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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Friday, 27 November 2020

Review: When a Rogue Meets His Match (Greycourt #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my favourite writers. I love her escapist Georgian romances. I was so excited to receive an early copy of her latest book and I wasn't disappointed. When a Rogue Meets His Match is one of her best.

Gideon Hawthorne is the Duke of Windermere's personal fixer. After clawing his way up from the gutter, there is nothing Gideon wouldn't do to achieve his dream of joining the ranks of the aristocracy. He has the house, he has the money, all he needs now is an aristocratic wife to introduce him to Society so he can start wheeling and dealing. When the Duke offers Gideon his niece, Messalina Greycourt, as a wife (along with her enormous fortune), Gideon can hardly say no - especially since he's been obsessed with Messalina for years. There is, however, one tiny snag. The Duke has one last task for him to carry out. A task that he won't reveal until Gideon and Messalina are wed. So, just how far will Gideon go to receive Messalina's hand in marriage?

The story is one of my favourite tropes, enemies to lovers. Although as the story is told from both Messalina's and Gideon's point of view, we know he's not really a villain! Despite his harsh childhood, Gideon is rather sweet (think: the Beast from Beauty and the Beast) and I fell in love with him immediately. Messalina makes a splendid heroine - she doesn't stand for any of his nonsense. The tension comes from knowing exactly what task the Duke wants Gideon to perform and wondering if Gideon will really go through with it - or how he'll get out of it!

When a Rogue Meets His Match is the second in the Greycourt series (you don't need to have read the first one to enjoy it). About halfway through, future 'own-story' characters begin appearing. I particularly loved the relationship between the laid-back Elspeth and the way she teased Messalina's cake-loving sister, Lucretia. I can't wait for their stories!

I loved When a Rogue Meets His Match and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading historical romance. I know Elizabeth's fans will adore the story, particularly if they've previously enjoyed Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane #3). It should also appeal to fans of those authors who write slightly grittier historical romances, such as Courtney Milan.

Thank you to Elizabeth Hoyt and Piatkus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Review: Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale

We're people, and people look after each other...

I loved Robert Dinsdale's The Toymakers (it's one of my all-time favourite books) so I couldn't wait to get my hands on Paris by Starlight - and that cover is gorgeous!

Every night on their long journey to Paris from their troubled homeland, Levon’s grandmother has read to them from a very special book. Called The Nocturne, it is a book full of fairy stories and the heroic adventures of their people who generations before chose to live by starlight. With every story that Levon’s grandmother tells them in their new home, the desire to live as their ancestors did grows. And that is when the magic begins…

While Paris by Starlight is a fabulous fairy tale of refugees inadvertently recreating the magical flora and fauna of their home country (I imagined it looking like something out of Avatar), there is a grittier story hidden beneath it, of dispossessed people suffering cruelty and harassment as they try to find sanctuary. Some want to recreate their old world, others just want to blend in. They meet those who want to learn more about their ways and customs, and experience the magic they've brought with them - and those, less friendly, who want them to leave and will do anything to achieve that. 

Sound familiar?

Paris by Starlight is a very clever mix of magic realism and social commentary - which means it might not be for everyone. (It's quite dark in places.) Robert Dinsdale writes beautifully and has an incredible imagination. I loved his 'starlight' world and the sweet romance between Levon and Isabelle as they struggled against all odds. Engaging and very moving, Paris by Starlight is one of my favourite reads this year. Recommended, particularly  for fans of magic realism and authors such as Alice Hoffman. 

Thank you to Robert Dinsdale and Del Rey for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Post:

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Review: The Ship of Death (The Anglian Detective Agency Series #4) by Vera Morris

I won this book in a competition run by the publisher. I was thrilled because I love reading murder mysteries and the author is new to me, so I might not otherwise have discovered it!

The Ship of Death is the fourth in the series about the Anglian Detective Agency and is set on the Suffolk Coast in the early 1970s. The team are currently investigating a spate of vandalism at a bird sanctuary. Running alongside this is the story of the Breen brothers of Rooks Wood Farm. Their mother has recently died and their father died several years earlier in mysterious circumstances. The older brother is wondering how he can cope with the dual responsibility of trying to keep the farm going while looking after his younger twin, who has a genetic condition causing learning difficulties. When one of the farm workers is found murdered, the Anglian Detective Agency is enlisted to help.

The Ship of Death is a twisty murder mystery with a very authentic setting. I loved the story about the twins, Daniel and Caleb - Daniel's struggles to keep the farm going at the expense of his personal life, and the misery he feels when his estranged uncle turns up and begins to come between him and his brother. It's unusual to read a book set in the 70s (which I am just about old enough to remember!); the sexist attitudes of a couple of characters made me wince, along with the way poor Caleb was treated. Laura was my favourite character, along with Bumper the dog, but I think I suffered from not reading the earlier books - I did get a little confused as to who-was-who in the earlier chapters.

Recommended for anyone who loves traditional detective stories, particularly fans of authors such as Lesley Cookman.

Thank you to Headline Accent for my copy of this book, which I won via a competition and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

I'm a huge fan of Ruth Ware and was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of her latest, One by One. I was particularly pleased because the wintery setting makes it an absolutely perfect read for this time of year.

One by One is set in one of those exclusive skiing resorts in the Alps. The shareholders and directors of a hip new social media app called Snoop have gathered at a luxury chalet to discuss a prospective buyout. With the group already split, tensions are running high when a massive avalanche hits, isolating them from the outside world. No Internet, no phone signal, the power cuts out and the pipes begin to freeze, but it takes two deaths before they begin to realise that someone might be deliberately picking them off, one by one...

The story is told from two points of view: Liz, who is a minority shareholder in Snoop but feels hopelessly out of her depth, and Erin the housekeeper - who has a few secrets of her own. The story has a slow burn start to allow for a proper introduction to all the characters, but once the avalanche hits the tension really tightens. The last quarter of the book, involving a cat-and-mouse chase through the snow, is extremely exciting. I'm amazed I still have any fingernails left!

One by One (as you might have guessed) is a 'locked room' murder mystery with an affectionate nod to a couple of Agatha Christie's bestsellers. Fans of Ruth Ware's earlier books, particularly In a Dark, Dark Wood, will love it. Recommended, especially on a snowy winter's night...

Thank you to Ruth Ware and Vintage Books (Random House) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Saturday, 24 October 2020

Review: Together by Christmas by Karen Swan

I love Karen Swan's books, particularly the way each one is set in a different part of the world, and I couldn't wait to read Together by Christmas.

In this story Lee is a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer, living with her four-year-old son Jasper in Amsterdam. She now makes her living doing high-profile photo shoots for glossy magazines and her work is in high demand. On the surface her life is perfect but her PTSD means she is ultra-protective of Jasper and refuses to have any relationship longer than a one-night stand. One morning she finds a desperate message scrawled in a book left outside her house - but who left it and what does it mean, and is her past about to catch up with her?

I loved this book and could not put it down. It had several hard-hitting storylines (unusual for this genre of book) yet still had all the traditional Christmassy touches: meeting Santa Claus, decorating a Christmas tree, and ice-skating - and the characters are brilliantly drawn and totally relatable. I loved the way Lee was trying so hard to keep everything together for her son while being pushed to her limit, learning that everyone makes mistakes and deserves that second chance - even herself. I adored Sam, who is so completely out of his depth yet equally determined to win Lee round. The Christmassy bits were great, especially Lee's first meeting with Sinterklaas - I think that was one of my favourite parts of the book! The setting of Amsterdam was brilliantly realised and it was fun learning about another country's festive customs.

As much as I loved this book, it might not be suitable for everyone. If you're looking for a light-hearted, cosy Christmas romance, all snowflakes and sleigh bells, this isn't the book for you. There are some quite dark subjects covered (with a sensitive touch) and it is a very emotional read. I felt quite wrung out by the end - in a good way! But it is also a terrific story about relationships (romantic, family and friends), making mistakes and learning to forgive.

I absolutely loved Together by Christmas and have no hesitation in recommending it. It's one of my favourite reads this year!

Thank you to Karen Swan and Pan for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Friday, 23 October 2020

Review: Serpentine (His Dark Materials #3.6) by Philip Pullman

I loved Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series but I have not read any of the connected short stories. Serpentine comes after Lyra's Oxford but before the new Book of Dust series. Philip explains in his notes at the back of Serpentine that the story was intended as a one-off - he handwrote the original version several years ago to be auctioned for charity. It does, therefore, read like a deleted scene or an epilogue, rather than a short story.

A few years after the events of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon return to a town they first visited in Northern Lights and meet up with an old friend. As this is a short story, to tell you any more would involve spoilers!

Fans of His Dark Materials will love the book. It's a snapshot into an older Lyra's life where she learns something about herself and her relationship with Pantalaimon. The book is beautiful to look at and the illustrations are gorgeous. It would make a perfect stocking filler. However, it is very short (80 pages, including the illustrations and a note from the author) and takes less than 20 minutes to read.

Best suited for the fan who wants to read everything about Lyra and her world.

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

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Review: One More for Christmas by Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan is definitely my go-to author when it comes to Christmas books. Her stories about romance and family relationships are so real and true-to-life, and always come served up with a good dollop of all things Christmassy!

One More for Christmas is about Gayle, a successful business-woman famous for her self-help books, which are all about taking control of your life and not relying on anyone else. Unfortunately, she's not so successful in her private life and has not seen her grown-up daughters for five years. After an accident lands her in hospital and her daughters are notified as her next-of-kin, Gayle realises she needs to make amends. Samantha and Ella have an uneasy relationship with their mother - particularly Ella, who hasn't even told Gayle that she married five years ago and is now a stay-at-home mum to Tabitha. It doesn't help that Gayle thinks Christmas is a waste of money - Samantha and Ella weren't even allowed to have a Christmas tree as children. Now Gayle wants to make up for lost time and join them on a Christmas trip to Scotland...

I utterly adored One More for Christmas. I really felt for Gayle, who has finally realised what a hash she has made in the way she tried to bring up her children to be tough and self-reliant. She was so desperate that they didn't make the mistakes she did, she's unwittingly made a whole bunch of new ones. It was so sweet watching her try to make amends, and to be a grandmother to Tabitha - building snowmen and making gingerbread - not realising that she's alienating her daughters further because they never got to do that with her.

I particularly loved that the story is told from several points of view: Gayle, Samantha, Ella and Brodie - the owner of the big old house in Scotland where they are taking their holiday. Brodie has problems of his own and the purpose of the trip is for Samantha to help him market his home as a luxury holiday destination. This story has more romance than Sarah's last book, and the affectionate nod to contemporary romances set in the Highlands (Laid by the Laird is a running joke) made me giggle.

If you're looking for a feel-good, funny, romantic, ultra-Christmassy book to read over the holidays then this is definitely the book for you! I know Sarah's fans will love it (think: The Christmas Sisters and Sleigh Bells in the Snow) and it would also suit readers of feel-good romantic comedy such as those written by Trisha Ashley. I'm certainly saving it to read again!  

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

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Monday, 19 October 2020

Halloween Reads 2020

After the year that's been 2020, you're probably not looking for any more scares! I know that I've been reading more romance and less crime fiction lately, purely because I need the escapism. But I've gathered together some of my favourite 'spooky' reads this year and listed them below. As per previous posts, they're not all strictly ghost or horror stories. One of my favourites, Magic Lessons, is historical fiction blended with magic realism. And Home Before Dark is one of those 'haunted or not' stories, where you're left to make up your own mind. 

Whatever you love to read, I'm sure there is something here for everyone!

Happy Halloween!

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?

Genre: Historical Fiction/Magic Realism

Full review here:

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

When Maggie Holt was five years old her family moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling old Victorian mansion that already had a sinister reputation. They lasted all of three weeks before fleeing in the middle of the night, vowing never to return. No one would have known or cared - except Maggie's father wrote about their ghostly experiences. Now, nearly thirty years later, Maggie has the idea to move back into Baneberry Hall to renovate and sell it. She's not at all worried about the ghosts but because ghosts don't exist - do they?

Genre: Mystery/Psychological Suspense/Ghost Story

Full review here.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

In 1634 the Saardam is on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. Among the passengers is Samuel Pipps (a 17th century Sherlock Holmes), who is being transported to his execution accompanied by his loyal bodyboard, Arent. As soon as the ship sets sail, things start going wrong. The ghost of a dead leper stalks the decks, strange symbols appear on the sails and carved into the ship's timbers, and livestock is mysteriously slaughtered. Could there be a demon living amongst the ship's passengers and crew? With Samuel imprisoned below deck, all lives depend on Arent solving the mystery...

Genre: Historical Mystery/hint of Supernatural

Full review here:

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

It's 1985 and fifteen-year-old Lauren's life hasn't been the same since her father was found brutally murdered. Strangely, no one wants to talk about his death or how it happened. Lauren's best friend Miranda has become more interested in clothes, make-up and boys, and no longer wants to hang out with Lauren at the old ghost tree. But when the remains of two teenage girls are found and Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging them through the woods, she knows that she will have to be the one to do something no matter what anyone else believes.

Genre: YA/Supernatural/Horror

Full review here:

The Haunted Shore by Neil Spring

Although Lizzy grew up in an old Martello tower right on the beach, she has always felt uneasy about the place. After losing her job, she is forced to return to look after her invalid father. Unknown to Lizzy, her father's health (both mental and physical) has deteriorated significantly and her brother has hired the sinister and belligerent Hazel as a housekeeper/carer. If that wasn't enough, almost as soon as Lizzy moves back into the tower she begins hearing strange noises and glimpses ghostly figures on the beach. Is she imagining things or is the stress finally getting to her?

Genre: Psychological Thriller/Ghost Story

Full review here.

The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

Lexi has conned her way into a job as a nanny even though she has no experience of working with children. Her new employer, Tom Faraday, is an architect working on a new-build in a rural part of Norway. This is the second house he has built on the site. The first one collapsed under mysterious circumstances. He is determined to finish this new house as a tribute to his late wife, Aurelia, who drowned in the fjord. Meanwhile, Lexi and his eldest daughter start seeing the ghostly figure of a woman, dripping with water...

Genre: Psychological Suspense/folk horror/ghost story

Full review here.

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Halloween Reads 2017

Five Reads That Chilled Me


All these books were read this year, obtained via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. If you'd like to know more about the other books I've read, or what I'm currently reading, you can find out more on my Goodreads profile.

Photo of pumpkins copyright: Fotolia