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! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Review: Wilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle #1) by Eloisa James

It is 1778. Lord Alaric Wilde, the third son of the Duke of Lindow, has spent the past five years travelling around the world and writing books about it. It never occurs to him that those books could make him famous - or rather, infamous - until he arrives home to a rapturous welcome from a mob of infatuated women. In his absence there have been prints circulated about his exploits, merchandise with his image sold, even a sell-out London play. Mortified, he heads back to the family home (Lindow Castle), only to find a house party in progress - and all the female guests really keen to make his acquaintance...except one.

Wilhelmina (Willa) Ffynche is the success of the London Season, mainly due to her ability to keep to the rules and behave in the way that is expected of a society lady. Attending the house party at Lindow Castle, she finds it amusing that so many women are prepared to make fools of themselves over Lord Alaric...until she realises he's not quite the idiot portrayed in that notorious play.

Wilde in Love is a sweet, subtle historical romance, in which the main characters meet, become friends and slowly fall in love, despite their initial feelings that their personalities are polar opposite. And that's about it, which makes the story sound really dull - and it isn't! It's lovely and warm, and so nice to read a book where the characters actually like each other and come across as real people, along with all the associated quirks and flaws.

I particularly loved Sweetpea, the 'American sable' (which reminded me of Manuel's 'Siberian hamster' in Fawlty Towers), and Hannibal the battle-scarred cat! There are also Shakespearean references, and an entertaining villain who prevents the course of true love from running too smoothly. The last chapter of the book is, in effect, the first chapter of the next book.

Recommended to readers who like their historical romance to have a slight fairy tale tone (although there are some sex scenes). I really enjoyed it - and I loved the (Piatkus) cover, featuring a very modern-looking heroine. 

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Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James