Friday, 23 February 2018

Review: While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

It was the description that made me download this book because I don't really like the cover (naked girl, sitting in hallway of old house). It's described as a psychological thriller but I found it to be more of a gothic mystery/folk horror, which is more to my taste anyway.

Zoe is an American who is having problems in her marriage and decides to take a solo holiday on a remote Scottish island. She's chosen to rent a recently refurbished, large Victorian house which, it transpires, was built on the ruins (and using some of the stones from) an old chapel. The owner implies she shouldn't listen to gossip and rumour about the history of the house, so of course that's exactly what she does! Her main source of information is Charles, a historian and bookshop owner, and Edward, the local school teacher, who has already had one pupil disappear at the house in mysterious circumstances.

While You Sleep is very well-written, atmospheric and downright creepy, and the characters fairly leapt off the page. I loved the setting and the chilling history of the house, and the eccentric characters living on the island. I particularly liked Charles and his jokey demand for the payment of a cinnamon bun before he'd tell Zoe the legends about the old house.

The negative for me (and I can't believe I'm writing this, because it doesn't usually bother me) were the (two and a half) sex scenes. I think it's because I was quite happily reading what I thought to be a super-scary gothic mystery and suddenly it all went a bit Fifty Shades of Grey. The other negative was the budding romance between Zoe and Edward. Exact ages are not mentioned, but Zoe is apparently in her forties and Edward is in his twenties. This would have been fine, except every time Edward appears mention is made of how young he is, either outright or implicitly, so I started to think of the age gap as being much larger than it probably was.

But overall I did enjoy While You Sleep. I found it a super-spooky and completely gripping read that reminded me of those old Hammer House of Horror films and Dennis Wheatley novels. I have no hesitation in giving it four stars, but if you're the kind of person who doesn't mind a bit of dark erotica with your folk horror, then you might consider it a five-star read.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 8th March 2018.

Thank you to Stephanie Merritt, Harper Collins UK, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Review: A House Full of Secrets by Zoe Miller

It was the beautiful cover that drew me to this book, and I had the idea it was going to be a psychological suspense - which it isn't! There is a big old house and a very dysfunctional family (who could use a lot of therapy), and it's one of those stories where everyone has a secret. And I enjoyed it a lot.

A House Full of Secrets is mostly told from two points of view: Jenna, who is married to Alex, the eldest son of the glamorous Blake family, and Vikki, who is friends with the troubled youngest brother, Niall, but is hoping for a lot more, especially after he invites her to spend the weekend with his family. Twenty years ago Alex, Niall, and their sister Lainey were poised on the brink of glittering careers when their mother died and their world shattered. Alex ran away to New York, where he met Jenna, and Niall headed to London. Only Lainey stayed in Ireland. Alex and Niall have not spoken to each other since that summer but now they have been summoned back to the family home, Lynes Glen, and the tension is mounting by the minute.

I loved the characters, even the bossy Lainey, but I especially loved Jenna, who cannot understand why her husband Alex is so on edge and why the family never talk about the mother they obviously loved so much. I also loved Vikki, who had some horrific secrets in her own past, and the way she was trying so hard to fit in with the upper-class Blakes. And I always enjoy stories about big old houses that have a mystery at their heart!

Most of the story is set in the present day but there are some chapters set in the 1960s, showing how the siblings' parents met, right up to the 1990s when their mother died. I would have preferred it if there had been more of these set at regular intervals throughout the story, because there came a point towards the end of the book where the segments clustered together, detailing each character's take on exactly what had happened the day their mother died. But the negative for me was the villain, who became a bit pantomine-y towards the end, and I'm afraid I skipped the big confrontational scene.

Despite this, I really enjoyed A House Full of Secrets and I would definitely recommend it to fans of authors such as Lulu Taylor, Eve Chase (Black Rabbit Hall), and Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca).

Thank you to Zoe Miller, Hachette Books Ireland, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Review: Kin (Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson

I was attracted to this book because of the cover and the wonderful tagline: 'Lies. Manipulation. Murder. There's nothing quite like family.' How could I resist that?

Helga Finnsdottir lives with her adoptive parents, Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson and his wife Hildigunnar, in a remote valley. It is rumoured Unnthor possesses a great treasure chest of gold, obtained during his previous career of raiding and pillaging, but Unnthor is admitting nothing. Unfortunately Unnthor's three sons and his daughter have come to visit for the summer, and they all have an eye on a share of the gold. When tensions spiral out of control, and someone is found murdered, it is up to Helga to find the culprit before an innocent life is taken.

Kin is basically a Viking murder mystery, although with the power struggles between the family members, and the manipulations of Hildigunnar, it did sometimes remind me of The Godfather. There are a lot of characters: Unnthor's three sons and his daughter, plus their wives and husband. The story does takes its time to explain who everyone is and set up possible motives for murder - which doesn't take place until about 40% into the story. This might be a minus for some readers, but I enjoyed the setting up of time and place, and all the details of Viking life. The dialogue is a bit 21st century, but that didn't bother me either. 

I loved the characters, especially Helga and her adoptive parents (when I wasn't thinking about The Godfather, the mum and dad out of Brave kept popping into my head), but I did get confused between the various wives of Helga's adoptive brothers. The murder victim wasn't who I was expecting it to be and I didn't guess the identity of the murderer either. As I read a lot of crime novels, this is always a plus for me!

I thought Kin was brilliant! I really enjoyed reading something so different, and I'm definitely going to look out for the next book in the series.

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

Thank you to Snorri Kristjansson, Quercus and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Review: Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

It was Georgette Heyer who kindled my love of escapist historical romance. I originally read Faro's Daughter as a teenager and it remained one of my favourite books for a long time. When it came up as a 99p Kindle Daily Deal, I was curious to see if the story would seem dated or old-fashioned after all this time. Well, I absolutely loved it and it was as good as I remembered! Although one thing I did notice this time around was how many of my favourite historical romance authors Georgette Heyer has inspired!

Deborah Grantham, well-born but fallen on hard-times, runs her aunt's exclusive gaming establishment. Lord Mablethorpe is desperate to marry her but unable to do so until he either reaches his majority or gains the approval of his wealthy guardian, Max Ravenscar. Max, while utterly horrified, is far too clever to tell him he can't marry Deborah. Instead, believing her to be the worst kind of gold-digger, Max attempts to buy her off. Deborah, understandably, is furious, and the battle between them begins.

I love this kind of book. Engaging characters, sparkling dialogue, witty one-liners and one of my favourite tropes, a hero and heroine at war with each other due to a complete misunderstanding. Great fun!

Recommended to all fans of historical romance, particularly readers of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn. But bear in mind that this was originally written in 1941, so there are no sex scenes and very little kissing.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Review: The Death Season (Wesley Peterson #19) by Kate Ellis

This is one of my favourites from Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson series. It combines the mystery of a big old house, a skeleton in an ice house, a village collapsing into the sea - and starts with the discovery of a corpse in a hotel room, whose name doesn't match his identity!

In this story it was the historical element which grabbed me - the hundred-year-old diary of a maid who worked at the local 'big house'. I was also fascinated by story of the village collapsing into the sea - and a note at the back of the book explains that this is based on an actual event.

Particularly nail-biting was a member of Wesley's family being caught up in the present day investigation and one of the main characters becoming trapped in what remained of that lost village. How do all these seemingly unconnected events tie up? In a brilliantly clever way! One of Kate Ellis's best, and thoroughly recommended! 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Review: The Shroud Maker (Wesley Peterson #18) by Kate Ellis

I've been reading the more recent of Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson books back-to-back before starting on her latest one (The Mechanical Devil). The drawback to doing this is that some authors write to a pattern and it soon becomes easy to work out their plots. Not the books by this author! It never fails to amaze me how Kate Ellis can take several, apparently unconnected, murders (in this case over several time periods) and link them all up at the end. Genius!

This one starts with the body of a young woman being found floating out to sea in a dinghy. What is the connection between her death and Jenny Bercival's disappearance almost exactly one year ago? And is there any link to the Palkin Festival, celebrating the life of a local 14th century pirate?

I always enjoy stories with pirates and smugglers, although with Kate Ellis's books the characters are never quite what they seem! I also liked the appearance of DCI Heffernan's daughter, who soon got herself into trouble. I completely failed to guess the identity of the villain but enjoyed tying my brain into knots trying to do so. The only negative for me was that I couldn't quite get my head around the 'Shipworld' website, and wasn't sure if it was supposed to be an interactive game or a blog or both.

Thoroughly recommended, particularly if you enjoy traditional detective stories.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Review: The Shadow Collector (Wesley Peterson #17) by Kate Ellis

I absolutely love Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson series of murder mysteries. I adore the mix of a murder in the present echoing one in the past, along with the extremely twisty plots that make it almost impossible to work out whodunit.

This one is about Lilith and her mother, suspected of being witches and sent to prison eighteen years ago for the brutal murder of two teenage girls. Now Lilith has been released - and is suspected of another murder after a the body of a young woman is found near to her home. While Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson investigates, his archaeologist friend Neil discovers a gruesome wax doll at the house of a woman hanged for witchcraft in the 1600s.

I really enjoyed The Shadow Collector and it has become one of my favourites by this author. As well as the impossible-to-solve plot, I liked the theme of 'witch hunts' running through the story, and how unlikeable people can so often end up a scapegoat. The mystery was extremely clever too.

Although this is #17 in the series, you don't need to have read the others to enjoy the book.  It's easy enough to work out the relationships between the series regulars, and the main part of the plot is about the murder rather than an ongoing story arc. It should appeal to fans of traditional murder mysteries, anyone who likes a bit of history with their crime fiction, and fans of authors such as Elly Griffiths.

Related Posts:

The House of Eyes (Wesley Peterson #20) by Kate Ellis

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

Friday, 2 February 2018

Review: The Cadaver Game (Wesley Peterson #16) by Kate Ellis

I love Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson series and when I saw she had a new one out (The Mechanical Devil) I was surprised to realise I had bought this one but not read it. However, when I started reading I realised why - the murder victims are teenagers and I usually try to avoid reading books about dead or missing children. But it turned out the teenagers in question are over eighteen so I needn't have worried. 

Barney and Sophie are fans of an online game called Blood Hunt, so much so that they decide to take part in a real life version, involving being chased naked through the local woods. I suppose these things always seem like a good idea at the time! A few days later their bodies are found at the foot of a cliff. Is there any connection between their deaths and that of a woman found dead in her suburban home - and the skeleton discovered while digging up a sixteen year old art installation?

In these books there is always a historical mystery running parallel with the story, and in this case it is about the local lord of the manor who enjoyed the same kind of hunt that these computer games are based on.

The thing I love most about Kate Ellis's books is the way  she ties up all these seemingly unrelated murders in each story - fiendishly clever! I never guess who the villain is. I had a slight inkling towards the end of this one, but only because we were fast running out of suspects! 

Thoroughly recommended, especially for readers who love traditional murder mysteries, especially the kind with a puzzle at their heart.

Related posts: