Saturday, 10 March 2018

Review: The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

I was attracted to this book because of the unusual cover and the premise sounded fascinating: an old house with the middle taken out because it's haunted!

Jay is an artist, specialising in ceramics, but has suffered a breakdown and feels a need for peace and quiet away from London. So she and her husband Simon buy a derelict house in the country - which is actually now two houses, as a previous owner took out the middle believing it to be haunted by the ghost of his wife. Despite the hostility of the villagers, Jay finds the idea of living in a haunted house both fascinating and inspiring, and is eager to investigate its history - but perhaps the past should be left alone?

I did enjoy The Two Houses but I downloaded it because I thought it was a ghost story and it wasn't really. Small items seem to disappear from one location only to turn up in another, but that is about it. There is an old mystery but the story is really about how the characters cope with living in such a bleak and hostile environment. Jay and Simon discover that living in the country isn't quite the idyll they were expecting. Tom, who runs the local pub, has never quite got over having to give up farming. The elderly Heather is old enough to remember the tragic events of the past and has no desire to see it all stirred up again. And then there is the newcomer Dev, who just wants to fit in.

Tom and Heather were my favourite characters but I didn't much like Jay, mainly because she seemed to be determined to solve the mystery of the Two Houses only to prove that she was right - and she didn't care who she hurt in the process. I did love the idea of a house so haunted it had to have a chunk taken out. The story is well-written and the setting is great, but bear in mind The Two Houses is more character study than gothic mystery or psychological thriller.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 22nd March 2018.

Thank you to Fran Cooper, Hodder & Stoughton, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Review: The Mechanical Devil (Wesley Peterson #22) by Kate Ellis

I'm a huge fan of Kate Ellis and I've now read all her Wesley Peterson books. Although this one began a little bit slowly it soon raced along and is now one of my favourites.

The story starts with a shooting at the site of a medieval manor house, the two victims apparently unknown to each other. What links them and the death of a student twenty years earlier? And does it have anything to do with the strange wooden figure recently discovered in a coffin-like lead box?

The main characters are Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and his boss DCI Gerry Heffernan, along with archaeologist Neil Watson. The stories often have a historical mystery at their heart and the occasional touch of humour. My favourite characters are Gerry and Neil, and I do wish someone would turn these books into a TV series.

As with all Kate Ellis's books the murders come along in quick succession and it is hard to work out how they can all be connected. In fact, I often don't bother to try - I just sit back and enjoy the incredibly skilled plotting! This time, however, I did work out the culprit behind the attacks on a woman living on her own, so I felt quite pleased about that, and also identity of the main villain - but only about half a page before Wesley!

A definite 5 star rating from me and I'm sure fans of Elly Griffiths and traditional murder mysteries will love this one too.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Review: While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

It was the description that made me download this book because I don't really like the cover (naked girl, sitting in hallway of old house). It's described as a psychological thriller but I found it to be more of a gothic mystery/folk horror, which is more to my taste anyway.

Zoe is an American who is having problems in her marriage and decides to take a solo holiday on a remote Scottish island. She's chosen to rent a recently refurbished, large Victorian house which, it transpires, was built on the ruins (and using some of the stones from) an old chapel. The owner implies she shouldn't listen to gossip and rumour about the history of the house, so of course that's exactly what she does! Her main source of information is Charles, a historian and bookshop owner, and Edward, the local school teacher, who has already had one pupil disappear at the house in mysterious circumstances.

While You Sleep is very well-written, atmospheric and downright creepy, and the characters fairly leapt off the page. I loved the setting and the chilling history of the house, and the eccentric characters living on the island. I particularly liked Charles and his jokey demand for the payment of a cinnamon bun before he'd tell Zoe the legends about the old house.

The negative for me (and I can't believe I'm writing this, because it doesn't usually bother me) were the (two and a half) sex scenes. I think it's because I was quite happily reading what I thought to be a super-scary gothic mystery and suddenly it all went a bit Fifty Shades of Grey. The other negative was the budding romance between Zoe and Edward. Exact ages are not mentioned, but Zoe is apparently in her forties and Edward is in his twenties. This would have been fine, except every time Edward appears mention is made of how young he is, either outright or implicitly, so I started to think of the age gap as being much larger than it probably was.

But overall I did enjoy While You Sleep. I found it a super-spooky and completely gripping read that reminded me of those old Hammer House of Horror films and Dennis Wheatley novels. I have no hesitation in giving it four stars, but if you're the kind of person who doesn't mind a bit of dark erotica with your folk horror, then you might consider it a five-star read.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 8th March 2018.

Thank you to Stephanie Merritt, Harper Collins UK, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Review: A House Full of Secrets by Zoe Miller

It was the beautiful cover that drew me to this book, and I had the idea it was going to be a psychological suspense - which it isn't! There is a big old house and a very dysfunctional family (who could use a lot of therapy), and it's one of those stories where everyone has a secret. And I enjoyed it a lot.

A House Full of Secrets is mostly told from two points of view: Jenna, who is married to Alex, the eldest son of the glamorous Blake family, and Vikki, who is friends with the troubled youngest brother, Niall, but is hoping for a lot more, especially after he invites her to spend the weekend with his family. Twenty years ago Alex, Niall, and their sister Lainey were poised on the brink of glittering careers when their mother died and their world shattered. Alex ran away to New York, where he met Jenna, and Niall headed to London. Only Lainey stayed in Ireland. Alex and Niall have not spoken to each other since that summer but now they have been summoned back to the family home, Lynes Glen, and the tension is mounting by the minute.

I loved the characters, even the bossy Lainey, but I especially loved Jenna, who cannot understand why her husband Alex is so on edge and why the family never talk about the mother they obviously loved so much. I also loved Vikki, who had some horrific secrets in her own past, and the way she was trying so hard to fit in with the upper-class Blakes. And I always enjoy stories about big old houses that have a mystery at their heart!

Most of the story is set in the present day but there are some chapters set in the 1960s, showing how the siblings' parents met, right up to the 1990s when their mother died. I would have preferred it if there had been more of these set at regular intervals throughout the story, because there came a point towards the end of the book where the segments clustered together, detailing each character's take on exactly what had happened the day their mother died. But the negative for me was the villain, who became a bit pantomine-y towards the end, and I'm afraid I skipped the big confrontational scene.

Despite this, I really enjoyed A House Full of Secrets and I would definitely recommend it to fans of authors such as Lulu Taylor, Eve Chase (Black Rabbit Hall), and Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca).

Thank you to Zoe Miller, Hachette Books Ireland, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Review: Kin (Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson

I was attracted to this book because of the cover and the wonderful tagline: 'Lies. Manipulation. Murder. There's nothing quite like family.' How could I resist that?

Helga Finnsdottir lives with her adoptive parents, Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson and his wife Hildigunnar, in a remote valley. It is rumoured Unnthor possesses a great treasure chest of gold, obtained during his previous career of raiding and pillaging, but Unnthor is admitting nothing. Unfortunately Unnthor's three sons and his daughter have come to visit for the summer, and they all have an eye on a share of the gold. When tensions spiral out of control, and someone is found murdered, it is up to Helga to find the culprit before an innocent life is taken.

Kin is basically a Viking murder mystery, although with the power struggles between the family members, and the manipulations of Hildigunnar, it did sometimes remind me of The Godfather. There are a lot of characters: Unnthor's three sons and his daughter, plus their wives and husband. The story does takes its time to explain who everyone is and set up possible motives for murder - which doesn't take place until about 40% into the story. This might be a minus for some readers, but I enjoyed the setting up of time and place, and all the details of Viking life. The dialogue is a bit 21st century, but that didn't bother me either. 

I loved the characters, especially Helga and her adoptive parents (when I wasn't thinking about The Godfather, the mum and dad out of Brave kept popping into my head), but I did get confused between the various wives of Helga's adoptive brothers. The murder victim wasn't who I was expecting it to be and I didn't guess the identity of the murderer either. As I read a lot of crime novels, this is always a plus for me!

I thought Kin was brilliant! I really enjoyed reading something so different, and I'm definitely going to look out for the next book in the series.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 8th March 2018.

Thank you to Snorri Kristjansson, Quercus and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Review: The Cadaver Game (Wesley Peterson #16) by Kate Ellis

I love Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson series and when I saw she had a new one out (The Mechanical Devil) I was surprised to realise I had bought this one but not read it. However, when I started reading I realised why - the murder victims are teenagers and I usually try to avoid reading books about dead or missing children. But it turned out the teenagers in question are over eighteen so I needn't have worried. 

Barney and Sophie are fans of an online game called Blood Hunt, so much so that they decide to take part in a real life version, involving being chased naked through the local woods. I suppose these things always seem like a good idea at the time! A few days later their bodies are found at the foot of a cliff. Is there any connection between their deaths and that of a woman found dead in her suburban home - and the skeleton discovered while digging up a sixteen year old art installation?

In these books there is always a historical mystery running parallel with the story, and in this case it is about the local lord of the manor who enjoyed the same kind of hunt that these computer games are based on.

The thing I love most about Kate Ellis's books is the way  she ties up all these seemingly unrelated murders in each story - fiendishly clever! I never guess who the villain is. I had a slight inkling towards the end of this one, but only because we were fast running out of suspects! 

Thoroughly recommended, especially for readers who love traditional murder mysteries, especially the kind with a puzzle at their heart.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Review: The Marquess Tames His Bride (Brides for Bachelors #2) by Annie Burrows

I'm a huge fan of Annie Burrows's Regency romances and I've read all of them. The Marquess Tames His Bride is the second in the Brides for Bachelors series, but it can be read as a standalone. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger, romance-wise,  but there is a mystery that threads through each story which I am assuming won't be resolved until the last book.

The Marquess of Rawcliffe and Clare Cottam (a Vicar's daughter) were childhood friends but have grown apart after Rawcliffe proposed and Clare took it as a joke and turned him down. Now each thinks the other is completely uncaring, although they are still attracted to each other. After several years they meet again. I won't spoil the surprise for you, but after an extremely original proposal scene Clare finds herself accidentally engaged to him. Does she really want to go ahead with marriage to the Marquess, or is he not quite the cold-hearted man he seems?

The proposal scene was definitely my favourite part of the story but I also liked the characters, particularly the strong-willed Clare when she is stands up to Rawcliffe during his alpha male moments. Can she break through the shield he has formed around his heart to stop himself from being hurt? The Marquess may feel he is turning his untamed childhood sweetheart into suitable marchioness material, but it does sometimes seem as though it's the other way around - and that's why I really enjoyed this story!