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!)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

I'm a huge fan of Kathy Reichs. I've read and loved all her books. I couldn't wait to read this one, a standalone featuring reluctant private investigator Sunday Night. Yes, I know, that name! It grated on me at first, then I got used to it, and then at the end of the story it was explained how she came by it and all made sense. I'm not sure whether this will be the start of a new series. I do hope so, because I loved the character of 'Sunnie'!

As Kathy Reichs says in her introduction, Sunnie has a 'dark outlook and an even darker past', and I found that intriguing. Ex-military and ex-police, Sunnie now lives a hermit's life on a 'skinny strip of sand' known as Goat Island with only a squirrel (Bob!) for company. She'd have been perfectly happy to stay that way, but her mentor turns up with a job for her. An extremely wealthy, elderly lady wants Sunnie to locate her granddaughter, missing after a terrorist attack on a school.

Sunnie is a completely different character to that of Tempe Brennan, which I liked. She is awkward and mouthy, and has a wisecrack for every occasion. She also talks in very short, staccato sentences, which makes this a very quick read. It reminded me of the old 1940s 'gumshoe' detective novels. Sunnie has a bad habit of rushing in without a thought for the consequences, so it's lucky she has her far more laid-back brother, Gus, to help out. Is this why the story is called Two Nights? Not quite ...

I wasn't so keen on the plot - rescue the old lady's granddaughter and track down the terrorists before they could strike again. Personal preference here. There have been similar real-life attacks recently, and I prefer the books I read to have more of an element of escapism. Also, the pace was a mix of fast (as they rushed from city to city) and slow (stake-outs), and I think I preferred the steadier mystery-solving approach of the Tempe Brennan books. But there are some excellent twists, some funny one-liners and I did love Sunnie! And there were also tips on how to hack into someone's email, which I'm sure will come in handy one day ...


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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase

During the hot summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters are dumped at Applecote Manor by their feckless mother - and into the care of their aunt and uncle, whose own young daughter disappeared five years previously. It is unsettling for them, not least because their cousin Audrey still 'haunts' the house; her bedroom is as she left it, her parents have obviously never got over the shock, and the villagers regard the family with deep suspicion.

In the present day, Jessie and Will are hoping for a new start in the now ramshackle Applecote Manor, along with their young daughter Romy, and Will's rebellious teenage daughter Bella.

I loved everything about this book. It ticked every box for me: family secrets, an old mystery and a spooky house. I found the 1959 timeline authentic and totally absorbing. By contrast, it was the present day part that felt more dreamlike - but in a good way! This concentrated on the increasing tensions between Jessie and Will, and the never-that-great-to-begin-with relationship between Jessie and her step-daughter, whom she can never quite bring herself to trust. When Bella becomes obsessed with the history of the house, and the teenage girl who disappeared sixty years previously, Jessie feels own her grip on reality begin to unravel. Will the sinister atmosphere of the house destroy them? And will the tragic events of sixty years ago start to repeat themselves?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde* is part coming-of-age, part gothic mystery/romance, and part psychological suspense. It's brilliantly written, with memorable characters, and is very cleverly plotted. I loved the relationships between the four sisters, the sibling rivalry over the village boys, and the way they ultimately looked out for each other. For fans of Kate Morton, Daphne du Maurier, and perhaps Shirley Jackson too. One of my favourite reads this year.


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

*Published as The Wilding Sisters in the USA.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I downloaded How to Stop Time because I follow Matt Haig on Twitter. He's funny and entertaining, but also talks honestly about more serious issues. I'd never read any of his books before but the sound of this one intrigued me. I knew I'd enjoy it but I was surprised by how much, and I started recommending it to my friends before I'd even finished it.

For some reason I'd got it into my head it was about time travel - it isn't. It's hard to explain the story without giving away too much of the plot, but basically our hero, Tom, was born in 1581, the son of aristocratic French immigrants. His father was killed in the religious wars, and Tom and his mother are now scraping a living in Suffolk. But Tom has a secret that in those days could get you killed. He ages at about the rate of one year to everyone else's fifteen. When the story continues in the present day, he still appears as though he's only in his early forties.

How to Stop Time reminded me a bit of that old 1980s movie Highlander (only without the beheadings!) as Tom tries to live his life throughout the centuries, forced to be constantly on the move in case he is found out, and trying not to fall in love. And  I loved the way he kept accidentally bumping into famous historical figures!

What I particularly enjoyed was that it read almost like a collection of short stories. We are shown glimpses of Tom's past life mixed in with his present one as a history teacher. It's like that old 'gather around the fireside and I'll tell you a story'.

The writing is fabulous, I loved all the quirky historical facts and pertinent things Tom has to say about how we live our lives in the 21st century. It was one of those books I really didn't want to end and I'd have loved to have heard more of  Tom's stories about the past.

Recommended!


Thank you to Matt Haig, Canongate Books and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

I couldn't resist downloading this one because of the beautiful cover, the clever title, and the fact that it is about time travel! I read so many books it is a joy to find something that's just that little bit different!

Luna has always known she's a bit odd. She's grown used to seeing people that no one else can, and assumes they're either hallucinations or ghosts. Then her mother dies, leaving a cryptic message for Luna to 'find her' in her childhood home - Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Yet when Luna arrives in America her hallucinations grow worse. But what if they're not hallucinations? What if she has the ability to slide through time? What if she can meet her mother, just before the moment that ruined her life? What if Luna can actually go back and change the past?

The Summer of Impossible Things is part The Time Traveller's Wife, part Back to the Future. It's about a daughter's love for her mother and how one moment can change your life - but what if you can change it back? And if you muck that up, can you try again? And what about the consequences?

It's hard to talk about this book without revealing spoilers. So I'll just say that I loved the characters and I loved the setting, and I particularly loved Mrs Finkle and Michael. I even loved the way the author sneakily played the writer's equivalent of the three card trick when I wasn't paying attention! 

The Summer of Impossible Things is a beautiful, magical story that I didn't want to put down and I certainly didn't want to end. There's a romance and a mystery, and just when you think you've worked out how the story is going to end - well, no spoilers, right? 

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended!


Thank you to Rowan Coleman, Ebury Press and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Review: The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean has been incredibly brave writing this story, because the hero has behaved so badly towards the heroine - and not in a villain-we-love-to-hate way either - it is hard to see how he can redeem himself. So, has the author pulled off a satisfying ending? I think so!

The Day of the Duchess is the third in a series called Scandal and Scoundrel - 'scoundrel' being the heroes (obviously!) and 'scandal' being the disaster the heroine has usually embroiled herself in. Now, usually this is the part where I say that the book works well as a stand alone and it doesn't matter if you haven't read the others in the series, but this time it really is of benefit if The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal and Scoundrel #1), is read first. You will get to see exactly what the hero did that was so unforgivably awful, rather than hearing about it second-hand.

Our heroine is Sera, one of the scandalous daughters of the Earl of Wight, who won his title in a card game with the Prince of Wales. Now incredibly wealthy, the Earl started life as a coal miner. No matter how hard they try, his daughters have never been accepted by the aristocracy, so they've given up - and delight in being shocking. When Sera meets the Duke of Haven and falls in love, no one seriously believes he'll marry her. So her mother stages an intervention; the couple have no choice in the matter and their marriage is doomed from the start.

Basically this story is about two people who fall in love, betray each other, hate each other, do their best to destroy each other - and are now at the 'can't live with, can't live without' stage of their relationship. Helping/hindering in a possibly reconciliation are Sera's forthright sisters and her business partner - the incredibly loyal and rather gorgeous Caleb.

I would recommend this to fans of the more modern style of historical romance, who are perhaps looking for something a little bit different from 'rake falls for debutante'. I found it very romantic, particularly the ballroom scene, and was almost in tears by the ending (and I'm usually as hard as nails, so that takes a lot!). I am so looking forward to the next in the series, although it is hard to see how Sarah MacLean will be able to top this one!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Favourite Books of the Year (so far!)

Way back in September last year my youngest child headed off for university and I wanted a new hobby to fill the time saved by all those school runs, so I started blogging about the books I was reading. I read two or three books a week but had been keeping no records about the ones I'd enjoyed. Sometimes I'd look at a book cover on my Kindle and think 'I know I've read that book, and I know I liked it, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was about!'

I've since realised that writing a book review is bloody hard work and I have a whole new respect for professional book bloggers! Ironically, the hardest reviews to write seem to be the books I've loved the most.

If I reviewed every book I read I'd never have time to write, but I've since rediscovered Goodreads and I've started listing my books over there. If you pay me a visit, be sure to check out my 'favourites' shelf!

In the meantime, here's is a list of my favourite books this year.*


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

I had assumed from the title that the story was going to be something along the lines of Bridget Jones, but it turned out I was completely wrong. Eleanor Oliphant is an unusual and fascinating character, whose past history is revealed a tiny bit at a time. The story is about her best efforts to avoid the world around her until she is forced to reconnect after doing someone else a good turn. It is by turns sweet, funny, sad, quirky, poignant, touching, incredibly lovely and completely wonderful.



The Lie of the Land
by Amanda Craig

The story is about Lottie and Quentin, who are forced to uproot from London and settle in the wilds of Devon because they can't afford to divorce. 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 then they 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. 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 Weight of Lies
by Emily Carpenter

Do ever feel that a book has been written just for you? This book had 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. 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 packs her bags and heads off to the private island of Bonny, intending to solve the decades-old murder. Will her plan go horribly wrong? You bet!



Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is about a group of women who all have young children just starting at the local school. Despite their apparent 'perfect' lives, these women all have very real problems. In theory I should have hated it. I prefer escapism in the books I read and tend to avoid anything with a domestic setting or serious issues. I'd also seen the first episode of the TV series and found it completely boring. However ...


The story starts with a death on school Trivia Night. Was it murder? We don't find out the truth until the end, not even the name of the victim, but to be honest I didn't care who was murdered or why! I was having far too much fun reading about the lives of these fascinating women! The strength of the story is in their horribly realistic characters. I recognised myself, my friends, the mothers at my children's school... All the rivalries, misunderstandings, petty jealousies... In some ways the mothers behaved more like children than their offspring. By turns hilariously funny and desperately sad, the dialogue is full of classic one-liners - but the real skill of the author is her ability to observe and recreate everyday life, and yet make it relatable and entertaining. I was in awe.




All The Missing Girls
by Megan Miranda 

This story is about Nic who left her home town ten years ago and has absolutely no desire to go back. But around the same time Nic left, her best friend went missing - and now her father says he's seen her on the porch of their old home. But her father is senile, 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. Secondly, the story is told backwards! It is brilliantly clever. The story hits the ground running and doesn't let up in tension until the very end. I did have to concentrate 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!



Reading back through these reviews, I can certainly see a trend! It seems I love reading stories about flawed but lovable characters who have a mystery to solve, often in a slightly gothic setting. What does that say about me? I dread to think!

What kind of books do you love to read?


Related Posts


*This is a selection of the books I've read this year, it doesn't necessarily mean they were published this year.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I'm a bit late to the party with this book. I remember my friends raving about it when it first came out, and I kept meaning to read it but somehow never got around to it. Then I saw the TV series advertised on Sky and thought I'd watch that instead - and had to give up after one episode because I found it so boring! Yet my friends had loved the book! So when I had another chance to download it, this time I said 'Yes, please!' I'm so glad I did!

The story is about a group of women who live in an Australian beach town called Pirriwee (in the TV series it was set in America). They have young children who have started at the local school. Despite their apparent 'perfect' lives, they all have very real problems. Madeline is struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter. To tell you Celeste's secret would be a bit of a spoiler, but you'll work it out for yourself. Jane's reason for constantly moving house comes out a bit later.

The story starts with a death on school Trivia Night. Was it murder? The police think so, and each chapter ends with a statement from one of the characters about what they think has happened and who they think is guilty. The reader doesn't find out anything until the end, not even the name of the victim, but to be honest I didn't care who was murdered or why! I was having far too much fun reading about the lives of these fascinating women!

The strength of the book is in the horribly realistic characters. I recognised myself, my friends, the mothers at my children's school... All the rivalries, misunderstandings, petty jealousies... The way a small, insignificant incident can be twisted and blown out of proportion. In some ways the mothers behaved more like children than their offspring! By turns hilariously funny and desperately sad, the dialogue is full of classic one-liners - but the real skill of the author is her ability to observe and recreate everyday life, and yet make it so relatable and entertaining. I am in awe.

In theory, I should have hated Big Little Lies. I prefer escapism in the books I read and tend to avoid anything with a domestic setting or serious issues. So it just goes to show, you should always try reading something out of your comfort zone!

One of my favourite books this year!


Thank you to Liane Moriarty, Penguin and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

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.