Thursday, 3 June 2021

Review: Down by the Water by Elle Connel

I downloaded this book because I'd read the blurb and somehow assumed it was a ghost story (boy appearing from nowhere in a photo, etc) but it's a psychological suspense!

A group of friends arrive at an isolated Scottish castle for a weekend hen party. They haven't seen each other since university and there are still secrets, tensions and old grudges simmering away beneath the surface. Their holiday starts off well but begins to go wrong when they are trapped for an extra few days and the food mysteriously runs out. Strange things happen, they squabble amongst themselves, but then one finds a diary that could explain everything...

I have mixed feelings about this story. The writing is good, the author is great at creating a creepy atmosphere and there is that constant feeling of menace. You just know Bad Things are going to happen. The characters are mostly horrible, particularly Georgie. I was hoping that if this was one of those books where they all got killed off one-by-one (it isn't), then she would be the first to go! While the second part of the story is a cracking read, the first part was a little too slow and I did have trouble working out who-was-who because of all the characters.

I would recommend this story to anyone who loves slow-burn suspense and books like The Hunting Party (Lucy Foley) and In a Dark, Dark Wood (Ruth Ware).

Thank you to Elle Connel and Wildfire (Headline) for my copy of this book which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I downloaded this book after reading the blurb as the cover was not available at the time. I love stories based on folk tales and fairy tales (particularly ones I am not familiar with) and this sounded right up my street.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a re-imagining of an event in medieval Hungarian history, woven with strands of Hungarian and Jewish folk stories.  Evike lives in a pagan village, hidden in a forest, the only one of its inhabitants without some kind of magical power. This is blamed on her father being an outsider: a 'Yehuli'. When soldiers from the Holy Order of Woodsmen arrive to claim a seer for the King, the villagers are only too happy to offer Evike up rather than lose one of their own girls.  But on the march back to the capital, the woodsmen are attacked by various supernatural forces and soon the Evike and the Captain are the only ones left. To survive, they will have to learn to not only trust each other, but work together.

Although I loved all the folk story and historical stuff, The Wolf and the Woodsman was a bit too gory for me! In order for a character's magic to work they had to use blood sacrifices, which usually involves blood-letting or the loss of a body part. I was uncomfortable with the parallels with self-harm and couldn't help wondering that if you had to sacrifice a finger every time you wanted to do a spell, what happened when you ran out of fingers? While the gore meant this read like an novel aimed at adults, by contrast the romance was a bit teenage-y and I'd have preferred more ambiguity about Gasper's character, rather than the too-early flagging that he's A Nice Guy Really.

Recommended to fans of grittier YA fantasy and books such as The Bear and the Nightingale (Katherine Arden).

Thank you to Ava Reid and Del Rey/Cornerstone for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I loved Taylor's previous book, Daisy Jones & The Six, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one, a fab 1980s-set, literal 'beach read' that reminded me of those glitzy books written by authors such as Jackie Collins, Shirley Conran and Judith Krantz - only with much nicer characters!

A lifetime holding it together, one party will bring it crashing down...

The story is set in Malibu and split between the 1950s (leading up to the 80s) and 1983. In the 50s we see singer Mick Riva  marry sweet loyal teenager June Costas, and witness the effect his fame (and philandering) has on their marriage and four children. In the present, his daughter Nina is preparing for her famous annual party - except her tennis-star husband has just left her and she'd rather be surfing anyway. And her sister has invited an unexpected guest...

Malibu Rising is fabulous escapism, an affectionate take on those 80s beach reads, with flawed but lovable characters - some more lovable than others! As well as Nina, who becomes a swimwear model to support her family, there is Jay, a sexy surfer who can have any woman except the one he really wants; his stoic 'twin' Hud, who will do anything to avoid hurting his brother - except that one thing; and baby sister Kat, possibly an even greater surfer than Jay, if only she can find the confidence to be who she really is.

My favourite character was Nina. I was really rooting for her as it gradually dawned on her that she was repeating the same mistakes as her mother. The party is fun too, with a huge cast of characters that are all given backstories and forgotten when the next one is introduced - just like real life!

Malibu Rising is a big, fat, luscious read, and one of my favourite books this year. I am sure fans of Daisy Jones will love it too. The novel would also suit those who love those glitzy, glamorous beach reads that sadly no one seems to publish any more.  

Thank you to Taylor Jenkins Reid and Cornerstone Digital for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Monday, 10 May 2021

Review: You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry

Emily Henry is one of my favourite romantic comedy authors. She never fails to deliver. So if you're looking for the perfect Staycation read, this is it!

Poppy and Alex meet on their first day at university and Do Not Get On, but that doesn't matter because they'll never see each other again, right? Wrong! When Poppy's friend manages to blag her a lift back home at the end of the year with someone who lives in the same town, guess who it is? Alex. By the time they reach their home town they've developed a friendship of sorts and agree to go on a summer vacation with each other.

A few years later Alex is a teacher, happy to stay in the dead-end town where they grew up. Poppy, however, cannot wait to travel the world. The blog she writes, detailing her experiences, becomes such a success she's offered a job at a famous travel magazine. Soon she and Alex are taking holidays all around the world at the magazine's expense. Until one summer, she and Alex fall out. For two years they don't even speak until she accidentally texts him, one text leads to another, and they've agreed to go on one last holiday together...

You and Me on Vacation takes familiar romantic tropes like enemies-to-friends and opposites-attract and puts a wholly original and modern spin on them. The laughs come thick and fast, the banter between the characters is whip-smart, and the sexual tension fairly crackles off the page. Poppy is adorable, I loved her eccentric family, and Alex is a complete sweetheart.

Verdict? You and Me on Vacation is completely brilliant, I absolutely loved it and I am sure you will too! One of my favourite reads this year.

You and Me on Vacation will be published in ebook on 11th May 2021 and in paperback on 8th July 2021

Thank you to Emily Henry and Penguin for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Beach Read by Emily Henry 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Review: The House of the Hanged Woman (Albert Lincoln #3) by Kate Ellis

Kate Ellis is one of my favourite authors. I love her twisty murder mysteries that always keep me guessing.

The House of the Hanged Woman is the last in her Albert Lincoln trilogy set immediately after WW1. In this story Albert is sent back to the village he visited in A High Mortality of Doves, which has unhappy memories for him. An MP has gone missing and a body has been found in a cave, mutilated beyond recognition. Are the two cases connected? The other point of view in the story is that of Rose, unhappily married, who lives for the romances she borrows from the library - while dreaming of murdering her husband... 

While The House of the Hanged Woman can be read as a standalone, there are spoilers for the first two books, so you would have a better reading experience starting with book 1 (A High Mortality of Doves). It is also the last in the series, so it wraps up the loose strands of the earlier books. It is a shame this series is ending, because I've really enjoyed it. The House of the Hanged Woman is a fascinating mystery, completely engrossing and hard to put down. There are lots of twists, including a very clever one at the end, which I loved. A perfect read for anyone who loves historical mysteries and for fans of authors such as Elly Griffiths.

Thank you to Kate Ellis and Piatkus for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Sunday, 25 April 2021

Review: Near the Bone by Christina Henry

I'm a huge fan of Christina Henry and was thrilled to have an opportunity to read this story via NetGalley. Most of Christina's books are re-imaginings of classic fairy tales; I particularly enjoyed The Mermaid, which was a spin on The Little Mermaid. Near the Bone is a little bit different from her other books. It's a mash-up of psychological suspense and supernatural thriller, with a dash of horror.

Twenty-year-old Mattie lives alone with her older husband William in a rustic cabin high on a mountain. While William occasionally goes into town for supplies, Mattie never goes anywhere or sees anyone. They live a very simple life, without any modern technology; Mattie even makes her own clothes by hand. One day they become aware that they are now sharing their mountain with some kind of wild beast, possibly a large bear, and William becomes obsessed with hunting it down and killing it. But what bear sorts bones into neat piles and hangs the remains of its victims from the trees as a warning to stay away from its territory?

Near the Bone starts off as a terrific psychological suspense. Who are Mattie and William, and why have they chosen to live in such a desolate place? William is abusive towards Mattie, particularly when she doesn't do the chores to his satisfaction. When she mentions old memories, he says they are just dreams. Lots of tension and suggestions of gaslighting, and what does William keep locked up in his trunk? The story then shifts into a supernatural thriller with the appearance of a huge beast that is never really described, apart from its huge claws and yellow eyes. While William so pre-occupied with stalking it, can Mattie pluck up enough courage to escape from his tyranny?

Although slightly more gory than the kind of thing I usually read, I really enjoyed Near the Bone. A fast-paced, cat-and-mouse style thriller, I found it completely engrossing and couldn't put it down, particularly towards the end! I think my only complaint would be that it ended fairly abruptly and I'd liked to have known what happened next, particularly regarding Mattie's sister - or maybe I missed that bit, because I was reading so fast! A five-star read, but recommended more towards fans of horror, despite the psychological suspense element.

Thank you to Christina Henry and Titan Books for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Review: The Royal Secret (Marwood and Lovett #5) by Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is one of my favourite authors and I particularly love his Marwood and Lovett series. This is the fifth book and I think it is my favourite so far. It can also be read as a standalone; there is a helpful index of characters at the front and historical notes at the back.

The story opens in 1670 with two young girls playing at witchcraft. Soon afterwards, the step-father of one dies in mysterious and agonising circumstances. A government clerk known for gambling and drinking, unpopular with his family and in debt to a local villain, it is only surprising no one has killed him before now. James Marwood, tasked with retrieving some sensitive government files from the man's house, suspects his death is not quite as it appears. Marwood begins an investigation, only to find himself - and the lives of those around him - in real danger.

Meanwhile, Cat Lovett's architecture business is going from strength to strength and she's been handed a commission to design a poultry house for the woman the King loves most in the world - but is she being used as a royal pawn?

The Royal Secret is set during one of my favourite time periods and I love all the historical details, particularly the glimpses into royal life, which is not quite as glamorous as one would hope! There is lots of spy-like intrigue as Marwood tries to track down the utterly ruthless killer. Cat receives an all-expenses paid trip to France (which doesn't go quite the way she is hoping) and there is even an appearance by a real lion. My only quibble with the story is that Cat allows herself to become distracted by a pretty face. I had thought she was smarter than that!

The Last Protector would suit anyone who loves a cracking good historical mystery and authors such as Laura Shepherd-Robinson and Antonia Hodgson. I can't wait to read the next one in the series!

Thank you to Andrew Taylor and HarperCollins for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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The Last Protector (Marwood and Lovett #4) by Andrew Taylor

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Review: Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

I was attracted to this book because of the beautiful cover. I also love reading historical novels and fantasy, and had assumed this story would be something like Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman (it's not; it's more folk horror than fantasy) but I still enjoyed the story!

Sarah's family live as outcasts in the ruins of an old village, abandoned since the plague. Her mother is suspected of being a witch, her brother as being a child of the devil - ironic, because it is Sarah who bears the mark signifying she has inherited her mother's skill. But Sarah doesn't want to be a witch. She has fallen in love with a boy from the village and dreams of being a farmer's wife. Yet how can there ever be a future for them, with the arrival of a new magistrate determined to root out 'evil'?

Cunning Women is a much darker story than I usually like to read and in some places it is quite grim. The early 1600s was not a fun place to live if you were a woman without a man to protect you, and misogyny was rife.  Sarah and her family live in complete poverty and, despite all attempts to earn a living in a honest way, suffer unfair setbacks at every turn. The themes of prejudice and persecution are very topical today; apparently we haven't learnt a thing in five hundred years.

I was concerned that Cunning Women might be yet another Pendle Witches retelling/re-imagining but it isn't. The historical details are meticulous and the setting atmospheric. I loved the idea of an abandoned plague village, 'haunted' by its former inhabitants, and Sarah's struggle with her identity - who she is versus who she wants to be. The story is very fast-paced and I found it hard to put down. My only complaint is that I'd have liked it to have been longer! Although we find out what happens to the protagonists, there were many threads left loose and several characters that I'd have liked to have seen come to a sticky end! (I was probably hoping for a 'Carrie' moment!)

Recommended to anyone who loves historical stories about real-life 'witches' and the persecutions they faced in 17th century Britain.

Cunning Women will be published in the UK on 22nd April 2021

Thank you to Elizabeth Lee and Windmill Books (Cornerstone/Random House) for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Monday, 1 March 2021

Review: Win by Harlan Coben

I adore Harlan Coben's fast-paced, cleverly plotted thrillers, so I was excited to see that his new book would feature one of my favourite characters - Windsor Horne Lockwood III from the Myron Bolitar novels.

Over twenty years ago, Win's cousin Patricia was kidnapped from the family home during a robbery and kept in an isolated log cabin for months. She finally escaped, but so did her kidnappers and the items stolen were never seen again - until now. An elderly recluse has been found murdered in his penthouse apartment - alongside a priceless Vermeer painting and a suitcase with Win's initials. How is the man linked to Patricia's kidnapping and is it connected to another cold case involving domestic terrorism? The two cases have baffled the FBI for decades but Win has two things they do not - a personal connection to the case, a large fortune and his own unique brand of justice.

Harlan Coben writes twisty thrillers that often centre on ordinary families. You know, 'What would you do if this happened to you?' I had thought that a story about Win, who is super-rich with a dubious moral code, would be something different. As it turns out, Win does have a family - albeit a very dysfunctional one! - and it was fun meeting them all. I especially loved hearing about his grandmother, a true matriarch of the family.  

In this story (for once) not everything goes the way Win wants, which is entertaining, particularly when one of his misdemeanours comes back to bite him. Not everyone appreciates his 'help' either, and I did enjoy the scene where Sadie has to patiently explain the reason why he really shouldn't get involved with her legal cases: her clients require a different kind of justice to the sort Win likes to dish out.

I've always enjoyed Harlan's standalones but Win was such an enjoyable read I hope it is the start of a new series. One of my favourite reads this year, Harlan's fans definitely won't be disappointed. It should also appeal to fans of twisty thrillers and authors such as Lee Child (Jack Reacher).

Thank you to Harlan Coben and Cornerstone (Century) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Saturday, 13 February 2021

Review: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan is one of my favourite authors and I often read her books more than once, particularly if I am feeling low. The Summer Seekers is, as the name suggests, a blast of summer fun, perfect for this time of year, even more so if you're stuck at home on a Staycation. You'll be whisked off on holiday with Kathleen, Liza and Martha!

Kathleen used to have a popular TV travel show but now she's 80 years old and chaffing at the restrictions others (mainly her daughter, Liza) seem to want to force upon her due to her age. Liza feels Kathleen should give up her home on the beach in Cornwall and go into some form of retirement home. So Kathleen retaliates by booking a road trip across America. She can't drive but that's not a problem - she'll hire Martha to drive her!

Martha is only too eager to jump at the chance to get away from her family and ex-boyfriend, who want to belittle her at every opportunity. Won't they be surprised (and hopefully impressed) to learn she has a new job driving a TV star across America? There is only one teensy problem. Martha can't drive...

Liza can feel herself buckling beneath the pressure of being everyone's go-to woman. She worries about her too-independent mother and feels her husband and daughters are not supporting her, rather creating more work without a second thought. The final straw is coming home to find her house wrecked after a party. Using cat-sitting as an excuse, she flees to her mother's home in Cornwall to rediscover the woman she used to be.

The Summer Seekers is a feel-good, heart-warming story about three women rebelling against their family's expectations, who seize the chance for an adventure with both hands, and discover new friends and potential lovers along the way.

I particularly adored the character of Kathleen and had Dame Maggie Smith stuck in my head for most of the book. What a terrific film this would make! Martha was sweet and I enjoyed how she gained confidence with every mile, even having a romance along the way. I think the character that resonated most with me was Liza. Who hasn't fantasised about giving up the stresses of everyday life and heading to Cornwall and the beach. And finding a sexy rock star living next door? Bonus!

The Summer Seekers will be published on 27th May 2021.

Thank you to Sarah Morgan and HQ for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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