Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Hidden Girl - Louise Millar

From the publishers blurb ...

Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the Suffolk countryside will promise a fresh start. Hannah, a human rights worker, is desperate for a child and she hopes that this new life will realise her dream. Yet when the snow comes, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village. 

Life in Tornley turns out to be far from idyllic, who are the threatening figures who lurk near their property at night? And why is her neighbour so keen to see them leave? Plus Will's behaviour is severely testing the bonds of trust. Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. 

But as she starts to unbury a terrible crime, she realises she can no longer do that without putting everything she's ever wanted at risk. But if she does nothing, the next victim could be her...

My thoughts

Louise Millar - author of the brilliant The Playdate is back on top form after her second book didn't quite live up to my expectations, a stunning debut is often hard to follow. Well, its third time lucky with this unusual twisty, psychological, mystery thriller set between bustling London and the quiet rural backwaters of Suffolk.

Hannah and Will are a young married couple whose happiness depends on them overcoming past problems and Hannah is convinced their only route to this state is to complete their family with a child for which adoption is the only route left open to the former aid worker and her music producer husband.

The start of the book sees them moving to an old house in the countryside, mistakenly believing that quiet rural life in a rambling old Country Pile will be beneficial to their application to adopt.

For a chapter or two this seems like pretty standard fare, young couple buy spooky old house and things begin to go bump in the night .... But it's no ghost which haunts Tornley Hall. The descriptions are great, I felt as if I was there with her working to a tight deadline to get the house ready for a very important visitor and I shared her anguish when things started to go wrong.

As Will commutes back to London Hannah is left in the isolated spot to mull over their decision and as snow begins to fall, the house proves to be in much worse repair than anticipated and the locals prove unfriendly and some downright sinister she struggled to cope with her usual efficiency and calm. As secrets are uncovered and cracks begin to appear not just in her new home, but in her marriage Hannah battles to hang on to her sanity. 

At first you are led to think there's not really that much going on in the story, it seems almost gentle but don't be lulled into relaxing, the tension is gradually cranked up until you realise that what seemed like minor annoyances are in fact something much more sinister, and as the alarm bells begin to sound, like Hannah you've got far too involved in what's going on in Tornley to back away, deep in the countryside no-one can hear you scream.

This is a sinister and creepy psychological tour de force with so many little twists it really keeps you turning the pages until late in the night and makes you want to check the doors are firmly locked before you do lay your head down to sleep - don't you just love a book which does that?

When the mystery is finally revealed in a crescendo of brutal intensity it really wasn't what I was expecting and made me peer back at some of the things which had happened and see them in a different light. The loose ends are neatly tied up in a satisfactory climactic ending.

Louise has returned to revealing the hidden nastiness which lies beneath seemingly ordinary domestic life and shows that you never really know which of your neighbours you can trust. If you liked the Playdate you'll enjoy this. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Beautiful day - Kate Anthony

From the publishers blurb -

Rachel is looking for her beautiful day. She's worried about everything: being a good mother, money and starting a new job.

Philip is a lost soul in the world and he could do with a friend.

They are just about to meet and when they do everything will change. Rachel and Philip don't know it yet, but they each have what the other needs. They can save one another, and not in the way you might expect.

This is a story about finding happiness and love in all their forms. And how sometimes you can find them in the most unlikely of places.

My Thoughts

Beautiful day is a beautiful read, in fact it's a beautiful offering altogether from Penguin with a delightfully pretty cover and the sheer readability which grabs you from page one.

I read a couple of reviews for this by bloggers whose judgement I trust and whose reading tastes I share, so I was delighted when my request to Netgalley for this debut novel was approved and rather than consigning it to my to be read pile to wait its turn I opened it immediately and began reading - I finished it in 2 sittings I just couldn't put it down. 

The description made me think it was going to be slightly similar to the poignant and heart wrenching Me Before you by the lovely writer Jojo Moyes, however, what it actually resembled more closely in style is the other great book by the same Ms Moyes - One plus One. I don't make this comparison lightly Jojo Moyes is one of my very favourite authors, a very accomplished writer with many best sellers to her name so to compare a first time novelist to her is praise indeed.

Kate Anthony has taken the mundane and everyday and made it sparkle and scintillate. This is the all too common story of a modern young mother whose husband has left her for a younger model, struggling to pay the bills and cope with 3 lively children, add to that her need to return to work after years away from the workplace, taking on a job some might view as undesirable and you have the bones of the storyline. But it's the beautiful writing style which makes this just impossible to put down. Rachel is a heroine I could instantly relate to and her children are brilliant, so real that I genuinely felt I knew them all personally. Rachels job involves working as a care worker in a residential home for adults with special needs and having done this as a volunteer myself, I felt I recognised the slightly run down care home with its quirky residents all with their own distinct personalities the staff varying from the careworn but caring to the harassed to the couldn't care less who personify the word careLESS!

Rachels life is chaotic to say the least and she really finds it difficult to manage despite doing her best life seems to be against her. Her ex-husband is a complete tosser - but then aren't all EXes? She really wants to make a difference in her new job and when she is given personal responsibility for a vulnerable new resident Philip she is determined she will do everything she possibly can to ease his transition into care home life after a life spent with his frail elderly Mum misguidedly shielding him from harm and from life! But the great law of Sod plays a blinder and as her own life descends into chaos so does the situation at work.

To say much more might spoil the joy I know you're going to get from reading this superb book which deals with quite deep subjects yet is never grim or dark. It's very easy to read but its not light and fluffy, it's just stunningly written and deliciously readable. 

As a keen reader who enjoys reviewing books I've read, I sometimes feel inadequate to the task of explaining exactly why I have enjoyed a book as much as I have, I'm not an author and never could create realistic characters and storylines which absorb the reader completely like this. Full marks from me and my heartfelt thanks to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to be one of the first folks to experience this great new author whom I am sure will write many more wonderful books and whose future work I will eagerly await.

The Crimson Ribbon - Katherine Clements

From the publishers blurb
England 1646. The Civil War is raging and society turned upside down.

What should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn and Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a deserting soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

My thoughts

I won a copy of this from Goodreads early reads and took it away on holiday, where it kept me entertained and turning the pages.

It was really rather good ! Set in England during the Civil war and the times of Oliver Cromwell it is based around the life of a girl, Ruth whose Mother is accused of witchcraft and hanged in front of her. This undoubtedly has an effect on Ruths's ability to form normal friendships and trust people and she mistrusts the deeply troubled Joseph whom she encounters on her flight to London despite him having her best interests at heart.

She throws her lot in with the Poole family who agree to house and employ her and she soon becomes infatuated and obsessed with the rather enigmatic and unconventional Lizzie Poole into whose life she becomes inextricably entwined. Full of historical detail and lots of twists and turns this is an exciting work of fiction based around a real character (Lizzie Poole) and events imagined and real combine to create a gripping and entertaining story.

Fractured - Dawn Barker

From the publishers blurb

An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother's worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn't coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They'd come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?

But Anna hasn't been herself since. One moment she's crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she's just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong...

My thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book it explores the effects of a tragedy on a family. However, from the blurb I expected there might be more of a mystery thriller aspect to it, but it was more of just a look at human emotions and regrets.

Anna and Tony are a young married couple with a new baby Jack. Tony arrives at work ready to fit a busy meeting into his hectic schedule when a phone call from his worried Mum alerts him to the fact that she has turned up at home to help Anna to find Anna has inexplicably gone missing - with Jack.

She's probably just nipped out is his first thought until doubts begin to niggle at him and he begins to admit what he's been trying to put to the back of his mind - since the birth Anna has been acting very strangely and he is actually rather worried about her.

It turns out that he has good reason to be concerned and what follows is a story that we can all be glad hasn't happened to us. All that characters are very well drawn if pretty flawed and we begin to see their faults and foibles as the book slips back and forth over events in the couple and their families lives. 

A very readable and enjoyable book set in Australia - the writing style reminded me immensely of [author:Liane Moriarty|322069] . I did find the ending a touch abrupt, the only reason I've given it a 4/5 instead of 5.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Keep your friends close - Paula Daly

From the publishers blurb:

Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty’s oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears – just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France – Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home.

Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty’s husband has fallen in love with Eve. He’s sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over.

With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself.

And then she receives the note.
Eve has done this before ......

Having read, enjoyed and reviewed this authors debut novel Just what kind of Mother are you I was impatient to get stuck into this one, her second offering. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request for an advance ebook copy to review.

Brand new this year and already receiving great accolade, this rollercoaster of misplaced trust, hidden pasts, secrets, betrayal and psychological mayhem grabs you by the short and curlies from paragraph one and compels you to keep turning the pages until the dead of night when your eyes feel like charcoals and your heart is hammering.

Narrated by Natty a busy working mother of 2 much loved teenage girls, who runs a hectic and successful hotel in the Lake District with her husband Sean, (who turns out to be a weak and spineless little toad I wanted to strangle)

Their frantically busy life is a success story, even if it means they sometimes have to forfeit a little "me time" in favour of work and Natty in particular finds herself torn between being an excellent Mum, a conscientious hotelier and a good wife. Things are going well when - BAM, onto the scene arrives sophisticated Eve, Natty's oldest friend and confidante from back at University, paying a visit following the break up of her own relationship and fresh off the plane from the USA.

How fortunate she is there and able to step into the breach when the unthinkable happens and Natty needs to jump on a plane herself to rush to the hospital bedside of her youngest daughter, taken ill on a school trip. One worry is eased from her shoulders as Eve offers to stay for a day or two and care for the other daughter. And off goes Natty unaware that her carefully constructed life is about to be crumbled like a stock cube between the elegant and conniving fingers of Eve who deliberately sets out to seduce the weak and unresisting Sean and get her feet firmly under Nats table.

By the time she comes back home, life as she knew it is gone, stolen by Eve and spiralling into a pit of despair, anger and hurt Natty struggles to come to term with her feelings and how to cope with her despair.

This is where I began to love Natty, she is very human and perfectly flawed, instead of being stoical and brave or acting the weak and helpless female she copes in the best way she can, loses her temper, gets angry, swears a lot and behaves as unpredictably as I would in a similar situation (God forbid) Her inconsistent reactions contrast beautifully in comparison to the usual predictable moods of most wronged protagonists.

There are some fabulous characters, beautifully constructed and incredibly real including a reappearance of Policewoman Joanne Aspinall and her Aunt Jackie from the authors first book. Like Natty's lovely dope smoking Dad and her mother in law who suggests a way for Natty to cope with losing her life her home, husband and hotel Management job might be to volunteer for a few hours a week in a lovely little charity shop!

It's the characters and wry twists of subtle humour which help a book with a dark and twisted story about the blackest and most appalling topics readable and amazingly enjoyable. I don't think I can really put into words quite how brilliant this book is, I loved it and highly recommend it to anyone who loves psychological thrillers and gritty family dramas. I can't say too much more about the story as you'll have to read it to discover what a devious cow Eve actually is, what secrets are hidden beneath the veneer of tranquil Lake District life.

It ends on a bit of cliff hanger which left me screaming to know just a little bit more, about what happens afterwards. I wonder if the author, having successfully introduced characters from her previous novel into this one, may, in her next book brush lightly on this story to tie up a few tiny wisps of loose thread left dangling in the breeze? I for one will be at the front of the queue to read it regardless.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Before You Die - Samantha Hayes

From the publisher's blurb....

"Oh God, please don't let me die.

It has taken nearly two years for the Warwickshire village of Radcote to put a spate of teenage suicides behind it.
Then a young man is killed in a freak motorbike accident, and a suicide note is found among his belongings. A second homeless boy takes his own life, this time on the railway tracks.

Is history about to repeat itself?

DI Lorraine Fisher has just arrived for a relaxing summer break with her sister. Soon she finds herself caught up in the resulting police enquiry. And when her nephew disappears she knows she must act quickly.

Are the recent deaths suicide - or murder?"

Having read and enjoyed the authors previous novel "until you're mine" I was thrilled to find her new title available for review on Netgalley. It's certainly a good read and keeps you guessing right to the end, but I did find I wanted to give quite a few of the characters a darned good shake and I mistrusted their motives quite a lot. There are quite a lot of characters to get to know and the author makes it difficult to know who to trust which is a clever move as it begins to read like a who dunnit and first you suspect one person and then another and this helps keeps the story moving quickly.

The main characters are Lorraine and her sister Jo and their families, Lorraine has teenage daughters and Jo a teenage son Freddie, then there is another family who run a homeless hostel and we are introduced to quite a few of the workers and homeless folk and there were just a few people too many for me to get my head completely clear around who was who at first although the characters are well created with enough personality to begin to be recognised individually.

The storyline is strong, centreing around teenage angst, cyber bullying, infidelity, homelessness and skirting around mental health issues theres a lot going on and if you like your thrillers fast paced this will suit you. We met DC Lorraine Fisher and her husband, also in the police in the authors aforementioned book. Poor soul she can't take some much needed leave without things all kicking off around her and her stay with her sister is no different, a spate of teenage suicides close to home means she is soon in the midst of the mysteries surrounding these deaths and feels compelled to investigate as she begins to have doubts as to whether they are actually suicides

Overall I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first in this series, feeling it couldn't quite decide whether to fall in the realm of psychological thriller which I love or detective novel which I don't. In my opinion they are 2 separate genres. Having said that its probably only because the first book was so good that this one found it a hard act to live up to and it is still a really entertaining read with lots of twists. You don't need to have read the first title to read this as although it shares some characters it would read equally as well as a stand alone, but I would recommend reading "Until you're mine" just because it's a great book.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Spilt milk - Amanda Hodgkinson

From the Publishers blurb ...
The eagerly anticipated new historical novel from the author of 22 Britannia Road: a novel about sisterhood, motherhood, and secrets that cannot be laid to rest.

1913. Unmarried sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh live an impoverished existence in a tiny cottage on the banks of the Little River in Suffolk. Their life is quiet and predictable, until a sudden flood throws up a strange fish on their doorstep and a travelling man who will change them forever.

1939. Eighteen year old Birdie Farr is working as a barmaid in the family pub in London. When she realises she is pregnant she turns to her mother Nellie, who asks her sister to arrange an adoption for Birdie's new born daughter. But as the years pass Birdie discovers she cannot escape the Marsh sisters' shadowy past - and her own troubling obsession with finding her lost daughter will have deep consequences for all of them...

My thoughts

I enjoyed this book which covers quite a large span of time in the lives of the Marsh family beginning with sisters Rose, Nellie and Vivian living in a tumbledown cottage and struggling to live almost hand to mouth, it follows events as floods hit the area they live in, death touches them and passion is almost their undoing.

The book continues to follow their lives into old age, however it introduces an awful lot of characters and I did find myself getting a little confused myself as to who was who and who was guarding which secret and why but that's probably testament to my weak powers of concentration rather than a fault in the writing.

It's a gentle bucolic tale which meanders like the river they live beside, thundering beginning, building to a powerful ending yet a little too rambling in the middle to gain a perfect score from me.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Accident - C. L. Taylor

Fabulous read ... as tense a page turner as I've ever read.
The recent popularity of Gone Girl by gillian Flynn and similar titles have spawned a glut of books describing themselves as tense psychological thrillers, and sadly not all of them quite make the mark. However this one ticks ALL the boxes and really blew me away.

It's the story of Sue who's teenage daughter Charlotte lies in a coma after an accident, one which Sue's convinced was more than accidental. As she seeks to unravel events leading up to Charlottes hospitalization, we are taken back 20 years to when Sue herself was young and in love with a guy who we soon realise isn't as perfect as he would at first seem to be. The 2 stories twist and turn together and what emerges is a story you just won't be able to put down.

It's superbly written, had me gripping the edge of my seat and gnawing the inside of my mouth. You won't know whether to trust everything Sue tells us, you'll begin to doubt her reliability as a narrator, but you will just have to keep on reading to find out the awful truths in this gripping and haunting novel. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy from Netgalley and am delighted that it was even better than I hoped and I'm certain it will be a huge hit with anyone, like me who likes their fiction to leave them shaken and wowed.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Gilded Lily - Deborah Swift

I'll be honest here I'm in the fortunate position of receiving quite a few free books and win quite a few too and the excitement of winning a signed copy of a brand new title of a book I've heard good things about never dissipates (OK I admit that I'm a hopeless book addict). Which is why I literally jumped for joy when I won a signed copy of The Gilded Lily through www. I KNEW I was going to like this historical fiction set in grimy, 17th century, restoration London.

When I received my copy and saw the gorgeous cover I was smitten, my only concern being that there is a previous book by the author The Lady's Slipper featuring some of the same characters and I worried it might be a little difficult to follow not having read it. My concerns were unfounded, this makes a great stand alone novel and a perfect introduction to the authors beautiful writing.

The Gilded Lily is the story of two sisters, Ella and Sadie, fleeing from their rural home in the North, taking items with them from Emmas previous employer to which she has no right. The girls head for the seething mass and anonymity of the city of London in a bid to escape persecution for a greater crime than the theft of some treasures, Ella swears she did not commit although it soon becomes apparent that she is a much more flighty and unreliable character than her shy, timid sister born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face. Unlike Sadie, whose natural instinct is to hide away from company, vivacious Ella is more ambitious and outgoing and soon forsakes the job both girls have found working in a Perrukiers weaving wigs from discarded human hair (yeeuch), for the chance to better herself and sets her cap at the enigmatic and striking Jay Whitgift, son of a respected pawnbroker seeking to diversify the family business in more ways than one.

The Gilded Lily is a ladies salon he opens in the grounds of the secondhand business, primarily to relive the wives and daughters of wealthy businessmen of their husbands hard earned wealth and he employs Ella to help him do this. Soon she gets ideas far above her station and despite Sadies loyalty to her flighty sister, she increasingly leaves Sadie to fend for herself in the squalor of their rented room in the delightfully named Blackraven lane. Meanwhile the search for the 2 fleeing sisters continues and their increasing notoriety means measures have to be taken to ensure they are not recognised in public and gradually both girls lives grow much worse.

It's stunningly written with a Dickensian quality, especially in the names of the vividly created characters and places. I was gripped from start to finish, and despite wanting to give Sadie a little shake now and again I had great empathy for her and enjoyed watching her character develop. It has taken a while to finish it, but the ending was full of action and very satisfying and I actually put the book down at around midnight with about 30 pages to go only to wake up at 1.30 am realizing I couldn't wait until the next day to find out what happened, so put on the bedside light and finished it there and then.

It's almost a coming of age novel but with huge depth and I liked it as much as one of my favourite books, Slammerkin,  I'm actually relieved that I did enjoy it as much as I'd hoped (if not more) as sadly so often books which sound great don't quite live up to expectations - this one exceeds them and I will be rushing out to get a copy of the prequel to this today!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Frog Music - Emma Donoghue

Frog MusicFrog Music by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, after I'd read a couple of mixed reviews. I was hoping for another Slammerkin which I adored and in that I was a bit disappointed. I found the robust heroine od Slammerkin larger than life, engaging and likeable whereas in this one I found the lead characters very pale and flimsy. I wonder if this is because they were in fact. real life characters whom the author was trying to imagine herself in to rather than giving birth to them completely from her own imagination?

The storyline sounds fantastic and no wonder it captured her imagination, it has all the elements of another Fingersmith or even The Crimson Petal and the White Crimson Petal, historical setting, girls of doubtable morals engaged in disreputable occupations, the seediness of drinking dens and bawdy houses, music halls and Burlesque, the unique and strange girl/boy who catches frogs for a living and swans around San Francisco, half sober, riding a penny farthing cycle! Smallpox is rife and The heroine Blanche lives with her Maque (lover/pimp) and his close friend and has sent her baby son to a "farm" to be cared for when she meets Jenny the frog catcher she has no idea her life is about to change radically.

We are introduced to the murder right at the beginning so there are no surprises there, the book jumps back and forth to before and after this event as Blanche fights to get her son back and uncover the murderer.

I found the story very slow to get into and the characters hard to warm to but it really got going about 2/3 of the way in and I was glad I'd persevered as it eventually, suddenly changed pace and became everything I'd hoped it would be all along. The revelations along the way go a long way to explaining much about why and how things happened, but I still found Blanches unlikely naivety and motives difficult to grasp.

One for people who like their historical fiction based firmly around facts, with great atmosphere and sense of place.

Flight to Coorah Creek - Janet Gover

Flight to Coorah CreekFlight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super romance set in the remote outback of Australia. Sheer escapism, not one but two superb romances in the fabulous setting of the Australian outback which the author brings to life beautifully.

Coorah Creek is as far from city life as can be, a small, close knit, remote community that has sprung up around a mining area in the outback and is surrounded by thousands of miles of nothingness, tranquil beauty and scattered ranches, and that's just what Jess is looking for when she makes her own flight to Coorah Creek to escape persecution from the press after being a high profile character in a notorious crime she was tricked into by the man she loved.

She's a pilot and comes to the outback to work as pilot for the flying doctor who is Adam, who has his own secrets and tragic past.

Also escaping is Ellen with her 2 small kids she is getting away from a bad marriage to a cruel abusive husband and when she meets gentle giant Jack, the aircraft mechanic at Coorah Creek its hardly surprising she can't bring herself to trust him.

These 2 stories intertwine and what could be a pretty standard predictable romantic novel is elevated through beautifully descriptive writing and immaculately crafted very realistic characters you can't help but believe in.

If you want a bit of good clean romance you won't get much better than this, a perfect holiday read.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Memory Book - Rowan Coleman

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Rowan Coleman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm in love! With a new author - how can I not fall head over heels for someone who can move me as deeply as this with her words? She has reached so deeply inside me to touch my very soul with this stunning book.

Told from the unusual perspective of a woman with early onset alzheimers, it is poignant, sensitive, funny and harrowing all at once. Told in the voice of Claire, teacher, mother to 2 fabulous daughters, grown up Caitlin and 3 year old Esther, and daughter to Ruth. As Claires mind slips from lucidity to confusion, we take the journey with her as she begins to forget people and places, names of things and even how to do simple tasks, the plughole becomes the hole in the kitchen and carrots are now orange things, but the worst omission of memory must be that she has forgotten her husband Greg, her memories of their deep love and devotion are just gone and she can hardly bear to live with the stranger he has now become to her.

To help her hold on to the remaining memories of her life Greg brings her a gift of a beautifully bound journal - the eponymous Memory book in which Claire begins to record her memories whilst she can put them into words and she adds tokens and souvenirs from past and present events and this is how the memory book takes shape and we get to know her and her family intimately.
The fact that she manages to retain her sense of humour lifts the book from the morbid story it could be, to a joyful celebration of life and love and inevitably its a story about motherhood as it explores and exposes the cracks and glue which bind mother to daughter through everything, her relationship with her own mother, and her two daughters is perfectly real and deftly painted with the light touch of a feather and the intricacy of the richest tapestry. It brought back such poignant memories for me of my own Mother, who died over 30 years ago, that I broke my heart sobbing myself to sleep several times during this book, yes its sad but its also intensely uplifting and even joyful.

I don't know if what Claire is going though is exactly what it feels like to be losing one's memory - I doubt anyone truly can as anyone who has gone through it enough to be able to tell us what it feels like won't be able to remember enough about the process to share it with us! But Rowan Coleman truly makes us believe that this is exactly how it must feel and has written a truly epic novel that will remain in my memory for years after I have forgotten how to use my front door key and how to put on my shoes!

This is undoubtedly a book which will feature in my top books of 2014, it ranks so highly I want to give it 10 out of 5 and I want EVERYONE to read it. If you only read one book this year, let it be this one, its sensational and I loved every word.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Secret Kiss of Darkness - Christina Courtenay

The Secret Kiss of DarknessThe Secret Kiss of Darkness by Christina Courtenay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a lovely bit of romantic escapism just what's needed on a dull, wet winters day. Choc-lit publishers have come up with a dual time period romance which doesn't take itself too seriously, has an unusual gentle, fantasy element and everything a good story should have.

In the present time we have a likeable heroine Kayla, engaged to be married who has recently inherited a sum of money she decides to invest in a painting and she trots along to an auction, where she does what I'd be worried I'd do if I attended an auction - finds she's unable to stop bidding on one particular item which isn't even really what she had in mind - it's an old fashioned antique portrait of a man.

Back in eighteenth century Cornwall we meet Jago, a handsome Innkeeper who leads a double life as a smuggler and meets the love of his life Eliza - who just happens to be the wife of his estranged half brother.

The painting is his portrait and it's ownership quite literally changes Kaylas life, it leads to a broken engagement and has her wondering about her sanity when she begins to hear the subject of the painting talking to her. An age old mystery is revealed that she can't help but begin to investigate and this in turn leads her to a beautiful stately home and its occupants, the gorgeous Wes and his daughter Nell with whom she becomes involved in her search for answers to the mystery surrounding her painting.

Pure romance every step of the way, slick writing, original twists and great characters lift it head and shoulders above the norm, an immensely enjoyable and satisfying read from cover to cover.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Blood-tied - Wendy Percival

Blood-TiedBlood-Tied by Wendy Percival
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a lovely surprise, a very well written debut, which keeps you turning the pages wanting to find out a little more about a mystery with its roots hidden in the past.

Elizabeth lies in hospital beaten and unconscious after being attacked for no apparent reason. Her sister Esme, a genealogical researcher believes there is more to the attack than a random mugging and despite Elizabeths daughter Gemma's reluctance decides to put her analytical research skills to good use and begins her own investigation, uncovering some unpleasant and puzzling truths and secrets about her sisters past and placing her own self at risk in the process.

This will hold great appeal for anyone interested in genealogy and anyone who likes a family drama or cosy mystery a super quick read I can highly recommend.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Before We Met - Lucie Whitehouse

Before We MetBefore We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a cracking thriller!

Hannah is a lucky young woman, she has a rich, handsome, successful, loving husband Mark and lives in a fabulous luxury home in London. Although she had to give up her own career in New York when they moved back to the UK where Marks' company's based and has been unsuccessful in getting herself a new job everything else in the garden is rosy for her ... but not for long.

We meet her when she is at the airport awaiting Marks return from yet another business trip back to the USA, as the hours pass and he doesn't turn up we begin to worry with her, especially when details about his trip don't seem to add up. She can't contact him, his work colleagues seem to have been told a different story about his destination and a mysterious woman is mentioned whom Hannah has never heard of. Naturally, she tries to find out what's going on but the deeper she digs the more she uncovers that can't be easily explained.

As the mystery deepens I began to jump to similar conclusions as Hannah but what unfurls seems even worse than expected and her privileged, happy, married life starts to unravel. To say a book is full of twists and turns seems very trite, but there really is no other way of describing this absolutely enthralling thriller, expect the unexpected and you won't be disappointed. I kept reading far later into the night than I usually do as I just needed to find out a little more and every time I thought I had it sussed, something else came along to make me gasp.

I found the ending genuinely quite terrifying too!

I've read Lucie Whitehouses' previous novel The Bed I Made and hugely enjoyed that as its also tense and exciting, but this surpassed my expectations - what a great writer! I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for future work by her and I extend my gratitude to Netgalley for my advance review copy.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Book giveaway - Mrs Sinclairs suitcase - Louise Walters

I am offering an advance reading copy of the book Mrs Sinclairs suitcase by Louise Walters. It is my own pre-loved copy and looks like new.

Its  large format paperback and the book is due to be first published in hardback in February so it's a chance to read it before everyone else.

You can read my review here


This draw is open to UK readers only

You need to comment on this post why you'd like to win it and give me a way of contacting you - your blog/ email or website.

Also make a comment on any other post on this blog.

You also need to follow my blog with Google friend connect which you'll find by scrolling down the right hand side.

That's all you need to do however it would be nice if you'd also share this giveaway too.

EDIT - The winner has been picked and its Jane - congratulations Jane I hope you enjoy your book,

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Spice merchant's wife - Charlotte Betts

The Spice Merchant's WifeThe Spice Merchant's Wife by Charlotte Betts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author is back on tip top form with this stunning historical romance. I adored The Apothecary's Daughter but was a touch disappointed by the follow up to it The Painter's Apprentice which didn't captivate me quite so much as its predecessor.

This latest book blew me away, it was just sheer escapism and so evocative of the period I felt I was there in London experiencing the horrors of the great fire of London and the subsequent rebuilding of the houses and businesses turned to ash by the conflagration. I could visualise the miles of devastation and destruction and the helpless fold trying to flee to safety amidst chaos and panic and I could smell the choking smoke drowning out all the other ripe odours of this time.

It is a purely romantic novel but so well written it’s head and shoulders above the usual restoration romance in this genre. It tells the story of Kate, the eponymous Spice merchants’ wife, recently married to Robert, son of a wealthy spice merchant with the imminent inheritance of his fathers’ business to look forward to. Although not a love match - Kate married him mainly to escape from a life of misery and drudgery with a cruel aunt, as was often the case for young women with few choices available to them. She finds herself married to a man she barely knows, however she aims to be a good wife and is looking forward to creating their first home together and is already longing for children of her own to love, when disaster strikes and fire ruins thousands of lives. As the spice warehouse goes up in smoke, together with their new home so do their plans for a well heeled future together.

Here begins a struggle to survive which tests Kates fortitude to its limit, reduced to living hand to mouth in an overcrowded slum, when Robert throws in his lot with an affluent and influential builder involved heavily in the restoration of London, Kate nevertheless instinctively mistrusts her husbands’ new boss. I don’t blame her!

When even more tragedy leaves her in an increasingly desperate situation, fleeing a would be murderer, she seeks help from her new friends the Hartes, blind perfumier Gabriel Harte and his kind but plain wife Jane. Kate soon begins to find herself having to resist her feelings towards Gabriel. Its’ hardly surprising that a book featuring a spice merchant and a perfumier relies heavily on odorific descriptions – but my nose was in overdrive all the way through!

I found this to be very descriptive without resorting to the flowery speech of the day which can make historical fiction irksome to read. I must admit I found a couple of glaring errors which though annoying weren’t enough to put me off the wonderful story – (Kate mentions a boy in church making vampire teeth from orange peel) I’m pretty darned certain vampire wasn’t a term used in the 1600s and the phrase “he was fit to be tied” didn’t ring true either.
However I loved the storytelling, the descriptions and the overall feel of the book I haven’t deducted any points for these small mistakes.

With several very emotional tragedies and sad and happy events which had me in floods of tears this is one not to be missed if you like your historical romance to transport you into someone elses shoes to experience a historical diorama with all its accompanying sights and smells – sensational.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Cheesemakers House - Jane Cable

The Cheesemaker's HouseThe Cheesemaker's House by Jane Cable
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow what a really terrific spooky romance. I won a signed copy of this book and was thrilled as it's set in Northallerton, North Yorkshire - which is about 12 miles from my home and a place I regularly visit. I love to read books in settings with which I'm familiar.

However it's such a beautifully written, easy to read story with memorable characters that I'm sure I'd have loved it just as much wherever it was set.

The main protagonist is Alice, 30 something, recently divorced and busy settling into her new life as a newly single woman in an old cottage in North Yorkshire which she aims to renovate. She rapidly makes new friends in Owen, gentle kindly, local cafe owner with a reputation as a "charmer" which doesn't mean he's a flirt and Richard, good looking builder working on her cottage renovation. Margaret keen gardener, a vicar's wife Jane and cafe cook Adam all find places in her new life.

But all is not going quite as swimmingly as it would appear, she is frequently disturbed in the night by loud crying which she is unable to pinpoint, she begins to see Owen in places he can't possibly be, then an unsettling discovery is made during the renovation work and Alice begins to fear for her own and Owens sanity.

I found I rattled through this book in a couple of days, I was charmed by Owen, no pun intended and captivated by the gentle ghost story.

Reminiscent of books by Susanna Kearsley and Rachel Hore this is a delightful romantic read.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Mrs Sinclairs Suitcase - Louise Walters

From the publisher's blurb via Lovereading.... Forgive me, Dorothea, for I cannot forgive you. What you do, to this child, to this child's mother, it is wrong...Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother's belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew - dated after he supposedly died in the war. Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later..

Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase is packed full of secrets and deceptions. I wept my way through this deeply moving story of loss and soul searching, with a soggy tissue clutched in my palm.

It’s a dual time narrative (which I must admit I have a special fondness for, possibly as I can never decide whether I most love historical fiction or contemporary) Told from the modern day perspective of Roberta, whom I didn’t really warm to and the second world war era events in the life of Dorothy with whom I felt an immense kinship.

Present day, Roberta is a spinster, living with her cat in an apartment and working in a lovely independent bookshop “Old and New” by day, sorting through collections of collectable old books, she collects old letters found in second hand books. There aren’t many readers who won’t envy her this job, I do !
In one old book amongst a pile donated by her terminally ill father she discovers a mysterious letter addressed to Dorothea – her grandmother, still alive but over 100 years old and living in a nursing home, increasingly confused and frail. This communique, signed by Roberta’s grandfather and dated almost a year later than the date she understands he died, confuses her and grabs her imagination.
We are then transported back in time to the exceptionally emotional story of Dorothy, a young wife living near an airfield in WW2 her life suffused with loss, the death of her newborn son, an event that is set to affect her future actions and have consequences that transcend generations. Her husband away at war, she takes in 2 landgirls and when one day a plane crashes into the field behind her house, this accident leads her to meet Jan a young Polish airman, destined to play a big part in the story.

I had huge empathy for Dorothy and her story, although very bleak at times and sad, is gripping and compelling, you’ll be swept away by her emotions, feeling her trauma and passion right to the end of the book and I can understand why she makes some difficult choices and decisions and above all why she keeps things hidden, although I was actually traumatized that the one thing I hoped for above all, never materializes. You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.
Roberta, however is a less sympathetic character, I found her clandestine relationship with a married man she seems to care little for, rather distasteful and her aloofness and choice to avoid relationships although it becomes very apparent and very understandable why she is like this I did want to take her by the shoulders at several points and shake her!

I really enjoyed this story which is so much more than a romance it’s an intergenerational look at the way women’s lives are shaped by the men in them, even in their absence. Make sure you have a tissue handy when you read it. I feel this may appeal to anyone who enjoyed “The Guernsey Literary and potato peel pie society” or “The postmistress”

Huge thanks to Lovereading for my advance copy.

Buy your copy here  due for publication in February.

Monday, 23 December 2013

My top 20 books of 2013

It's that time of year when I look back at the books I've read and reviewed and choose my top 10. However I've read so many great new books this year I found it too hard to narrow down to just 10 so this year I've chosen a top 20.

Out of these I notice a similarity to last years top 10 reads in that they include one by Stephen King, one by Jojo Moyes and the majority are by female authors they're a mix of psychological thrillers, family dramas and romance.

I set myself a reading target of 80 books but have only managed 71 so far I think it'll be 72 by the end of 2013 as I'm nearing the end of another.

Here are the best of 2013 as far as I'm concerned - most of these come very highly recommended.

One of the best was
The Playdate - Louise Millar an excellent twisty thriller.