Thursday, 27 December 2018

Review: Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

I was attracted to this book because of the absolutely gorgeous cover which, as it turns out, is based on a design by Anna Maria Garthwaite, whose work was inspiration for one of the characters.

Blackberry and Wild Rose is set in London during the 18th century. Spitalfields is home to the Huguenot silk weavers and the main character, Esther Thorel, is married to one of the masters. When she rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel, she believes she is doing God's will. But, as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished!

My husband is descended from Huguenot silk weavers but I knew little about them, so I found this story completely fascinating! It's well-written, with lots of detailed descriptions, both of the weaving process and life (especially for women) in the 18th century. This is the kind of story where the main characters are not completely likeable and their behaviour, sometime petty, has huge ramifications on all their lives. Despite this, I found their story totally engrossing; the only minus being that I'd have preferred the ending to have gone in a different direction!

I thoroughly enjoyed Blackberry and Wild Rose and have no hesitation in recommending it, especially if you love historical fiction with lots of lush period detail, and books such as Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist.

Thank you to Sonia Velton and Quercus for my copy of this book, which I requested direct from the publisher and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Review: To All The Boys I've Loved Before (To All The Boys #1) by Jenny Han

I downloaded this one after watching the Netflix adaptation during the summer, which I loved. This is probably the first YA romance/romcom I've ever read (if I read YA, it's usually fantasy) but I really enjoyed it. The film is mostly faithful to the book, although the ending is slightly different (but not in a bad way!)

Lara Jean Covey is the middle one of the three 'Song sisters', who are extremely close after the death of their mother a few years back. The only gift Lara Jean had from her mother, that was not duplicated to her sisters, is a teal-coloured hat box in which she keeps a bundle of love letters. These are not letters she's received but ones she wrote and never posted, letters written to help her get over the various crushes she has had over the years. Then one day, the letters are mysteriously posted, leading to all sorts of complications.

I'm not usually keen on stories that go into a lot of detail about the characters lives; I prefer to get right to the action! But I absolutely loved this book because of all the detail about Covey family life. I loved the way the sisters try to encourage their hapless father to get out and date again, by ironing his tie and practically shoving him out the door. I loved the down-to-earth humour of Lara Jean's 'fake' boyfriend Peter: "As soon as you and I are done, he's gonna pull some cheesy-ass move and, like, profess his love for you with a boom box. I'm telling you, I know how guys think." I even adored Lara Jean's eccentric best friend Chris, who turns up in the middle of the night for sleepovers.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before is sweet, funny, and heart-warming without even trying. The characters are adorable and I completely fell in love with them. So I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of contemporary romance, romance and romcoms, whatever their age! One of my favourite reads this year.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

I downloaded Once Upon a River because it's a historical mystery, which I love, but also the mention of folk tales caught my eye; fantasy is  my new favourite genre and I've always adored fairy tales! But I was thrilled by just how good this story is, and how clever! I completely fell in love with the characters, so much so that it's now one of my all-time favourite books! 

The story is set in the mid-nineteenth century, at a time when events that might have once seemed magical can now be explained by science. But at the ancient Swan Inn, on the banks of the River Thames, they still love telling each other stories. Some of their tales have been told and re-told for generations, but the strangest of all is when one mid-summer night an injured man stumbles through its doors and promptly collapses. In his arms is the body of a little dead girl - who miraculously comes back to life. As her story spreads through the village, and then further afield, more than one person comes forward to claim her. But who is telling the truth, and who is telling a tale?

Once Upon a River has a host of fascinating characters and the author takes her time to explain who everyone is, their history, and how they fit into the story. So there are dozens of these enchanting little stories taking place alongside the main mystery. But the really clever thing is that this gives the effect of the story flowing between each character in the same way the river flows through each location in the story. Genius!

I particularly loved the characters of Robert Armstrong, the illegitimate son of an Earl and a black maid, who does most of the detecting, and Rita Sunday, the nurse who has seen so many childbirths it's put her right off ever falling in love and getting married.

Will you love this book as much as I did? If you like historical mysteries, then yes. If you adore traditional 'let's sit by the fireside and I'll tell you a story' kind of books, you will definitely love this one. If the mention of folk lore and fantasy puts you off, those elements are done with a very light hand. The film/TV rights have already been sold to Kudos (Broadchurch/Grantchester) and I can't wait to see what they do with with it.

Once Upon a River is a fabulous read that deserves to become an instant classic, one that will be read, and re-read, and enjoyed for years to come. One of my top 3 reads this year.

Thank you to Diane Setterfield and Doubleday (Transworld/Random House) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Review: The Winter Secret by Lulu Taylor

I love Lulu Taylor's books so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of The Winter Secret. It has all my favourite ingredients: a dual timeline, an old house, a famous movie star - and a mystery to solve.

When a character in a book has a too-perfect life, you know everything is soon going to go horribly wrong! In the present day, sweet-natured Buttercup has been whisked off her feet by a handsome millionaire and now lives a glamorous but idle life at the beautiful Charlcome Park. While back in the 1940s, the mansion was home to Xenia Arkadyoff, who is the daughter of a movie star and a Russian Prince, and the envy of all her school-friends. But while Buttercup can have everything she wants, apart from the one thing she is desperate for, Xenia's life is a myriad of secrets no one can find out.

The reason I love Lulu Taylor's books is that they remind me a bit of those glitzy books that were popular in the 80s and 90s. The characters are glamorous and wealthy, but obviously not happy! The Winter Secret combines 1940s Hollywood and the lost world of the Russian tsars, with a touch of modern-day psychological thriller. I loved the mystery surrounding the old house and its sinister 'curse'. It wasn't hard to work out what was happening in Buttercup's life, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of her story, and I did like the way she tried to fight back. Whereas I wished Xenia had made more of her opportunities! There were also some twists I didn't work out, which I always enjoy! 

This was a five-star read for me, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves dual-time line mysteries about big old houses, and for fans of authors such as Eve Chase and Kate Morton.

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

Related Post:

Review: Her Frozen Heart by Lulu Taylor

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Review: The Other Miss Bridgerton (The Rokesbys Book 3) by Julia Quinn

I do love Julia Quinn's novels, so as soon as I saw this I dropped everything to read it. I adore the escapism of historical romances, particularly ones with humour, and the author's 'Bridgerton' series is one of my favourites. This book is the third in her 'Rokesby' series, which often features characters from the earlier generation of Bridgertons. It can be read as a stand-alone.

While visiting her friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy Bridgerton is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers' hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain's bed.

So far, so good, I thought! Unfortunately Captain Andrew James Rokesby turns out to be the perfect gentleman. He's also a spy working for the British government, rather than a pirate, and is forced to take Poppy along on his time-sensitive mission to Portugal.

As with all Julia Quinn's books, I loved the characters and the brilliant dialogue. This is the perfect story for readers who love 'meet cute' and the slow burn romance of two characters getting to know each other. For me, however, it felt like nothing much happened until 70%, when something fairly dramatic did happen (no spoilers, sorry!). I really liked that bit! And also the end was lovely and romantic.

Recommended for fans of the light, romcom style of historical romance, and authors such as Eloisa James. This was a solid four-star read for me.

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

Related Review:

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Blog Tour & Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I was thrilled to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Elly Griffiths's latest novel, The Stranger Diaries. It's a brilliant story with a fiendishly clever  mystery, and I know you'll love it! Scroll down for my review and details of where to buy the book. AND, sneakily buried right at the bottom of this page, you'll find the chance to win your own copy! (Not the chocolates though! They didn't last longer than Halloween!)

About the Book

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to tales of murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, she teaches a short course on them every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an R.M. Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...


I was attracted to this book because of the beautiful cover but I'm also a huge fan of Elly Griffiths, particularly her Ruth Galloway series. However, The Stranger Diaries is slightly different - it's a standalone murder mystery, set in a school, which may or may not be haunted!

The story starts with Clare, who teaches English at Talgarth High. The school was once the home of gothic horror writer R.M. Holland, and the top part of the school has been kept as a museum to him and his work; his study is exactly as it was in his day. Scattered throughout the novel are extracts from his most famous short story, The Stranger, and when one of Clare's friends is found dead, a line from this story is found beside the body.

The second point of view is that of the investigating police officer, DS Harbinder Kaur, who was my favourite character, mainly because of her dry sense of humour and the way she is permanently in a grump. I do hope she gets her own series - along with her mother! The third main character is Georgia, Clare's daughter, who humours her mother's ideas of how teenagers should behave and is very funny.  

The Stranger Diaries is a modern take on Victorian mysteries and ghost stories, particularly the way it cleverly backtracks to show the same events from a different character's viewpoint. Running alongside the present-day murders is the mystery of how R.M. Holland's wife died. Is it her ghost that reputedly haunts the school? And just who is Mariana? 

The Stranger Diaries will appeal to anyone who enjoys traditional murder mysteries and I'm sure fans of Elly's Ruth Galloway series will love it. I adored the touch of gothic and the spooky bits - particularly when the teenage Harbinder 'met' the ghost. I hadn't a clue who the murderer was and, as I read a lot of crime fiction, this is always a plus for me!

One of my favourite reads this year! And please, please can Harbinder have a series of her own?!!

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

About the Author

Winner of the 2016 CWA Dagger in the Library, Elly Griffiths was born in London. She worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Her bestselling series of Dr Ruth Galloway novels, featuring a forensic archaeologist, are set in Norfolk. The series has won the CWA Dagger in the Library, and has been shortlisted three times for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her Stephens and Mephisto series is based in 1950s Brighton. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archaeologist, and their two children.

If you're in London on the 12th of November, you'll be able to hear Elly talk at the Crime Files Rooftop Book Club, along with fellow authors Sabine Durrant and Rachel Abbott. More details, including how to obtain tickets, can  be found here.

Win a Copy!

If you'd like to be in with a chance to win a hardback copy of The Stranger Diaries you can enter via Rafflecopter below. It's simple to use and the more clicks (follow Elly on Twitter, follow Elly on Facebook, etc) the more chances you have to win. The competition closes on 8th November 2018. Good luck!

Terms and Conditions: We're sorry but this competition is only open to those living in the UK. Your personal details won't be stored for longer than the competition runs and your details won't be passed onto anyone else. We will only contact you if you are a winner. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours of being notified, another name will be drawn.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Review: The Lost Sisters (Novella) (Folk of the Air #1.5) by Holly Black

I became addicted to YA fantasy over the summer holidays and discovered Holly Black after reading The Cruel Prince, which I loved. The Lost Sisters is a companion novella to The Cruel Prince, so you really need to have read that one first to appreciate it.

Jude and Taryn are twin sisters, of human parents, who have ended up living in the world of the fae after being kidnapped by their step-father. Both have very different tactics to survive this strange new world, tactics that are often in conflict with their sister's. Both crave respect from the fae; is power a way to achieve this?

As this is a novella, it's hard to say more about the story without giving away the plot. So I'll just say that whereas The Cruel Prince was from Jude's point of view, this story gives Taryn's version of events. 

I did enjoy it but this is really one for existing fans of the series - something to keep us going until the next book in the series, The Wicked King, comes out in January 2019. If you can't wait that long, Holly Black's other books - Tithe and Ironside - are set in the same world and some of the characters reappear in The Cruel Prince.

Related Posts:

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

After discovering YA fantasy over the summer, I have had a lovely time catching up on authors' backlists. I've particularly enjoyed reading Holly Black's urban fairy stories. Each one is set in the same world yet mentions characters from her other books, so  it's like catching up with old friends. The Darkest Part of the Forest is a standalone, so you don't need to have read her other books to enjoy it - which is lucky, because I seem to be reading them backwards!

In the forest outside the town of Fairfold is a glass casket containing a sleeping faerie prince. He's been there for as long as anyone can remember and has become quite a tourist attraction. Ben and his sister Hazel find him fascinating and long for him to wake up ... but the sleeping prince isn't the only faerie creature in the forest.

I loved this story because it took several well-known fairy tales and turned them on their head (Snow White, Kate Crackernuts, etc). I thought it great that it was a prince in the glass casket who needed rescuing and, although there is a bit of a romance, the characters don't necessarily end up with who you think. I loved the way the inhabitants of Fairfold had long since become used to supernatural creatures straying over their boundaries, and the hapless tourists who took selfies of themselves with the prince, but usually ended up becoming faerie fodder!

Recommended for anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairy tales with a dark, urban twist.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I loved Big Little Lies so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers - and it didn't disappoint! I love Liane's writing, brimming with characters I recognise from real life (ouch!) and chock full of funny lines - the kind of thing we all think, but aren't brave enough to say out loud!

The story is about nine, not remotely 'perfect' strangers who meet up at a radical new health resort hoping to completely overhaul their lives. All have suffered some kind of loss in their life, from loss of a loved one to loss of self, and they mostly blame themselves. Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint but it is so skilfully done you don't become confused as to who is who. Yet despite the humour, some serious issues were touched upon in a sensitive way: dealing with grief, divorce, self-image, substance addiction, etc. 

My favourite character was Frances, a middle-aged romantic novelist, whose confidence has been undermined after receiving a particularly vicious review. This is probably because I felt Frances was basically me! She thinks the same way, reacts the same way, even loves the same brand of chocolate! Although I suspect many women reading this book will feel the same way! This is a particular skill of this author, to create well-rounded, thoroughly believable characters we all recognise, can connect with and want to root for.

I absolutely adored Nine Perfect Strangers. I've recommended it to all my friends, and even read bits aloud to my long-suffering husband. One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Liane Moriarty and Michael Joseph (Penguin) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related review:

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Review: A Keeper by Graham Norton

I absolutely loved Graham Norton's last book, Holding, and couldn't wait to get my hands on this one. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, perhaps another cosy-ish crime story, but A Keeper is much darker and quite sad in places.

Elizabeth Keane has returned to her childhood home in Ireland after her mother's death, intending to close up and sell the house. Instead, she finds a cache of letters hidden in her mother's wardrobe, making mention of the father Elizabeth never knew. That, combined with another unexpected inheritance, makes Elizabeth determined to investigate her mother's past.

"She imagined her family tree as a couple of bare branches with an ancient vulture perched on one of them."

As always, the character studies and dialogue are brilliant. Despite the sadness of the tale (towards the end), there are some funny one-liners too. Instead of multiple viewpoints, like Holding, A Keeper is mostly told from just two - Elizabeth in the present day and Patricia (her mother) in the 1970s. Because I was thoroughly enjoying the story, it didn't dawn on me until about two-thirds of the way through that this is a story about mothers and their relationship with their children. Clever title too!

The dual timeline, the strong female characters and the challenges they face would appeal to fans of authors such as Eve Chase and Lulu Taylor. I read a lot of books, so I kind of knew where the story was heading, but there were some good twists that took me completely by surprise. (So that will teach me to be smug!) 1970s rural Ireland is very well realised and, as I've said, the characters are brilliant and I loved them, flaws and all.

A five-star read, thoroughly recommended! 

Thank you to Graham Norton and Coronet (Hodder and Stoughton) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related review:

Holding by Graham Norton

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Review: A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan

I was attracted to this book because of the absolutely gorgeous cover and the title. I love, love, love stories about spooky old houses as well as traditional-style murder mysteries. I should probably have paid a bit more attention to the blurb because, while there is both a deliciously haunted house and a clever murder mystery, the story is set in 1917 and is also about spies, secret plans and traitors - which is not normally my thing at all. However, I absolutely loved it!

Donovan (the sole survivor of his regiment) and Kate (employed by the War Office to crack codes) are dispatched by 'C' to a house party at Blackwater Abbey on a remote island just off the Devon coast. Lady Highmount has invited her friends and two psychics to her house for a seance. She is hoping to make contact with her sons who are missing in action, believed dead. Her husband, Lord Highmount, is a man of working class origins who has made his fortune manufacturing weapons. Someone is selling plans of these to the Germans, and it's up to Donovan and Kate to find out who.

While there are plenty of (real) ghosts at Blackthorn Abbey, I think this book would suit readers of murder mysteries best. There are some truly chilling moments (the seance!), but perhaps not enough jump shocks for fans of ghost stories. There are, however, plenty of twists for vintage crime fans and a good puzzle to get their teeth into!

I adored the characters and their sparky dialogue. The action is shared equally between Donovan and Kate; she's a thoroughly modern heroine and not just there to make the hero look good. I really hope this is the first book in a new series, because I would love to read more!

Brilliant stuff! Thoroughly recommended!  

Thank you to W.C. Ryan and Bonnier Zaffre for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

YA fantasy, particularly with fairy tale and folklore references, is my new favourite genre. So that, combined with the beautiful cover, is what drew me to this book.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is set in the village of Dubossary, on the border of Moldova and the Ukraine, in 1903. It combines traditional folk tales and real-life history (the Russian pograms). The author's note at the back of the book explains which scenes really happened, and how she drew on her own family history for inspiration. The story is about two Jewish sisters, Liba and Laya, who live in a village where Jews and non-Jews live quite happily alongside each other, until a band of handsome men arrive in town to sell the most wonderful fruit at the market - and spread dissent. Suddenly everything bad that happens (deaths and disappearances) is blamed upon the Jews. It's hard to explain more, without going into spoiler territory, so I'll go with what it says on the blurb: 'Faced with a magical heritage they never knew existed, the sisters realise the old fairy tales are true . . . and could save them all.'

While I did enjoy the story (for me, it's a solid four stars) it is aimed firmly at the YA market, so at times I found it a bit teenage-y. Most of the drama deals with the two girls' discovery of who they really are and the pains of first love. The growing tension in the village, and the mystery of who was responsible for the deaths and disappearances, kept me gripped and I read the book very quickly. I found the historical parts fascinating. I liked the characters and thought the way the author alternated the viewpoint of each sister - Liba spoke in prose, Laya's voice was more like poetry - was clever.

However, the amount of Yiddish and Hebrew words at the start of the book made it hard to get into at first (there is a glossary at the back), and while I like stories that reference classic fairy tales and folk tales, I did feel The Sisters of the Winter Wood borrowed a bit too heavily from Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, particularly towards the end. Meaning that if you've read that, you'll have no trouble working out the plot. (The author, in her notes, admits this is deliberate.)

So, while older folk like me might find The Sisters of the Winter Wood lacks crossover appeal, the target audience will love it and probably give it an extra star. 

Thank you to Rena Rossner and Orbit for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

The Turn of Midnight is the second book in Minette Walters's new historical series. It is set in the 14th century, when the Black Death hit England with devastating consequences. I was desperate to get my hands on this book because I loved the first one in the series, The Last Hours, and I would recommend reading that one first to fully understand and appreciate the characters and their motivation. 

At the end of 1348, the people of Develish have only survived the plague that devastated the rest of country by forcibly isolating themselves. When it seems the pestilence might have finally run its course, former serf Thaddeus Thurkell ventures outside the walls with a band of teenage boys to scout the surrounding villages for food and news of fellow survivors. But to enable Develish to continue to prosper and thrive in this new world, a deception will be necessary. Can Thaddeus pull it off? Because the penalty for his failure will be death ...

The strength of these stories is in the characters. It is impossible not to root for their success and be completely gripped by their adventures. I particularly love Lady Anne, who uses her intelligence and cool logic to outsmart her enemies (usually men who underestimate her!), and former serf Thaddeus, who is determined to rise above his lowly status and is, in fact, far smarter than those who are supposedly his 'betters'. I also loved the way Thaddeus's band of surly teenagers have grown into mature soldiers.

I know very little about this time period and felt the author really brought it alive for me. I do hope someone turns it into TV series! My favourite scenes were when Thaddeus and his men finally see the sea, and their confrontation with one of the villains from the first book. The only negative was that I felt the scene set in Blandeforde went on for a bit too long - I was eager for Thaddeus to get onto his next adventure!

Thoroughly recommended, particularly for anyone who loves gripping, character-led historical fiction.

I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of The Turn of Midnight, which will be published in the UK on the 4th of October 2018.

Thank you to Minette Walters and Allen and Unwin for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Related Review:

The Last Hours (Book 1) by Minette Walters

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors and The Forgotten Garden is one of my all-time favourite books, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of The Clockmaker's Daughter. I really enjoyed the story but wavered between giving it four stars or five stars. However, it was the ending that made me finally settle on four. It's hard to explain, without giving away spoilers, but I was hoping for a kind of Spielberg/Disney fantasy ending (with all the characters' talk of time and space). But as this is a historical and NOT a fantasy, I obviously didn't get one!

The story is in the main part is about a Victorian woman called Birdie, who overcomes her Oliver Twist style background (thieving and picking pockets) and falls in love with an upcoming artist named Edward Radcliffe, before tragedy strikes at a house party in 1862. A woman is murdered, Edward leaves England never to return, and the priceless Radcliffe diamond is lost forever. In the present day Elodie, who works in an archive, finds Edward's satchel and sketchbook, with drawings of a house she thought only existed in a children's fairy story, and is determined to solve the mystery.

I had thought The Clockmaker's Daughter would switch between Birdie and Elodie's viewpoints, like an Eve Chase or Lulu Taylor novel, but instead it told the story of everyone who had lived in Edward's Elizabethan manor house (Birchwood Manor) up until the present day. The only connection between each of these characters is the house and the fact that they have all lost someone - either through a tragic death or removal by distance. It reminded me of The Suffolk Trilogy by Norah Lofts. And this was another reason the rating dropped to a four: I'd rather have read about Birdie, who was a fabulous creation, and Elodie, who kind of disappeared beneath the weight of all these other characters - some of whom I didn't feel added anything to the story. Having said that, I did love how we discovered the ways all the characters were ultimately connected - Elodie's Great-Uncle Tip, for example.

I always love stories about old houses and I loved the mystery of what happened that night in 1862; to Edward and Birdie, the necklace and the painting. I loved the stories of Pale Joe and Ada - she was my favourite character! I think it could have done with being shorter (it's almost 600 pages) and have less characters. Having said that, I was completely gripped and read it very quickly! I really enjoyed the way the stories wrapped around each other and I'm happy to give it a solid four stars. If you're not hung up on ghosts deserving their happy ending along with everyone else, you might want to give it five!

The Clockmaker's Daughter is out in the UK on the 20th of September 2018.

Thank you to Kate Morton and Mantle (Pan Macmillan) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Review: The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

I've enjoyed Kate Mosse's books in the past, but the thing that made me pick this one up was the word 'gothic' on the cover. I do love gothic novels!

The Taxidermist's Daughter is a historical murder mystery, set in the tiny village of Fishbourne (West Sussex) in 1912. It is a tradition that on the Eve of St Mark's the ghosts of those destined to die in the coming year will be seen walking into the church at midnight. The villagers have gathered in the churchyard to wait and watch, despite the pouring rain. At the appointed time the doors open - and hundreds of tiny birds fly out. It is obviously a message - but for whom? - and while watching from the shadows a woman is murdered...

Connie Gifford lives with her father in the dilapidated Blackthorn House. Huge chunks of her memory are missing after a childhood accident. Once famous for his taxidermy museum, Crowley Gifford is now more interested in drinking himself into oblivion while Connie does most of the work. What secret is Gifford drinking to forget - and is it the same one Connie can't remember?

I loved this story! It is so atmospheric - downright creepy at times - with the sinister house, the constant rain, the encroaching flood waters, the increasing body count and the very creative murderer! It is a bit gory at times though. At the beginning of each chapter is an 'extract' from a history of taxidermy, there are detailed descriptions of Connie's work, and that's before we get to the murders! So, not one for the faint-hearted but definitely recommended! 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Review: Born to be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3)

Eloisa James is one of my favourite authors. I love her warm-hearted, witty stories that usually have a group of friends or a family at their heart - in this case, the Wildes.

Parth has made his fortune, several times over, and is about to propose marriage to an Italian contessa. So when the beautiful but 'shallow' heiress Lavinia Gray asks him to marry her he turns her down flat, suspecting her motives. But perhaps things aren't all what they seem?

I think this is my favourite of the series so far. I loved Lavinia and the way she decides to turn her fortunes around by playing to her strengths - fashion - and not taking the easy way out: a wealthy husband, despite Parth's best efforts at trying to hook her up with a prince! The story is mostly told from her point of view and I would have liked a bit more from Parth, who I found a fascinating, if shadowy character. I'd have also liked a bit more of a hint about what he looked like from the start, as I'd somehow got it into my head he was red-haired - probably because of the heroine's comments that (with his beard) he was trying to look like Henry VIII!

I particularly liked the way laudanum addiction was handled - a nice change from those stories I've read where the characters seem to knock it back with no ill effect! And of course I loved all the lush descriptions of Georgian fashion!

Recommended for those who love the lighter, romantic comedy style of historical romance, and fans of authors such as Julia Quinn. And if you subscribe to Eloisa's newsletter, there is an opportunity to read a prequel novella, featuring Parth's adoptive father, the Duke of Lindow.

Related Reviews:

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Review: The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2) by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare is one of my favourite authors, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of The Governess Game. It's a historical romance, but written in the style of a modern romantic comedy, and is the second in the Girl Meets Duke series. Each book is effectively a stand alone, so you don't need to read them in order. The link between the stories is a group of female friends.

Chase Reynaud is in denial. He doesn't want to be the heir to a dukedom and he certainly doesn't want to be the guardian to two little orphaned girls, Rosamund and Daisy. The girls aren't thrilled to be dumped on him either and delight in making his life difficult. Their best time for frightening off a new governess currently stands at seventeen and a quarter hours. Which is why Chase offers Alexandra a fortune to take on the job - and is why she takes it!

Alexandra Mountbatten earns her living ensuring the clocks of the wealthy keep perfect time. How she ends up as the governess to the two young wards of Chase Reynaud is a little convoluted but didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story. Purists won't like the historical inaccuracies; although some of these, like the quote from The Titanic movie, are deliberate and add to the fun. But that's The Governess Game in a nutshell - a lighthearted romcom that's a whole lot of fun.

I loved the characters, their rapid-fire banter and all the one liners. Chase tries so hard to duck out of his responsibilities - there is a running joke throughout the story about his attempt to build himself a 'gentleman's retreat'. But the best part of the story is definitely the antics of the children - Daisy's doll 'funerals' had me in stitches and she reminded me of Tootie in Meet Me in St Louis.

Recommended, especially if you love light-hearted, funny historical romance, and authors such as Julia Quinn and Eloisa James.

The Governess Game is out in the UK on the 28th of August 2018.

Thank you to Tessa Dare and Mills & Boon for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Saturday, 14 July 2018

Review: Reckless by Amanda Quick

Reckless is another book that has been lurking on my Kindle completely forgotten about - something I'm trying to rectify!

In this story Phoebe Layton is obsessed by ancient illuminated manuscripts, particularly ones about knights and chivalry. She is desperate to find a particular manuscript, which she gave to a childhood sweetheart when he left the country to seek his fortune so that he might marry her. The book went missing about the same time he was murdered. Phoebe thinks that when she finds the book, she'll find the murderer. She enlists the help of Gabriel Banner, the only other person she knows who is as obsessed by old manuscripts and tales of knights of old as she is. 

Gabriel, however, has become a lot more bitter and twisted since Phoebe knew him as a child. After trying to elope with Phoebe's older sister some years ago, their father ruined him financially and he still bears a grudge. Maybe 'ruining' Phoebe will be the perfect revenge?

I've never been very keen on the 'using the heroine to get revenge' romance trope and while I liked Gabriel I found all the Knights of the Round Table stuff palled very quickly. I also didn't really warm to the the heroine, although I loved her eccentric family, so this is just a four-star read for me.

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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: Ravished by Amanda Quick

I have a bad habit of buying books and then forgetting about them. I probably downloaded this one to 'try' when it was a 99p deal on Kindle (the Kindle version no longer seems available) but I rediscovered it recently after reading a stack of Amanda Quick books I brought home from the charity shop. 

Ravished is a slightly tongue-in-cheek historical romance; I do prefer this genre when there is humour! Harriet Pomeroy, daughter of a recently deceased Vicar, is obsessed with fossils, particularly the ones she has discovered in the caves owned by Gideon Westbrook. When she discovers thieves have been using 'her' caves to store their ill-gotten gains, she is furious and demands that Gideon gets rid of them. Gideon, meanwhile, has been nicknamed The Beast of Blackthorne due to his scarred face and dubious past. He's not happy at being drawn out of seclusion to capture these thieves but decides he might as well go along with it - anything for a quiet life. Except once he becomes involved with Harriet and her plans, a quiet life is the last thing he has.

Harriet and Gideon are very likeable characters and it was easy to become engaged with their story. I loved the way the author pokes fun at the Beauty and the Beast trope, and also the running joke about heroines being 'ravished' in the kind of gothic romances that were popular at this time. I do sometimes find Amanda Quick's stories a bit over-the-top, but Ravished was not one of them and I really enjoyed it. Recommended - provided you like this kind of thing!

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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Review: Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons #1) by Lorraine Heath

I downloaded this one because it was on offer at 99p and I've enjoyed some of Lorraine Heath's novels in the past. Unfortunately, I read it too soon after Sarah MacLean's Wicked and the Wallflower, which has the same revenge trope, and I couldn't help comparing the two.

Mick Trewlove is now a successful businessmen but was abandoned at birth by his aristocratic father. In revenge, he targets his father's legitimate son, intending to bankrupt him and seduce his betrothed.

The characters were likeable enough but there wasn't enough of an original twist on the trope for me.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I have recently discovered Lisa Jewell's psychological suspense novels and I was thrilled to get the chance to read an early copy of Watching You. Although it's not quite my favourite (that would be I Found You), I do think it's her best one yet. 

Watching You takes its time to introduce the all characters and the problems in their lives. It opens with the police investigating the murder of an unknown victim, before taking up the story from Joey's (Josephine's) viewpoint. Joey is a bit of a disaster, recently returned from working in Ibiza and married on a whim; she and her husband now live with her brother and sister-in-law in one of the 'iconic' painted Victorian villas above the town. But, despite being newly-wed, it doesn't take long for Joey to fall madly in lust with her neighbour Tom, a handsome but married headteacher, who seems oblivious to the fact that practically every woman in the district is in love with him. Or is he?

Other points of view include Tom's troubled teenage son, Freddie, who spends his time logging the movements of the neighbours, and Jenna, one of Tom's pupils, whose mother is convinced Tom is stalking her. One of the themes running through the story, as you might have guessed, is obsession. 

Lisa Jewell writes in a deceptively simple style that immediately draws you into her world. She has a particular talent for making unlikeable characters likeable; by the end of the story Freddie was my favourite character.  I was completely gripped by the lives of these people and was convinced I'd worked out the identity of the victim and murderer early on. It was only at the very end that I realised how cleverly I'd been duped.

Watching You is a mix of family/domestic drama and psychological suspense and I can see it appealing to fans of authors such as Dorothy Koomson. I thought it was completely brilliant and I absolutely loved it.

Thank you to Lisa Jewell and Cornerstone Digital for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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