, Sunnie now lives a hermit's life on a 'skinny strip of sand' known as Goat Island with only a squirrel (Bob!) for company. She'd have been perfectly happy to stay that way, but her mentor turns up with a job for her. An extremely wealthy, elderly lady wants Sunnie to locate her granddaughter, missing after a terrorist attack on a school.

Sunnie is a completely different character to that of Tempe Brennan, which I liked. She is awkward and mouthy, and has a wisecrack for every occasion. She also talks in very short, staccato sentences, which makes this a very quick read. It reminded me of the old 1940s 'gumshoe' detective novels. Sunnie has a bad habit of rushing in without a thought for the consequences, so it's lucky she has her far more laid-back brother, Gus, to help out. Is this why the story is called Two Nights? Not quite ...

I wasn't so keen on the plot - rescue the old lady's granddaughter and track down the terrorists before they could strike again. Personal preference here. There have been similar real-life attacks recently, and I prefer the books I read to have more of an element of escapism. Also, the pace was a mix of fast (as they rushed from city to city) and slow (stake-outs), and I think I preferred the steadier mystery-solving approach of the Tempe Brennan books. But there are some excellent twists, some funny one-liners and I did love Sunnie! And there were also tips on how to hack into someone's email, which I'm sure will come in handy one day ...

Thank you to Kathy Reichs, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase

During the hot summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters are dumped at Applecote Manor by their feckless mother - and into the care of their aunt and uncle, whose own young daughter disappeared five years previously. It is unsettling for them, not least because their cousin Audrey still 'haunts' the house; her bedroom is as she left it, her parents have obviously never got over the shock, and the villagers regard the family with deep suspicion.

In the present day, Jessie and Will are hoping for a new start in the now ramshackle Applecote Manor, along with their young daughter Romy, and Will's rebellious teenage daughter Bella.

I loved everything about this book. It ticked every box for me: family secrets, an old mystery and a spooky house. I found the 1959 timeline authentic and totally absorbing. By contrast, it was the present day part that felt more dreamlike - but in a good way! This concentrated on the increasing tensions between Jessie and Will, and the never-that-great-to-begin-with relationship between Jessie and her step-daughter, whom she can never quite bring herself to trust. When Bella becomes obsessed with the history of the house, and the teenage girl who disappeared sixty years previously, Jessie feels own her grip on reality begin to unravel. Will the sinister atmosphere of the house destroy them? And will the tragic events of sixty years ago start to repeat themselves?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde* is part coming-of-age, part gothic mystery/romance, and part psychological suspense. It's brilliantly written, with memorable characters, and is very cleverly plotted. I loved the relationships between the four sisters, the sibling rivalry over the village boys, and the way they ultimately looked out for each other. For fans of Kate Morton, Daphne du Maurier, and perhaps Shirley Jackson too. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thank you to Eve Chase, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

*Published as The Wilding Sisters in the USA.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I downloaded How to Stop Time because I follow Matt Haig on Twitter. He's funny and entertaining, but also talks honestly about more serious issues. I'd never read any of his books before but the sound of this one intrigued me. I knew I'd enjoy it but I was surprised by how much, and I started recommending it to my friends before I'd even finished it.

For some reason I'd got it into my head it was about time travel - it isn't. It's hard to explain the story without giving away too much of the plot, but basically our hero, Tom, was born in 1581, the son of aristocratic French immigrants. His father was killed in the religious wars, and Tom and his mother are now scraping a living in Suffolk. But Tom has a secret that in those days could get you killed. He ages at about the rate of one year to everyone else's fifteen. When the story continues in the present day, he still appears as though he's only in his early forties.

How to Stop Time reminded me a bit of that old 1980s movie Highlander (only without the beheadings!) as Tom tries to live his life throughout the centuries, forced to be constantly on the move in case he is found out, and trying not to fall in love. And  I loved the way he kept accidentally bumping into famous historical figures!

What I particularly enjoyed was that it read almost like a collection of short stories. We are shown glimpses of Tom's past life mixed in with his present one as a history teacher. It's like that old 'gather around the fireside and I'll tell you a story'.

The writing is fabulous, I loved all the quirky historical facts and pertinent things Tom has to say about how we live our lives in the 21st century. It was one of those books I really didn't want to end and I'd have loved to have heard more of  Tom's stories about the past.


Thank you to Matt Haig, Canongate Books and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

I couldn't resist downloading this one because of the beautiful cover, the clever title, and the fact that it is about time travel! I read so many books it is a joy to find something that's just that little bit different!

Luna has always known she's a bit odd. She's grown used to seeing people that no one else can, and assumes they're either hallucinations or ghosts. Then her mother dies, leaving a cryptic message for Luna to 'find her' in her childhood home - Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Yet when Luna arrives in America her hallucinations grow worse. But what if they're not hallucinations? What if she has the ability to slide through time? What if she can meet her mother, just before the moment that ruined her life? What if Luna can actually go back and change the past?

The Summer of Impossible Things is part The Time Traveller's Wife, part Back to the Future. It's about a daughter's love for her mother and how one moment can change your life - but what if you can change it back? And if you muck that up, can you try again? And what about the consequences?

It's hard to talk about this book without revealing spoilers. So I'll just say that I loved the characters and I loved the setting, and I particularly loved Mrs Finkle and Michael. I even loved the way the author sneakily played the writer's equivalent of the three card trick when I wasn't paying attention! 

The Summer of Impossible Things is a beautiful, magical story that I didn't want to put down and I certainly didn't want to end. There's a romance and a mystery, and just when you think you've worked out how the story is going to end - well, no spoilers, right? 

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended!

Thank you to Rowan Coleman, Ebury Press and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Review: The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean has been incredibly brave writing this story, because the hero has behaved so badly towards the heroine - and not in a villain-we-love-to-hate way either - it is hard to see how he can redeem himself. So, has the author pulled off a satisfying ending? I think so!

The Day of the Duchess is the third in a series called Scandal and Scoundrel - 'scoundrel' being the heroes (obviously!) and 'scandal' being the disaster the heroine has usually embroiled herself in. Now, usually this is the part where I say that the book works well as a stand alone and it doesn't matter if you haven't read the others in the series, but this time it really is of benefit if The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal and Scoundrel #1), is read first. You will get to see exactly what the hero did that was so unforgivably awful, rather than hearing about it second-hand.

Our heroine is Sera, one of the scandalous daughters of the Earl of Wight, who won his title in a card game with the Prince of Wales. Now incredibly wealthy, the Earl started life as a coal miner. No matter how hard they try, his daughters have never been accepted by the aristocracy, so they've given up - and delight in being shocking. When Sera meets the Duke of Haven and falls in love, no one seriously believes he'll marry her. So her mother stages an intervention; the couple have no choice in the matter and their marriage is doomed from the start.

Basically this story is about two people who fall in love, betray each other, hate each other, do their best to destroy each other - and are now at the 'can't live with, can't live without' stage of their relationship. Helping/hindering in a possibly reconciliation are Sera's forthright sisters and her business partner - the incredibly loyal and rather gorgeous Caleb.

I would recommend this to fans of the more modern style of historical romance, who are perhaps looking for something a little bit different from 'rake falls for debutante'. I found it very romantic, particularly the ballroom scene, and was almost in tears by the ending (and I'm usually as hard as nails, so that takes a lot!). I am so looking forward to the next in the series, although it is hard to see how Sarah MacLean will be able to top this one!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Favourite Books of the Year (so far!)

Way back in September last year my youngest child headed off for university and I wanted a new hobby to fill the time saved by all those school runs, so I started blogging about the books I was reading. I read two or three books a week but had been keeping no records about the ones I'd enjoyed. Sometimes I'd look at a book cover on my Kindle and think 'I know I've read that book, and I know I liked it, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was about!'

I've since realised that writing a book review is bloody hard work and I have a whole new respect for professional book bloggers! Ironically, the hardest reviews to write seem to be the books I've loved the most.

If I reviewed every book I read I'd never have time to write, but I've since rediscovered Goodreads and I've started listing my books over there. If you pay me a visit, be sure to check out my 'favourites' shelf!

In the meantime, here's is a list of my favourite books this year.*

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

I had assumed from the title that the story was going to be something along the lines of Bridget Jones, but it turned out I was completely wrong. Eleanor Oliphant is an unusual and fascinating character, whose past history is revealed a tiny bit at a time. The story is about her best efforts to avoid the world around her until she is forced to reconnect after doing someone else a good turn. It is by turns sweet, funny, sad, quirky, poignant, touching, incredibly lovely and completely wonderful.

The Lie of the Land
by Amanda Craig

The story is about Lottie and Quentin, who are forced to uproot from London and settle in the wilds of Devon because they can't afford to divorce. Most of the humour comes from the shock of exchanging their lovely home in the city for an old farmhouse, which is damp and overrun with mice. And then they find out exactly why the house was so cheap to rent  - and what happened to the previous tenant ...

The joy of this book is in how the characters deal with (or, in some cases, don't deal with) adversity. My favourite characters were Xan, who was the first to realise what a sheltered life he'd been leading, and his step-father Quentin, even though Quentin was so horrible: "Without selfishness, I'll have a life of misery and boredom."

The Weight of Lies
by Emily Carpenter

Do ever feel that a book has been written just for you? This book had all the ingredients I love in a story - an old murder, family secrets, flawed characters - there is even a spooky old house located on a private island. Perfect!

Forty years ago, Meg Ashley's mother Frances became an overnight sensation when she wrote a cult horror novel called Kitten. (Think female Stephen King and the success of 'Carrie'). Since then, Frances Ashley has become an extremely wealthy, much-loved author. Unfortunately, Frances is also a complete megalomaniac and a terrible mother. Offered a huge sum of money to write a tell-all account of growing up with Frances Ashley as her mother, and the true-life murder that inspired Kitten, Meg packs her bags and heads off to the private island of Bonny, intending to solve the decades-old murder. Will her plan go horribly wrong? You bet!

Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is about a group of women who all have young children just starting at the local school. Despite their apparent 'perfect' lives, these women all have very real problems. In theory I should have hated it. I prefer escapism in the books I read and tend to avoid anything with a domestic setting or serious issues. I'd also seen the first episode of the TV series and found it completely boring. However ...

The story starts with a death on school Trivia Night. Was it murder? We don't find out the truth until the end, not even the name of the victim, but to be honest I didn't care who was murdered or why! I was having far too much fun reading about the lives of these fascinating women! The strength of the story is in their horribly realistic characters. I recognised myself, my friends, the mothers at my children's school... All the rivalries, misunderstandings, petty jealousies... In some ways the mothers behaved more like children than their offspring. By turns hilariously funny and desperately sad, the dialogue is full of classic one-liners - but the real skill of the author is her ability to observe and recreate everyday life, and yet make it relatable and entertaining. I was in awe.

All The Missing Girls
by Megan Miranda 

This story is about Nic who left her home town ten years ago and has absolutely no desire to go back. But around the same time Nic left, her best friend went missing - and now her father says he's seen her on the porch of their old home. But her father is senile, surely he's imagining it?

There are several reasons why I loved this book. Firstly, the characters are so well-drawn I felt I knew these people. They weren't entirely lovable, they all had very realistic flaws - for me, that was part of their appeal. Secondly, the story is told backwards! It is brilliantly clever. The story hits the ground running and doesn't let up in tension until the very end. I did have to concentrate though! It's a bit like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, have someone sweep all the pieces back in the box after an hour, and then having to start all over again!

Reading back through these reviews, I can certainly see a trend! It seems I love reading stories about flawed but lovable characters who have a mystery to solve, often in a slightly gothic setting. What does that say about me? I dread to think!

What kind of books do you love to read?

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*This is a selection of the books I've read this year, it doesn't necessarily mean they were published this year.