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 

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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Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

I'm not a huge fan of books set during wartime (they are a little bit too real-life for me) but two words on the cover of this book caught my eye: Paris and library. How could I resist?

Odile is obsessed by books, so working at the American Library in Paris is a dream come true. Her family are against the idea but she's seen first-hand how important it is for a woman to have her own money and be independent. The library and its thriving community of students, writers, and fellow book-lovers is the perfect haven - until war looms, pitting friends and colleagues against each other. Suddenly the punishment for being caught with the 'wrong' book is severe.

The main part of the story is told from Odile's viewpoint: from 1939, when she applies for a job at the library, to the end of the war in 1945. The second timeline is a coming-of-age story about American teenager Lily, who is struggling following the death of her mother and the arrival of a young step-mother. The only person who seems to truly understand is the reclusive Frenchwoman who lives next door.

This story completely swept me away. The American Library is a fascinating setting. It is a real place and many of the characters mentioned are real people, who acted heroically keeping the library open and delivering books to their Jewish subscribers. Odile is an engaging character who wants to do the right thing but has led a sheltered life. She is unprepared for the way living in Occupied Paris will change the lives of her family and friends, causing some to crack under the pressure. Will she also betray those she loves? In 1980s America, Odile tries to pass on all she has learnt about family and friendships to teenage Lily, so she won't make the same mistakes.

The best part of this story is the library and the characters who work there. It would make a terrific film. I loved the way Odile references titles and quotes from her favourite books to help her cope, and the way she automatically categorises each book or subject according to the Dewey Decimal System. The point of the dual timeline is to help explain Odile's character and the choices she made forty years previously. It does mean the book seems overlong at times and I wasn't entirely convinced by the ending.

However, the historical detail is amazing and I found myself thinking a lot about the story after I had finished it. Recommended for anyone who loves historical fiction, this was a five-star read for me.

Thank you to Janet Skeslien Charles and Two Roads (John Murray Press) for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Review: Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

As per most of the books I read, I was attracted to this one because of the gorgeous cover and intriguing title. I also love reading historical fiction, particularly stories set in Georgian times.

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline 'Caro' Corsham finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Her last words are "He knows". The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly-paid prostitute, but Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done, and so sets out to solve the crime herself.

Before I started reading Daughters of Night, I discovered that the author had written a 'companion' book called Blood and Sugar, about the slave trade, so I read that first. The two books are not part of a series, but they feature some of the same characters. Blood and Sugar features Caro's husband, Captain Harry Corsham as the main character. In this story, it is Caro who takes centre stage.

Daughters of Night works on two levels: s an incredibly detailed look at the double-standards of the Georgian aristocracy - basically, do what you like provided you don't get caught - and also a deliciously twisty murder mystery. I thought I had worked everything out but the identity of the murderer took me completely by surprise. Another theme is the lack of power that women had in those days. Their wealth and property became their husbands as soon as they married. This is brought home to Caro when her brother cuts off her funding after she fails to do as she's told. She even begins to wonder if prostitutes, despite the obvious drawbacks to their lives, are far more free than she will ever be.

I can thoroughly recommended both books to anyone who enjoys a cracking good mystery, and for fans of authors such as Andrew Taylor and Antonia Hodgson.

Thank you to Laura Shepherd-Robinson and Mantle (Pan Macmillan) for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Review: The Night Hawks (Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery #13) by Elly Griffiths

I love Elly Griffiths's books, particularly her Ruth Galloway series, so I was thrilled to receive an early copy of The Night Hawks. It is a wonderful gothicky murder-mystery, with a nod to The Hound of the Baskervilles, and it's my favourite so far.

Ruth has returned to Norfolk after being offered the role of Head of the Archaeology Department at the university. She is suffering from slight imposter syndrome, not helped by a particular member of staff undermining her at every turn, but she is still DCI Nelson's expert of choice whenever a body is found. In this case, a young man has been found washed up on the beach at Blakeney Point by a group of metal detectorists called The Night Hawks. At first DCI Nelson believes the man drowned accidentally, but then more murders are discovered at the nearby Black Dog Farm - named for the legendary Black Shuck, a harbinger of death... 

The Night Hawks is a fabulous traditional murder mystery, with humour and emotional conflict dished up alongside a fiendishly clever plot. Elly Griffiths takes care to write believable characters you can thoroughly engage with and care about. Ruth has finally landed her dream job, only to be undermined by an irritating mansplainer at every turn. She and DCI Nelson are still involved in their will/they won't they relationship, and fans will be delighted that Cathbad makes an appearance. I loved the gothic edge - a spooky old farm and a legendary ghostly dog. There's even buried 'treasure' - and bodies! I gave up trying to work out who the murderer was and just thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Although this book is number 13 in the series, you don't need to have read the others. Elly explains everyone's backstory deftly and succinctly before getting on with business. The Night Hawks is one of my favourite reads this year. Why isn't it a TV series yet?!!

Thank you to Elly Griffiths and Quercus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Saturday, 9 January 2021

Review: The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kaufmann

I was attracted to this book by the absolutely gorgeous cover (a pair of scissors representing the Eiffel Tower). I also love historical novels.

Rosa Kusstatscher has built a global fashion empire upon her ability to find the perfect outfit for any occasion. But tonight, as she prepares for the most important meeting of her life, her usual certainty eludes her. As she struggles to select her dress and choose the right shade of lipstick, Rosa begins to tell her incredible story. The story of a poor country girl from a village high in the mountains of Italy. Of Nazi occupation and fleeing in the night. Of hope and heartbreak in Switzerland; glamour and love in Paris. Of ambition and devastation in Rio de Janeiro; success and self-discovery in New York. A life spent running - but she will run no longer.

The Dressmaker of Paris wasn't quite what I was expecting! I had thought it would be more a glamorous read, like one of those old 80s novels by Judith Krantz or Barbara Taylor Bradford. Instead it is grittier, even a bit dark in places, more like a family saga - so not really for me. The format is a story within a story, meaning we never get right into Rosa's head but witness her life at a distance. However, it is well-written and well-researched, and perfect for anyone who loves 20th century historical fiction, covering the 1930s to the 1990s. A solid four-star read.

Thank you to Georgia Kaufmann and Hodder & Stoughton for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Monday, 28 December 2020

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

According to Goodreads, I've read 114 books this year, the most since I began doing their annual challenges back in 2016. I'm sure this is due to the pandemic! One look at that list and I can immediately see that I've been reading more romance and less crime - although I still have a soft spot for mysteries and cosy crime. (I've never understood why it is called 'cosy' crime!)

It was so hard to pick just ten and impossible to arrange them into any kind of order, so they're listed by publication date. 

Will you find your next read amongst them?

The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black

When Jude's human mother left her high-ranking faerie husband for a human blacksmith, her husband tracked her down, murdered her, and took Jude and her  twin sister Taryn back to the faerie world. Since then, Taryn has spent her life keeping her head down and trying to fit in, whereas Jude has spent hers fighting back and trying to gain power. In this story, the last in the series, we find out if all Jude's sacrifices have been worth it.

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

Veronica McCreedy is very wealthy, lives in a huge mansion in Scotland, is never seen without her ruby red lipstick and has a collection of very expensive handbags. She's also 85 years old.

Realising that she has no family or friends to leave her fortune to, she tracks down her long-lost grandson. The meeting is such a disaster, she decides to leave her money to the penguins. Or rather, the scientists who are studying them at a remote and poorly-funded research station in the Antarctica. And because Veronica is a sensible (stubborn, bloody-minded) kind of person, she pays the research centre a visit before agreeing to part with any cash. Much to the horror of the scientists. (via NetGalley)

Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan

Flora was raised by an aunt who never really wanted her. As a result, she has always longed for a traditional family of her own. When Flora falls in love with widowed Jack, who has two daughters, it seems as if all her dreams are about to come true. But Jack's eldest, the teenage Izzy, makes it clear their family is doing just fine without Flora - and she'd quite like to keep it that way! And the more Flora learns about Jack's late wife, the saintly Becca, she begins to realise it will be impossible to compete... (via NetGalley)

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read
 is the story of two authors suffering from writers' block. January writes romance but no longer believes in happy endings; Gus writes literary fiction but has found himself in a rut. They end up in neighbouring beach houses over the summer, each with a deadline fast approaching. A flippant joke that maybe they should write their books in each other's genres spirals into reality. January takes Gus to the places she uses as settings for her stories, including a country and western bar for a line-dancing adventure, and Gus takes January on one of his research trips - to the burnt-out campus of a cult... (via NetGalley)

The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan

Bel Everhurst is working in Sweden as a nanny for the glamorous Mogert family: Max and Hanna, and their children Linus, Ellinor and Tilde. Out of the blue, Bel receives a phone call meant for Hanna, explaining that her husband has woken up. Bel is confused (She's just seen Max on his bicycle!) but when she passes on the message, Hanna collapses in shock. Hanna's first husband (Linus's father) fell into a coma seven years ago after a terrible accident. Now he's awake - and he wants his family back. (via NetGalley)

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Teenager Saffyre Maddox has been self-harming since a childhood trauma. Unable to confide in her therapist, Roan Fours, she becomes obsessed with him instead. She follows him around, learning where he lives and all about his life with his family, and he doesn't suspect a thing. She's become 'invisible'. Owen Pick lives in the house opposite Roan but feels as though no one ever really 'sees' him. He's drifting through life, feeling more out of step with the world every day, until he wakes up to find his face is splashed all over the newspapers and wishes he really 
was invisible. (via NetGalley)

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Four friends meet up once a month to discuss old murder cases to see if they can solve them. Except the four friends live in a retirement village and one day they find themselves with a real murder to investigate. They run rings around the police, who keep underestimating them, because each one of these friends has a particular skill, or a job they used to do in the past, that helps them work as a team to solve the murders. (via NetGalley)

The Postscript Murders (Harbinder Kaur #2) by Elly Griffiths

Peggy Smith was a 'murder consultant'. She advised crime writers on their plots and invented original ways for them to kill off their characters. When she died at the age of 90 in a retirement home, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur doesn't believe there is anything suspicious about it. Until Peggy's carer is held up at gunpoint - for a book! (via NetGalley)

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

A prequel to Practical Magic and Rules of Magic, this tells the story of the Owens family matriarch, Maria Owens. Starting in 1664, when baby Maria is found abandoned in a snowy field and bearing the mark of a bloodline witch, it follows her adventures as she flees England via a Caribbean island to New York, before heading to a little town called Salem. And we all know what happened in Salem - or do we? (via NetGalley)

Read the full review here.

Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale

Every night on the long journey to Paris from their troubled homeland, Levon's grandmother reads to her family from 
The Nocturne - a book of fairy stories and heroic adventures of their people who chose to live by starlight, generations ago. With every story she tells, the desire to live as their ancestors did grows. And that is when the magic begins… (via NetGalley)

Have you read any of these? Which were your favourites?

You can see more of the books I've enjoyed reading this year over on Instagram and Goodreads.

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