Sunday, 25 June 2017

Review: Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

I have not read Mary Kubica before but I have heard good things about her books, and when I saw this one it sounded right up my street. Nick and Clara Solberg appear to have the perfect marriage. Nick has his own dental practice and Clara has just given birth to their second child, Felix. But Clara's life is shattered when Nick is killed in a car accident. Also in the car at the time was their young daughter, Maisie. When Maisie starts talking about a 'bad man', Clara wonders if the car crash wasn't an accident after all. But who would hate Nick enough to kill him?

The story is told from Clara's point of view, as she investigates the accident by talking to Nick's work colleagues and anyone who might have witnessed the crash, but we also have Nick's version of the events leading up to his death. It is a clever story and well-written. No one really has the 'perfect' life, and Nick and Clara are no exception. I enjoyed how each layer was peeled away to reveal the real people beneath, and I liked the character of Nick and how he felt his control over his life was slipping away from him. Clara's story, told in the present, was desperately sad, as she came to terms with the death of her husband.

While there was a lot about this book I enjoyed, it wasn't really me. It would suit someone who is more into family dramas and psychological suspense. I prefer stories with a little more humour (although it would have been inappropriate here!) and, while there was the mystery of Nick's death to solve, I did feel disappointed with the ending. I don't normally give star ratings to the reviews on my blog (I leave that for Amazon and Goodreads) but I would like to emphasise that I would give this book a solid four stars; anything less would be unfair, as it was well written and had engaging characters. I also enjoyed trying to guess who the murderer was - which I didn't get right - something else I always like!

So, recommended if you like your murder mysteries to be psychological and domestic, but perhaps not if you prefer them to be a little more traditional.

Thank you to Mary Kubica, HQ and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review: The Faithful by Juliet West

I loved the cover of this book and the plot intrigued me. I don't read many books set in the 1930s and it's a period that I don't know much about. I had heard of Oswald Mosley and the blackshirts, and I thought it an interesting choice of background for a novel, so I couldn't wait to read the book.

The story starts in West Sussex in 1935. Sixteen year old Hazel has been mainly left on her own for the summer with just the family housekeeper for company. Lots of opportunity for mischief! Her father has gone to live and work in Paris with his mistress, and her mother keeps flitting off to London with her married lover. Hazel's family are well-to-do and they live in a big house with only an old flint wall dividing their garden from the beach. When Hazel sees a group of people in uniform set up camp on the beach she is fascinated. These are Oswald Mosley's 'blackshirts', the British Union of Fascists, and when Hazel sees them parade through the town she thinks they are very glamorous.

Tom, a young working class lad from Lewisham, feels differently. He is at the camp with his parents, who are attracted to Oswald Mosley's party because of the apparent anti-war stance, but he is already starting to question the blackshirts' politics. And then he meets Hazel.

The Faithful is a coming-of-age story, about two young people who make choices and then have to live with the consequences of their actions. Because the characters were so engaging I found their story completely gripping. It is very well written and I loved all the descriptions of Sussex at the height of summer and the period detail about the 1930s - although I did find myself wincing every time Hazel lit up yet another cigarette! From my 21st century viewpoint, I also found it hard to understand why Hazel continued her association with the blackshirts after she realised exactly what they stood for. But I could appreciate she had a good reason, which I won't go into because of spoilers.

The story is divided into three parts. Part one ends just before a pivotal event, and part two continues a year after that event. It was not hard to guess what that event was, and I would have preferred to have read about it as it happened, rather than have it hinted at later in the story.

Beside Hazel and Tom, the other viewpoints are Hazel's rather selfish mother Francine, bitterly seeing her youth slipping away from her and, by contrast, Tom's mother Bea, who would do anything to protect her son. They are both flawed characters, which I always find interesting and, like their offspring, they both made choices that would affect the rest of their lives. I did feel that Francine's story could have been developed a bit more, and there were a few other issues/questions I'd have liked to have seen resolved at the end.

But I did really enjoy reading The Faithful and would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves reading historical fiction. It would probably appeal to fans of family sagas too. I'm planning on lending my copy to my mother, who loves this kind of thing - but she had better let me have it back!

Thank you to Mantle/Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

This book felt as though it had been written just for me! It has all the ingredients I love in a story - an old murder, family secrets, flawed characters - there is even a spooky old house located on a private island. Perfect!

Forty years ago, Meg Ashley's mother Frances became an overnight sensation when she wrote a cult horror novel called Kitten. (Think female Stephen King and the success of 'Carrie'). Since then, Frances Ashley has become an extremely wealthy, much-loved author. Unfortunately, Frances is also a complete megalomaniac and a terrible mother. A clue to their relationship is that whenever Frances phones Meg, a picture of Ursula from The Little Mermaid pops up on Meg's screen!

The person Meg is closest to is Edgar, her mother's literary agent, who has become almost like a father to her. So when Edgar dies, and her mother simply jets off to marry yet another in a long list of husbands without telling her, it is the final straw. Offered a huge sum of money to write a tell-all account of growing up with Frances Ashley as her mother - and the true-life murder that inspired Kitten, Meg accepts, packing her bags and heading off to the private island of Bonny (Georgia, USA), intending to solve the decades-old murder. Will her plan go horribly wrong? You bet!

One of the things I liked best about this story is that it is clear Meg is being manipulated - you want to shout at the book, 'No, don't do it!' - but who is doing the manipulating? Frances's bitter assistant, who arranges Meg's book deal? Doro Kitchens, the woman Frances based the character of Kitten on all those years ago? The handsome Koa, Doro's employee, who has his own reasons for being on the island? Or even Frances herself?

Another thing I loved about the story was that I couldn't work out who the murderer was, not even at the very end! And there was a final twist I didn't see coming.

It's hard to categorise the genre - another thing I liked about the book. Part psychological suspense, part classic romantic suspense, part gothic. There is a murder mystery and a hint of the paranormal - and the end seemed to come straight out of an 80s scream queen movie. It reminded me of Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson, with a bit of Stephen King, but although it gets a little bit bloody towards the end (and slightly over the top - just hold on and enjoy the ride!), it is not really gruesome.

Anyway, I loved it. It's one of my favourite reads this year and I've already downloaded the author's earlier book, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls.

Thank you to Emily Carpenter, Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

And thanks to Chelsea Humphrey at The Suspense is Killing Me - it was her fabulous review which made me desperate to read this book!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review: The Debutante's Daring Proposal by Annie Burrows

I've had a bit of a rough week and was in the mood for some pure escapism, so when this popped up on my Kindle I was delighted. 

The Debutante's Daring Proposal is a historical romance set in Regency England. The story is about two childhood friends, Edmund and Georgiana, who are now grown up. Edmund is the Earl of Ashenden and Georgiana is about to be launched on Society. They grew apart after Edmund was sent away (for his health) to the Scilly Isles, but now he's returned and Georgiana wants to ask a favour. If he would agree to marry her, she could stay in the village she loves and wouldn't have to marry a stranger.

Edmund's first inclination is to say 'no'. He feels he no longer has anything in common with this brittle society miss, but then he has a change of heart. Perhaps he could act as match-maker and find Georgiana a husband? Right ... What possible flaw could there be in that plan?

As with all Annie Burrows's books, I loved the humour, much of which is derived from the witty dialogue and misunderstandings between the two main characters. I particularly loved Georgiana who, despite the best efforts of her step-mother, is still a tomboy at heart - when we first meet her she is up to her ankles in mud. Edmund's friends, who give him lots of 'helpful' advice are also entertaining.

The Debutante's Daring Proposal is a sweet, romantic story, with no sex scenes until the very end, and I'm sure anyone who loves historical romance will adore it. 

Note: The story is #3 in a series called Regency Bachelors#1 was Lord Havelock's List and #2 was a novella called Governess to Christmas Bride, but you don't have to have read them to enjoy this story.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Review: The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig

I absolutely loved this book! Wickedly funny with brilliant characters, I could hardly bear to put it down. The story is about Lottie and Quentin Bredin, who are forced to uproot from London and settle in the wilds of Devon because they can't afford to divorce. Dragged along for the ride are Lottie's son Xan and their young daughters, the precocious Stella and good-natured Rosie. Most of the humour comes from the shock of exchanging their lovely home in the city for an old farmhouse, which is damp and overrun with mice (and, on one occasion, a large rat). Worse still, there's barely any mobile phone signal or Internet. And then the Bredins find out exactly why the house was so cheap to rent  - and what happened to the previous tenant ...

The joy of this book is in how the characters deal with (or, in some cases, don't deal with) adversity. Lottie is a control freak, trying desperately hard to keep her family from going under while utterly devastated by Quentin's serial infidelity. Quentin is a self-obsessed idiot, who spends the first half of the book trying to claw his way back into the London elite, gatecrashing the parties and clubs where he used to reign supreme. Unfortunately he never spent much time being nice to people on the way up, so they are all quite gleefully watching him get his comeuppance on the way down.

Pampered teenager Xan, who has failed to get into Cambridge and sulkily refuses to consider an alternative university, has a horrible shock when he finds out they can't even afford Netflix and he is forced to get a job at the local pie-making factory. (After reading about his adventures, you'll probably never want to eat a ready-made pie again!)

The story is told from each viewpoint over the course of a year, with the addition of Sally, a local midwife, who first meets Quentin when his car forces hers into a ditch. Despite this, Sally becomes good friends with Lottie and we also see village life from her more sensible perspective.

The plot skillfully covers the harsh realities of divorce, caring for elderly parents, trying to fit into a new community, poverty, infidelity and infertility. Despite the humour, the story was a little dark in places, particularly with regards to the mystery of the previous tenant - and exactly what happens to that meat before it ends up on your table as a Sunday roast. 

My favourite characters were Xan, who was the first to realise what a sheltered life he'd been leading, and his step-father Quentin - even though Quentin was so horrible: "Without selfishness, I'll have a life of misery and boredom."

The Lie of the Land is one of my favourite reads this year. Recommended if you love cleverly written stories about eccentric characters, with a bit of humour and a mystery thrown in. I'll definitely be seeking out more of Amanda's books!

Thank you to Amanda Craig, the Little Brown Book Group and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (The Rokesbys Book 2) by Julia Quinn

Julia Quinn is one of my all-time favourite authors. I've read every one of her books. I love her big-hearted characters, who are usually part of lovable eccentric families, and the fabulous witty dialogue between heroes and heroines. But unfortunately I'm not really feeling her new Rokesby series.

It is 1779. Cecilia Harcourt has been living an isolated life in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, with her widowed father. She lives for the letters she receives from her brother Thomas, who is a soldier fighting for the British in the American War of Independence (I think! My American history is a little hazy and the book didn't make it clear). When she receives a letter saying Thomas has been wounded, in the same week her father dies, she decides to head to America to be with him - only to arrive and discover he is nowhere to be found.

In the meantime, Thomas's friend, Edward Rokesby, has woken up in a hospital in New York, to find three months of his life missing and Cecilia claiming to be his wife. Surely he'd remember if he was married?

I have read very few historical romances set in this period in America, so I was really looking forward to learning more about that time. There was also Edward's missing three months and the mysterious disappearance of Thomas - was or wasn't he a spy, etc. Instead, all of this fizzled out and the main part of the story is about Cecilia and Edward's relationship. Which was fine; this is a romance after all. But I had been expecting a little bit more ...

Julia Quinn's style of writing, her characters, her witty dialogue; they are all here and as brilliant as usual - five stars. But the lack of historical detail and plot was more of a three. Averaging out at 4 stars.

Recommended for anyone who loves romantic comedies set in the past, and for fans of Eloisa James. If you've never read Julia Quinn before, I'd suggest you start with her famous Bridgerton Series - The Viscount Who Loved Me and An Offer from a Gentleman are my favourites. Although my all-time favourite is one of her stand-alones: The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review: The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

The beautiful cover of this book caught my eye first, and when I found out it was about Arbella Stuart I could not resist downloading it. I adore reading historical novels and I knew a bit about Arbella from watching a documentary about her a few years back.

Arbella was a fascinating person, the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (who was sister to King Henry VIII), and so therefore a possible heir to Queen Elizabeth I. As such, Arbella was used as a pawn by those who wanted power, including her own family, when she just wanted to read, write, and ride her horse. 

The story is told from two points of view: Arbella's, as she looks back on her life, and a woman called Ami, who was friends with her at Court. It dawned on me about halfway through the book that Ami might also be a real life historical figure, and after a bit of Googling I discovered she was Aemilia Lanyer, a well-known poet.

Although Ami's life was interesting, I would have rather read more about Arbella! I loved the descriptions of Arbella's childhood and her relationship with her formidable grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, and how she grew up at Hardwick Hall, which was famous for being 'more glass than wall'. I felt so sorry for Arbella as she longed for a normal life as a wife and mother, away from all the political intrigue.

I could have done with a family tree at the front of the book, or perhaps a list of characters. Although I thought I knew a fair bit about history, I did become confused as to who was who. Characters were introduced as though I should know who they were and I spent a lot of time on Google, resulting in a few spoilers!

But the story was very well written and I did enjoy reading it. It would probably appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory and anyone who enjoys Tudor/Stuart history mixed in with a bit of fiction.

Thank you to Elizabeth Fremantle, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is completely brilliant! This is far and away the best book I've read this year. I had assumed from the title that the story was going to be something along the lines of Bridget Jones, but the cover with the burnt out matches (on the UK version) intrigued me and I thought perhaps there was more to it - maybe a psychological suspense?

It turned out I was completely wrong about that too! There is no 'big twist you'll never see coming'; there are no big twists at all, just a very clever story about an unusual and interesting character, whose past history is revealed a tiny bit at a time. (Pay particular attention about halfway through). I'm not quite sure what genre to classify this as. It did remind me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, but I think that is more the style of writing; it's not really a psychological suspense.

The story is about Eleanor Oliphant who is nearly thirty years old. She's been in the same job since leaving university, has no ambition, and is happy to just keep doing the same things every day for the rest of her life. However, she has no friends - she has no social skills at all - and the kind of things the rest of us take for granted - smart phones,  social media, etc - completely flummox her. The other clue that things are not quite right in her life, is that she drinks two bottles of vodka every weekend, and has developed a crush on a musician who she is convinced will fall madly in love with her once he realises she exists. And every Wednesday she speaks with her horrible mother, who completely tears any self-confidence she has built up over the previous week to shreds. To me, she felt like a 1930s debutante who had suddenly been plonked into the 21st century and was completely clueless.

Of course things can't carry on like this and one simple act of kindness will turn Eleanor's ordered life upside down.

The story is told from Eleanor's point of view and, as well as being absolutely hilarious (this is one of those books that actually does have lots of those 'laugh out loud' moments), is by turns sweet, funny, sad, quirky, poignant, touching, incredibly lovely and completely wonderful. I loved it!

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

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

When I got my hands on this book I'm afraid it leapfrogged my 30-book-high to-be-read pile and I started on it immediately. I devoured it within 2 days! 2 days in which I was supposed to be doing other stuff, but I couldn't put it down.

The first half of the book is told from the point of view of Cara Burrows, an English woman running away from the (fairly minor) problem in her life. I can't tell you more about that, other than Cara wouldn't have a problem if she just learned to communicate with her family (husband and two children). When she asks for their opinion, and gets an answer she doesn't want, rather than plead her case she takes a chunk of money out of the family savings and heads off to a luxury spa in Arizona in retaliation. Although she does not tell her family where she is going, she does give them the date she plans to return - and then constantly checks their social media to see if they're missing her.

Cara arrives at The Swallowtail resort in Arizona full of self-righteous indignation, and completely disorientated from her flight. So when she picks up her key and goes into her room, it takes a moment for it to dawn on her that the room is already occupied by a father and his teenage daughter. Instead of quickly leaving Cara hides in the bathroom, making the situation worse, hearing them wake up and begin talking to each other - and discussing the person hiding in their bathroom ...

Later, when everything has been sorted out, it dawns on Cara that the man's 'daughter' may have been Melody Chapa, the most famous 'missing' child in America - her parents are currently in prison, suspected of her murder. But did Cara really see Melody, or imagine the whole thing?

I found Cara incredibly irritating but vastly entertaining - she comes up with some great one-liners towards the end of the book. I loved her friend Tarin, the 'Badass Mom', a florist who fancies herself as a sleuth. Tarin's relationship with her stroppy daughter is also entertaining, in an Eddy/Saffy (Absolutely Fabulous) kind of way. It's Tarin who perseveres with the 'is she/isn't she Melody' investigation (when Cara wishes Tarin would let the whole matter drop) and gets the police to take the case more seriously.

There is a lot of backstory, which I wasn't so keen on, telling the history of Melody's disappearance, the police investigation and the trials of the people suspected of murdering her. Some of this backstory is told in articles Cara reads online, some is told through transcripts of a TV show. The transcripts I found harder to concentrate on (they'd work better in a TV/film adaptation). I'm afraid I ended up skipping some because I wanted to get back to the story happening in the present. I wouldn't recommend doing this though, because I missed a fairly vital clue!

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Sophie Hannah is a brilliant writer and there were lots of genuine twists I didn't see coming. Several times I thought I'd worked everything out, only to be thrown by another twist - particularly at the end. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes well-written mysteries, lots of twists, psychological suspense that's a little bit different, and stories with eccentric characters.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which isn't out until 24th August 2017.

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

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review: A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and it was the cover of this book that made me download it, as I had never heard of the author*. From the vintage look and the blurb, I got it into my head the story was going to be a glamorous 'golden age' murder mystery set on board a ship. A kind of Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey. In fact, the story is a very clever psychological suspense - one of those stories that slowly draws you in and builds up the tension until you can practically feel it closing in on you.

The story is about Lily Shepherd, who is travelling from England to Australia on the Orontes as part of the Government's assisted-passage scheme. Once she arrives, she will apply to work as a maid in one of the large houses in Sydney. It is 1939, and Britain is on the brink of war. Why would Lily want to leave her family, whom she loves very much, and travel to the other side of the world to work in domestic service - something she has sworn she would never do again?

Lily will be sharing her cabin with Audrey and Ida, two former chambermaids from Claridge's Hotel. While Audrey is friendly, Lily takes an instinctive dislike to Ida, who can't seem to say anything nice. At dinner, Lily finds herself seated on the same table as Edward and Helena Fletcher, a brother and sister who appear to have fallen on hard times. Lily is increasingly attracted to the good-looking Edward, but he seems to be obsessed with glamorous socialite Eliza Campbell. Eliza, meanwhile, takes Lily under her wing, paying for her excursions and lending her designer clothes - but are her motives entirely altruistic?

I loved the incredibly detailed descriptions of life on board the Orontes, and the places Lily visited, from the pyramids of Egypt to a Buddhist temple in Ceylon. I felt as though I'd travelled back in time and was taking the cruise along with Lily. The cast of characters, who all seemed to be running away from something, were fascinating. The author allows the reader to get to know character in turn, letting us discover their real personalities one flaw at a time. Which character's behaviour will result in their murder? Which character will be goaded into carrying out that murder?

A Dangerous Crossing is an absorbing and compelling read about an eclectic cast of characters forced into claustrophobic proximity with people they would normally cross the street to avoid. I loved it! Also, what a brilliant title!

If you love reading historicals with a bit of a mystery, or tightly-wound psychological suspense, you will love this book. If you're a fan of fast-paced murder mysteries then this might not suit, as the first murder does not take place until a good three quarters of the way through the book.

*Rachel Rhys is the pen name of Tammy Cohen/Tamar Cohen

Thank you to Rachel Rhys, Doubleday and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Related Reviews

Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: Mystery at Maplemead Castle by Kitty French

I absolutely love, love, love this series. I'm at that point where I wish Kitty French was a new-to-me author, and had written ten books in this series already, and I could read them all back-to-back. Why do I love them so much? First, it's the characters. I adore them. I want to go ghostbusting with them. I want hot reporter Fletcher Gunn to shadow my every move (don't tell my husband) and Marina to bring me cakes fresh from Nonna's kitchen. I wouldn't even mind giving Leo Dark advice on unrequited love - although it would be very tempting to tell him to get his hair cut and to ditch the cloak.

Confused? Let me explain. At the grand old age of 27, Melody 'I see dead people' Bittersweet has decided to stop fighting the unique talent which is persistently getting her fired/losing her potential boyfriends, and has set up The Girls' Ghostbusting Agency. Along for the ride are best friend Marina, the terrifyingly efficient Glenda, and naive young Artie, who has just enough sense to dig the girls out of trouble if they need it. Each book has a haunting and it's Melody's job to find out what is keeping the ghost or ghosts from moving on. In this story Maplemead Castle is haunted by circus folk - two trapeze artists and their ringmaster - doomed to repeat the events that led to their deaths every single night. And also haunted by something else I won't mention, because you'll have far more fun reading that scene without a spoiler!

This series would appeal to fans of romantic comedies, mysteries and the kind of ghost stories that don't take themselves too seriously. Imagine a cross between Scooby Doo and the Shopaholic series - only with ghosts instead of designer handbags. You don't have to read this series in order, but you would be missing a treat if you didn't. Thoroughly recommended! One of my favourite books this year.

Thank you to Kitty French, Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I chose it myself, no one asked me to review it and I don't know the author.

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(now published as The Skeletons at Scarborough House)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Review: Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister

The cover and title attracted me to this book but, as it turned out, it was a different story to the one had I been expecting! I thoroughly enjoyed it though!

The story is about Rachel and Jack, who have been together for a very short time and who are expecting a baby together. Everything is going well until Rachel sees part of an email on Jack's iPad: 'Douglas's Atrocity Rears Its Head Again'. So who is Douglas and what did he do that was so terrible? This question begins to eat away at Rachel until it is all she can think about. It doesn't help that when she meets Jack's family and friends they seem to be hiding something from her, but the more she digs about in Jack's past, the more questions are raised.

And as we learn more about Jack, we also learn more about Rachel - that she split up with her last boyfriend because she didn't trust him, and that she has a huge secret in her own past ...  

I was expecting a psychological thriller, but it wasn't really. No one is murdered, there are only a few scenes when the heroine feels she is in jeopardy, there is no race against time to catch a killer. Instead we have a very cleverly written psychological suspense/domestic noir, with brilliantly drawn characters - I did love Jack! The clues are dripped in a little bit at a time and, although it is quite a leisurely read, I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what happens. Each time Rachel catches Jack out on a lie, the tension racks higher and higher, and at the same time we find out more about Rachel's own secret; it was like watching a car crash in slow motion and being unable to stop it.

So, Everything but the Truth is a gripping and compelling read, with a moral about being honest - and that if you're going to snoop around in someone's past, you really ought to be prepared for what horrors you might find. Recommended!

Thank you to Gillian McAllister, Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Review: The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister is set in the mid-1600s and opens with Alice returning to Essex to live with her brother, Matthew Hopkins. Her husband is dead and she is pregnant and destitute. Alice and Matthew were very close as children but they parted on bad terms when she married the son of their old servant, Bridget - the woman Matthew blames for the accident that left him scarred.

Alice is uneasy to realise that not only is their childhood bond is no more, Matthew intimidates her. One of the servants tells her he has a great book that has the names of all the witches written down in it. Yet this is the 17th century - who believes in witches?

But in the town there is talk. Young children have died and people are saying it was done with witchcraft. Alice assumes the gossip will come to nothing. The women arrested are obvious choices - elderly, eccentric, living alone. Despite Bridget's pleas for her to speak to Matthew, to do something, Alice remains quiet, believing the women will be found innocent. Instead, more women are seized and Matthew turns his attention to other towns and villages - and now he wants Alice to help him.

The Witchfinder's Sister is one of the best books I've read this year. It is beautifully written with so much historical detail I felt as though I was there, witnessing it all. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with the occasional hint of the supernatural. The subject matter is bleak; it is based on real events, so anyone familiar with history will know there can be no happy ending for some of these women. However, the author has mixed fictional characters in with the real ones to keep the reader on edge, and there are a few very clever twists - including one I'm still thinking about! 

From our 21st century perspective, it is easy to laugh at those who believed in spells, charms and witchcraft. But then you realise how easily a petty squabble can be blown up out of proportion, how easy it is to blame someone else for your misfortune - and suddenly The Witchfinder's Sister seems horribly topical.

There is not much actual violence in the novel, the subject matter is disturbing enough, but it is bleak in places. Anyone who enjoys well-researched historical novels, or real-life stories of witches, will love this. The cover is absolutely beautiful and the final line is brilliant. I'm hoping there's going to be a sequel!

I definitely recommend it - I'd give it six stars if I could.

Thank you to Beth Underdown, Viking (Penguin Random House) and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review: To Kiss a Thief by Susanna Craig

This story popped up as an 'also bought' recommendation from Amazon and the title intrigued me. I am wary of buying books by authors I don't 'know', so I read a sample and was hooked. Sarah Pevensey is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and has recently married St John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax. It is an arranged marriage and neither parties are particularly happy about it. Her father wants a title for his daughter and St John's father needs her large dowry as the family are broke. Sarah and St John have only been married for a couple of weeks when Sarah is found sitting on the lap of Captain Brice, her clothing in disarray and the priceless Sutliffe sapphires missing from around her neck. She tries to explain her innocence to her husband, but he just walks out of the door. Her father-in-law calls for the Bow Street Runners and only her mother-in-law is sympathetic - arranging for Sarah to escape the house to a small fishing village on the Devonshire coast. When a body is pulled from the Thames a few weeks later, it is identified as Sarah's and everyone believes she is dead. 

Meanwhile, unknown to Sarah, St John fights a duel with Captain Brice, survives, but leaves immediately to the West Indies, only returning three years later. St John is told his wife is dead, but then finds a receipt for her pension in his step-mother's possession. He heads off to Devonshire to find out what is going on.

As it turned out, the plot of this story is similar to one I read a few weeks ago, but it did not spoil my enjoyment. I liked that at the start Sarah is a 'little mouse' but when she begins to make friends with the villagers, and realises how hard their lives are, she begins to work to help them them and her own confidence improves. By the time St John turns up she is more than capable of dealing with him - but he still believes she's a liar and a thief ... 

The author creates lots of problems for the characters to work through. Just as you think they are finally due a happy ending, something else pops up. There is a mystery to solve too, regarding the disappearance of the jewels, and where they have been for the past three years, although that was not too hard to solve.

This story is the first in a series of three, loosely tied by the heroes having recently returned from the West Indies and the heroines running away from something. But I did enjoy it and have downloaded the next one.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

A Secret Garden is a delightful story about three very different women and the garden they are restoring.

Lorna is the gardener at Burthen House and has had a crush on the owner Peter, her childhood friend, since forever. He, meanwhile, has been enthusiastically dating women he's met on the Internet but has recently become serious about Kirstie, a very managing type. Lorna realises it is finally time to move on - and then meets Jack. Jack is handsome, very fit, somewhat younger than her - and is convinced he knows her from somewhere else ...

Philly lives with her grandfather, known as 'Grand', in a 'tumbledown money pit' that they bought mainly for the attached smallholding - where Philly can grow her plants and sell them on her market stall. Since Grand was widowed, he's become addicted to TV shows like Bake Off and discovered a hidden talent for baking the most delicious cakes, which he now sells on Philly's stall. While waitressing at a party, Philly meets Lucien, a chef who would rather be an artisan baker. He thinks she's great but his family are very 'posh' and Philly's ... aren't.

I loved all the talk about gardens and gardening. My parents used to grow plants in the same way as Philly does, so it brought back a lot of memories! And I always love reading books with big old houses in them. I think my favourite scenes were where Philly and Lucien visit his godfather and meet his old nanny - or 'Evil Mary Poppins', as Philly calls her - and the bit when Lucien's parents turn up unexpectedly! I loved all the characters but I think my favourites were Grand and Lady Anthea - whose 'secret' garden is the one being restored.

A Secret Garden is a romance but it is as much about the lovely friendship between Philly, Lorna and Anthea as it is their romantic relationships. There are no sex scenes and very little kissing, but it was lovely to see Lorna and Philly's developing romances with Jack and Lucien, and root for them to have their own happy ever after.

Thank you to Katie Fforde, Century and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: The Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

The heroine of The Devil in Spring is Pandora, one of the three daughters of the (thankfully) now deceased Earl and Countess Trenear - so neglectful they might as well have allowed their offspring to have been raised by wolves. Pandora is particularly eccentric. She dislikes society, hates dancing (we find out why later), does not wish to marry (she would lose everything she owns to her husband), and would much rather create board games. If this sounds a little far-fetched for a Victorian heroine, Lisa Kleypas does mention in her notes that the character was partly inspired by Elizabeth Magie, who created a precursor to Monopoly called The Landlord's Game.

Our hero is Gabriel Challon, the son of Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter (#3 Wallflowers series)Unlike his father, Gabriel is not a devil at all but a thoroughly nice man with a great sense of humour, who finds himself absolutely fascinated by Pandora, but rather taken aback that he has to convince her to marry him.

I found the character of Pandora highly original, although I can see some readers might find her annoying as she is so unconventional. Or as her equally original lady's maid puts it, 'only a donkey-headed halfwit' would turn Gabriel away. And I did love the way the two characters meet - Pandora gets tangled up in a piece of furniture and has to be rescued by Gabriel - brilliant! 

So, I loved the characters. I loved meeting the new generation of the Challon family (I do hope they get their own books!) and catching up with Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter. I loved the bit about the board games. The only thing that stopped this from being 5 stars is the rather random thriller plot at the end. I can't explain further because of spoilers. It just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story, which is very character driven.

Recommended if you love historical romances, particularly the kind of books written by Eloisa James and Julia Quinn. You might want to read The Devil in Winter (#3 in the Wallflower seriesfirst though. And if you love unconventional heroines, you might also enjoy Love in the Afternoon (#5 Hathways series) by the same author.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

I discovered the Ruth Galloway series over Christmas, read them all back-to-back, and was then thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of The Chalk Pit, which is Elly Griffiths's latest one. You don't need to have read the other books to make sense of the story but I recommend that you do. Elly Griffiths has created such wonderful characters that they feel like old friends and I love seeing how they develop from book to book. Regular readers will 'get' the joke of DCI Harry Nelson being sent on a speed awareness course at the start of the story and that he now has a female boss who thinks he's a dinosaur. She may have a point but that's part of his charm!

The story starts with Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, investigating a collection of bones that have been found in a tunnel beneath Norwich Guildhall during renovations to turn an undercroft into an underground restaurant. The bones are shiny, like 'glass', and have strange cut marks on them. Even if you don't read a lot of crime fiction, you'll probably realise the sinister implication.

Meanwhile, Nelson has been approached by a homeless man he knows only as 'Aftershave Eddie', who is worried about a female friend of his (also homeless) who has gone missing. Shortly after, Eddie is found dead on the steps of the police station where Nelson works - and not from natural causes.

The Chalk Pit is a more serious book than its predecessors, dealing with the plight of the homeless and how others view them. When another woman goes missing, this time a middle-class mother of four, the contrast is made between the amount of time and police manpower spent searching for her to that of Eddie's homeless friend.

I've always been a sucker for stories with secret tunnels (I blame Enid Blyton) and I loved the historical background of the chalk mines and labyrinth of tunnels beneath Norwich. My only niggle was that I'd have liked to have had more archaeology and less police procedure, more of Ruth and Cathbad, and less of Judy - who I do like, just not as much as Ruth, Cathbad and Nelson!

Right at the end of the story there are a couple of revelations about major characters that made my jaw drop. I cannot wait until the next book in the series!

Recommended - particularly if you like a slice of history with your murder mysteries.

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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Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

I absolutely loved this book! 

This story is about Nic who left her home town of Cooley Ridge ten years ago and has absolutely no desire to go back. She's managed to reinvent herself, obtained two degrees, has a great job that she loves, as well as a lovely fiancee. She's even managed to iron out her accent. But around the same time Nic left Cooley Ridge, her best friend Corrine went missing - and now her father says he's seen her on the porch of their old home. But her father is senile and in a care home - surely he's imagining it?

There are several reasons why I loved this book. Firstly, the characters are so well-drawn I felt I knew these people. They weren't entirely lovable, they all had very realistic flaws - for me, that was part of their appeal. Different aspects of their personalities were dripped into the story, a little at a time, so just when I thought I'd worked someone out, there was another twist to surprise me. And as I read an awful lot of crime fiction, it takes a lot to surprise me! Every character has a very plausible motive for wanting Corrine to disappear. I'd read one chapter and think 'Ha, he's the murderer!' and then in the next chapter I'd think it was someone else, and so on. I never did work it out!

The third reason I really enjoyed this books is that the story is told backwards. You have the beginning, where Nic receives the news about her father, and then the story skips to fifteen days later. The chapter after takes place fourteen days after Nic's arrival in Cooley Ridge, counting down to day one. It is a brilliantly clever way of telling the story; it hits the ground running and doesn't let up in tension until the very end. I did have to concentrate hard though! It's a bit like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, have someone sweep all the pieces back in the box after an hour, and then having to start all over again!

I would definitely, definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves psychological suspense. With the claustrophobic setting and dysfunctional characters it reminded me of one of my favourite authors, Shirley Jackson. But, like Jackson, the author takes her time in letting the tension mount up and tighten into a stranglehold - which means that if you're the kind of person who devours fast-paced crime thrillers, you might find it a little slow - but I loved it!

Thank you to Megan Miranda, Corvus and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Review: The Duke's Secret Heir by Sarah Mallory

Four years ago in Egypt, Ellen Tatham fell in love with an English soldier named Max Colnebrooke and married him. But on returning to England, no record can be found of their marriage - the Chaplain and Max's regiment were not even supposed to be in that part of Egypt. Was she tricked by a conman? Ellen writes to Max's family, to tell them she is pregnant, but they dismiss her as a fortune-hunter. Utterly ruined, Ellen is forced to create a new identity for herself, that of a wealthy widow with a young son. Now she is the toast of Harrogate - which is the exact moment Max reappears in her life - as the Duke of Rossenhall.

From Max's point of view, Ellen ran away from Alexandria under the protection of the French Consul - so naturally he assumed she was having an affair with the other man. When he meets Ellen again, to demand a divorce, he finds her living with her son - who is obviously his. How dare she keep his child a secret from him?

I have a bit of an addiction to historical romance but even I get fed up of seeing the same tropes over and over again - wicked rake falls for innocent debutante who changes him, etc - so it's particularly refreshing to read something so completely different. Ellen and Max were mad for each other but now, through a series of misunderstandings on both sides, they actively dislike each other. In addition, the obstacles they have to face are very real, not something that can be easily overcome by one short conversation.

I love how the characters spark off each other, that first Ellen has the upper-hand, and then Max. Ellen is very independent, and has money of her own, so she's not easily bullied, while Max has to get over his past (and himself!). Their son, Jamie, is beyond cute and I loved the way Ellen dealt with her horrible sister-in-law - and not in a way I was expecting. The strength of the story is definitely in the characters and I was really rooting for them to find their happy ever after. Definitely recommended. Fans of historical romance will love it!

Note: Ellen appears as a secondary character in Sarah Mallory's novel The Chaperon's Seduction, but you don't have to have read that book to enjoy this one.

Thank you to Sarah Mallory for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

I read so many novels that familiar tropes, particularly in romances, really grate on me. This is why I love Eloisa's books - they never quite go in the way you expect.

Eugenia Snowe is a wealthy widow and the daughter of the Marquis of Broadham (hero of Duchess by Night). Devastated when her husband died, Eugenia has no intention of marrying again. To the horror of the ton, she has set up a very successful employment agency for governesses but still feels as though there is something missing in her life.

Ward is a brilliantly clever inventor and the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gryffyn (hero of Desperate Duchesses). However, Ward's mother Lisette was a complete nightmare - neglectful and more than a little unhinged. Or as Eugenia's father says, 'The type who would keep drinking tea while faint screams came from the dungeon'. But it turns out Lisette had two more children before she died - legitimate ones - after scandalously running away with the under-age Viscount Darcy. Lisette has entrusted her young children into the care of Ward - but now his evil grandmother wants custody - and is prepared to fight him in Court to achieve it. Ward is in desperate need of an ultra-respectable governess to mould his eccentric siblings into perfect children and he's decided only the best will do - Eugenia herself.

As with all Eloisa's books it is the sheer brilliance of her writing which keeps me entertained, along with the humour and, of course, her characters. Eugenia and Ward are attracted to each other right from the start, don't bother to hide it and soon embark on an affair - but nothing serious, obviously, because Eugenia was madly in love with her late husband, and Ward because he knows he has to marry an aristocrat if he is to keep custody of his half-siblings. It's a shame he's so wrapped up in himself he doesn't realise Eugenie neatly fulfils all his criteria (she actually tells him so at one point!) until it is far too late.

As well as the banter between hero and heroine, I loved the characters of the children - Lizzie, who has taken to wearing a black veil at all times and quoting inappropriate lines from Shakespeare, and Otis, whose pet rat goes everywhere with him. I particularly loved the rat!

I only had one niggle. As I read the story I kept thinking 'I'm sure this character is dead', to the point where I had to dig out the book they originally appeared in and - sure enough - the character was dead - I hadn't imagined it! I then spent the rest of the story worrying that perhaps Eloisa James had forgotten she'd previously killed the character off. However, the reason for their Lazarus-like reappearance is explained in the author's note at the end of the story - I just wish this note had appeared at the beginning!

Recommended for all fans of historical romance and romantic comedy.