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.

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!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Review: The Devil's Dice (DI Meg Dalton #1) by Roz Watkins

I love reading murder mysteries and this one appealed to me because it is set in the Peak District, where my mother's family came from, so I knew the places mentioned. I liked the cover, the title sounded intriguing, and I always enjoy finding new crime authors to read!

The Devil's Dice is a police procedural featuring Detective Inspector Meg Dalton, newly transferred to the area. She's plunged straight into a murder enquiry when a lawyer is found dead in a cave, his initials carved into the rock behind him along with an image of the Grim Reaper. Except the carvings have been there for over a century...

I did love the bits of history and legends woven throughout this story, especially the 'labyrinth' where witches met their death hundreds of years before. I also liked the old house on the edge of the quarry and the curse upon it! I loved the character of Jai, Meg's sidekick, but I found it harder to relate to her, mainly because I couldn't understand why she didn't deal with the office bully head on, especially since she out-ranked him. The story was very fast-paced, with several life or death moments for Meg, and I am sure this series will go on to do brilliantly.

Recommended, especially if you like creepy historical stuff with your detective stories.

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

Thank you to Roz Watkins, HQ and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Review: The Dark Angel (Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries #10) by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite authors and I absolutely love her Ruth Galloway mysteries. These feature Ruth (a forensic archaeologist) and Nelson (a Detective Chief Inspector) investigating a series of murders, usually with some historical connection. There are also other reoccurring characters, such as the druid Cathbad (I adore Cathbad!), along with Ruth's friends and Nelson's police colleagues. 

I loved this book! (You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?) Ruth heads off on a working holiday to Italy at the invitation of old friend (and ex-lover) Dr Angelo Morelli, taking her friend Shona and both their children along too.  Angelo, has found an old skeleton he wants her opinion on, but fails to mention that someone has got it in for him - which becomes a bit of an issue when Ruth finds unpleasant surprises on the doorstep of the apartment she's borrowed from him. Along with the Romans and Volsci, topics covered are WW2, the Italian Resistance, immigrants and refugees, and Nelson and Cathbad also make an appearance.

The engaging characters are the reason I enjoy these books so much. I also like the history, the humour, and the fact that they are not too 'gritty'. However, while I'm happy to rate this book as a five-star 'must read', new readers would probably get more out of the series if they start with the first book, The Crossing Places. Much of The Dark Angel is about the characters' ongoing relationships, which I loved, but I can see it would completely go over your head if you were not already familiar with who is who.

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

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

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Saturday, 13 January 2018

Review: The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1) by Tessa Dare

I'm a huge fan of Tessa Dare. I've read most of her books and was really excited to get my hands on this. One of her earlier novels, When a Scot Ties the Knot, is one of my all-time favourites and this story is written in a similar style, with non-stop funny banter between the characters. Having said that, after reading several historical novels back-to-back I did have trouble getting into it at first. The way the protagonists talk to each other is very 21st century and not remotely the way a 19th century duke and seamstress would speak to anyone of their era, let each other - they would probably never even meet. However, once I'd got over that, I absolutely loved The Duchess Deal.

When the Duke of Ashbury returns from the war horribly scarred ("Faulty rocket at Waterloo. You have precisely three seconds to move past it. One. Two...") his fiancée can't bear to look at him and calls off their engagement. In dire need of a wife and heir (so his estate doesn't fall into the hands of his 'toad of a cousin'), when seamstress Emma Gladstone explodes into his study demanding payment for the bridal gown his fiancée has cancelled, he asks her to marry him instead. 

"If it's a wife you want, surely you could find many women - many well-bred ladies - who would be willing to marry you."

"Yes, but then I'd have to find them. This saves me so much effort."

Emma is not a fool and, although it takes her a couple of days (she's not entirely sure he's serious), she soon accepts. She thinks she might even grow to love the Duke, and is hoping for a real marriage, but the Duke has a few rules...

There are two things about this novel that make it outstanding: the cracking dialogue and the brilliant characters - particularly the hero, Ash. I was about halfway through the story when the penny dropped. Ash is basically Deadpool - manically cracking irreverent jokes to hide his pain, both mental and physical. Ash had once been an extremely handsome man, now he considers himself to be a monster who frightens small children. It's not the only superhero reference. Ash's relationship with his butler is very Bruce Wayne and Alfred ('Batman'), the encounter with Trevor (the teenage boy who wants to be the sidekick of the 'Monster of Mayfair') reminded me of 'The Incredibles', and then there's that very steamy kiss in the pouring rain ... 'Spiderman'?

So, if you love historical romances written in a very traditional Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer style, you're going to hate this. But it you love witty, warm-hearted romantic comedy, with characters that leap off the page demanding your attention, you'll love it.

This was definitely a five-star read for me. 

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of The Duchess Deal, which will be published on 22nd February 2018.

Thank you to Tessa Dare, Mills & Boon and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

I chose this book because of the beautiful cover, and because I was trying to find a winter-themed crime/mystery novel - apart from the early books of Kathy Reichs and Louise Penny, they seem to be a bit thin on the ground! I had expected The Child Finder to be a standard private detective/missing child story, but it is so much more than that. It's about the strength of the human spirit and determination to survive no matter how bleak the circumstances, and the tricks the mind will play to protect itself. There are also references to folk tales, such as The Snow Maiden

Naomi Cottle specialises in finding missing children; her own harrowing childhood means she can sometimes be more adapt than the police at finding them, even the cases that everyone else has given up on. Madison Culver disappeared three years ago on a trip to the remote, mountainous forests of Oregon, shortly before a blizzard. The authorities assume she died of exposure and have long since stopped looking for her remains, but Naomi knows that Madison could have survived - if someone else has found her.

I was completely gripped by this story and by 30% I got to the point where I couldn't put it down. Along with Naomi's search for Madison, we learn about how she has (mostly) overcome the demons of her own childhood, the mistake that haunts her, and her struggle to lower her defences enough to allow those she loves to get close. There are no real surprises in the plot, no big 'twist'; the strength is in the author's creation of flawed but fascinating characters the reader really cares about. I even found myself feeling sorry for the villain!

Child abduction and the effects of abuse make up the main plot of this detective story, but it is dealt with using a very light touch. This is not a gritty read but, as the author works in the field that she writes about, you know every word is completely authentic and from the heart.  Thoroughly recommended, particularly if you've enjoyed books such as Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell, and like reading stories that are just that little bit different.

Thank you to Rene Denfeld, W&N (Orion), and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.