Saturday, 24 October 2020

Review: Together by Christmas by Karen Swan

I love Karen Swan's books, particularly the way each one is set in a different part of the world, and I couldn't wait to read Together by Christmas.

In this story Lee is a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer, living with her four-year-old son Jasper in Amsterdam. She now makes her living doing high-profile photo shoots for glossy magazines and her work is in high demand. On the surface her life is perfect but her PTSD means she is ultra-protective of Jasper and refuses to have any relationship longer than a one-night stand. One morning she finds a desperate message scrawled in a book left outside her house - but who left it and what does it mean, and is her past about to catch up with her?

I loved this book and could not put it down. It had several hard-hitting storylines (unusual for this genre of book) yet still had all the traditional Christmassy touches: meeting Santa Claus, decorating a Christmas tree, and ice-skating - and the characters are brilliantly drawn and totally relatable. I loved the way Lee was trying so hard to keep everything together for her son while being pushed to her limit, learning that everyone makes mistakes and deserves that second chance - even herself. I adored Sam, who is so completely out of his depth yet equally determined to win Lee round. The Christmassy bits were great, especially Lee's first meeting with Sinterklaas - I think that was one of my favourite parts of the book! The setting of Amsterdam was brilliantly realised and it was fun learning about another country's festive customs.

As much as I loved this book, it might not be suitable for everyone. If you're looking for a light-hearted, cosy Christmas romance, all snowflakes and sleigh bells, this isn't the book for you. There are some quite dark subjects covered (with a sensitive touch) and it is a very emotional read. I felt quite wrung out by the end - in a good way! But it is also a terrific story about relationships (romantic, family and friends), making mistakes and learning to forgive.

I absolutely loved Together by Christmas and have no hesitation in recommending it. It's one of my favourite reads this year!


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

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Friday, 23 October 2020

Review: Serpentine (His Dark Materials #3.6) by Philip Pullman

I loved Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series but I have not read any of the connected short stories. Serpentine comes after Lyra's Oxford but before the new Book of Dust series. Philip explains in his notes at the back of Serpentine that the story was intended as a one-off - he handwrote the original version several years ago to be auctioned for charity. It does, therefore, read like a deleted scene or an epilogue, rather than a short story.

A few years after the events of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon return to a town they first visited in Northern Lights and meet up with an old friend. As this is a short story, to tell you any more would involve spoilers!

Fans of His Dark Materials will love the book. It's a snapshot into an older Lyra's life where she learns something about herself and her relationship with Pantalaimon. The book is beautiful to look at and the illustrations are gorgeous. It would make a perfect stocking filler. However, it is very short (80 pages, including the illustrations and a note from the author) and takes less than 20 minutes to read.

Best suited for the fan who wants to read everything about Lyra and her world.


Thank you to Philip Pullman and Penguin for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Review: One More for Christmas by Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan is definitely my go-to author when it comes to Christmas books. Her stories about romance and family relationships are so real and true-to-life, and always come served up with a good dollop of all things Christmassy!

One More for Christmas is about Gayle, a successful business-woman famous for her self-help books, which are all about taking control of your life and not relying on anyone else. Unfortunately, she's not so successful in her private life and has not seen her grown-up daughters for five years. After an accident lands her in hospital and her daughters are notified as her next-of-kin, Gayle realises she needs to make amends. Samantha and Ella have an uneasy relationship with their mother - particularly Ella, who hasn't even told Gayle that she married five years ago and is now a stay-at-home mum to Tabitha. It doesn't help that Gayle thinks Christmas is a waste of money - Samantha and Ella weren't even allowed to have a Christmas tree as children. Now Gayle wants to make up for lost time and join them on a Christmas trip to Scotland...

I utterly adored One More for Christmas. I really felt for Gayle, who has finally realised what a hash she has made in the way she tried to bring up her children to be tough and self-reliant. She was so desperate that they didn't make the mistakes she did, she's unwittingly made a whole bunch of new ones. It was so sweet watching her try to make amends, and to be a grandmother to Tabitha - building snowmen and making gingerbread - not realising that she's alienating her daughters further because they never got to do that with her.

I particularly loved that the story is told from several points of view: Gayle, Samantha, Ella and Brodie - the owner of the big old house in Scotland where they are taking their holiday. Brodie has problems of his own and the purpose of the trip is for Samantha to help him market his home as a luxury holiday destination. This story has more romance than Sarah's last book, and the affectionate nod to contemporary romances set in the Highlands (Laid by the Laird is a running joke) made me giggle.

If you're looking for a feel-good, funny, romantic, ultra-Christmassy book to read over the holidays then this is definitely the book for you! I know Sarah's fans will love it (think: The Christmas Sisters and Sleigh Bells in the Snow) and it would also suit readers of feel-good romantic comedy such as those written by Trisha Ashley. I'm certainly saving it to read again!  


Thank you to Sarah Morgan and HQ for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Monday, 19 October 2020

Halloween Reads 2020

After the year that's been 2020, you're probably not looking for any more scares! I know that I've been reading more romance and less crime fiction lately, purely because I need the escapism. But I've gathered together some of my favourite 'spooky' reads this year and listed them below. As per previous posts, they're not all strictly ghost or horror stories. One of my favourites, Magic Lessons, is historical fiction blended with magic realism. And Home Before Dark is one of those 'haunted or not' stories, where you're left to make up your own mind. 

Whatever you love to read, I'm sure there is something here for everyone!

Happy Halloween!


Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

A prequel to Practical Magic and Rules of Magic, this tells the story of the Owens family matriarch, Maria Owens. Starting in 1664, when baby Maria is found abandoned in a snowy field and bearing the mark of a bloodline witch, it follows her adventures as she flees England via a Caribbean island to New York, before heading to a little town called Salem. And we all know what happened in Salem - or do we?

Genre: Historical Fiction/Magic Realism

Full review here:


Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

When Maggie Holt was five years old her family moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling old Victorian mansion that already had a sinister reputation. They lasted all of three weeks before fleeing in the middle of the night, vowing never to return. No one would have known or cared - except Maggie's father wrote about their ghostly experiences. Now, nearly thirty years later, Maggie has the idea to move back into Baneberry Hall to renovate and sell it. She's not at all worried about the ghosts but because ghosts don't exist - do they?

Genre: Mystery/Psychological Suspense/Ghost Story

Full review here.


The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

In 1634 the Saardam is on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. Among the passengers is Samuel Pipps (a 17th century Sherlock Holmes), who is being transported to his execution accompanied by his loyal bodyboard, Arent. As soon as the ship sets sail, things start going wrong. The ghost of a dead leper stalks the decks, strange symbols appear on the sails and carved into the ship's timbers, and livestock is mysteriously slaughtered. Could there be a demon living amongst the ship's passengers and crew? With Samuel imprisoned below deck, all lives depend on Arent solving the mystery...

Genre: Historical Mystery/hint of Supernatural

Full review here:


The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

It's 1985 and fifteen-year-old Lauren's life hasn't been the same since her father was found brutally murdered. Strangely, no one wants to talk about his death or how it happened. Lauren's best friend Miranda has become more interested in clothes, make-up and boys, and no longer wants to hang out with Lauren at the old ghost tree. But when the remains of two teenage girls are found and Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging them through the woods, she knows that she will have to be the one to do something no matter what anyone else believes.

Genre: YA/Supernatural/Horror

Full review here:


The Haunted Shore by Neil Spring

Although Lizzy grew up in an old Martello tower right on the beach, she has always felt uneasy about the place. After losing her job, she is forced to return to look after her invalid father. Unknown to Lizzy, her father's health (both mental and physical) has deteriorated significantly and her brother has hired the sinister and belligerent Hazel as a housekeeper/carer. If that wasn't enough, almost as soon as Lizzy moves back into the tower she begins hearing strange noises and glimpses ghostly figures on the beach. Is she imagining things or is the stress finally getting to her?

Genre: Psychological Thriller/Ghost Story

Full review here.


The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

Lexi has conned her way into a job as a nanny even though she has no experience of working with children. Her new employer, Tom Faraday, is an architect working on a new-build in a rural part of Norway. This is the second house he has built on the site. The first one collapsed under mysterious circumstances. He is determined to finish this new house as a tribute to his late wife, Aurelia, who drowned in the fjord. Meanwhile, Lexi and his eldest daughter start seeing the ghostly figure of a woman, dripping with water...

Genre: Psychological Suspense/folk horror/ghost story

Full review here.


Related Posts:

Halloween Reads 2017

Five Reads That Chilled Me


Note:

All these books were read this year, obtained via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. If you'd like to know more about the other books I've read, or what I'm currently reading, you can find out more on my Goodreads profile.

Photo of pumpkins copyright: Fotolia 

Friday, 16 October 2020

Review: Pulpit Rock (DI Ben Kitto #4) by Kate Rhodes

I've been a fan of this detective series set on the Isles of Scilly since the first book, Hell Bay, and was thrilled to receive an early copy of Pulpit Rock. I love that cover! 

It's the height of the tourist season and a serial killer is stalking lone women on St Mary's. DI Ben Kitto has no choice but to force a lockdown to prevent anyone from leaving the island. Everyone is a suspect, islander and tourist alike, as Ben and his team search for a killer who dresses their chosen victims as brides.

I love this series because of the great characters (particularly Ben and his wayward dog, Shadow) and the atmospheric setting of the Scilly Isles. I enjoyed the snippets of history and the superstitions relating to the jewellery the sailors bought their wives. The story is fast-paced with a real sense of time running out as another woman is attacked and then a third disappears. I got to the halfway point and was so gripped I could not put the book down until I'd finished it. Cleverly plotted so that everyone seems to have a motive, I was convinced I knew who the killer was - but was completely wrong! I can hardly wait for the next book in the series!

Recommended to anyone who loves traditional murder mysteries and authors such as Elly Griffiths and Kate Ellis.

 

Thank you to Kate Rhodes and Simon & Schuster (UK) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Thursday, 8 October 2020

Review: The Burial Circle (DI Wesley Peterson #24)

Kate Ellis is one of my favourite authors. I've read all her books but have a particular fondness for her detective series about DI Wesley Peterson.

The title of this story is The Burial Circle and I had got it into my head that this was something to do with an ancient stone circle. It actually refers to a 19th century basic insurance scheme covering the cost of funerals!

The Burial Circle has a slightly gothic vibe, which I loved, and is a perfect autumn/winter read. Central to the story is an old mill, where a suspected murderer once hid, and the house alongside it where a psychic weekend is being held. I really felt for the poor psychic, who felt bombarded on all sides from the restless spirts. This being a murder mystery, someone is soon murdered and everyone is a suspect. On top of this investigation, the body of a hitchhiker is found buried on farmland several years after she went missing. Can Wesley connect the two cases?

I love Kate Ellis's books because the mysteries are so twisty it is practically impossible to guess how they are going to end! They are so cleverly and perfectly plotted, it is incredible how she ties all the loose ends so neatly. The story's setting in a village where a series of unexplained deaths once took place, along with the spooky old mill, is very atmospheric. I especially love that her books always have a past mystery running through them, echoing the one in the present. 

This was a five-star read for me. Recommended for all readers of traditional murder mysteries, particularly fans of authors such as Elly Griffiths and Kate Rhodes.

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


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Monday, 5 October 2020

Review: The Haunted Shore by Neil Spring

I've enjoyed Neil Spring's supernatural thrillers since I read The Ghost Hunters. I love his blending of the paranormal with psychological chiller. In The Haunted Shore, parts of the story have been inspired by the rumours and WW2 legends centred on a remote stretch of coast in Suffolk called Shingle Street.

Although Lizzy grew up in an old Martello tower right on the beach, she has always felt uneasy about the place. After losing her job in London (and owing a huge amount of money to her dodgy ex-boss), she is forced to return to her childhood home. She agrees to look after her invalid father while her elder brother takes on a new job. Unknown to Lizzy, her father's health (both mental and physical) has deteriorated significantly and her brother has hired the sinister and belligerent Hazel as a housekeeper/carer. If that wasn't enough, almost as soon as Lizzy moves back into the tower she begins hearing strange noises and glimpses ghostly figures on the beach. Is she imagining it or is the stress finally beginning to get to her?

Well, this frightened me half-to-death! The end, in particular, was super-scary - no sleeping without the lights on for me! I loved the unusual setting and the way Neil wove the real-life history of the area into the story. His descriptions of the tower and the beach were incredibly atmospheric, and Lizzy was an engaging heroine. I loved the way she was able to conquer her own personal demons too.

An excellent read for Halloween, particularly if you like chilling psychological suspense mixed in with your ghosts!


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

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The Lost Village (The Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Review: The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

The cover of The Nesting is absolutely gorgeous and the premise, a modern gothic, was right up my street. I was thrilled to receive an early copy.

The story is about Lexi, who is in desperate straits after both a failed relationship and a failed suicide attempt. She's soon homeless and out of a job too! When she sees an opportunity, she cons her way into a job as a nanny even though she has no experience of working with children. Her new employer, Tom Faraday, is an architect working on a new-build in a rural part of Norway. This is the second house he has built on the site. The first one collapsed under mysterious circumstances but he is determined to finish this new house as a tribute to his late wife, Aurelia, who drowned in the fjord.

The Nesting is a super-spooky, gothic suspense. The chills occur as soon as Lexi arrives in Norway, with both Lexi and one of the children seeing a ghostly figure dripping with water - Aurelia's body was fished out of the fjord.  Also running through the story are extracts from Aurelia's diary, which adds an element of mystery - did she kill herself or not?  And if so, who is to blame? (There are no shortage of suspects!) Adding an extra layer to the story are snippets of Norwegian folk tales.

The Nesting is an interesting blend of ghost story, gothic mystery and domestic suspense, which leaves the reader wondering if Lexi and Aurelia are imagining what they are seeing. (All is explained at the nail-biting finish!) The lush Norwegian landscape is incredibly atmospheric and makes an effective backdrop to the spooky events. It certainly frightened me! I thoroughly enjoyed The Nesting and have no hesitation in recommending it as the perfect chilling winter read. 


Thank you to C.J. Cooke and Harper Collins UK for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.  

Friday, 25 September 2020

Review: Magic Lessons (A Prequel to Practical Magic) by Alice Hoffman

I love Alice Hoffman's books. I discovered her after watching the film Practical Magic (starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) and gradually worked my way through her backlist. Since Practical Magic was originally published she has written two prequels: The Rules of Magic (a story about the aunts from Practical Magic) and now Magic Lessons, which explains the origin of the family curse - that any man who ever loves an Owens woman will be broken in body and soul.

The story starts in 1664 when a baby girl is found abandoned in a snowy field close to the cottage of Hannah Owens, a herbalist and healer who has taught herself magic. When Hannah unwraps the baby's blanket she recognises an unusual birthmark shaped like a star - the mark of a bloodline witch. Is this why baby Maria has been abandoned? The story spans a 30 year period, following Maria as she finally meets her disreputable parents, is forced to flee England, becomes an indentured servant in Curacao, makes a living for herself in the fledgling city of New York, before ending up in Salem - and we all know what happened there...

If you do think you know what's going to happen, you're in for a surprise. Alice Hoffman ingeniously re-tells Maria's story as it appears in her earlier book but with some very clever twists. As Maria moves from place to place she makes a note in her grimoire of the plants that are grown locally and the uses they can be put to (both recipes and spells) and these notes are cleverly woven into the story. The amount of historical detail about England in the 17th century, life in the Caribbean and early New York is amazing. I wasn't sure I'd learn anything new about Salem but the author concentrates on the people who lived there and what motivated them to begin accusing their neighbours of witchcraft.

The writing is beautiful, with a dreamy fairy tale quality that pulled me right into the world the author has created. I loved the characters despite their flaws - it turns out that even a witch who can read every 'sign' is capable of walking straight into disaster! I especially loved Samuel and Cadin - both of whom had a lot to put up with! The story is also about women supporting women, mother-daughter relationships, women surviving in a man's world and life's harsh lessons.

Magic Lessons is the perfect story to read as the nights begin drawing in, for anyone who wants to lose themselves in a really good book, who loves historical novels or magic realism, or anything 'witchy'. Fans of Practical Magic will not be disappointed. One of my favourite reads this year.


Thank you to Alice Hoffman and Scribner/Simon & Schuster UK for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

I love Riley Sager's books. He takes a classic horror trope, puts a modern spin on it and then twists it out of all recognition. Home Before Dark is a super-spooky read that mashes up The Amityville Horror and The Haunting of Hill House (the Netflix version), with a dash of The Enfield Haunting, and creates something new and sparkling.

When Maggie Holt was five years old her family moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling old Victorian mansion that already had a sinister reputation. They lasted all of three weeks before fleeing in the middle of the night, never to return. No one would have known or cared - except Maggie's father then decided to write a book about their ghostly experiences. Now, nearly thirty years later, both Baneberry Hall and Maggie are still notorious.

The story starts as Maggie's father dies and she inherits the house. She's a property developer so she has the idea to move into Baneberry Hall and renovate it to sell. She's not at all worried about the ghosts but because ghosts don't exist - do they?

This is such a fun (and spooky!) read. If you love ghost and haunted house stories, you will absolutely adore this. If' you've read lots of horror you'll recognise the nods to various books. I was on the edge of my seat throughout most of the story, which I read very quickly because I couldn't put it down. It was doubly unfortunate that after the scariest part I was supposed to be putting the light out and going to sleep - as if!

I loved the characters. I loved the setting and the historical background the author created. The clever little twists - the graveyard is one but I can't say any more before of spoilers. I can't say much because of spoilers, actually, so I'll just say that it's a five-star read and I particularly liked the way some of the threads were left loose at the end for you to make your own mind up about what really happened...


Thank you to Riley Sager and Hodder and Stoughton for my copy of this book, which I received via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Friday, 18 September 2020

Review: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

I thought Stuart Turton's previous book, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Agatha Christie crossed with Groundhog Day) was brilliant and highly original, and I wondered what on earth he would write next. The answer is something completely different!

The Devil and the Dark Water is a historical mystery with hints of the supernatural. Set in 1634, the action takes place on board the Saardam on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. Among the passengers is Samuel Pipps (a 17th century Sherlock Holmes) who is being transported to his execution. He's accompanied by his loyal bodyboard, Arent Hayes.  As soon as the ship sets sail, things start going wrong. The ghost of a dead leper stalks the decks, strange symbols appear on the sails and carved into the ship's timbers, and livestock is mysteriously slaughtered. Could there be a demon living amongst the ship's passengers and crew? With Samuel imprisoned below deck, all lives depend on Arent solving the mystery...

The Devil and the Dark Water is thoroughly gripping. I was sucked into the story, reading it very quickly, desperate to find out how it ended. The amount of historical detail about life on board the Saardam is incredible - I was living that voyage along with those unfortunate passengers.  And I loved the rather sweet character of Arent, who keeps his honour when all those about him are losing theirs yet still doubts his ability to solve the mystery without the help of his good friend Samuel.

Anyone who enjoys intricately plotted historical mysteries, with complex characters that leap off the page, will love The Devil and the Dark Water. For me, the only thing that stopped it being a five-star read was what happened after the mystery was solved. That's just a personal niggle because otherwise I thoroughly recommend the book - and that cover is gorgeous!

Thank you to Stuart Turton and Raven Books (Bloomsbury) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Monday, 31 August 2020

Review: The Postscript Murders (Harbinder Kaur #2) by Elly Griffiths

I love Elly Griffiths's mystery novels because of their clever twisty plots and warm-hearted characters. The Postscript Murders is the second in the Harbinder Kaur series. The first one, The Stranger Diaries, was a modern gothic mystery. The Postscript Murders is more a nod to classic 'golden age' crime fiction. You don't have to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. 

Peggy Smith was a 'murder consultant'. She advised crime writers on their plots and invented original ways for them to kill off their characters. When she died at the age of 90 in a retirement home, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur doesn't believe there is anything suspicious about it. Until Peggy's carer is held up at gunpoint - for a book!

Elly Griffiths is brilliant at creating characters that you really care about. I was so pleased when she decided to write another book featuring the dour Harbinder Kaur - now I'm hoping Elly will write another story featuring the stars of this story - Natalka (Peggy's care assistant), Benedict (the ex-monk) and Edwin (Peggy's friend, an ex-BBC producer). They would make a wonderful investigating team! 

The Postscript Murders is like a fan letter to classic murder mysteries. Many of the secondary characters are crime writers and you get a glimpse into their lives. I love the way Natalka, Benedict and Edwin hare off to Aberdeen and gate-crash a writers' conference, determined to speak to Peggy's old clients and solve her murder. There is lots of bookish talk and even book bloggers get a mention. It's terrific fun!

The Postscript Murders is one of my favourite reads this year - such a gorgeous cover too! Recommended for all fans of traditional murder mysteries and readers of authors such as Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club) and Kate Ellis (the Wesley Peterson series). I'm counting the days until the next one - fingers crossed! 


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


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Friday, 14 August 2020

Review: A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

I love Naomi Novik's folklore-inspired fantasy novels. One of my all-time favourite books is Spinning Silver, which is a re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of A Deadly Education. It wasn't quite what I was expecting but I really enjoyed it. Imagine a kind of Harry Potter where everything is out to get you, not just the bad guy!

El (short for Galadriel) has been born into a magical family and is now studying at the Scholomance - a school for magic that (unlike Hogwarts) seems to actively want to kill its students. All El wants to do is learn magic and survive the first year - without the help of popular rich boy Orion. Oh yes, and there's a prophecy that says one day El will bring death and destruction to all the magical enclaves in the world...

Naomi Novik has created an amazing, original and incredibly detailed world. Sometimes it's best to just go with the flow rather than try to understand everything. The story is fast-paced (with near-death experiences in practically every chapter) and completely thrilling. I truly had no idea what was going to happen next. Part of the fun is to see El slowly forced to make friends - she is so used to people assuming she's into dark magic, she has always kept her distance from everyone and prefers to work out things on her own. Her relationship with Orion (who is determined to save everyone, whether they want it or not) is also sweet and funny.

A Deadly Education is a school-of-magic story with a slightly darker edge that Naomi Novik's regular readers will love. It should also appeal to fans of authors such as Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil). I loved El and Orion, and was completely swept away by the novel's originality and exuberance. I can't wait for the next one!


Thank you to Naomi Novik and Del Ray/Cornerstone for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

A Deadly Education will be released on 29th September 2020

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Review: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

I'm a huge fan of Christina Henry's re-imagining of classic fairy tales, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Ghost Tree - and the cover is gorgeous. Although the story is in a completely different style to her previous books, I really did enjoy it.

It's 1985 and fifteen-year-old Lauren's life hasn't been the same since her father was found brutally murdered. Strangely, no one wants to talk about his death or how it happened. Lauren's best friend Miranda has become more interested in clothes, make-up and boys, and no longer wants to hang out with Lauren at the old ghost tree. But when the remains of two teenage girls are found and Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging them through the woods, she knows that she will have to be the one to do something no matter what anyone else believes.

The Ghost Tree is told from multiple viewpoints. This works really well, plunging you into the story right away. As well as Lauren, still grieving for her father, there is Karen (Lauren's mother) trying to cope with two children, both of whom seem to have have unsettling 'visions'. There is also the Lopez family, recently moved to town, who have to deal with their neighbour's blatant racism and the realisation that there's something not quite 'right' about Smith's Hollow.

I loved the 80s vibe and the Scooby-Doo-ish kids-fighting-supernatural evil. The gothic horror was a little dark in places for a YA novel (although I think this is supposed to be aimed at adults?) but there is lots of coming-of-age stuff and the trials of being a teenager. It's basically a fab Sleepy Hollow/Stranger Things/IT mash-up and Lauren's grandmother (who lives in a big old house on a hill, naturally) telling fabulous far-fetched stories about witches and curses, was the icing on the cake. I do hope there is a sequel!

If you like spooky, supernatural horror then this is the book for you - although I do feel it's more suited to a YA audience. A solid five stars from me.


Thank you to Christina Henry and Titan Books for my copy of this book, which I requested through NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Review: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

I downloaded this book because I couldn't resist the gorgeous cover and Julia Heaberlin is one of my favourite authors. 

Ten years ago the town's sweetheart Trumanell Branson disappeared, leaving only a bloody hand-print behind. The townsfolk always believed her brother Wyatt had something to do with it and he's now become a recluse. Odette was once Wyatt's best friend and even she isn't entirely sure of his innocence. So when she discovers that he has a young girl at his house, that he says he 'found' at the side of the road, it's hard for Odette not to assume the worst.

The story is told from three points of view: Wyatt's, when he finds a young girl lying asleep in a field surrounded by a ring of dandelions; Odette's, as she tries to discover the girl's identity but finds herself becoming obsessed with the murder of Trumanell instead; and the teenage Angie, who arrives in the small Texas town determined to discover the truth behind the mystery.

I love Julia Heaberlin's novels because they never go in quite the way you think. We Are All the Same in the Dark has a huge twist in the middle (which I hated) but it does give the story a unique edge. It's not a fast-paced thriller, more of a slow-burn mystery, with each clue revealed in a careful 'blink and you'll miss it' kind of way. The author takes the time to build up a deliciously creepy atmosphere, until you're convinced every character is the murderer! Halfway through I was so worried I admit I took a peek at the end. (Don't do this!!!) I'm not sure if I would have guessed the outcome if I hadn't known it in advance.

We Are All the Same in the Dark has an almost gothic feel with some super-scary scenes (the very claustrophobic stuck-in-a-barn-during-a-tornado scene), particularly towards the nail-biting finish. As with the author's earlier novels, I loved the quirky characters, especially Wyatt and Odette. I even warmed towards Rusty towards the end.

I'd recommend We Are All the Same in the Dark to anyone who loves slow-burn psychological suspense populated with eccentric characters. I can also see it appealing to fans of Lisa Jewell and Ruth Ware. This was a five-star read for me.


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

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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I love reading traditional murder mysteries and thought the premise of this story - a group of elderly sleuths investigating a murder mystery at a retirement village - sounded intriguing and original.

Four friends meet up once a month to discuss old murder cases to see if they can solve them. Except the four friends live in a retirement village and one day they find themselves with a real murder to investigate. They run rings around the police, who keep underestimating them, because each one of these friends has a particular skill, or a job they used to do in the past, that helps them work as a team to solve the murders.

It was refreshing to read about four characters who are pushing eighty and having a lovely time manipulating the police (who eventually realise they are completely outwitted and decide to just go along with the flow). Elizabeth was a fabulous character; we never did learn what she used to be in her former life - a spy? I also loved Ron, the mouthy ex-union boss.

The Thursday Murder Club is a classic murder mystery with lots of red herrings and clever twists. It's witty and smart but also poignant in places, and it tied my poor brain in knots as I tried to work out whodunit. The characters were brilliant and thoroughly engaging. I did find myself sympathising with the police as they were outwitted at every turn.

The Thursday Murder Club would suit any reader who loves a 'puzzle' kind of mystery and authors such as Elly Griffiths and Kate Ellis. I was also reminded of Joanna Cannon's Three Things About Elsie.

One of my favourite reads this year. I do hope it is the start of a new series!


Thank you to Richard Osman and Viking (Penguin Books) for my copy of this book, which I received via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Favourite Reads of 2020 (so far!)

It's been a while since I did a list of my favourite reads but I've read some absolutely brilliant books this year (so far!) and I wanted to share them with you. For more favourites, check the links at the end of this post.

According to my Goodreads Challenge for 2020, I've read 61 books this year and there have been some absolute crackers. I've narrowed it down (with huge difficulty!) to a top ten. Is this a great year for publishing or have I got better at choosing books I know I'm going to love?



(The books are listed in the order I read them)


The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black

When Jude's human mother left her high-ranking faerie husband for a human blacksmith, her husband tracked her down, murdered her, and took Jude and her  twin sister Taryn back to the faerie world. Since then, Taryn has spent her life keeping her head down and trying to fit in, whereas Jude has spent hers fighting back and trying to gain power. In this story, the last in the series, we find out if all Jude's sacrifices have been worth it.


Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

Veronica McCreedy is very wealthy, lives in a huge mansion in Scotland, is never seen without her ruby red lipstick and has a collection of very expensive handbags. She's also 85 years old.

Realising that she has no family or friends to leave her fortune to, she tracks down her long-lost grandson. The meeting is such a disaster, she decides to leave her money to the penguins. Or rather, the scientists who are studying them at a remote and poorly-funded research station in the Antarctica. And because Veronica is a sensible (stubborn, bloody-minded) kind of person, she pays the research centre a visit before agreeing to part with any cash. Much to the horror of the scientists. (via NetGalley)


The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

Hester Crimstein is a seventy-year-old defence attorney who is also famous for her own television show
. Her grandson Matthew is worried about a girl who has gone missing at school - a girl that nobody likes and whom everyone picks on. Hester asks Wilde (a family friend who is also a private investigator) to look into the case for her. Wilde is a very interesting character: a man who was found living 'feral' in the woods as a child. Although incredibly smart, he's not been able to adjust to 'normal' life and still lives in a self-contained 'pod' in the forest. As he investigates the girl's disappearance, another teenager goes missing... (via NetGalley)

Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan

Flora was raised by an aunt who never really wanted her. As a result, she has always longed for a traditional family of her own. When Flora falls in love with widowed Jack, who has two daughters, it seems as if all her dreams are about to come true. But Jack's eldest, the teenage Izzy, makes it clear their family is doing just fine without Flora - and she'd quite like to keep it that way! And the more Flora learns about Jack's late wife, the saintly Becca, she begins to realise it will be impossible to compete... (via NetGalley)


The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas

Edie blames her mother-in-law Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So when Anna leaves her long-abandoned Italian villa to Edie and her ex-husband jointly on her death, Edie assumes Anna is playing one last trick. Edie arrives in Italy, hoping to sort out the sale of the house before leaving as quickly as possible, but discovers a house of tantalising secrets - and the love she once felt for her husband is not quite as dead as she believed.


The Glass House by Eve Chase

Rita takes on the job of nanny with the glamorous and wealthy Harrington family but very soon things go terribly wrong. Jeannie Harrington loses her baby and suffers a breakdown. Her husband sends her and the children to their remote country house to recover. Rita is given strict instructions to watch over Jeannie and report back to him. As Jeannie goes into a further decline, her daughter finds a baby in the woods and brings her home... (via NetGalley)


Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read
 is the story of two authors suffering from writers' block. January writes romance but no longer believes in happy endings; Gus writes literary fiction but has found himself in a rut. They end up in neighbouring beach houses over the summer, each with a deadline fast approaching. A flippant joke that maybe they should write their books in each other's genres spirals into reality. January takes Gus to the places she uses as settings for her stories, including a country and western bar for a line-dancing adventure, and Gus takes January on one of his research trips - to the burnt-out campus of a cult... (via NetGalley)



The Island of Secrets by Rachel Rhys

It's 1957 and Iris Bailey is working in a typing pool in dreary old England but dreams of being an artist. To earn extra money she has been drawing the portraits of the rich and famous at Society parties. At one of these parties she meets Nell, the daughter of a famous Hollywood director, who hires Iris to draw the guests at her father's wedding in Havana. It is a fabulous opportunity but once Iris arrives she realises she is hopelessly out of her depth. Even with her lack of sophistication she can see the stark contrast between rich and poor. Cuba is on the brink of revolution... (via NetGalley)


Read the full review here.

The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan

Bel Everhurst is working in Sweden as a nanny for the glamorous Mogert family: Max and Hanna, and their children Linus, Ellinor and Tilde. Out of the blue, Bel receives a phone call meant for Hanna, explaining that her husband has woken up. Bel is confused (She's just seen Max on his bicycle!) but when she passes on the message, Hanna collapses in shock. Hanna's first husband (Linus's father) fell into a coma seven years ago after a terrible accident. Now he's awake - and he wants his family back. (via NetGalley)


Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Teenager Saffyre Maddox has been self-harming since a childhood trauma. Unable to confide in her therapist, Roan Fours, she becomes obsessed with him instead. She follows him around, learning where he lives and all about his life with his family, and he doesn't suspect a thing. She's become 'invisible'. Owen Pick lives in the house opposite Roan but feels as though no one ever really 'sees' him. He's drifting through life, feeling more out of step with the world every day, until he wakes up to find his face is splashed all over the newspapers and wishes he really 
was invisible. (via NetGalley)



Looking at this list, I seem to be reading more 'feel good' stories this year. How about you? Have you read any of these? Which were your favourites?

You can see more of the books I've enjoyed reading over on Instagram and Goodreads.

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