Saturday, 30 April 2016

Scarlet Widow - Graham Masterton

My Review

I have broken my own unwritten rule of reading mainly books by female authors as the write up for this new book by Graham Masterton seems to tick all my boxes, historical setting mid 18th century TICK, strong feisty female heroine TICK, lots of twisty mysteries to solve TICK. And its not like I haven't read and enjoyed a few spooky horror tales by this author before So here I go...

This is an about face for one of the great masters of horror fiction and would seem to be the perfect beginning to an exciting new series of historical mystery/ crime books featuring Beatrice Scarlet the apothecary's daughter, born in England, brought up by her experimental apothecary father with an inexhaustible knowledge and love of herbal medicine and unusual remedies.

Orphaned at 16 and brought up by her Aunt in the mid 1700s she meets and marries preacher Francis Scarlet and emigrates with him to America where she lives a sober life as a Goodwife enjoying making home for her husband and caring for her beloved little son Noah.

When strange events begin happening in the locality which seem to have the mark of the devil or witchcraft, she uses her scientific knowledge and begins to investigate, her suspicions fall on enigmatic yet sinister stranger to town, Jonathan Shooks. As events turn more and more dreadful and horrific her own life and those of her family begin to be in danger.

I often find it somewhat difficult to accept a leading female role written by a man and feel that it shows through in the writing. Beatrice is feisty and educated for a woman in this era which is fine but I agree with a couple of other reviewers that just one particularly nasty and very seedy unnecessary scene, almost taints the whole book and in my mind this could only have been written so insensitively by a man.

However the rest of the book is really gripping and compelling so I'm prepared to overlook this and will certainly read the next in this series as I'm longing to know what life has in store for Beatrice and I'm sure it will present her with more unusual goings on to keep things mysterious and thrilling.

My thanks go to Netgalley for my advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Blurb

London, 1750: Beatrice Scarlet is the apothecary's daughter. She can mix medicines and herbs to save the lives of her neighbours - but, try as she might, she can't save the lives of her parents. An orphan at just sixteen, Beatrice marries a preacher and emigrates to America.

New Hampshire, 1756: In the farming community where Beatrice now lives, six pigs are found viciously slaughtered, slices of looking-glass embedded in their mouths. According to scripture this is the work of Satan, but Beatrice suspects the hands of men. As she closes in on the killer, she must act quickly to unmask him - or become the next victim herself...

Monday, 25 April 2016

In too Deep - Samantha Hayes - a very twisty tale

My thoughts

Another competent and gripping psychological thriller from Samantha Hayes.

Gina hasn't had things easy, her beloved son was killed in a hit and run car accident a couple of years ago now her husband nipped out to the corner shop and never came back. She is convinced he will turn up despite police investigations turning up nothing at all. Why did he disappear, and what secrets was he hiding, did he meet with an accident, has he been murdered?

So, when a phone call from a luxury hotel reveals that a booking was made by her husband for a weekend break for the 2 of them she decides to turn up, taking her teenage daughter Hannah, who is also pretty stressed. She's missing her dad and brother too and uni doesn't seem to be going as well as hoped.

Gina keeps hitting the bottle and drowning her sorrows, her job at an estate agent is no longer fulfilling and she needs a break. She is also half convinced it could all be an elaborate hoax by her husband and is hoping he might show up at the hotel shouting surprise! Even though he's been gone for months.

But this doesn't happen and even though the hotels lovely and she makes friends with Susan the hotel owner, nothings quite as it seems, undercurrents flow through every nuance and secrets are layered upon secrets.

The beauty of the story is revealing bit by bit exactly what happened to Gina's husband and what is going on with all the characters, because every single character in the book has something to hide. The Author plants clues and red herrings throughout the book. I must confess I did work out a lot of what had happened and was delighted to discover I'd puzzled it out correctly, yet there were still one or two surprises and twists in the tail, and although by the end all the mysteries are resolved there is still a bit of a cliff hanger that made me cry out "Nooo, don't leave me dangling"

A must for fans of this author and lovers of fast paced twisty stories with masses of secrets and lies.

My copy was kindly provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The blurb

The compelling new psychological suspense novel, from the author of Until You're Mine, Before You Die and You Belong to Me. Perfect for fans of S J Watson and Sophie Hannah.
     Your husband goes out to buy a newspaper. He never comes back. 

     Months later, an unexpected phone call puts you and your daughter in unimaginable danger. 

     Even if he were still alive, your husband can't save you now. 

     He told you way too many lies for that.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Last Thing I remember - Deborah Bee - thrilling

My review

The last thing I remember .... is typing the final few words of my review for this and then my pc crashed!! Oh I’m so gutted! I'd written a detailed review and lost the lot. I’ll have to try and remember what I said, don’t you just HATE it when that happens!

This is a very competent debut novel. Exciting and gripping, a psychological page turner, written in the very different voices of 2 women.

First voice we hear is the thoughts of Sarah, a young woman in her 20s who has no physical voice at the moment, as she is lying in hospital in a coma unable to move, speak or do anything at all apart from think and hear what others are saying although she cannot react in any way. She has been injured and left with practically no memory of events in fact at first she can’t even remember who she is.

The other voice is that of Kelly, a neighbours daughter, who waits for Sarah to regain consciousness, her vigil at the hospital unusual only in that you’d think a 15 year old an implausible friend for a young married woman but it appears the 2 were unlikely but close friends with something in common, the desire to stamp out bullying.

Kelly is “like OMG, I’m not even lying, FML (fuck my life)” her voice really grated on me she says LIKE about every single thing and perhaps my inability to relate to her way of speaking shows me up as the old fart I undoubtedly am. I heard her voice in my head as that of Matt Lucas character - Vicky Pollard from little Britain which I found rather off putting!

Both women live in an apparently rough area of London called Tottenham of which I have no knowledge and am pretty glad about that, it sounds a rather revolting place. Thrown together by circumstances and being neighbours they have come to rely on each other and Kelly wants to be there when (if) Sarah wakes up. So do her rather irritating and somewhat self centred family, Mum and Dad who have come along to wait at Sarah’s bedside and complain a lot, her mouthy sister who wants to play tapes and talk, to stir Sarah from her coma and a strange man who turns up at her bedside – just who IS he?

The whole story gallops along at a rip roaring pace and we get to know more about Sarah as she begins to remember things and revisits her own past in her thoughts. It’s clever and twisty and a real page turner, easy to follow and a nice quite quick read which kept me thoroughly entertained and wondering for a couple of days. It’s quirky and different and very absorbing and I enjoyed reading it.

My thanks go to Twenty7 books from whom I won a signed copy of this book, without which it may have evaded my attention.

The Blurb

For fans of BA Paris' Behind Closed Doors and The Girl With No Past, a tense thriller with a clever and original premise - and a devilish twist

Sarah is in a coma.

Her memory is gone - she doesn't know how she got there. And she doesn't know how she might get out.

But then she discovers that her injury wasn't an accident. And that the assailant hasn't been caught.

Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past.

And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room.

A novel that grips from the very beginning and that will live long in the memory, The Last Thing I Remember is Deborah Bee's startling debut thriller.

Swan Boy - Nikki Sheehan - enchanting

My thoughts

I don't read many childrens or young adult books but I spotted this up and coming novel and something about the description appealed to me.

Swan boy by Nikki Sheehan is obviously going to draw comparison with Billy Elliott with the young lad and dance connection, but Billy Elliott didn't captivate me as much as Young Johnny Emin did. The lovely writing reminds me very much of David Almond David Almond (of Skellig fame)

13 year old Johnny doesn't have an enviable life, his Dad died recently, his Mum moved them to a tower block miles from all his mates, he has to look after his little brother Mojo, whose name I really don't like :( Mogjo's just a little kid, 5 years old and half the time pretending to be a dog, or is he a cat today? He spends his free time drawing elaborately on the kitchen table and Johnny agrees to keep this hidden from Mum as at least it keeps Mojo occupied and helps with him missing his dad too much.

To crown everything, Johnny had to change schools with the home move, and is now the new boy that everyone loves to pick on, at a rather rough school where he can't seem to fit in.

Gosh I loved Johnny, I really wanted to make everything ok for him, but it isn't and it's going from bad to worse. The gang of kids known as the populars have chosen Johnny as their pet project and making his life even more miserable is the little gangs leader Liams ambition. Liams a nasty little bully boy with a few hangers on who aren't any better than he is. But one day as Liam has a massive go at Johnny a rescuer appears in the unlikely appearance of a Swan who scares off Liam and seems to be protecting Johnny. Rather inevitably this marks him out even more and he becomes known as Swan Boy and not in a nice way!

Johnny's not the only kid being bullied, there's the lonely overweight kid Stefan from whom the gang are extorting cash and both he and Johnny end up in the schools strict punishment regime of being made to pick litter after school as reparation for any misdemeanour a hated rule from which there no escaping. Except that this time there is .... an alternative that is.

The large group of youngsters on litter picking duties, which also includes Liam and his cronies are offered the chance to escape the litter crew by taking part instead in a dance group which quirky drama teacher Mrs Cray has formed. It's Hobsons choice for Johnny, either he picks litter wearing a bright green uniform and become even more noticeable and likely to be bullied, or learn to dance and get picked on for that. But when he reluctantly goes to Mrs Crays class she offers him a starring role in the dance - which just turns out to be ballet and it's based on Swan Lake! Swans become an over riding influence to Johnny and he keeps coming across them in unusual places as he eschews litter picking to learn dancing and even a piece de resistance move which will be almost like flying. Day by day he grows and develops and we watch him learn to be himself and begin to grow into the man he is set to become one day.

This is a coming of age story which seemed to be out of my comfort zone reading wise yet I felt instantly at home in.

There are a few slightly ethereal elements to the story, although many things fall into place very neatly a couple of things remain inexplicable. The whole story is beautifully told, just the right balance of nastiness and a touch of niceness to counteract it and the everyday alongside the otherwordly. Utterly charming and wonderfully readable I recommend this enchanting book to readers of all ages from 8 to 80.

I recieved a free copy of this beautiful book from Oneworld publications in exchange for my honest opinion which its been a pleasure to give.

The blurb

When Johnny moves house and starts a new school he has to deal with a bully who can't leave him alone. But help comes from an unexpected and surprising source and Johnny's growing power soon puts him in a very special place.

A chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. His teacher wants him to live the role, and when feathers start sprouting on his chest, Johnny begins to understand his true potential. But will he be strong or brave enough to beat his bullies, take care of his brother, support his mother and find a place for himself among all the chaos that is prevailing in his life.

The Finding of Martha Lost - Caroline Wallace - wonderful

My thoughts on this truly wonderful book ......

The finding of Martha Lost isn't just a book its a fully immersive reading experience

If you can remember the heyday of the Beatles, Cilla Black, jukeboxes and the long hot summer of 1976 you’ll find a particular affinity within the pages of Martha Lost. If you can’t remember this era you’ll enjoy a little jaunt back into a magical past set in an unlikely location and peopled with larger than life characters.

This is one of the hardest books to categorize, I found it totally unique, mesmerising and wonderful. With faint reminders of Neverwhere and the book of lost things I did expect it was going to be more of a fantasy than it turns out to be, it’s certainly otherworldly yet all of it is based firmly in our world with very real human characters and Liverpool locations familiar by reputation If never actually visited. Lime street station, the Liver buildings, the Cavern club.

We meet Martha as she spins around the station greeting familiar faces all quirky and larger than life. Martha lives in the station with the revoltingly cruel Mother who runs the lost property office and has an apartment above it. I honestly thought Martha was about 6 years old at first and got a little confused when I realized she’s 16 years old and had to turn back a few pages and begin again. This is a coming of age story with real charm and a heroine I absolutely adored, though I did wish she would stop spinning everywhere – she made me dizzy!

Martha is a foundling, not only does she live above and work within the lost property office she belongs to it. This is where she was found as an abandoned baby and has been waiting ever since for someone to turn up and claim her.

Meanwhile she spends her days reuniting missing umbrellas, stray false teeth and abandoned books with their owners, creating a library of lost books and utilising her unique skill of being able to see the circumstances in which items went missing just by touch. But she can’t find out who she belongs to.

Next door is a coffee bar run by Martha’s friend Elisabeth who shows her support of Martha by providing large quantities of lemon drizzle cake and a shoulder to lean on, we meet an enigmatic Roman soldier called George and the very smelly but strangely loveable outcast William. Alongside Martha’s story is the parallel tale of the lost ashes of Mal Evans ex-Beatles roadie – a real character woven into this story who plays his own Post mortem part in Martha finding herself.

I must admit I wasn’t sure about reading this book from the description – it almost sounded a little silly and very far fetched and I worried I may be a little too pragmatic to enjoy it ….. WRONG on all counts. I read an excerpt of it on a blog which piqued my interest – I just HAD to read on.

The finding of Martha Lost, will I feel, stay with me for some time. It’s one of those books which made me feel bereft after finishing it as though I’d suddenly lost touch with a whole group of lovely friends.

It charmed and captivated me throughout and the ending was just perfect.

I received my e-book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and I extend my thanks to them.

The Blurb

Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out - if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

The lost and found life of Rosy Bennett - Jan Birley - Love on the farm

My thoughts

This is an enjoyable Chick - lit/ family drama about a young Mother of 2 boys who suddenly finds herself a widow and in a precarious situation. In a scenario I hope never to experience, Rosy’s husband drops dead on the morning train right in front of her and her cosy well-heeled enviable life crumbles to pieces.

Her 2 boys are hard to handle youngsters and make life even more difficult – in particular the younger lad James is just a nightmare! I found Rosy’s attitude toward dealing with him a little bit namby-pamby, he really needed a firm hand and the way he spoke to her was appalling.

Not only does Rosy find herself unexpectedly a single Mum, she is horrified to discover that the beautiful family home with all its lovely memories has been mortgaged to the hilt to fund her husband’s completely secret and unlikely purchase of a run-down Alpaca farm in the wilds of Dorset.

Being townies Rosy and her sons are reluctant to move there but their situation forces them to sell their urban nest and relocate, learning about Alpaca farming and country life as they go. I found the idea of Alpaca farming which is the main storyline in this lovely book, really appealing and I wish my husband would secretly buy an alpaca farm behind my back!

Settling in to their new life Rosy finds the chance of romance but baulks at getting into a new relationship so soon after her husband’s sudden death although she seems remarkably open to giving it a try, especially as her husband’s double life reveals itself and her relationship with him turns out to have been built on sand.

This is a light hearted way of weaving a story around quite awful situations and making it fun and easy to read chick-lit. A great romantic beach read for the summer and definitely one for fans of Erica James and Katie Fforde and highly recommended for all die hard chick lit lovers.

I received a free ebook from the authors publicists Hello Chick-lit for reviewing.

The blurb

Rosy loved her London life – her job in a designer shop, her gorgeous West London family house and of course her gorgeous family (although young sons are enough to test anyone at times). All that disappears when, one unremarkable morning, after one unremarkable school run, her husband collapses on a crowded tube carriage and dies. 

As she struggles her way through the grief, she discovers her husband’s secret life: secrets accounts, secret deals that their solicitor knew nothing of, secret debts and what looks like a secret “very close friend” at least. 

Totally unprepared and suddenly in debt, Rosy is forced to leave London to start a new life with her incredibly reluctant boys in the countryside. Can angsty urban teenagers cope with farm life, let alone enjoy it? More to the point, can their mother? It’s certainly not going to be easy but when you are at rock bottom the only way is up.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Eden Gardens - Louise Brown - a rich tapestry of delight and despair

My review

I must admit I found the way this book reads is more like a series of memoirs than a story, the descriptions of Bombay and Calcutta at the end of British rule in states of upheaval and famine are rich, detailed, evocative and often extremely harrowing.

I found a couple of brutal scenes set at the times of drought and famine and during upheaval and riots so strong and horrific I actually wanted to retch - therefore this is not a read for anyone of a sensitive nature it's not the light and fluffy romantic read one might expect from the beautiful cover, between the pages lie atrocity and human failing galore.

The book is narrated in turn by Maisy, daughter of the, quite frankly, sluttish Ma and Pushpa, the loyal family retainer, a local woman living a hard life and making the best of her lot. This is very much a story of the lot dealt to women in the 1940s and the prejudices, unfairness and uncertainty of life in India. We encounter class division and racial inequality and three women whom I found it difficult to admire but easy to believe in.

Ma comes to India to better her lot, life in England has become unbearable and holds no opportunity, so she heads to India where she has heard white women are in demand and white husbands are aplenty and sets out her stall to find a husband with the means to keep her well above the breadline.

However this doesn't work out quite as planned she has neither the class nor the wiles to secure a place in society or a husband to admit her and life soon finds her a widow with a young daughter and little means of supporting herself - she falls rather eagerly into prostitution with her legs wide open and a bottle of whisky in her hand. With a series of increasingly less wholesome "uncles" visiting the family home, very much on the wrong side of the tracks, it's easy to see why this little family are poor white trash. They don't fit in with any sector of Calcutta society, you only have to listen to Ma's quite foul mouthed use of the English language to know she's not one bit pukka and that's the relatively few times she's sober!

Ma's determined that Maisy won't follow her example, and will achieve what she herself failed - a good marriage to a British gentleman. But fair hair and white skin don't make a lady, nothing about Maisy’s life is proper, but she can’t see why - she’s never known life in polite British society and as far as she’s concerned she has white skin therefore she must be a lady. But brought up mostly by servant Pushpa, playing in the overflowing gutters of Calcutta with the children of poor native half caste families Maisy is destined to fall by the wayside too and this book tells her story with no punches pulled.

A portrait of a lady this is not, but a punchy well told, richly embellished tapestry of delight and despair it certainly is - sure to enthral, horrify and delight in equal measures.

I received my advance reading copy via Netgalley and this is my unbiased review.

The Blurb

Eden Gardens, Calcutta, the 1940s. In a ramshackle house, streets away from the grand colonial mansions of the British, live Maisy, her Mam and their ayah, Pushpa.

Whiskey-fuelled and poverty-stricken, Mam entertains officers in the night - a disgrace to British India. All hopes are on beautiful Maisy to restore their good fortune.

But Maisy's more at home in the city's forbidden alleyways, eating bazaar food and speaking Bengali with Pushpa, than dancing in glittering ballrooms with potential husbands.

Then one day Maisy's tutor falls ill. His son stands in. Poetic, handsome and ambitious for an independent India, Sunil Banerjee promises Maisy the world.

So begins a love affair that will cast her future, for better and for worse. Just as the Second World War strikes and the empire begins to crumble...

This is the other side of British India. A dizzying, scandalous, dangerous world, where race, class and gender divide and rule.

Someone else's conflict - Alison Layland - excellent storytelling

My Review

What an engaging storyline and wonderful characters I met between the pages of this exceptional, scintillating novel.

It's tip top quality romantic fiction but is SO much more than chicklit or a love story. Set mainly in the Yorkshire Dales, a setting I found instantly familiar, together with occasional trips back in time to a period of war and unrest in former Yugoslavia (a setting I also found a touch familiar as I visited there on holiday, at a very tense time just a week before the civil war first erupted)

Jay is a wanderer, he leads a nomadic life never putting down roots. Moving from town to town busking for a living, weaving stories and telling them in marketplaces, doing the occasional odd job. Does his propensity for weaving a fantastic tale mean he can't be trusted? That's what Marilyn wonders. Instantly attracted to Jay, she's nonetheless very wary, having recently freed herself from a bad relationship she's reluctant to open her heart in case its torn into even smaller shreds. We meet Marilyn when she's panicking over a stolen purse, she has her own ideas about a young lad who may have stolen it but can't prove anything. That's not her only problem, she badly needs some help at home, repairing the old isolated house and barn she is renovating, especially when a storm comes along and causes damage.

Jay happens to be nearby and he's available and willing to help. He keeps his background close to his chest and we learn about his past in series of flashbacks, he is haunted by his past and the spectre of a young boy who haunts his memories and won't give him peace of mind. Another young lad comes on the scene too, Vinko, whose story is somehow connected to Jays past.

The drama unfolds gradually at first, with secrets from the past and some very dodgy characters coming to light and suddenly we're thrust into activity, immersed in a murder, corruption and the lives of illegal immigrants, confict and deception.

This clever book has all the elements of great storytelling, thrills, action, secrets, great location and complex characters.

It reminded me somewhat of The Cheesemaker's House similar writing and location and both sheer reading pleasure.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves a little romance, a lot of excellent narrative, a few surprises and a really gripping read. I loved it and I would hate this to slip beneath the radar, it's so very excellent. I also think it would make a fab book for reading groups as theres lots to discuss and something for everyone amidst these pages

I'd like to thank Helena at Honno Press for providing me with a copy for review, do have a look at their website, there are some real treasures of books there.

The Blurb

The boy looks up and sees the foreigner's rifle aimed at him. Why is this man here? This is not his conflict, it is not the boy's... it is hell.

Jay has been home for a long time, but the ghosts of Yugoslavia
are still with him as he busks his way round the country.

Marilyn is fresh out of a controlling relationship and desperate
to reassert her independence. The last thing she needs is to fall
for an itinerant storyteller who has a strange relationship with
the truth. And then the police call on her.

When the past catches up with the present and stories become
reality, Jay and Marilyn must decide who to believe and who
to betray.

A compelling narrative of trust and betrayal, love, loyalty and honour from a talented debut novelist.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sugar and Snails - Anne Goodwin - moving and original

My thoughts

Sugar and snails is a beautifully written debut novel. It’s kind of a mid life crisis/coming of age story with a difference.

Diana is a woman in her mid 40s who has built a successful career yet remains unusually gauche and innocent. She has recently begun her first serious romantic relationship in a long time and is finding it difficult, she has kept herself at arms length from involvement for a long time, but is it herself she can't trust, or other people who have let her down in the past?

Her story is told in a series of flashbacks to her teenage years where it is clear she struggled to fit in with her family’s ideals and felt they would never understand her and as a result momentous decisions were made and actions taken which have impacted on her whole life.

Watching her family struggle to deal with her teenage angst, her inability to conform to their ideal of how their offspring should behave was enlightening and I went from holding them in some contempt to realising they really were making every effort to do what they thought was their best.

This is a beautifully written, character driven story, based around keeping secrets, and dealing with being different. It tackles some major issues in quite a gentle way.

I don’t think I will be causing any spoilers by confessing that I had in fact guessed what Di’s secrets were before I even began reading the book, but this didn’t spoil it for me as it was fascinating getting to know her character and discover how she grew from the misfit child to a woman I can only hold in the highest regard. I was a tiny bit disappointed that the ending left one big issue unresolved and left me jumping up and down dying to know what happened after the last page.

A moving and accomplished novel with a difference, especially poignant for anyone who, particularly as a child, felt misunderstood and different from everyone else.

Available now on Amazon amongst other places

I’d like to thank the author for sending me a copy of her book to read and provide my unbiased review.

The Blurb

The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin ... 

At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound. 

To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance ... until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why. 

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Unseeing - Anna Mazzola - shrewd and ingenious

My Review

What a fabulous, gripping read this stunning debut novel is. I SO enjoyed it, it is one of those unputdownable page turners which lulls you into thinking it’s merely a competent and enjoyable story, when really its grasping hold of your windpipe ready to squeeze it tightly and leave you breathless and buffeted.

It’s ingeniously woven around a true crime committed in the first half of the nineteenth century in London. Yet the author has shrewdly delved deeply behind the sensational headlines of the day – with themes on the lines of …. “Womans body brutally chopped to pieces” “Murderer carries murder victims severed head through London” and fleshed out the main characters involved, taking us inside the depths of Newgate prison to meet Sarah Gale, a single Mother, who isn’t saying much about her participation in, or knowledge of, the murder of her ex-boyfriends other woman Hannah Brown on the evening before she was due to marry.

Sentenced to death, convicted of playing an active part, along with her lover the sometimes violent James Greenacre, in the gruesome murder of Hannah Brown; Sarah has all but given up hope of redemption when fledgling lawyer Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to re-investigate Sarah’s part in the crime and determine whether she is less or perhaps more guilty than charged and see if an appeal against the death sentence might be an option. But Sarah seems reluctant to speak out on her own behalf, even to save her own life. It’s clear she is hiding something but is it guilt, fear or some other secret making her so reluctant to speak out?

Devoted to her young son she is a complex character I soon grew to like, and was rooting for her, yet was never completely sure whether or not to completely trust her. One minute I was thinking - She must have been involved, she couldn’t have not known exactly what played out the night Hannah died, the next moment I’m thinking - but she couldn’t possibly have known, she’s far too nice, a caring Mother a loving sister, then I do an about face and think OMG, did she actually do it herself? No, surely she’s innocent? And this goes on right through the book! We follow Edmund as he begins his investigation as he soon becomes wrapped up in Sarahs story, meets her sister and tries to piece together the gaps in this heinous crime so we get to know him, his overbearing father, his impatient wife his guileless nature, is he too trusting perhaps?

The author paints a vivid picture of life in Newgate prison and London itself and there are several twists in the tale which kept me guessing, right until the final pages.

It’s a seductive story, grim and gory certainly, brutal in places but with a charisma and charm which captivated me and left me quite desperate for a follow up. I’m longing to know what happens afterwards to some of the surviving characters.

For historical mystery lovers and enthusiasts of clever twisty fiction this is an absolute “must read” outstanding debut novel I am certain will be a huge success.

My gratitude goes to the publisher Tinder Press for allowing me early access to this title in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion and to Ella Bowman (publicist) for permitting me to share my thoughts now, because I am bursting to tell everyone to add this to their “to be read” list, even though it isn’t released until July - on the 14th to be precise (which just happens to be my birthday, a big one – cake and chocolate also accepted for review purposes?? ….. Oh well, worth a try I suppose)

The blurb

It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah's petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Abigale Hall - Lauren Forry - Dark and spooky

My Review

This is a dark and disturbing horror story, somewhat gothic in style with a definite feel of similar books by Daphne du Maurier. It makes a compelling page turner but is much gloomier and more depressing than I imagined. If you like sombre, sinister, suspenseful tales full of foreboding this one is for you.

Abigale Hall, set in the gloomy aftermath of World War 2, in days of food shortages, job shortages and the return of many walking wounded to civilian life,  tells the story of 2 orphan sisters, teenager Eliza and her younger sister Rebecca living with an Aunt. Their life is pretty grim, living in the repercussion of their parents deaths, but bearable. Eliza works in a cinema, has a boyfriend Peter and seems devoted to her little sister, whom it soon becomes apparent has some disturbing problems of her own.

Suddenly Eliza finds she and her sister are banished from their Aunts home in London to a remote part of Wales where live in jobs have been secured for them both, helping the dreadful Mrs Pollard, housekeeper in an ancient, typically spooky, crumbling, cursed mansion.

As the girls life there unfolds and their situation becomes so awful that their previous mundane existence in London seems like a distant dream, the story moves between this ramshackle pile, the local village of Plentynunig where locals mutter of curses and shun the girls, and back in London where hapless Peter ponders his girlfriends sudden departure and tries, fruitlessly to discover her whereabouts getting himself in ever deeper water.

The story is a real page turner because I kept wondering what was going to unfold next - and whatever does is NEVER pleasant! There is a creeping sense of unease which builds and develops into an overriding theme of gloom and nastiness, I don't think I found one uplifting momenet throughout the whole book! From discovering about the death of the girls parents, to finding out whats going on in the old house things get darker and grimmer. So many deaths occur I lost count and everything which unfolds has an underlying nastiness of decay and corruption.

From roomsful of grim defaced books, dead mice carried around in pockets, to horrible apparitions, strange ghost lights and history of dead and missing girls the book carries you relentlessly towards its awful conclusion where you just know everyone's not going to come out of it smiling and smelling of roses, or even alive!

The house is not called Abigale Hall, which confused me somewhat, it's called Thornecroft and Abigale Hall is just an area of the rambling mansion.

This is a well written and competent gothic horror story for afficionados of the genre and anyone who likes to go to bed shivering and looking over their shoulder.

I was kindly provided with an advance copy for review purposes by the publishers Black and White Publishing.

It is due for publication at the end of April and can be pre ordered now.

The blurb ....

A house steeped in secrets.

A lie they must escape…

On a foggy night in 1947, orphaned sisters Eliza and Rebecca are banished from London by their aunt and sent to work at an isolated Welsh mansion. They are to clean and do housework for the secretive owner. Soon, rumours of missing maidservants and a ghost that stalks the deserted halls begin to unsettle them. And wandering through the mansion’s dusty rooms, Eliza finds blood-spattered books, crumpled photographs and portraits of a mysterious woman – clues to a terrible past that might just become her future.

As Eliza unravels a mystery that has endured for decades, troubled Rebecca falls under the spell of the cruel housekeeper Mrs Pollard, who will stop at nothing to protect the house’s secrets. And unless the sisters can uncover the truth, a terrible fate awaits them.

Friday, 18 March 2016

In Her Wake - Amanda Jennings - phenomenal

My thoughts

OMG I loved this book ....

Wow - sometimes a book quickly gains a reputation to live up to and this one has been loved and enthused about by several of my peers in book blog land, so I began it with a touch of trepidation. There is always a slight worry that, as has happened to me once or twice, despite people whose judgement I trust loving a new book, I fail to "get" it. 

That certainly didn't happen with In Her Wake, which blew my socks right off with its astounding magnetism which sucked me in from page one right through to the red eyed, soggy tissue garnished very last word.

There are books which entertain, books with amazing characters, books with twisty plots, books where every tiny loose thread is tightly woven into the story leaving no stone unturned, books which are amazingly clever, books which make you gasp out loud, books which make you distraught with anguish and this is ALL of the aforementioned - and more!

In Her Wake is a story of lies, secrets and deception of the VERY highest calibre.

Quite simply a phenomenal read.

Bella is a young woman facing huge changes in her life. We meet her when she is on her way back to her childhood home to attend her mothers funeral, along with her much older, rather domineering husband David, she finds her father inevitably distraught and also aged and shaken.

On the heels of this already difficult situation follows another tragedy which rocks Bella to her core and reveals a deep secret which has remained concealed from her all her life. The shock waves send Bella, reeling to lick her wounds and seek answers in a small seaside village in Cornwall where she embarks on a terrible and wonderful journey of self discovery.

She finds family she never knew about and in a series of flashbacks and discoveries we watch her realise why her isolated and lonely childhood was so different from that of many children and deal with the consequences.

The whole story flows absolutely seamlessly, is amazingly real and believeable and the characters a real mix of good and bad, many damaged by circumstances their flaws tempered with the empathy I felt for many of them.

The real beauty of this book is the exquisite penmanship of the author. This is a domestic drama with psychological twists which reads like a work of the most outstanding literary accomplishment.

It is utterly breathtaking and completely mesmerised me the whole way through.

It will be available now for your kindle and the paperback will be available very soon. and can be pre-ordered.

I must thank and commend Karen Sullivan from Orenda books for her unfailing patience in getting a copy of this book to me despite the first copy going missing in the post. My copy was provided in exchange for an honest review and I'm delighted to say it exceeded every expectation.

The Blurb....

A perfect life … until she discovered it wasn’t her own.

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life.

Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family – and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Dear Dad - Giselle Green - unashamedly romantic

If you like a book to tug at your heartstrings, have a hunky yet vulnerable hero, a feisty yet fragile heroine and a hurt and lonely child, all looking for that special someone in their lives you won't go wrong with Dear Dad, the very latest romantic novel by Giselle Green

These 3 people are brought together when each of them is at the most defenceless point of their lives. Is it fate which has brought them together, a genuine mistake or a downright lie?

Jenna is a talented tattoo artist, recently returned to England from Italy where she has recently split with her fiance who cheated on her. She is reluctant to put down roots, doesn't want to be here and has no idea which direction her life is going, with no job, she can't even get a modest flat to call home.

Nate is a journalist, a war correspondent suffering from extreme anxiety issues related to post traumatic stress he is unable to leave his home and feels his career and life as he knew it have ground to a halt.

Adam is a young lad being bullied at school, at 9 years old he takes his responsibilities to his sole guardian, his ageing and confused Nan, very seriously. When he learns from her that the Dad he has never met lives quite close by, he seizes the chance and pens a heartfelt letter to him.

That man is Nate and he receives the boys letter with surprise, he knows he is not his Dad but can he turn his back completely on a cry for help when he knows what being in need really feels like?

What follows is a veritable dance of emotions as circumstances bring these 3 lonely people together. There are a lot of untruths and deceptions, all of them well intentioned but many misconstrued.

The 3 main characters are just perfect for the story. and Adam is the lynch pin, I felt so sorry for this lad, yet really warm towards him and kept rooting for him all the way through. There are a few almost larger than life coincidences that I had to just sit back and accept, after all, who knows if something actually couldn't play out just like this?

It's a real feel good book despite being based around a couple of awful subjects - bullying and post traumatic stress, played out amidst fractured family lives. I loved the characters, the heartwarming story and the lovely writing. A great book full of emotion, to curl up with at the weekend and relax with a frothy coffee and your favourite pack of biscuits. Just make sure you're comfy - cause once you start reading Dear Dad you aren't going to want to put it down 'til you reach the very end.

I received a complimentary copy to read and review in advance of publication. It is due for publication on 31st March and can be pre ordered from 24th March so you there's not long to wait before you can enjoy it too.

The Blurb

Handsome, 28-year old, Nate Hardman is a frontline reporter with a big problem. Suffering from shell-shock and unable to leave his house, he’s already lost his social life and his girlfriend. Now his career prospects are sinking fast.

9 year-old Adam Boxley who lives alone with his ageing nan, also has big problems. Neglected at home and bullied at school, he’s desperate to reach out to his dad – and that’s when he sends his first letter to Nate. Only Nate’s not who he thinks he is. Will he help? More importantly – can he?

Across town meanwhile, caring but impulsive teacher Jenna Tierney really wants to help Adam – except the feisty redhead has already had enough of teaching. Recently hurt by yet another cheating boyfriend, Jenna’s now set her sights on pursuing a dream career abroad … only she’s about to meet Nate – her dream man who’ll make her re-think everything.

The big question is; can three people desperate to find love, ever find happiness when they’re only connected by one big lie?

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Primrose Path - Rebecca Griffiths - Twisty and tantalising

My thoughts

This is a truly twisty tantalising, psychological thriller in which the author has planted so many red herrings, I finished reading it with the aroma of kippers still in my nostrils!

Told from several points of view, it tells the story of Rachel, formerly known as Sarah. She is trying to rebuild her life by keeping a low profile, as a man who has just served a prison sentence is being released. When she was younger her face was splashed all over the news as his raped, abused, abductee and she doesn’t want to come across him again in a hurry, so she retreats to a remote cottage in Wales.

We are introduced to Sarah’s Mum Jennifer who is also a complex character, searching for her daughter about whom she has mixed feelings. In Wales we are told the story of abused youngster Beth, meet her revolting family especially the antisocial, obese giant of a brother Idris. 

There are loads more great characters and all are very well drawn, from local man Dai, subservient cleaning lady Mrs Pepper to an ageing Punk care worker, for a plot driven book the characters are all super realistic and all have something to hide, secrets abound and when I discovered a series of murders of young women going on in a nearby seaside town I suspected EVERY single person, discounted them and then suspected them again! I heard the voice and thoughts of the murderer and trying to match them to an individual became an obsession!

It’s a very coherent and enigmatic multi layered, yet easy to follow, book with lots of quirky characters with idiosyncrasies and flaws galore. It gallops along at a fair old pace dragging you behind it shouting Whoah! Very enjoyable, entertaining and readable for lovers of twisty psychological chillers.

I received my advance copy from Netgalley to review and my thanks go to the publishers Sphere for making it available. You can pre order a copy now from Amazon  for your kindle.

Publishers description

As a teenager, Sarah D'Villez famously escaped a man who abducted and held her hostage for eleven days. The case became notorious, with Sarah's face splashed across the front of every newspaper in the country.

Seventeen years later, Sarah's attempt to build a normal life for herself in London has failed. When she hears of her kidnapper's impending release from prison, fearful of the media storm that is sure to follow, she decides to flee to rural Wales under a new identity, telling nobody where she's gone.

As Sarah settles in to her isolated new home and gets to know the small community she is now part of, it soon becomes creepily apparent that someone is watching her. Meanwhile, back in London, her mother makes a shocking discovery - something she fears will put Sarah's life in danger. She must urgently find her missing daughter before it's too late...

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The English Girl - Katherine Webb - an epic journey

My Thoughts

On opening this novel I was transported to the sandy deserts of Arabia and the bustling port of Muscat in Oman. I travelled with Bedouins and visited slave auctions in this epic historical romance by Katherine Webb, author of the superb books The Legacy and the Unseen.

This is a book about journeys of the body and of the soul, about women travelling and making an attempt to assert themselves in a predominantly male environment. Set in the 1950s and harking back to the 1920s, we are taken on an odyssey to Oman alongside Joan a young woman who travels there with her fiancé Rory. This trip is the culmination of her interest in archaeology and a lifetimes longing to visit the Arabia of her childhood bedtime stories inspired by the biographies of her heroine, fabled female explorer Maude Vickery.

Planning to visit her beloved brother, serving in the armed forces, trying to keep the peace in this volatile country,  Joan is frustrated to find that in this place where time stands almost still she is at best tolerated as a tourist rather than welcomed as the adventurer she dreams of being. She decides to explore vicariously through the eyes of her heroine Maude and engineers a meeting with the indomitable and unusual old lady.

The two womens burgeoning friendship places Joan in situations she never imagined in her wildest dreams and she begins to develop from the diffident, demure, rather gauche young woman who won’t defy convention and finds in herself another Joan, one who will take risks and take actions which are not quite the done thing.

Making a shock discovery concerning those she loves most, leaves her reeling and makes her act even more out of character making some rash decisions which could end up being life altering rather than the frisson of adventure she is seeking.

Whilst Joans story plays out in the heat of Oman, the story of ageing explorer Maud emerges and we discover that everything about this grand dame of the desert isn’t quite as straightforward as it first appears. Mauds story is no less compelling than that of Joan and to understand this partial recluse of a woman who shares her home with a dour and enigmatic manservant, two ancient dogs and a pet gazelle, we need to experience her journey when she was the first and only white woman to trek through the silent quarter of the desert, breaking new ground and making a journey of self discovery.

The descriptions of place are delightful and the atmosphere of dusty desert and bleak rocky mountains is superb. But what makes this book exceptional is the rich and complex characters, many with unpredictable idiosyncrasies and contradictions, and one in particular who turns out to have been and done, something so truly despicable I felt as though I wanted to commit murder!

I shed a tear or two, gasped in awe at some of the harrowing, unpredictable and unlikely events which transpire and was completely captivated by the location and adventures of our two heroines.

At one or two points I struggled to grasp Joans motivations, but the fact that she was a confused and rather indecisive young woman trying her hardest to be someone outside her own comfort zone, helped me accept her rashest decisions. A wonderful book with depth, epic scope and romantic escapism to suit most tastes. I will say no more about the storyline, to find that out you must read it yourself. Enjoy your travels in Arabia!

I was provided with a free ebook for review purposes via Netgalley and my thanks also go to the publisher Orion Publishing group.

The Publishers Description

Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled her lifelong dream to visit Arabia by travelling from England to the ancient city of Muscat with her fiancé, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin, and unearth the treasures it is said to conceal.

But Oman is a land lost in time - hard, secretive, and in the midst of a violent upheaval - and gaining permission to explore Jabrin could prove impossible. Joan's disappointment is only alleviated by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing first-hand the stories that captured her imagination and sparked her ambition as a child.

Joan's encounter with the extraordinary and reclusive Maude will change everything. Both women have things that they want, and secrets they must keep. As their friendship grows, the thrill of adventure seduces Joan, and only too late does she begin to question her actions - and Maude's motives. Realising she has become a pawn in a treacherous game to settle old scores, Joan must decide where her loyalties lie, and find a way to halt a chain of events that she herself has set in motion, before the terrible consequences can play out.

Will the girl that left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Fellside - M. R. Carey - dark and haunting

My thoughts

I find this novel very challenging to categorise, it's very cleverly written and most unusual in subject and style. I loved the authors "The Girl with all the Gifts" and was expecting something vaguely similar, a post apocalyptic or dystopian novel perhaps. But this is not like that at all, it IS however a very imaginative, haunting, thriller with elements of fantasy which reads like "Prisoner Cell Block H" meets "A Christmas Carol".

We meet the main protagonist Jess when she is lying in a hospital bed unable to speak, or communicate and with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Now this, I'm sure is one huge red herring, it sent me scampering off down the completely wrong track - I thought to myself "Uh huh, she's dead but not dead, a zombie or something" especially after reading the aforementioned book by this author.

We soon discover that Jess is not one of the living dead although her prospects are little better than this. Badly disfigured following a fire which left a young boy dead, she is soon charged with his murder and sentenced to be incarcerated in a harsh and brutal womens prison, Fellside.

Jess is a deeply flawed character, a heroin addict, she is nonetheless wracked with guilt, that a young lad she felt only fondness and sympathy for is dead and his death lies firmly at her door.

As a lifer and given her state of mind she is placed on suicide watch, removing the opportunity of killing herself, so she takes the only way she can think of to regain control and begins a hunger strike not as a protest but as the only way, of ending her miserable life, that she can take into her own hands.

Lying in bed, weakened in body, filled with self loathing and despised by those who tend her she drifts in and out of conciousness and in the murky half life between dreams and waking she encounters a spectral, lost soul, with the ability to guide her in and out of other peoples dreams.

When Jess discovers that she has a mission to complete before dying she begins to make a (quite startlingly rapid) recovery. Accompanied by her phantom companion she begins to seek out information which will atone for her own sins and provide peace of mind for the wraithlike Alex.

However she becomes embroiled in the corruption of life in this grim institution, where the inmates make the characters in TV's "Bad Girls" drama look like pussy cats and the staff are just as iniquitous.

Violence and cruelty is rife in this institution and the graphic barbarity and corruption is only slightly counterbalanced by the strange, ethereal, other wordly experiences in Jess's dream life with her ghostly accomplice.

Principally, I was enticed into this dark and haunting world by the surprising, murky, gritty setting and uncommon, ingenious, storyline. Few of the characters are remotely likeable, apart from the phantasmagorical Alex, even Jess is too deeply flawed and single minded to completely warm to and the rest of them!! Even when you think you glimpse a redeeming feature in anyone it's obscured by a rank miasma of corruption and immorality.

My recommendation is, go into this book without any preconceptions, open your mind and go with it, it's extremely impressive, completely engrossing and darkly different. (I defy anyone who watched the tv show Bad Girls not to superimpose the face of Jim Fenner onto the visage of the nefarious Devlin)

My thanks go to Netgalley for my advance e-book version in exchange for writing a review.

The Blurb:

The unmissable and highly anticipated new literary thriller from the author of the international phenomenon The Girl with all the Gifts.

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It's a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

Friday, 26 February 2016

No Longer Safe - A. J. Waines - psychologically brilliant

No Longer Safe - A. J. Waines

My thoughts:

Every now and again a book comes along that's impossible for me to resist. As a book blogger I am offered lots of books to read and although I find it very hard to say no thanks, that's what I do have to say fairly often as I just don't have enough time to read as much or as often as I'd love to.

But a while ago I was contacted and asked if I'd like to read a new twisty psychological thriller called No Longer Safe by A. J. Waines and as I have so many books waiting on my tbr I sadly declined but as this is a genre I love, I featured a short article by the author about writing psychological thrillers.

An e-copy of the book arrived nonetheless, just in case I'd like to read it for pleasure at some point, well, want to and be able to are often 2 very different things but I popped it on my kindle anyway.

Several books later and looking for my next read, I browsed through my unread titles, came across No Longer Safe and made the fatal mistake of thinking I'll just read the first page ... and I did and I got hooked right into this book and here we are several days later and I'm thinking WOW, that one sure packed a punch!

It's everything the perfect psychological thriller should be - several complex characters you get to know rather well yet don't really like as they are all deeply flawed. A compelling storyline with various plotlines and subtexts going on and a ruddy great shocker of a twist near the end!

We are introduced to the main narrator, Alice at the beginning when she receives out of the blue a completely unexpected invitation from an old college friend Karen to get together and spend some time together having a winter break at a rural holiday cottage in Scotland where Karen is helping her baby daughter Mel recuperate from a stay in hospital. She accepts despite a little trepidation not having seen Karen since their university days but she has had a lot going on and feels a break might be just whats needed to cheer her up. The story alternates between her voice and that of Karen, about whom it soon becomes obvious has some ulterior motives to her invitation.

On arriving Alice is disappointed to find the holiday cottage is a rather run down place and to her chagrin discovers that Karen has invited 2 more old college pals, whom Alice was rather glad to have seen the back of. Into the bleak location and chilly winter setting are woven parallel storylines, a child has gone missing nearby, something seems not quite right with the other 2 houseguests, snide Mark and needy Jodie, and a sudden death threatens to unhinge everything.

Despite the rather remote location there is still the opportunity to meet new folk and Alice finds a new friend Nina and even has the chance of romance when she meets an attractive and attentive stranger but she finds Karen changed and wary, Mark and Jodie as flaky as pastry and she doesn't know who she can trust, neither does the reader, you will be suspicious and disbelieving and not know who has done what and to whom and why but all will fall into place and I defy you not to gasp at the audacity of the outcomes.

Underneath everything is an air of mystery and deceit and lots of things that just aren't right, skewed motives, people being dishonest and hiding things and some really strange and unlikely decisions being made. This is exactly what makes a credible and exciting psychological chiller. If everyone was credible and likeable it wouldn't be half as exciting.

A brilliant read I wholeheartedly recommend if you like twisty tales with shocks throughout and chilling surprises towards the conclusion.

Thankyou to the author for allowing me a copy and for writing such an enjoyable and tense novel.

The Blurb - from Goodreads

She was your best friend. Now she’s your deadliest enemy – and there’s nowhere to run…

When Alice receives an invitation from Karen, her charismatic University friend, to stay in a remote cottage in Scotland, she can’t wait to rekindle their lost friendship. But two more former students arrive – never friends of Alice’s – and as the atmosphere chills, Karen isn’t the warm-hearted soulmate Alice remembers. Barely is the reunion underway before someone is dead and the fragile gathering is pushed to breaking point.

As the snow cuts them off from civilisation and accusations fly, Alice finds herself a pawn, sinking deeper into a deadly game she can’t escape.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Little Shop of Happy Ever Afters - Jenny Colgan - sweet romance

My Review

Lovely sweet romantic story, the first I've read by this author, but probably not the last as it was sheer feel-good reading bundled up in a delightful romance in a setting most book lovers will find magical.

Nina is a rather shy 29 year old librarian, living in Birmingham in a rather grotty flat share with her best mate Surinda. In a theme many readers will relate to she is facing the closure of the library where she works at the job she adores, helping other people find the perfect book, and possible redundancy.

This comes into her life like a bombshell, she is pretty devastated to say the least. Never one to takes risks or even do new things, she makes a sudden decision to try and act on her dream of owning a bookshop and thinks of using her redundancy money to buy a van to turn into a mobile bookshop. But the only van she sees which she can afford and might suit her purposes is up in the wilds of Scotland. Here begins the life changing stuff!

Her spontaneous trip to Scotland to view the run down old vehicle, introduces her to a more laid back way of life, tranquil scenery and a host of small villages and farming communities all crying out for access to books since their libraries have all closed.

Fate has a habit of intervening and this opportunity sees her relocate to a converted barn, meet some interesting folk and find the possibility of romance.

There are some really great characters, lots going on and a wonderful book themed setting and we see Nina grow and develop into a more determined character which is smashing, oh and there are several, romantic hunky fellas around, some of them in kilts!

It’s all just lovely, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But I have 2 little niggles. She finds it SO darned easy to get this unrealistic and unlikely business up and running and customers come swarming at her, that just frankly couldn't happen in real life (or I'd be doing it by now) My second niggle is that nearly all the books she offers to people and talks about in her mobile bookshop aren't real! She describes in detail several books which I wanted to read only to look them up and find they don't exist!

My thanks go to Netgalley and the publisher Sphere books for my review copy.

Description from Netgalley

Given a back-room computer job when the beloved Birmingham library she works in turns into a downsized retail complex, Nina misses her old role terribly - dealing with people, greeting her regulars, making sure everyone gets the right books for their needs. Then a new business nobody else wants catches her eye: owning a tiny little bookshop bus up in the Scottish highlands. No computers. Shortages. Out all hours in the freezing cold; driving with a tiny stock of books... not to mention how the little community is going to take to her, particularly when she stalls the bus on a level crossing...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Butcher's Hook - Janet Ellis - a hair rasing tale

 The Butchers Hook

I really enjoyed this debut offering from Janet Ellis (of Blue Peter fame) I heard quite a loud buzz about this, as one of THE books to read in 2016 and spotted it on a few favourite lists, so I was eager to read it before it becomes over hyped.

I was hoping it would completely blow my socks off and it did captivate and entertain me to a large degree. None of the characters in this historical setting are very likeable, they are all just a teeny bit larger than life, charicatured with an almost Dickensian tongue in cheek. The story is dark and quite surprising, beginning like a Regency Romance, building into a bit of a bodice ripper becoming quirky and twisted then ending with a rather shocking climax!

The main protagonist Anne Jaccob, is a young woman whom, the story tells us, has her innocence stolen at a tender age by a slightly paedophilic tutor who gets a touch too close for comfort. It's my belief that this completely amoral and immoral young lady has a thread of corruption running through her right from the start and has little virtue to steal.

Hardened by the death of a baby brother she had lavished affection of only to be left bereft at his sudden death, she deliberately erects a shell of callosity around her allowing no-one close. Her Mothers attention is claimed by a newborn daughter, and she gets no paternal warmth (like father like daughter, in my opinion)

She avoids closeness and overtures of friendship, yet craves love and passion and she develops a fixation on the butchers boy Fub who delivers meat to the family household. Anne takes it upon herself to pursue this young fella, despite her father arranging a mutally beneficial engagement for her to the foppish, pernickety and decidedly slimy Simeon Onions.

Deciding to take her future in her own hands she sets off on a destructive path, with no thought for any of the consequences.

I found that this manipulative little madam managed to contrive a remarkable amount of freedom for a girl from a middle class background in the 18th century, however I admired her single mindedness and resourcefulness. I SO couldn't warm to her though, she is dissolute, profligate and quite licentiously repellant.

The book completely sucked me in and I was enthralled by the story and kept riffling through the pages at a fair old pace. It's a hectic and hair raising tale, a coming of age story for adults. Read it, love it, but don't be taken in by dear Anne who is like an aniseed ball, hard and deceptive with any sweetness well tempered by the curious bitterness of flavour and the darkness of licorice.

My gratitude goes to Bookbridgr and the publisher Two Roads from Hodder and Stoughton for my review copy.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Look at me - Sarah Duguid - family ties

My thoughts

This is another very accomplished, enjoyable, debut novel about a fractured family and difficult relationships.

Lizzy lives with her Dad and her brother Ig, following their Mums death a couple of years earlier. The fury she feels on discovering the existence of her father's daughter to another woman, knows no bounds and she recklessly contacts her half sister, allowing her to enter their lives - and create havoc!

The family have always had a very hippy dippy love and peace, drugs and rock and roll kind of set up and Ig in particular has followed in their lead and has a slightly off the wall personality. Lizzy is an angry young woman feisty, yet soaked in ill concealed grief.

When she invites Eunice into their midst she is only too eager to accept and Lizzy is reluctant to admit the repercussions this is having by unsettling the equilibrium. Eunice turns out to be a very complex character and not the sweet, innocent sister she at times appears to be on the surface and her presence creates explosive tensions and more hidden secrets to rise to the surface.

I always find it quite difficult to relate to bohemian lifestyles, perhaps as my family was so old fashioned and straitlaced. Yet the characters are so well created I still found them believeable.

It's a story of family and loss and grief, quite a quick read as it's not overlong and very well written.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys family drama and strong characters.

I received my copy in advance of publication from the publisher Tinder press in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Blurb - from Goodreads

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.