Sunday, 31 December 2017

Review: Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

This one was an impulse-buy for me. The cover caught my eye, it is about one of my favourite books of all time, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and at the time it was only 99p.

Mr Dickens and His Carol is a fictional account of how Charles Dickens was inspired to write his most famous book - and managed to invent Christmas - and the Christmas book - at the same time!

It is a month before Christmas and Dickens' most recent book, Martin Chuzzlewit, is a huge flop. His publishers are threatening to take their advance back if he doesn't produce a new book by Christmas - and they have already helpfully arranged for him to do a public reading of it on Christmas Eve! Dickens is thrown into a panic and promptly goes down with writer's block. His family have got used to the money his success has brought and fail to take seriously his hints that perhaps they ought to economise. His teenage sweetheart wants a reconciliation, bookshops and theatres are plagiarising his work, sometimes before it's even published; he feels everyone wants a little piece of him - sometimes literally!

Mr Dickens and His Carol has obviously been written by someone with a deep affection for Charles Dickens and a thorough knowledge of his work. It was fun to spot the references to his books and characters, and even if it is a work of fiction there are enough true stories woven into the story to make it completely believable. And Victorian London is horribly authentic.

I absolutely adored this story and would love to see it dramatised for TV or film. It somehow manages to be both funny and poignant; writers will 'get' the in-jokes; and I loved the way Dickens' life began to mirror the book he was writing. The perfect Christmas book, in fact!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Review: A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase

I'm a huge fan of Loretta Chase, so any book of hers is an auto-buy for me. I particularly enjoyed this story of a runaway bride and the hapless best man dragged along for the ride: 'You're the first bride who's kidnapped me.'

Lady Olympia Hightower is twenty-six years old and has given up any hope of falling in love. So she is happy to marry the oafish Duke of Ashmont, knowing it will help her family financially. Unfortunately she gets cold feet on the day of the wedding and exits the ceremony via the window. She is caught by the groom's best friend Hugh, the Duke of Ripley, who gives chase. Unable to persuade her to return, he tries to do the honourable thing and offers to escort her anywhere she chooses, with the aim of keeping her safe from harm. Of course this is the exact moment when everything begins to go wrong, leading to a catalogue of disasters and pursuit by a furious bridegroom, who has completely misunderstood the situation.

The strength of this story is in the deliciously funny banter between the main characters. A road trip combined with a comedy of errors, the story didn't go in quite the way I thought it would, which is always good, and I do hope the wonderfully eccentric cast of characters, particularly Aunt Julia, Uncle Fred, Blackwood, and Jonesy, will appear in the subsequent books as they started to feel like friends.

If you enjoy this one, you might also like Lord Perfect, by the same author.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I've always liked stories that reference fairy tales, especially dark ones, so The Hazel Wood seemed to be a good fit for me.

Alice has spent her life on the run from the 'bad luck' that follows her and her mother (Ella) around. Ella's mother (Alice's grandmother) is Althea Proserpine, the famous but reclusive bestselling author of Tales from the Hinterland - a volume of dark fairy tales featuring characters such as the Briar King and Twice Killed Katherine. When Althea dies, Ella is convinced their 'bad luck' has ended, and for a while everything does seems fine. Until Alice comes home to find her mother has vanished, someone has left a page from Tales from the Hinterland in their apartment - and characters from the book begin popping up all over the place... Enlisting the help of her friend Ellery, a huge Hinterland fan, Alice travels to her grandmother's estate, the Hazel Wood, to find out if those dark 'fairy tales' might have some basis in truth.

I loved the premise and that the character of Alice was not all sweetness and light (there is a reason for this, explained later in the book). But my absolutely favourite part was the introduction of the author's original fairy tale characters, such as Twice Killed Katherine. I would have loved to have heard more about their individual stories. Perhaps if each chapter had started with a short extract, the reader would have been more aware of who they were, and why it was important for Alice to keep away from them. I'd have also liked Alice to have arrived at the Hazel Wood a bit sooner, but it was fun spotting the classic fairy tale references and I did enjoy the story.

Readers of YA, fantasy, and dark fairy tales will love this book, but adults might find it's a bit too YA (particularly at the start) and therefore not have that crossover appeal.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of The Hazel Wood, which will be published on 8th February 2018.

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

Friday, 22 December 2017

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

Most of the books I read are either mysteries or historical (or both!), so when this YA fantasy caught my eye it was because I wanted to read something different. The cover attracted me at first - a fairy tale castle set inside an hour glass - and the premise (a world where time really is money) intrigued me.

Many centuries ago, the people of Sempera learned to turn their blood into 'blood iron' coins that can be dissolved and drunk to extend life. Now the poor work and pawn their valuables for blood iron, and die young, and the rich live forever. And the reclusive Queen, a kind of sinister Countess Bathory figure, rules over them all.

Living a hand-to-mouth existence, and worried about her elderly father, Jules has the opportunity to return to the Queen's castle and work in the kitchens, but her father's last words to her are to warn her to keep away from the Queen: 'Don't let her near you. Don't let her see you. She'll know you. It's not safe.'  What secret has he been hiding from her all these years?

I absolutely loved Everless and was completely gripped by Jules's story as she slowly uncovers the mystery in her past and the truth about her family. I can't tell you much, without revealing spoilers, but there is a little bit of a romance and lots of twists - don't be fooled into thinking you know where this story is going! The only negatives were that I felt the male characters could have been developed a little bit more, and I had trouble getting my head around Sempera's legend of the Sorceress and the Alchemist. But I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the next one in the series.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Everless, which will be published on the 4th January 2018.

Thank you to Sara Holland, Orchard Books, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Book Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

I must be the only person in the country who hasn't read The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, which was a huge bestseller for this author a couple of years ago. I was attracted to this book because of the clever cover, the title, and that so many readers had raved about TTWGAS.

Ostensibly Three Things About Elsie is a mystery. It opens with Florence, a lady of 84 years, looking back on the last few weeks of her life as she waits for someone to find her after a fall. This sounds depressing but Florence has a dry sense of humour and I was quickly drawn into her life at the home, her friendship with Elsie and Jack - and the trouble they cause the long-suffering staff. Florence, you see, is convinced that a new resident is not the man he claims to be but someone she knew sixty years ago - someone who is supposed to be dead.

In reality, Three Things About Elsie is about what it feels like to grow old. The frustration you feel as your health and mental agility slip away from you, and the way younger people start to treat you differently. And how eventually you even lose control over the way you want to live your life.

I loved the character of Florence, flaws and all, and the adventures she has with her friends as they investigate the past of this mysterious new resident. Think a more subtle version of Last of the Summer Wine without the slapstick. It is by turns funny, poignant, and desperately sad too - and I loved it. There are also some clever twists. Definitely recommended; I'm sure this will be one of my favourite reads for 2018.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Three Things About Elsie, which will be published on the 11th January 2018.

Thank you to Joanna Cannon, The Borough Press, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Review: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

I was attracted to this book of short stories by the title and the pretty cover. However, while I really enjoyed reading it, I can see that it won't be to everyone's taste. It's a mix of dark fairy tales, fantasy, and magic realism, and hits the ground running right from the first story, Animals, about a world where hearts (human and animal) can be bought online to transplant. This one is also a little bit gruesome, so be warned, but it was one of my favourites!

Some stories are quite short, just tiny snippets of the characters' lives or train of thought. In some cases these felt more like ideas than fully fleshed-out stories. Some I would have preferred to have been longer, and some I didn't understand at all! But what was never in doubt is how highly original they are. Jen Campbell has an incredible imagination!

The story I liked best was the ghosty/gothicky Aunt Libby's Coffin Hotel, about a woman who runs a hotel for those who want to experience a temporary 'death'. Another favourite was Plum Pie, Zombie Green, Yellow Bee, Purple Monster, about group of children who are half-human and half-plant. And Jacob, written in the format of a letter from a young boy to a TV weather girl, was funny.

I really liked this anthology, and absolutely loved the stories listed above, so I wavered between giving it four or five stars. I think it would appeal to readers who prefer more literary fiction, and fans of authors such as Angela Carter and Alice Hoffman.

Thank you to Jen Campbell, Two Roads, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 11 December 2017

My Top Ten* Reads of 2017

According to Goodreads I've read over 80 books this year, and I've had a lot of 'favourites', so it was very hard to narrow that down to just ten books - you might have already noticed that I didn't quite manage it!

I did wonder if they would all end up being from the same genre, as I have a habit of binge-reading some genres - historical mysteries, for example, and I'm currently going through a romantic suspense phase - but there seems to be a good mix!

These are books that I've read this year, 
some may have been published before 2017

My Top Ten* Reads of 2017  

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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.

Black Rabbit Hall
Eve Chase

The moment I finished Black Rabbit Hall 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!

I Found You
Lisa Jewell

Alice lives in a tiny cottage by the sea with her three children and two mad dogs. She's too kind for her own good so, obviously, when she finds a strange man sitting in the rain on the beach, she invites him into her house take shelter. He says he's lost his memory but refuses to go to the police or seek medical help. Should she believe him? I Found You is a brilliant, superbly-written story, which had me completely emotionally engaged, reading faster and faster until I reached the end. I loved it!

The Last Hours
Minette Walters

It is 1348, the Great Plague is sweeping through Dorsetshire and the inhabitants of Develish have been forced to cut themselves off from the rest of the world to survive. I knew very little about this period in history and hadn't appreciated that most serfs never left their village. So when a small group of serfs are forced to go in search of food and news of the outside world, they have no idea how to find their way in what is now dangerous and hostile territory.

I thought The Last Hours was absolutely brilliant. I really cared about the characters and became completely engrossed in their lives.

The Summer of Impossible Things
Rowan Coleman

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. I even loved the way the author sneakily played the writer's equivalent of the three card trick when I wasn't paying attention!

All The Missing Girls
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. 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.

Her Frozen Heart
Lulu Taylor

Her Frozen Heart is the story of one house and two women - who have both experienced something so traumatic it has left them 'frozen'. In the present day we have Caitlyn, barely coping after a tragedy shatters her world, now left wondering who she can trust. In the 1940s Tommy (Thomasina), after struggling to keep the family home going during the war, is facing one of the coldest winters on record. Food and fuel are rationed, and the risk of freezing to death or starving is very real. Then two strangers arrive and Tommy's life is changed irrevocably.

A dual timeline, a beautiful Jacobean manor, an old mystery surrounding a famous painting, a couple of deliciously bad villains - and lots of snow! - I absolutely loved this story!

The Cottingley Secret
Hazel Gaynor

Do you believe in fairies?

In present-day Ireland, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather's secondhand bookshop. Olivia is at a crossroads in her life. She's engaged to be married, the date is hurtling towards her, and she's inundated with emails from her wedding planner. She certainly doesn't have time to revitalise a failing bookshop. But amongst the clutter she discovers a manuscript written by Frances Griffiths, about her life in Yorkshire, England, at the beginning of the 20th century.

I loved hearing about Frances's life, and how she and her cousin inadvertently became involved in what was to be known as one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, and why it was so important for the people of that time to believe in magic.

Graham Norton

Overweight and completely unfit, Sergeant PJ Collins barely scraped into the Garda Síochána (Irish police) and took the posting in the village of Duneen because it was probably his only chance to make sergeant. When a skeleton is found during the building of a housing estate, PJ is both thrilled and slightly anxious that he'll finally get to investigate a possible crime. Although when Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne arrives from Cork to take over the investigation, and PJ is reduced to doing house-to-house enquiries, he's not quite so delighted. But maybe the inhabitants of Duneen know more about that skeleton than they're letting on ...

Holding is a thoroughly enchanting cosy mystery and I adored it.

Don't Let Go
Harlan Coben

Fifteen years ago, Nap's twin brother Leo, and Leo's girlfriend Diana, were found dead on the train tracks in a small town in New Jersey. Their deaths were put down to accident or suicide, and everyone moved on. Everyone except Nap, who is obsessed with finding out what really happened that night and if his brother's death is linked to the disappearance of his own girlfriend, Maura. Now another of Leo's old school friends has been killed, and Maura's prints have been found at the scene. Are the deaths connected, and what is the link to that mysterious old missile base hidden in the woods?

Don't Let Go is a fast paced-thriller and one of my favourite Harlan Coben novels to date. I loved the link between an old mystery and one in the present-day, and the way all the characters have secrets of their own.

The Silent Companions
Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions is a deliciously gothic mystery/horror with a dual timeline - Victorian England and the reign of Charles I. Elsie Bainbridge, newly married and newly widowed, arrives at her late husband's crumbling ancestral home with only the company of a few resentful servants and her husband's widowed cousin, Sarah. When Elsie and Sarah explore the house they find two wooden props, skillfully painted to look like children, hidden away in a locked garret: a girl and a gypsy boy - and the girl looks just like Elsie...

The Silent Companions is well-written and fast-paced. Until the very end I was never quite sure whether Elsie is imagining everything that happens, if she's being 'Gaslighted', or if there really was something evil locked up in that garret.

The Lie of the Land
Amanda Craig

This 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 The Lie of the Land 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."

And One to Watch in 2018!
The Chalk Man
CJ Tudor

The Chalk Man has a dual timeline, with chapters alternating between the 1980s and the present day. In the 1980s, teenager Eddie and his friends leave messages for each other in coloured chalk outside each other's houses. But then the messages start appearing on their own, in white chalk, leading to the body of a murdered girl. In the present, Eddie is surprised when one of his old friends asks for help with a book he is writing, a book about the killer nicknamed 'The Chalk Man', and his theory that the real murderer was never caught. And then Eddie disappears ... and the chalk figures begin appearing again.

The Chalk Man will be published on the 11th of January 2018. 
Review to come!

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Halloween Reads (2017)

*Ten? You expected me to narrow it down to just ten?!!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Review: Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes

Detective Inspector Ben Kitto takes a leave of absence from the Metropolitan Police Force and returns to his childhood home on Bryher, one of the Scilly Isles. He is hoping to work in his uncle's boatyard, but no sooner has he arrived than a teenage girl is found murdered and the local Detective Chief Inspector asks him to take on the role of investigating officer. Everyone on the island is under suspicion and it doesn't take long for Ben to realise that all have secrets to hide.

I really enjoyed this traditional murder mystery. I loved the character of Ben, who has come to the island hoping to get over a traumatic event in his past, only to be thrust back onto the front line of a murder investigation. I thought the island of Bryher, bleak and desolate out of the holiday season, was a terrific setting, and the eccentric inhabitants (especially Rose) made up a great cast of characters. Shadow the dog was a lovely addition and there was a little bit of a romance too. This is exactly the kind of crime fiction I love to read and I do hope it will be the start of a new series.

The only negative for me was that I did find it slightly unbelievable that an officer on a leave of absence from one police force would be assigned investigating officer with another (and without returning to work first), and that he would be expected to conduct an enquiry with only the help of one constable.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed it!

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published in ebook and hardback on the 25th January 2018, and in paperback on the 3rd  May 2018.

Thank you to Kate Rhodes, Simon & Schuster UK, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Review: Once Upon a Christmas Eve (A Maiden Lane Novella) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I do love Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, set in Georgian England, and these accompanying novellas are a sweet treat. This one features Adam, Viscount d'Arque, who has had a minor role in several of the full-length novels. The heroine is Sarah St John, the sister of Godric St John - the hero of Lord of Darkness (#5 Maiden Lane series). You don't need to have read any of the series to enjoy this novella though.

The story starts a few days before Christmas. Adam and his grandmother are on their way to a house party when their carriage breaks its axle in a snowstorm. The nearest house turns out to belong to Godric St John, who doesn't much like Adam because he once flirted with Megs - Godric's wife - but Adam is a notorious rake and flirts with every woman. This is unfortunate because the only woman he's ever really been interested in (Sarah St John) really hates rakes...

This novella is quite short - it took me about an hour to read and finishes at 85% with a chapter from Elizabeth Hoyt's next book at the end - but I really enjoyed it. My only complaint was that I wish it could have been longer! I'd always felt Adam deserved a book of his own. I loved the banter between the characters, the lovely Christmassy touches (gathering holly in the snow), and the very romantic ending. *Sighs*. I think I'm going to read it again ... 

If you enjoy this, do try Lord of Darkness, which is one of my favourite Maiden Lane novels. 

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Review: This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

I first read Mary Stewart's books when I was a teenager. I sneaked them from my grandmother's bookshelves and felt very grown-up. Re-reading them now, I'm not quite sure why I felt so daring as they have no sex or violence in them. They do, however, have lush descriptions, sexy heroes, feisty heroines and lots of nail-biting suspense.

This one, unfortunately, was a disappointment and I found it quite hard going. It was originally published in 1964 and the dialogue feels dated. The characters spoke with the same 'voice' and as though they'd stepped out of a Famous Five novel. Usually I love Mary Stewart's heroines, but this one was a bit of an idiot - deliberately putting herself in harm's way just to prove a point. 

Lucy Waring goes to visit her sister, who has married into the Italian aristocracy and is currently holidaying at her husband's summer residence on Corfu. There are two other houses on the estate - the original castle, now rented by a famous actor, and another villa on the other side of the bay. But Lucy's plans for a relaxing holiday are shattered when she almost gets shot while trying to protect a dolphin, and then a body is washed up on the beach.

The story is very much of its time, so I would hesitate to recommend it to a modern audience. I loved Julian (the reclusive actor) and hearing about the island's saint, Spyridon, but I did find all the Shakespeare references a bit wearing. Extra points for the dolphin though! If you've never read Mary Stewart, I'd recommend starting with one of her others first, such as Nine Coaches Waiting, which is one of my favourites.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements

I love reading gothicky ghost stories, particularly at this time of year, and as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I was intrigued. 

The story is set on the Yorkshire Moors in 1674, with the country still feeling the effects of the Civil War. The 'coffin path' is the well-worn path across the moor to the local church, passing Scarcross Hall. Once an impressive manor house, Scarcross Hall has now fallen on hard times, along with the fortunes of the people who live there: Bartram Booth, his daughter Mercy, and their housekeeper Agnes. They lead a hand-to-mouth existence, completely dependant on sheep-farming. Mercy has taken over from her father, who is becoming increasingly senile, but working alongside the shepherds mean the villagers no longer respect her as the lady of the manor.

A stranger arriving, seeking work, triggers a series of sinister events. Lambs are ritualistically slaughtered and left in the stone circle at the top of the moor; antique coins disappear, only to re-appear in unlikely places; and noises can be heard coming from a locked, empty room. Has evil arrived at Scarcross Hall? Or has it been there all the time?

This was one of those books where I wavered between four and five stars. It is well-written and incredibly atmospheric, with a brilliant sense of place; the desolate moor is practically a character itself and reminded me of Wuthering Heights. Compelling and chilling, the slow build-up of tension had me completely on edge. There is a scene towards the end, where someone (or something?) throws stones through the glass window, which I read the same time as the postman shoved a parcel through my letter box. I was so involved in the story, I practically hit the ceiling! However, it is very bleak, with the characters suffering set-back after set-back, and there was a little too much detail about sheep-farming, particularly in the opening chapters.

The Coffin Path is a leisurely read, so it won't suit anyone hoping for a quick succession of jump shocks, but I really enjoyed it. And if you love gothicky ghost stories, I'm sure you'll enjoy it too. 

Four and a half stars, rounded up to five.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 8th February 2018.

Thank you to Katherine Clements, Headline Review, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Review: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

I seem to have run out of books to read (she said, valiantly ignoring her enormous TBR pile). When I spotted Mary Stewart's backlist was available on Kindle, (some are only 99p at the moment) I downloaded the ones I read as a teenager. Are they as good as I remember? Well, I enjoyed Nine Coaches Waiting far more than Madam Will You Talk? It's not as dated - it could just about pass for a book written today as a 'historical' - I really loved the hero, and the setting was glamorous and authentic.

Linda Martin is half-French, half-English. Her parents died when she was young, and she grew up in an orphanage in England before taking a job as a teacher at a prep school, which she didn't enjoy at all. (There are lots of Cinderella references). When she is given the opportunity to work as a governess to the nine year old Comte de Valmy in Savoy, she jumps at the chance. But is someone trying to kill him?

Mary Stewart is an excellent writer, who seems to have invented the romantic suspense genre single-handedly. There are lots of thrilling moments when both the Comte's and Linda's life is in jeopardy. The hero is handsome and brooding, there are some great descriptions of the Savoy countryside, and Linda is a sparky heroine. There are no sex scenes or violence; I think my only complaint would be that the kissing scenes were glossed over - but then this was written in 1958.

This would suit readers who love old-school/classic romantic suspense and authors such as Anne Stuart. I've already downloaded four more. I've now just got to try and pace myself! Recommended!

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Review: All Things Bright and Strange by James Markert

I chose this book because I liked the look of the cover, I thought the title was clever and the story sounded a little bit different.

All Things Bright and Strange opens in 1917. Despite the differences in race and religion, the people of Bellhaven have always got along with each other. But then a group of men wearing white robes and carrying flaming torches track a young black boy, Raphael, to the town and set fire to the town hall. Several people are killed, including Eliza Newberry, the wife of Michael Elsworth Newberry.

Three years later and Elsworth is still grieving for Eliza. He lost his leg during the war, along with his best friend, and is still suffering from PTSD. He's considering suicide when a cardinal (American bird) crashes into his window, distracting him. While he's been holed up at home, strange things have been happening in the town. Trees and flowers are blossoming at the same time, the cardinals are everywhere, and what about that strange old chapel in the woods, where it's rumoured you can speak to the dead...

The strength of this story is definitely in the brilliant characters and I loved the way they interacted with each other, their old friendships shining through. The story is told by Elsworth, who has an entertaining, dry sense of humour, but I also loved Raphael, Gabriel and Anna Belle. The setting is very atmospheric and the mystery surrounding that sinister chapel kept me gripped too - until 1.00 am in the morning!

However, about halfway through the book the viewpoint switches to that of several townspeople, one after the other, revealing the grudges they feel towards their neighbours, and their plans to get their own back. This went on a bit too long and I'm afraid I ended up skipping it. And the shoot-out scene didn't seem to go with the magic realism style. Apart from that, I really did enjoy this unusual story and would give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

All Things Bright and Strange would appeal to fans of Stephen King (Needful Things) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods). 

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 30th January 2017.

Thank you to James Markert, Thomas Nelson, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

My grandmother was a huge fan of romantic suspense and I had a lovely time working my way through her bookshelves when I was about 12 or 13. I remember that Mary Stewart was one of my favourites but I couldn't remember anything much about the plots, so I was thrilled to see a selection on Kindle for just 99p. Would they be as good as I remembered? Yes, and no.

Mary Stewart probably invented the romantic suspense genre - more recently reinvented as domestic suspense: independent heroine falls in love with a man who might be a killer. In this particular story, Charity and her friend Louise(!) are on holiday in France. Charity is determined to visit all the historical sites. Louise would rather sit in the shade and drink grape juice. So Charity takes a young boy called David on her sight-seeing trips. David and his stunningly beautiful step-mother are in France hiding from his father - recently on trial for murder. When Charity realises David's father has finally tracked his family down, she tries to lead him away on a false trail. Will she succeed?

Madam, Will You Talk? was written in 1955 and unfortunately it shows, particularly in the way anyone who is not white, British, and middle-class is described. And I really wish someone had thought to edit out the (one occurrence) of the g-word. Having said that, Madam, Will You Talk? is an enjoyable, escapist  'romp' and I did enjoy it. There are lots of lush descriptions of France and thrilling car chases. The romance is glossed over - the hero meets the heroine all of twice before he falls madly in love with her. There are no sex scenes and only very mild violence.

Would suit fans of old-school romantic suspense and authors such as Anne Stuart. Fans of vintage cosy crime, such as Agatha Christie, will probably find there is not enough of a mystery to get their teeth into. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a standalone novella featuring characters from Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. Officially it comes in at #12.5 (after the final novel, Duke of Desire) although the only characters to get a proper mention are from #1 (Wicked Intentions) and #10 (Duke of Sin).

The heroine, Mary Whitsun, featured in Wicked Intentions as a child. She was given her unusual surname after being found on the doorstep of an orphanage on Whit Sunday.

The hero, Viscount Blackwell, has been engaged to Lady Johanna Albright since birth. He was previously engaged to her twin sister, who disappeared as a baby. When he meets Mary Whitsun in a bookshop he is convinced she is Lady Johanna's long lost sister. Is Mary about to get a fairy tale 'happily ever after'?

I loved the characters; I found their interaction very engaging. Their romance was sweet and I loved the scene where they met in a bookshop. I wasn't so sure about the 'missing heir' plot, but Elizabeth Hoyt puts her own spin on it. My only complaint was that it ended too soon, almost as though it was missing a chapter. Several plot strands were left unresolved, and the villain's motivation seemed a bit weak. Maybe I'm just being greedy, wanting it to be longer?

But I did enjoy the story and I've already got the final novella in this series on order (Once Upon a Christmas Eve).

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Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: Her Frozen Heart by Lulu Taylor

I'm not sure how I've managed to avoid reading Lulu Taylor all these years, as she seems to write my favourite kind of book! A dual timeline, a beautiful Jacobean manor, an old mystery surrounding a famous painting, a couple of deliciously bad villains - and lots of snow! - I absolutely loved this story!

Her Frozen Heart is the story of one house and two women - who have both experienced something so traumatic it has left them 'frozen'. In the present day we have Caitlyn, barely coping after a  tragedy shatters her world, now left wondering who she can trust. In the 1940s Tommy (Thomasina), after struggling to keep the family home going during the war, is facing one of the coldest winters on record. Food and fuel are rationed, and the risk of freezing to death or starving is very real. Tommy has no support from her family. Her mother is openly hostile, saying she should behave more like a lady and leave the running of the estate to her (lovable but hopeless) brother. Then two strangers arrive and Tommy's life is changed irrevocably.

Caitlyn and Tommy's stories are told from their point of view in alternate chapters. In the 1940s I loved the descriptions of Kings Harcourt Manor and the relationships between the characters. I particularly loved Tommy and Gerry. I loved how Caitlyn and Tommy experienced the same problem, seventy years apart, and the mystery surrounding the house's famous Gainsborough painting. And I loved the horribly manipulative villains!

I read Her Frozen Heart in three days. I was completely gripped, reading faster and faster, desperate for it to turn out the way I wanted. Lulu Taylor racks up the tension, right up to the last few pages, and there were a couple of twists I didn't see coming (as they say). I've added it to my list of favourite reads this year - and the author's entire backlist to my wishlist!

If you love old mysteries, and authors such as Kate Morton and Eve Chase, then this is the book for you. Recommended!

Note: I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 30th November 2017.

Thank you to Lulu Taylor, Pan Macmillan, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

It's hard to write a review for The Perfect Stranger without giving away some of the excellent twists. This is one of those mysteries where the clues come thick and fast. At first I wasn't sure about the flipping between timelines during the opening chapters, revealing what happened in the character's past and how she got to where she is now. I felt as though I couldn't connect with what was happening in the present. But then everything slotted into place and by 30% I had really got into the story. By 50% I was completely gripped!

Leah Stevens has to leave Boston in a hurry - resigning from the newspaper where she works before she's fired, and with a restraining order snapping at her heels. Why? What did she do? Uh uh, no spoilers!

Leah's old friend Emmy offers her a place to stay at her lake house in rural Pennsylvania, while she takes a job at the local school and attempts to blend in. Then a girl resembling Leah is found with head injuries and Emmy goes missing, leaving only a broken locket behind. Have the demons from Leah's past finally caught up with her? And why won't the police take Emmy's disappearance seriously? It's almost as though they think Emmy never existed...

I am a huge fan of Megan's writing style. I love that Leah is a flawed heroine who has made mistakes - and looks likely to make the same ones all over again. I love that there are so many twists and turns, that even when the denouement was right there in front of me I could hardly believe it. And I love that there was a bit of romance in there too - Hello, Detective Kyle Donovan!

Recommended if you love your psychological suspense extremely twisty, with a bit of a romance, and if you enjoy reading books such as Lisa Jewell's I Found You

One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Megan Miranda, Corvus, and Netgalley for a copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review - although I loved it so much I've since bought my own copy too!

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins (Thomas Hawkins #2) by Antonia Hodgson

I was attracted to this book because of the gorgeous cover (Georgian gentleman walking into the mist). I did realise before buying that it's actually #2 in a series, but I downloaded it anyway because I liked the sound of the story. And, as it turned out, it works as a stand alone too.

The story opens with Thomas Hawkins on his way to the gallows, charged with murder. But whose murder? And is he innocent or guilty? The story then backtracks to show how the son of a country vicar got himself into such a mess. Of course it doesn't help that Thomas is a lovable rogue with a fondness for drinking and gambling, who's living in sin above a pornographic print shop at the dodgy end of Russell Street. And he's somehow found himself working for both London's biggest crime lord AND the Queen of England. And he's not sure which is the most ruthless, or who he fears most.

I adored this historical murder mystery, which moves at a cracking pace. The grinding poverty of St Giles is horribly authentic, contrasting with the descriptions of St James Palace (despite the rats). I loved the characters - Thomas, obviously, but particularly Kitty Sparks: "Her Majesty can kiss my rain-soaked arse!" She refuses to marry Thomas in case he gambles away her inheritance - that rather dubious print shop. And I particularly liked that part of the plot is based on actual historical events - the author details the real-life stories of some of the characters at the end of the book.

I never thought I'd ever have the occasion to use the word 'rollicking', but this IS a rollicking good read and I thoroughly recommend it!