Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: Marrying His Cinderella Countess by Louise Allen

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Review: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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

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

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

Friday, 28 July 2017

Review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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