Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Day Shift (#2 Midnight Texas) by Charlaine Harris

Day Shift is the second book in Charlaine Harris's Midnight Texas Series - now a TV series - and is set in a small, isolated town, where no one is quite what they seem...

I enjoyed this book more than the first one. Perhaps because the characters had already been set up and it seemed to move with a quicker pace. Manfred, the psychic, finds himself the prime suspect in a murder enquiry when one of his clients dies during a reading, and his friends join together to help clear his name. There is also a new character: a strange young boy who comes to stay with the Reverend. Quinn, a character from one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, makes a cameo. We also learn more about the mysterious Olivia.

I think this is why I prefer the books to the TV series - the characters' secrets are not revealed at once and there's a proper mystery to solve. I would have given it five stars, but the mystery did fizzle out a bit towards the end, although the identity of the murderer came as a surprise! And justice was served - er, literally.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Midnight Crossroad (#1 Midnight Texas) by Charlaine Harris

I bought this one because I'm a huge fan of Charlaine Harris and I loved her Sookie Stackhouse and Harper Connelly books. Unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who downloads ebooks and then promptly forgets I've bought them, so it was only when I saw the trailers for the TV series (Midnight, Texas) based on this book that I remembered I had it!

Midnight Crossroad is the first book in a trilogy. The others are Day Shift and Night Shift, although I did see an interview with Charlaine where she said she might write more. Psychic Manfred Bernardo has just moved to to the town of Midnight in Texas, which is basically just a few run-down stores around an intersection with one set of traffic lights. His new neighbours seem friendly enough, if a little ... strange ... but he's sure he's going to fit in just fine. He's right about that, because while Manfred has a few secrets in his past, it's nothing compared to those of his new friends.

Midnight Crossroad is basically a cosy mystery crossed with a paranormal. There was a lot I enjoyed. I loved the characters, particularly Manfred, Fiji and Mr Snuggly. I loved the murder mystery, the clever twists and the left-of-field final denouement. I loved the idea of this mysterious town where every inhabitant has a secret, not revealed all at once (unlike the TV series). I liked the fact that it was a quite leisurely read, taking the time to build up the characters, but unfortunately it was a little bit too leisurely at times. There was an awful lot of detail about the way the characters had decorated their houses, what Fiji had planted in her garden, and what was on the menu at Home Cookin'. There are also a lot of characters introduced very quickly and I got a little confused as to who was who.

I wavered between giving this a four or a five star, and settled on four - even though that ending blew me away, and I've just bought the next two books. So I'm feeling a bit mean.

Recommended, but only if you like your cosy mysteries with a gentle pace and supernatural characters - and bear in mind it's a lot different to the TV series.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben

I'm a huge fan of Harlan Coben, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one - and I read it in two days flat! I absolutely loved it!

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. There is a theme running through the novel, very cleverly done, that I can't reveal because of spoilers, along with lots of false trails and red herrings, several of which I utterly fell for, and some great twists. The missile base is a real place, which I thought was a nice touch, and I found the way the story is told as though Nap is talking to his brother was endearing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fiendishly clever mysteries and fast-paced thrillers. Harlan Coben's existing fans will love it. I certainly did!

Thank you to Harlan Coben, Cornerstone/Random House and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Review: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I had not read any books by Lisa Jewell until last month when I read Then She Was Gone, which I loved, so I jumped at the opportunity to download this one. Both books are written in a similar style, with multiple viewpoints, and a clever plot that kept me guessing. Both books are five star reads but this one is definitely going on my list of all-time favourites, mainly because of the ending - which obviously I can't tell you about because of spoilers!

Lily is from the Ukraine, and met her English husband when he attended a course in Kiev. Madly in love, they've only been married for five weeks and she's not had the chance to meet any of his family and friends. When he fails to come home one night, or the night after that, she doesn't know what to do.

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 guessed the first twist fairly early on (I read a lot of books!) but there were a few more that took me by surprise, and I was on the edge of my seat for that ending! I loved the setting (faded seaside town), and the characters, particularly Alice and Frank, who I was really rooting for. All the characters were brilliantly drawn. Alice's teenagers will seem horribly realistic to anyone who has children the same age! I wasn't so keen on Lily, but that was kind of the point. I did warm to her by the end of the story, and really admired her tenacity in trying to find out what had happened to her husband when no one else seemed much interested.

This is a brilliant, superbly-written story, which had me completely emotionally engaged, reading faster and faster until I reached the end. So I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who loves psychological suspense, domestic thrillers and old mysteries. I loved it!

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

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Monday, 14 August 2017

Review: Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

I seem to be reading a lot of books about spooky old houses lately. Not sure what that says about me, other than I like books about spooky old houses, obviously! This one has a dual timeline, set in 1860 and the present day on a Hebridean island called Harris.

In the present day, Ruth and Michael have bought an old Vicarage with the intention of completely renovating it. They have overreached themselves financially, and it doesn't help that the skeleton of a child has just been found beneath one of the rooms, creating a hold up while the police investigate. Distracted from her work, Ruth sets about investigating the history of those who had lived in the house before them, particularly a Victorian clergyman who appeared to be completely obsessed with selkies.

The story is told from three points of view: Ruth, the Rev Alexander Ferguson, and Moira his maid. Ruth is not immediately likeable, but that's due to her past history. I found Alexander's narrative a bit hard going at first, as I've never been keen on stories written in that old style of English, even if it is historically accurate. Moira's story seemed a little bit repetitive, but in the end she became my favourite character.

So at first this story was heading for a solid four stars, but then I became swept up with the characters and their lives, particularly the Victorian timeline and Alexander's tales of mermaids and selkies. I'm English, so I don't know much about Scottish myths and legends, but I found this aspect of the story particularly fascinating. I also enjoyed Alexander's journey from a kind-hearted, slightly naive vicar to - ah, well that would be a spoiler!

Anyway, this one is definitely going on my list of favourite reads and I've already downloaded another book by the same author. Recommended!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Review: Holding by Graham Norton

I don't usually buy books written by celebrities, especially fiction written by celebrities, but I was attracted to this book by the cover, spotted that it had been written by Graham Norton, and couldn't resist reading a few pages. Impressed, I downloaded it, and I'm so glad I did, because this is a thoroughly enchanting cosy crime and I absolutely adored it.

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 ...

From a writer's point of view, this book is a masterclass in creating characters. And if you love reading cosy crime, particularly village mysteries, you're in for a treat. At first it reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie's Poirot series, but although you have PJ as the police sergeant, each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, so really the reader is the detective. It also reminded me a bit of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, in that the story is more about the lives and past histories of the characters than the crime. So if you prefer a more plot-based story, with lots of unexpected twists, you might feel this is a bit slow. But I absolutely loved it and I really, really hope this is just the first one in a series.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

This is one of the best books I've ever read! The moment I finished it I wanted to flip back to the start and read it again! It is utterly gorgeous! A mystery set over two time periods, the late 1960s and the present day, it's about an old house nicknamed Black Rabbit Hall and the dysfunctional family who used to live there. Atmospheric and completely spellbinding, it reminded me of Daphne du Maurier and Dodie Smith. I absolutely loved it!

The story starts in the present day, with Lorna and her fiancé Jon trying to find a manor house in Cornwall called Pencraw Hall, because Lorna saw a photo on the Internet and wants to get married there. As soon as she sees the house she becomes obsessed by it. Ignoring the fact that it's practically derelict and owned by a very strange old lady, she arranges to stay there over one weekend - without Jon - and is determined to learn its secrets.

In the 1960s Amber Alton spends every holiday at Black Rabbit Hall, along with her parents and three siblings: her twin Toby, Barney and Kitty. Allowed to run wild, it's only a matter of time before tragedy strikes.

I think I enjoyed this story so much because of the setting - the idea of a house with a hydrangea growing through the ballroom floor! - it's beautifully written and the characters were so well drawn, particularly the children. I especially loved Amber, Toby and Lucian.

Black Rabbit Hall is a hard one to categorise, genre-wise. It's definitely a mystery but it's also part gothic romance, part coming-of-age story. I think it would appeal to fans of Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton, and anyone who loves stories about dark family secrets set in spooky old houses. And if you do enjoy this one, Eve Chase's second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde (USA: The Wildling Sisters) is also excellent! Recommended - but I think you guessed that already!

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: Marrying His Cinderella Countess by Louise Allen

While I love murder mysteries and romantic suspense, I suppose you could call historical romance my guilty pleasure - except I don't feel remotely guilty about it! I've read almost all of Louise Allen's books and she is one of my favourite M&B Historical authors. She always comes up with great stories, meticulously researched, which often don't go in the way one would expect - and this is one of those.

It is 1816 and Ellie Lytton is dependant on the charity of her step-brother, Francis. She has money of her own, which he has control of (as was usual at the time), and a small income from writing children's books. Then disaster strikes and Francis dies leaving her destitute - not only had he lost his own money, he'd also managed to lose hers. Ellie has no choice but to pack up and head to Lancaster and her sole remaining inheritance - a small, practically derelict farmhouse. As she has no means of getting there, she manipulates her step-brother's friend, Blake, into taking her in his carriage.

You might think this would be a fairly predictable story (the clue's in the title, etc) but it is so cleverly written that every time you think you know what is coming next, something completely different happens. I also enjoyed the way the main characters actually liked each other and the only thing stopping them getting their HEA was their failure to communicate - both had issues in their past that needed to be overcome.

 So, an enjoyable Regency romance with lovable characters, a few surprises along the way and a very sweet ending. Recommended.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the title and assumed it would be a quirky cosy mystery. It isn't - but I still enjoyed it!

Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (larger than the name suggests) in Denver. One Friday night she's just closing up when she hears a strange noise from the third floor and finds Joey, her favourite BookFrog, hanging from an overhead beam. What could have led him to kill himself, and is the answer hidden in the crate of books he left for her - the pages defaced with neat little holes? The mystery deepens when Lydia finds a photo of herself in his possession - aged 10. 

Again, I can't give too many details because of spoilers, but the story is really in two parts. We have Lydia trawling through the sad detritus of Joey's life, trying to find out why he would kill himself, alongside a backstory of Lydia's childhood and the horrific event she witnessed shortly after the photo was taken. The first half is mostly about Lydia's initial investigation, the second half is how it connects with her past. I did prefer the first half, mainly because I liked meeting the characters who worked at and frequented the bookstore, especially Plath and Joey's friend Lyle. I also liked David but found Raj a bit creepy, and I couldn't understand why Lydia would suddenly become estranged from her father. 

The story is sad in parts, and explores how one tragic event can affect the lives of those involved for years to come. It is also a murder mystery, although I suspect fans of this genre will find the identity of the murderer a bit too easy to guess. As I'm writing this, I still can't decide whether to give it 4 or 5 stars. Perhaps 4.5, rounded up to 5, because it is well-written, enjoyable (despite the sad bits!), and I loved the setting and most of the characters. And, despite guessing the ending, there were some twists that took me completely by surprise.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore will be published in the UK on the 24th August 2017.

Thank you to Matthew Sullivan, Cornerstone Digital (Random House) and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Review: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

This has been on my to be read pile so long I felt it was starting to look at me reproachfully. I have no idea why, other than I mostly read on Kindle these days and I bought it in paperback. I'm also a bit wary about reading psychological suspense/thrillers, as they are not my favourite genre - too many similar plots! However, this one had my brain tied in knots so I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The story is about Nora, who is invited to a hen party at a remote house in Northumberland. The 'hen' is Clare, a school friend whom she hasn't spoken to in ten years. And of course it all goes horribly wrong and someone ends up dead. I did think it might end up being like one of those movies, where each character is killed off one at a time, but it isn't. The author even makes a sly reference to the Agatha Christie story, And Then There Were None. Several times I thought I knew what was going on and what was going to happen next, only to discover the author had been deliberately misleading me. Sneaky!

I worked out what was going on before Nora, but only because I'd been tricked so many times I started concentrating harder! I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot, because of spoilers. So I'll just say that I really liked the setting - a modern house called The Glass House, hidden away in a dark, dark wood. I liked the characters, particularly Nina, who had a great line in sarcasm. The only thing I wasn't keen on was that parts of the story were quite sad, particularly relating to Nora's past relationships. But overall I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who loves reading psychological suspense, and stories such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.