Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Review: To All The Boys I've Loved Before (To All The Boys #1) by Jenny Han

I downloaded this one after watching the Netflix adaptation during the summer, which I loved. This is probably the first YA romance/romcom I've ever read (if I read YA, it's usually fantasy) but I really enjoyed it. The film is mostly faithful to the book, although the ending is slightly different (but not in a bad way!)

Lara Jean Covey is the middle one of the three 'Song sisters', who are extremely close after the death of their mother a few years back. The only gift Lara Jean had from her mother, that was not duplicated to her sisters, is a teal-coloured hat box in which she keeps a bundle of love letters. These are not letters she's received but ones she wrote and never posted, letters written to help her get over the various crushes she has had over the years. Then one day, the letters are mysteriously posted, leading to all sorts of complications.

I'm not usually keen on stories that go into a lot of detail about the characters lives; I prefer to get right to the action! But I absolutely loved this book because of all the detail about Covey family life. I loved the way the sisters try to encourage their hapless father to get out and date again, by ironing his tie and practically shoving him out the door. I loved the down-to-earth humour of Lara Jean's 'fake' boyfriend Peter: "As soon as you and I are done, he's gonna pull some cheesy-ass move and, like, profess his love for you with a boom box. I'm telling you, I know how guys think." I even adored Lara Jean's eccentric best friend Chris, who turns up in the middle of the night for sleepovers.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before is sweet, funny, and heart-warming without even trying. The characters are adorable and I completely fell in love with them. So I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of contemporary romance, romance and romcoms, whatever their age! One of my favourite reads this year.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

I downloaded Once Upon a River because it's a historical mystery, which I love, but also the mention of folk tales caught my eye; fantasy is  my new favourite genre and I've always adored fairy tales! But I was thrilled by just how good this story is, and how clever! I completely fell in love with the characters, so much so that it's now one of my all-time favourite books! 

The story is set in the mid-nineteenth century, at a time when events that might have once seemed magical can now be explained by science. But at the ancient Swan Inn, on the banks of the River Thames, they still love telling each other stories. Some of their tales have been told and re-told for generations, but the strangest of all is when one mid-summer night an injured man stumbles through its doors and promptly collapses. In his arms is the body of a little dead girl - who miraculously comes back to life. As her story spreads through the village, and then further afield, more than one person comes forward to claim her. But who is telling the truth, and who is telling a tale?

Once Upon a River has a host of fascinating characters and the author takes her time to explain who everyone is, their history, and how they fit into the story. So there are dozens of these enchanting little stories taking place alongside the main mystery. But the really clever thing is that this gives the effect of the story flowing between each character in the same way the river flows through each location in the story. Genius!

I particularly loved the characters of Robert Armstrong, the illegitimate son of an Earl and a black maid, who does most of the detecting, and Rita Sunday, the nurse who has seen so many childbirths it's put her right off ever falling in love and getting married.

Will you love this book as much as I did? If you like historical mysteries, then yes. If you adore traditional 'let's sit by the fireside and I'll tell you a story' kind of books, you will definitely love this one. If the mention of folk lore and fantasy puts you off, those elements are done with a very light hand. The film/TV rights have already been sold to Kudos (Broadchurch/Grantchester) and I can't wait to see what they do with with it.

Once Upon a River is a fabulous read that deserves to become an instant classic, one that will be read, and re-read, and enjoyed for years to come. One of my top 3 reads this year.

Thank you to Diane Setterfield and Doubleday (Transworld/Random House) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Review: The Winter Secret by Lulu Taylor

I love Lulu Taylor's books so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of The Winter Secret. It has all my favourite ingredients: a dual timeline, an old house, a famous movie star - and a mystery to solve.

When a character in a book has a too-perfect life, you know everything is soon going to go horribly wrong! In the present day, sweet-natured Buttercup has been whisked off her feet by a handsome millionaire and now lives a glamorous but idle life at the beautiful Charlcome Park. While back in the 1940s, the mansion was home to Xenia Arkadyoff, who is the daughter of a movie star and a Russian Prince, and the envy of all her school-friends. But while Buttercup can have everything she wants, apart from the one thing she is desperate for, Xenia's life is a myriad of secrets no one can find out.

The reason I love Lulu Taylor's books is that they remind me a bit of those glitzy books that were popular in the 80s and 90s. The characters are glamorous and wealthy, but obviously not happy! The Winter Secret combines 1940s Hollywood and the lost world of the Russian tsars, with a touch of modern-day psychological thriller. I loved the mystery surrounding the old house and its sinister 'curse'. It wasn't hard to work out what was happening in Buttercup's life, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of her story, and I did like the way she tried to fight back. Whereas I wished Xenia had made more of her opportunities! There were also some twists I didn't work out, which I always enjoy! 

This was a five-star read for me, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves dual-time line mysteries about big old houses, and for fans of authors such as Eve Chase and Kate Morton.

Thank you to Lulu Taylor and Pan Macmillan for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Post:

Review: Her Frozen Heart by Lulu Taylor

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Review: The Other Miss Bridgerton (The Rokesbys Book 3) by Julia Quinn

I do love Julia Quinn's novels, so as soon as I saw this I dropped everything to read it. I adore the escapism of historical romances, particularly ones with humour, and the author's 'Bridgerton' series is one of my favourites. This book is the third in her 'Rokesby' series, which often features characters from the earlier generation of Bridgertons. It can be read as a stand-alone.

While visiting her friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy Bridgerton is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers' hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain's bed.

So far, so good, I thought! Unfortunately Captain Andrew James Rokesby turns out to be the perfect gentleman. He's also a spy working for the British government, rather than a pirate, and is forced to take Poppy along on his time-sensitive mission to Portugal.

As with all Julia Quinn's books, I loved the characters and the brilliant dialogue. This is the perfect story for readers who love 'meet cute' and the slow burn romance of two characters getting to know each other. For me, however, it felt like nothing much happened until 70%, when something fairly dramatic did happen (no spoilers, sorry!). I really liked that bit! And also the end was lovely and romantic.

Recommended for fans of the light, romcom style of historical romance, and authors such as Eloisa James. This was a solid four-star read for me.

Thank you to Julia Quinn and Piatkus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Review:

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Blog Tour & Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I was thrilled to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Elly Griffiths's latest novel, The Stranger Diaries. It's a brilliant story with a fiendishly clever  mystery, and I know you'll love it! Scroll down for my review and details of where to buy the book. AND, sneakily buried right at the bottom of this page, you'll find the chance to win your own copy! (Not the chocolates though! They didn't last longer than Halloween!)

About the Book

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to tales of murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, she teaches a short course on them every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an R.M. Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...


I was attracted to this book because of the beautiful cover but I'm also a huge fan of Elly Griffiths, particularly her Ruth Galloway series. However, The Stranger Diaries is slightly different - it's a standalone murder mystery, set in a school, which may or may not be haunted!

The story starts with Clare, who teaches English at Talgarth High. The school was once the home of gothic horror writer R.M. Holland, and the top part of the school has been kept as a museum to him and his work; his study is exactly as it was in his day. Scattered throughout the novel are extracts from his most famous short story, The Stranger, and when one of Clare's friends is found dead, a line from this story is found beside the body.

The second point of view is that of the investigating police officer, DS Harbinder Kaur, who was my favourite character, mainly because of her dry sense of humour and the way she is permanently in a grump. I do hope she gets her own series - along with her mother! The third main character is Georgia, Clare's daughter, who humours her mother's ideas of how teenagers should behave and is very funny.  

The Stranger Diaries is a modern take on Victorian mysteries and ghost stories, particularly the way it cleverly backtracks to show the same events from a different character's viewpoint. Running alongside the present-day murders is the mystery of how R.M. Holland's wife died. Is it her ghost that reputedly haunts the school? And just who is Mariana? 

The Stranger Diaries will appeal to anyone who enjoys traditional murder mysteries and I'm sure fans of Elly's Ruth Galloway series will love it. I adored the touch of gothic and the spooky bits - particularly when the teenage Harbinder 'met' the ghost. I hadn't a clue who the murderer was and, as I read a lot of crime fiction, this is always a plus for me!

One of my favourite reads this year! And please, please can Harbinder have a series of her own?!!

Thank you to Elly Griffiths and Quercus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

About the Author

Winner of the 2016 CWA Dagger in the Library, Elly Griffiths was born in London. She worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Her bestselling series of Dr Ruth Galloway novels, featuring a forensic archaeologist, are set in Norfolk. The series has won the CWA Dagger in the Library, and has been shortlisted three times for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her Stephens and Mephisto series is based in 1950s Brighton. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archaeologist, and their two children.

If you're in London on the 12th of November, you'll be able to hear Elly talk at the Crime Files Rooftop Book Club, along with fellow authors Sabine Durrant and Rachel Abbott. More details, including how to obtain tickets, can  be found here.

Win a Copy!

If you'd like to be in with a chance to win a hardback copy of The Stranger Diaries you can enter via Rafflecopter below. It's simple to use and the more clicks (follow Elly on Twitter, follow Elly on Facebook, etc) the more chances you have to win. The competition closes on 8th November 2018. Good luck!

Terms and Conditions: We're sorry but this competition is only open to those living in the UK. Your personal details won't be stored for longer than the competition runs and your details won't be passed onto anyone else. We will only contact you if you are a winner. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours of being notified, another name will be drawn.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Review: The Lost Sisters (Novella) (Folk of the Air #1.5) by Holly Black

I became addicted to YA fantasy over the summer holidays and discovered Holly Black after reading The Cruel Prince, which I loved. The Lost Sisters is a companion novella to The Cruel Prince, so you really need to have read that one first to appreciate it.

Jude and Taryn are twin sisters, of human parents, who have ended up living in the world of the fae after being kidnapped by their step-father. Both have very different tactics to survive this strange new world, tactics that are often in conflict with their sister's. Both crave respect from the fae; is power a way to achieve this?

As this is a novella, it's hard to say more about the story without giving away the plot. So I'll just say that whereas The Cruel Prince was from Jude's point of view, this story gives Taryn's version of events. 

I did enjoy it but this is really one for existing fans of the series - something to keep us going until the next book in the series, The Wicked King, comes out in January 2019. If you can't wait that long, Holly Black's other books - Tithe and Ironside - are set in the same world and some of the characters reappear in The Cruel Prince.

Related Posts:

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

After discovering YA fantasy over the summer, I have had a lovely time catching up on authors' backlists. I've particularly enjoyed reading Holly Black's urban fairy stories. Each one is set in the same world yet mentions characters from her other books, so  it's like catching up with old friends. The Darkest Part of the Forest is a standalone, so you don't need to have read her other books to enjoy it - which is lucky, because I seem to be reading them backwards!

In the forest outside the town of Fairfold is a glass casket containing a sleeping faerie prince. He's been there for as long as anyone can remember and has become quite a tourist attraction. Ben and his sister Hazel find him fascinating and long for him to wake up ... but the sleeping prince isn't the only faerie creature in the forest.

I loved this story because it took several well-known fairy tales and turned them on their head (Snow White, Kate Crackernuts, etc). I thought it great that it was a prince in the glass casket who needed rescuing and, although there is a bit of a romance, the characters don't necessarily end up with who you think. I loved the way the inhabitants of Fairfold had long since become used to supernatural creatures straying over their boundaries, and the hapless tourists who took selfies of themselves with the prince, but usually ended up becoming faerie fodder!

Recommended for anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairy tales with a dark, urban twist.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I loved Big Little Lies so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers - and it didn't disappoint! I love Liane's writing, brimming with characters I recognise from real life (ouch!) and chock full of funny lines - the kind of thing we all think, but aren't brave enough to say out loud!

The story is about nine, not remotely 'perfect' strangers who meet up at a radical new health resort hoping to completely overhaul their lives. All have suffered some kind of loss in their life, from loss of a loved one to loss of self, and they mostly blame themselves. Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint but it is so skilfully done you don't become confused as to who is who. Yet despite the humour, some serious issues were touched upon in a sensitive way: dealing with grief, divorce, self-image, substance addiction, etc. 

My favourite character was Frances, a middle-aged romantic novelist, whose confidence has been undermined after receiving a particularly vicious review. This is probably because I felt Frances was basically me! She thinks the same way, reacts the same way, even loves the same brand of chocolate! Although I suspect many women reading this book will feel the same way! This is a particular skill of this author, to create well-rounded, thoroughly believable characters we all recognise, can connect with and want to root for.

I absolutely adored Nine Perfect Strangers. I've recommended it to all my friends, and even read bits aloud to my long-suffering husband. One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Liane Moriarty and Michael Joseph (Penguin) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related review:

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Review: A Keeper by Graham Norton

I absolutely loved Graham Norton's last book, Holding, and couldn't wait to get my hands on this one. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, perhaps another cosy-ish crime story, but A Keeper is much darker and quite sad in places.

Elizabeth Keane has returned to her childhood home in Ireland after her mother's death, intending to close up and sell the house. Instead, she finds a cache of letters hidden in her mother's wardrobe, making mention of the father Elizabeth never knew. That, combined with another unexpected inheritance, makes Elizabeth determined to investigate her mother's past.

"She imagined her family tree as a couple of bare branches with an ancient vulture perched on one of them."

As always, the character studies and dialogue are brilliant. Despite the sadness of the tale (towards the end), there are some funny one-liners too. Instead of multiple viewpoints, like Holding, A Keeper is mostly told from just two - Elizabeth in the present day and Patricia (her mother) in the 1970s. Because I was thoroughly enjoying the story, it didn't dawn on me until about two-thirds of the way through that this is a story about mothers and their relationship with their children. Clever title too!

The dual timeline, the strong female characters and the challenges they face would appeal to fans of authors such as Eve Chase and Lulu Taylor. I read a lot of books, so I kind of knew where the story was heading, but there were some good twists that took me completely by surprise. (So that will teach me to be smug!) 1970s rural Ireland is very well realised and, as I've said, the characters are brilliant and I loved them, flaws and all.

A five-star read, thoroughly recommended! 

Thank you to Graham Norton and Coronet (Hodder and Stoughton) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related review:

Holding by Graham Norton

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Review: A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan

I was attracted to this book because of the absolutely gorgeous cover and the title. I love, love, love stories about spooky old houses as well as traditional-style murder mysteries. I should probably have paid a bit more attention to the blurb because, while there is both a deliciously haunted house and a clever murder mystery, the story is set in 1917 and is also about spies, secret plans and traitors - which is not normally my thing at all. However, I absolutely loved it!

Donovan (the sole survivor of his regiment) and Kate (employed by the War Office to crack codes) are dispatched by 'C' to a house party at Blackwater Abbey on a remote island just off the Devon coast. Lady Highmount has invited her friends and two psychics to her house for a seance. She is hoping to make contact with her sons who are missing in action, believed dead. Her husband, Lord Highmount, is a man of working class origins who has made his fortune manufacturing weapons. Someone is selling plans of these to the Germans, and it's up to Donovan and Kate to find out who.

While there are plenty of (real) ghosts at Blackthorn Abbey, I think this book would suit readers of murder mysteries best. There are some truly chilling moments (the seance!), but perhaps not enough jump shocks for fans of ghost stories. There are, however, plenty of twists for vintage crime fans and a good puzzle to get their teeth into!

I adored the characters and their sparky dialogue. The action is shared equally between Donovan and Kate; she's a thoroughly modern heroine and not just there to make the hero look good. I really hope this is the first book in a new series, because I would love to read more!

Brilliant stuff! Thoroughly recommended!  

Thank you to W.C. Ryan and Bonnier Zaffre for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.