Featured

When They Find Her by Lia Middleton

Blog tour: 25 March to 21 April 2021

Synopsis

Naomi always wanted to be a mother.

But three years ago, her husband left, taking their child with him.

Now, her daughter has come to stay, and Naomi knows it’s her one chance to re-build her family. But the night ends in a terrible accident. And Naomi tells a lie she can never take back.

Naomi reports her daughter missing.

Within hours, her home is invaded. Journalists crowd the driveway. Police search the woods at the foot of the garden. Her ex-husband paces the hall.

And Naomi can’t look away. Because the only thing worse than her lie is the truth.

Naomi has no memory of what really happened that night.

My review

Naomi Williams thought she had the perfect life with an adoring husband, Aiden, a group of lovely friends and a beautiful baby daughter, Freya. But, three years ago, her world fell apart and Aiden left, taking Freya with him.

When Naomi is finally trusted to have four-year-old Freya overnight, one November evening, she can’t wait to spend some time with her and be a mum and do the things that she’s missed out on, like giving her a bath and showing Freya her redecorated room.

Sadly, the sleepover ends tragically when Naomi wakes up in the morning and is horrified to discover there’s been a terrible accident. Rather than telling the truth about what has happened, she lies and reports Freya missing to ex-husband, Aiden, her boyfriend, Rupert, and to the police.

The police arrive, and so do Aiden and his wife, and everyone springs into action in the frantic rush to find Freya before it’s too late. Naomi is thrown into a nightmare and she loses her chance to confess about what has actually happened, and becomes embroiled in more and more lies as she tries to hide the truth.

The story is action packed and goes at a fast and compelling pace. In flashbacks to previous years, we begin to learn what took place in the past and discover why Naomi and Aiden’s relationship broke down and why Aiden ended up looking after Freya.

Naomi is a complex and flawed character and I wondered how reliable she was as a narrator. I was shocked by her actions and disapproved of things she’d done in the past but was also sympathetic to her and felt that she’d had a tough time with her mental health, even before the shocking incident at her house, and hadn’t been supported enough by her family, friends and professionals. I really went through the full range of emotions with Naomi and felt frustrated and upset for her, and with her, as events progressed.

The setting for the novel is very atmospheric and chilling – the large farmhouse was Naomi’s childhood home, and it backs onto the woods and is surrounded by fields and has barns and an orchard. Plenty of land (50 acres) in which a small child can disappear. When snow starts to fall, it seems even more bleak and frightening.

Overall, I really enjoyed When They Find Her – it was cleverly plotted, well written and gripping. I couldn’t put it down and read it in two sittings, totally absorbed by the story. There were lots of twists and turns and some clever misdirection, and I was very surprised by some of the revelations as the novel progressed! It was certainly a tense and traumatic read at times! I liked the way the flashbacks to the past were woven into the story – they enabled the reader to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together and learn how things had worked out so badly for Naomi.

This was a great read and I’m already looking forward to the author’s next book, which appears to be out the day before my birthday in August!

Buy the book

When They Find Her by Lia Middleton can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now for 99p in the monthly deals and in hardback on 13 May, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Lia Middleton is a barrister who specialises in crime and offender management. She graduated in drama and theatre studies before transferring to a legal career, which she practises alongside her lifelong love for writing.

When she isn’t writing, Lia enjoys reading, travelling, and discovering new food markets and festivals. She lives with her husband and two young children in Buckinghamshire.

Twitter: @liamiddlet0n
Instagram: @liamiddletonauthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Chrissie Antoniou at Michael Joseph Books for my proof copy of When They Find Her and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Trust Me by T.M. Logan

Blog tour: 15 March to 10 April 2021

Synopsis

Two strangers, a child, and a split second choice that will change everything …

Ellen was just trying to help a stranger. That was how it started: giving a few minutes respite to a flustered young mother sitting opposite her on the train. A few minutes holding her baby while the mother makes an urgent call. The weight of the child in her arms making Ellen’s heart ache for what she can never have.

Five minutes pass.
Ten.

The train pulls into a station and Ellen is stunned to see the mother hurrying away down the platform, without looking back. Leaving her baby behind. Ellen is about to raise the alarm when she discovers a note in the baby’s bag, three desperate lines scrawled hastily on a piece of paper:

Please protect Mia
Don’t trust the police
Don’t trust anyone

Why would a mother abandon her child to a stranger? Ellen is about to discover that the baby in her arms might hold the key to an unspeakable crime. And doing the right thing might just cost her everything …

My review

I’m a big fan of T.M. Logan since reading 29 Seconds and have enjoyed all his subsequent books, so I was excited to join the blog tour for Trust Me.

Ellen Devlin, 41, a project manager for an aerospace company, is travelling home to South Greenford on the train after an appointment at a fertility clinic when she learns via Instagram that her ex-husband, Richard, is expecting a baby with his new partner. Ellen received more upsetting news at the clinic and is devastated that he’s going to be a father after they tried for a baby, with numerous cycles of IVF, for several years without success. They’ve only been separated for three months.

A woman with a young baby gets on the train – the last thing that Ellen wants to see. She ends up sitting opposite Ellen and introduces herself as Kathryn and her three-month-old baby as Mia. The baby is very sweet and smiley and Ellen can’t help but smile back.

When Kathryn’s mobile phone rings, she asks Ellen to hold Mia while she takes the call and walks to the area between the two carriages, by the doors. A few minutes later, the train stops at the small station of Seer Green and Jordans, the last stop before Marylebone, and Ellen, who is still holding baby Mia, is shocked to see Kathryn outside the train and hurrying past her window!

Ellen is confused but tries to stay calm and checks Mia’s change bag, where she discovers a hastily scrawled note, addressed to her, which says ‘Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone.’ She isn’t sure what to do but, straightaway, she’s suspicious of everyone on the train!

When the train arrives at Marylebone, Ellen makes a decision that ends up embroiling her in some scary incidents! She has no idea what she’s getting herself involved in but she soon learns that no one can be trusted.

This book had some great twists and turns and I was frantically turning the pages as Ellen did one crazy thing after another and put herself in danger! She was involved to such an extent that it seemed like things could only end in an awful way.

Ellen was a great character and seemed very brave and determined, and also a bit reckless! She was pretty fearless when faced with some frightening men in very dangerous situations, but knew exactly how to handle things.

Overall, I really enjoyed this exciting and gripping read and I raced through it in a few hours, desperate to learn how everything was going to be resolved. It was cleverly plotted, with plenty of red herrings and misdirection.

The story was told from several different points of view and I was never really sure if I’d sussed things out or not, but I did guess who was the baddie towards the end!

The book had a great pace and tension to it and it kept my attention throughout, with never a dull moment. Just when you thought things were calming down, something else dramatic would happen!

T.M. Logan gets better with each book and I can’t wait to read his next one! I must also go back and read his debut, Lies, which I still haven’t read! If you haven’t read any books from this author before, I’d definitely recommend his action-packed and tense thrillers! Great stuff!

Buy the book

Trust Me by T.M. Logan can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

T.M. Logan‘s thrillers have sold more than 900,000 copies in the UK and are published in 18 countries around the world. His novel, The Holiday, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and became a Sunday Times bestseller in paperback. Formerly a national newspaper journalist, he now writes full time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children.

Twitter: @TMLoganAuthor
Facebook: @TMLoganAuthor
Instagram: @tmloganauthor
Website: https://www.tmlogan.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Zaffre Books for my proof copy of Trust Me and to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Blackstoke by Rob Parker

Blog tour: 23 March to 4 April 2021

Synopsis

Wealth. Security. Prosperity. None of it matters in the dark.

In a quiet cul-de-sac on the newly opened, much-sought-after Blackstoke housing development, the first handful of families are moving in. These neighbours, thrown together for the first time, are looking forward to settling into their bright new lives – with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The estate couldn’t be nicer, but it’s a big change for everyone.

Then things start to happen. Bad things. As if something doesn’t want them there.

As the new residents try to make sense of events, the buried history of the area makes itself suddenly, deeply apparent – with a series of shocking, violent escalations.

Soon, no one is safe, as the original powers of Blackstoke return to reclaim their territory and birth right in a final night of dark revelations, gore and bloodshed.

My review

The new housing development of the Blackstoke Estate near Warrington is the setting for this action-packed and chilling horror story! Five families are the first residents of the exclusive estate with its impressive houses: Peter West (42), his wife, Pam (41), and their children, Alice (15) and Jacob; David and Christian Lyon and their adopted baby daughter, Olivia; Fletcher and Joyce Adams and their teenage twin boys, Boyd and Burnett; Grace Milligan and her Irish wolfhound, Dewey; and retired couple, Quint and Wendy Fenchurch.

The northeast corner of the estate is the first to be finished, with 200 properties to eventually be built, but for now there are just five houses in a quiet cul-de-sac. As the neighbours slowly become acquainted, there are a few fractious moments as they try to suss each other out and decide their pecking order of importance!

Retired policeman, Quint, husband of former head nurse, Wendy, is rather dismissive of young lawyer Grace – how has she afforded her smart new house? – and everyone is unimpressed with sleazy MP Fletcher, who is a dirty stopout and spends his evenings at The Sin Bin strip club. Peter works for a PR firm and has rather overstretched himself to buy their Blackstoke house after a promotion at work, which left his wife hinting they needed to upgrade their property. David works in sales and Christian in marketing and the couple met at university.

Right from the start, the gated estate seems rather creepy and isolated and there’s been no sightings of the round-the-clock security guard who’s supposed to be patrolling the site. An unpleasant smell and the lack of a mobile phone mast also adds to the general disappointment with the swanky new estate, which promised luxury at affordable prices, and it feels like corners have been cut in the haste to start building and now the developers (COMUDEV) have probably run out money!

When worrying, unexplained things start happening, the residents begin to feel uneasy and wonder what’s going on. Events go from bad to worse with a shocking incident that took me by surprise and everything ramps up from then on, culminating in a night of terror and a wild ride involving all the residents.

Overall, this was a chilling and creepy read, which developed at a cleverly unsettling pace, with lots of suspense. Things didn’t seem right on the estate at the beginning and I was waiting, full of anticipation, for things to kick off, but wasn’t sure exactly how it was all going to play out. There was a great sense of foreboding and menacing hints that someone was after the families and I couldn’t work out if it was one of the new residents or an unknown culprit. The frightening, gruesome events that followed, with some awful, gory scenes, made me rather regret reading the book so late at night!

There was an interesting mix of characters in the story and they all had their part to play. Some were definitely more likeable than others! I particularly liked the fearless and courageous Grace and her huge, hairy and adorable hound, Dewey! Several of the other women, as well as the teenagers, also showed their bravery when faced with adversity.

The setting of the estate was well described and I could really picture it in my mind and all the action that took place there. I hope I don’t have nightmares tonight after some of those vivid images and graphic violent scenes!

I don’t read many horrors but I’m glad I picked this one up – it was disturbing but engaging and gripping! I haven’t read any of Rob Parker’s books before so I look forward to checking out his Ben Bracken series.

Buy the book

Blackstoke by Rob Parker can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback and paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo. Or purchase the hardback or paperback directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Rob Parker is a married father of three, who lives in Warrington, UK. The author of the Ben Bracken thrillers, Crook’s Hollow and the #1 Audible bestseller, Far From the Tree, he enjoys a rural life, writing horrible things between school runs. Rob writes full time, attends various author events across the UK, and boxes regularly for charity. He spends a lot of time in schools across the north, encouraging literacy, storytelling and creative writing, and somehow squeezes in time to co-host the For Your Reconsideration film podcast, appear regularly on The Blood Brothers Crime Podcast, and is a member of the Northern Crime Syndicate.

Twitter: @robparkerauthor
Facebook: @robparkerauthor
Instagram: @robparkerauthor
Website: https://robparkerauthor.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of Blackstoke and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Dead in the Water by Chris McDonald

Blog tour: 27 March to 4 April 2021

Synopsis

The Stonebridge Regatta is looming. The town’s annual face-off against neighbouring Meadowfield is usually a weekend filled with sunshine, laughter and camaraderie.

This year is different.

A week before the race, the body of Stonebridge team captain Matthew Henderson is found dead in the water. The police file his passing as a tragic accident however, his grieving widow disagrees and suspects foul play is involved. She enlists the help of Adam and Colin, the town’s amateur (self-proclaimed) private detectives to unearth the truth.

Did Matthew simply slip and fall into the water, or is there more to his death below the surface?

My review

I really enjoyed the first novella in The Stonebridge Mysteries series, The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello, and was excited to read this one and keen to join the blog tour!

Set in Stonebridge, a small town on the north coast of Northern Ireland, and following on a month after the previous book, we catch up with best friends Colin McLaughlin, who works at the local retirement home, and Adam Whyte, who’s now set up his own garden maintenance business.

When Elena Henderson’s husband, Matthew, is found drowned on rocks at the bottom of a cliff near the golf club, two days after a rather fractious rowing team practice session, she enlists the help of Adam and Colin to investigate his death, which the police presume is a tragic accident.

The men carry out their own unofficial investigation and speak to some of the other residents of the town, including members of the rival Stonebridge and Meadowfield rowing teams. Matthew Henderson was the captain of the Stonebridge team and they were weeks away from the annual Stonebridge Regatta weekend, the winners of which take home £5000.

As Adam and Colin work undercover and infiltrate various areas, they put themselves in danger and seem to be no closer to discovering what happened to Matthew. What they need is a lucky break so they can put all the pieces of the puzzle together!

Dead in the Water is a quick read, at around 100 pages, but it’s entertaining, action packed and full of intrigue and suspense. The story is well paced and cleverly plotted and there are some witty lines. I especially liked the amusing chapter titles, which gave a little insight into what was to come!

The plot develops well and there are lots of twists and turns and several potential suspects. I had fun trying to guess how the story was going to unfold and who could be the murderer.

I like both main characters and their amateur sleuthing and they seem to be growing up a bit in this story, with Colin buying a house and Adam running his own business. I’m really enjoying this engaging, well-written series and I’m curious to see what happens in the next instalment!

Buy the book

Dead in the Water by Chris McDonald can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. Or purchase the paperback directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in south Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, the Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime.

A Wash of Black was his first attempt at writing a book. He came up with the initial idea whilst feeding his baby in the middle of the night, which may not be the best thing to admit, considering the content. Whispers in the Dark is the second instalment in the DI Erika Piper series. The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello is the first book in the Stonebridge Mysteries series of cosy crime novellas.

He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs.

Twitter: @cmacwritescrime
Facebook: @cmacwritescrime
Website: https://macsbookreview.wordpress.com
Instagram: @cmacwritescrime

Blog tour

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of Dead in the Water and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Passenger by Daniel Hurst

Blog tour: 25 to 31 March 2021

Synopsis

She takes the same train every day. But this is a journey she’ll never forget.

Amanda is a hardworking single mum, completely focused on her job and her daughter, Louise. She’s been saving for years and now, finally, she can afford to give up work and chase her dream.

But then, on her commute home from London to Brighton, she meets a charming stranger – who seems to know everything about her.

He delivers an ultimatum. She needs to give him the code for the safe where she keeps her savings before the train reaches Brighton – or she’ll never see Louise again.

Convinced that the threat is real, Amanda is stunned, horrified. She knows she should give him the code, but she can’t. Because she also knows there is a terrible secret in that safe which will destroy her life and Louise’s too …

The Passenger – the stunning psychological thriller with a nerve-shredding climax. Perfect for fans of Mark Edwards, K.L. Slater, Miranda Rijks.

My review

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Hurst’s writing since his debut novella, 20 Minutes on the Tube, which I found a fascinating read, and I was hooked by his books and have been keeping an eye out for this prolific writer ever since! I love the 20 Minute series and his psychological thrillers, and the Influencing trilogy is great too. When I found out he’d signed with Inkubator Books, I was keen to read The Passenger and take part in the damppebbles blog tour.

With a dramatic prologue involving a gruesome death, you’re flung straight into the action in this tense and gripping book, and I couldn’t wait to discover what on earth was happening!

Amanda Abbott is 37 years old and a single mum to 17-year-old daughter, Louise. They live in a small two-bedroom flat in Brighton. Amanda is bored of her life and the routine of her daily hour-long commute into London and back. Every day is the same and she has no love life or social life. She’s saved a good amount of money and decides to quit her job as a purchasing administrator and follow her dreams and become a writer. She hands in her notice and is just seeing out the last few days of work before her new life as an author begins.

What Amanda doesn’t realise is that she’s being watched and has been targeted by a handsome stranger, who knows that her money is kept in a safe at her flat, rather than being deposited at the bank. One evening, when her train home is delayed, the man decides to make his move and put his plan into action and threaten Louise (and her daughter) to get his hands on her savings.

Amanda is hard working whereas her daughter is rather lazy and refuses to get a job and expects her mum to provide for her. They’re both hiding secrets from each other and, from the beginning, there are intriguing hints that there’s more to the story and there are some surprises ahead for all concerned!

The story is told from the viewpoints of Amanda, Louise and the stranger and this works well as we switch between them and the tension rises as the deadline nears and the train approaches Brighton!

Overall, I really enjoyed this well-plotted and tense thriller. There were lots of twists and turns and just when I thought I’d sussed things out, there’d be another revelation and then another one! The story is fast paced and gripping and I sped through it in a couple of sittings, desperate to find out if Amanda and Louise would survive.

As ever, I’m keen to see what Daniel Hurst writes next. He’s a very speedy writer and I’m still working my way through the 20 Minute series and have a couple of his other thrillers to read too!

Buy the book

The Passenger by Daniel Hurst is released on 28 March and can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle.

About the author

Daniel Hurst writes psychological thrillers and loves to tell tales about unusual things happening to normal people. He has written all his life, making the progression from handing scribbled stories to his parents as a boy to writing full-length novels in his thirties. He lives in the north west of England and when he isn’t writing, he is usually watching a game of football in a pub where his wife can’t find him.

Twitter: @dhurstbooks
Facebook: @danielhurstbooks
Instagram: @danielhurstbooks
Website: https://www.danielhurstbooks.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Inkubator Books for my digital copy of The Passenger and to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Review: 25 March 2021

Blurb

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves, they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

Can you find the famous person hidden in every story?

Synopsis

Backstories is a unique collection of stories each told from the point of view of a famous (or notorious) person at a pivotal moment in their lives. The writing is literary but accessible and the voices vividly real. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, and the driving themes are inclusion, social justice and of course, nostalgia – but the real key to these stories is that the protagonists’ identities are withheld. This means that your job is to find them, leading to that Eureka moment when you realise whose mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last 20 minutes.

My review

Happy publication day to Simon Van der Velde for Backstories!

When I was approached by the author to review his book, I thought it sounded a fascinating and intriguing concept – 14 short narratives described as ‘intimate stories about people you think you know’.

We meet various ‘dreamers, singers, heroes and killers’ at key moments in their lives and the book makes for addictive reading as you try and work out who is being described. Often, the person isn’t revealed till the end of the story or you’re left to guess who it is, which I was rubbish at!

There’s an intriguing cast of famous, infamous, villainous and unpleasant characters, a real mixed bag, including musicians, actors, politicians and criminals, and it makes for compelling and – when you can’t work out who it is – frustrating reading!

There are subtle little clues scattered throughout each story but, sometimes, they only become obvious on a second read through when you know who the person is!

The stories are shocking, powerful and hard hitting in parts and make you think. The author doesn’t sugercoat the people’s experiences or shy away from telling things how they were.

I read through all the stories once in a couple of sittings but I plan on reading them again now that I know who most of the people are. There are a few that I’m still unsure about and I need to do a bit more research … or plead with the author for the answers!

It’s the type of book that would be good as a buddy or book club read – it would be fun to discuss it with other people and bounce ideas off each other and think about things from different angles. Sometimes, there’s that little clue you might miss initially that, when checked on Google or with someone else, confirms who the story is about.

Overall, I really enjoyed this short story collection, with its vivid, colourful and eye-catching cover! It’s cleverly written, well researched and thought provoking. I’ve definitely learnt a few things about the past that I wasn’t aware of. It’s also something a bit different and I was pleased to hear that there’s going to be another volume soon!

Buy the book

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle, in paperback and on audio.

About the author

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing MA (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including The Yeovil Literary Prize (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Shortstory Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney, and two tyrannical children.

Twitter: @SimonVdVwriter
Facebook: @simonvdvelde
Instagram: @simonvdvwriter
Website: simonvandervelde.com

Thanks

Thanks very much to the author for my digital copy of Backstories.

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Bound by Vanda Symon

Blog tour: 1 to 31 March 2021

Synopsis

The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up …

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

My review

After reading the third book in the Sam Shephard series, Containment, last year for the blog tour, I was very keen to read this next instalment! I love a good police procedural and this is certainly an addictive series!

The story begins with 17-year-old Declan Henderson returning home one evening after band practice with friends to the shocking and gruesome discovery that his dad, John, has been horrifically murdered and his mum, Jill, who was bound, gagged and injured, was forced to watch the whole distressing event.

Detective Sam Shephard, Detective Paul Frost (her boyfriend) and several other members of their team are first on the rather remote scene, which is close to the eerie site of the former Seacliff Mental Hospital, where 37 women were killed in a fire in the 1940s. The wealthy Henderson family’s house is large and secluded with a long driveway and expensive-looking gates and there’s no sign of forced entry.

When Sam speaks to Mrs Henderson at the hospital, she is distraught and traumatised and says that her husband opened the door to two masked men who rushed their way into the property, shot him at point-blank range and then tied her to a chair.

John Henderson was thought to be a respectable businessman at a company called Eros Global, selling and distributing vitamin-type supplements and sexual enhancers, but it turns out that he’s involved in some rather dodgy stuff on the side and has several rather unsavoury characters as close business acquaintances.

When evidence is found that links two of these dubious characters to the crime scene, all the pieces of the jigsaw seem to be fitting together remarkably easily! Sam isn’t so sure and despite her colleagues’ misgivings – they’re convinced it’s an open-and-shut case – she is determined to get to the bottom of the investigation and discover who killed John Henderson.

In her private life, Sam’s dad is terminally ill and she has a rather fractious relationship with her mum and they’ve never really got on. She hates seeing her strong farmer father deteriorating and would rather throw herself into work than watch him slowly die.

Overall, I really enjoyed this well-crafted and cleverly plotted novel. The storyline was gripping with plenty of action, lots of misdirection and some surprising revelations and the short, snappy chapters encouraged me to read on so I flew through the book in less than a day!

Despite being a police procedural, Bound contained some great humour and, throughout the book, there were several lines and observations that made me chuckle. It was amusing as well as being entertaining, tense and intriguing!

I love the main character, Sam Shephard, as she’s feisty, clever, has a no-nonsense attitude, confidence, good sense of humour and she doesn’t give up easily, even when her boss, Detective Inspector ‘Dickhead’ Johns, is being his usual nasty self and hauling her over the coals for no apparent reason!

Sam’s flatmate, Maggie, is great and it’s a shame she didn’t feature more in this book as the pair have a great rapport. I enjoyed the developments in Sam’s relationship with Paul – they seem to be getting on really well and are much closer now!

Bound has a great sense of place – I loved all the descriptions of Dunedin and the surrounding areas, especially as I visited the city when I was travelling round the South Island of New Zealand over 10 years ago.

I understand that this is the fourth book in a series that was originally written in New Zealand between 2007 and 2011 so I hope that’s not the end and we get to meet Sam Shephard again soon! I do have the first two books, Overkill and The Ringmaster, still to read so I’ll definitely be getting round to them very soon!

Buy the book

Bound by Vanda Symon can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

Twitter: @vandasymon
Facebook: @vandasymonauthor
Instagram: @vandasymon
Website: http://www.vandasymon.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my digital copy of Bound and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Safe and Sound by Philippa East

Blog tour: 18 to 22 February 2021

Synopsis

Home can be the most dangerous place …

In a small London bedsit, a radio is playing. A small dining table is set for three, and curled up on the sofa is a body …

Jenn is the one who discovers the woman, along with the bailiffs. All indications suggest that the tenant – Sarah Jones – was pretty, charismatic and full of life.

So how is it possible that her body has lain undiscovered for ten whole months?

My review

Jennifer (Jenn) Arden, 31, is a housing manager at the housing authority in Brixton, south London, and single mum to Charlie, aged eight. Jenn is rather protective of her son, always fearing that he is ill or suffering from some disorder or disability, and we learn that there was an incident last year at school that she’s still getting over. Jenn also has a distant and difficult relationship with her parents, especially her mum, and something has happened in the past to create this rift.

A tenant has fallen three months behind with their rent and has completely ignored all attempts at communication, so Jenn has booked the bailiffs to help speak to the woman and try to arrange a payment plan. When they all arrive at the flat, which is tiny and hidden under the stairs, Jenn peers through the letterbox and is concerned when she spots piles of mail blocking the front door. There’s also an unusual odour. She decides to call the police and when they finally arrive, everyone is shocked when they find the body of a woman, Sarah Jones, and she has obviously been dead for a few months, despite the fact the radio is still playing Capital FM.

Jenn feels guilty about what’s happened as she was having difficulties with her mental health the previous year and she cut corners at work and ticked off annual inspections when they hadn’t been done.

She becomes deeply affected by Sarah Jones’ death and can’t understand how someone can just pass away without anyone else noticing. She’s determined to uncover the truth and becomes obsessed with finding out about Sarah and her family and friends.

It begins to affect her life and she loses weight and becomes more paranoid and worried about her son and his health. It was disturbing to read as Jenn got more and more obsessed with looking into Sarah’s past and she was behaving rather erratically in all areas of her life but, being a single mum and not having any close friends, no one seemed to be really picking up on what was going on. In some ways, Jenn was rather similar to Sarah and she found this quite disturbing to consider.

The story is told mainly from Jenn’s viewpoint in the current day but sometime in the past (‘back then’), we also hear from a nine-year-old girl called Prin whose seven-year-old cousin, Jane, comes to live with her and her parents during the summer holidays. Prin’s mum and dad don’t explain why Jane is staying with them and Jane doesn’t discuss things either. Something awful has obviously happened as she keeps having flashbacks and nightmares.

Safe and Sound is very intriguing and full of suspense. It was fascinating as Jenn met people connected with Sarah Jones and little bits of information and clues were slowly revealed. I was also very curious to see how cousins Prin and Jane tied into the story and I had several theories, which were all wrong!

I really enjoyed this gripping and tense psychological thriller. It was well plotted and cleverly written and I was never quite sure whether Jenn and Prin were reliable narrators or not. I had numerous thoughts about whether they were telling the truth as the story progressed and was also suspicious of many of the other characters in the book, who all seemed to be acting strangely at various points!

Overall, this was a really enjoyable and compelling read and I consumed it in a couple of sittings, frantically turning the pages, desperate to see how it was all going to be resolved. I’m keen to read the author’s other book, Little White Lies, now and will definitely be checking out her next book!

Buy the book

Safe and Sound by Philippa East can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Philippa East is a fiction writer with HQ/HarperCollins and she also works as a clinical psychologist.

Philippa grew up in Scotland before moving to Oxford and then London to complete her clinical psychology training. A few years ago, she left the NHS to set up her own part-time practice and dedicate more hours to writing. The result was her debut novel, Little White Lies, which was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not-The-Booker Prize and shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Award 2020.

Philippa now lives in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. She loves reading (of course!) and long country walks, and she also performs in a local folk duo called The Miracle Cure. Alongside her writing, Philippa continues to work as a psychologist and therapist.

Twitter: @philippa_east
Facebook: @philippa.east
Instagram: @philippa_east_author

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of Safe and Sound and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Singapore Fire by Murray Bailey

Blog tour: 17 February to 1 March 2021

Synopsis

She wants to escape
He wants to save her
But nothing is what it seems

Singapore 1954 and once again, private investigator, Ash Carter is caught between the government and the criminal gangs. It’s time for Carter to choose.

Escape now or stand and fight?

My review

Set in Singapore in the 1950s, Singapore Fire is the sixth and final book in the mystery-thriller Ash Carter series. After reading and enjoying the fifth book, Singapore Killer, last year, I was excited to see how the series would reach its conclusion, and I wasn’t disappointed!

It’s February 1954 and the story begins with a dramatic and shocking scene in an old factory where we meet businessman and head of a Chinese secret society, Andrew Yipp, 64, and three of his henchmen, including Wang, his lieutenant, who thinks nothing of killing a man they’ve been torturing for information. The dead man told them that Yipp’s assistant and mistress, Su Ling Yong, had visited the head of the second-largest secret society, Christian Chen. Yipp is not impressed by this supposed betrayal and tells Wang to find her and then mentions Ash Carter’s name …

Captain Ash Carter was in the British Army’s Royal Military Police (in the Special Investigations Branch) and then worked for the internal security secretary of the Singapore government and a private protection force in Malaya. He’s now been an independent investigator for six months (alongside providing support to the military police, 200 Provost) and a Chinese lady called Madam Chau, who we met in the previous book, is still his secretary/receptionist.

Madam Chau is a great character: hard working and very loyal to Ash but he’s rather rude and describes her as ‘extremely unattractive, with a flat face that was permanently fixed with a sour expression.’ He comments, ‘With so many beautiful girls on the island, I’d deliberately chosen one who wouldn’t appeal to me.’

Ash has had several liaisons with Su Ling during his time in Singapore. We learn, through flashbacks, that Andrew Yipp is Su Ling’s uncle and he has been abusing her since she was a young teenager. She is now Yipp’s assistant and mistress, roles that her mother used to carry out until she went missing when Su Ling was 11, which meant that Yipp and his wife adopted their niece. It turns out that Ash Carter has been having an affair with Su Ling and, as a result, he’s on very dangerous ground with Yipp!

Ash and Su Ling decide that in order for them to both keep safe, they need to escape to the Philippines during the New Year’s parade and pageant via a boat, with the help of Arthur Pope, a wealthy businessman who deals in Japanese goods and artefacts. Unfortunately, Secretary for Internal Security Philip Norris is aware of Carter and Su Ling’s relationship and he tells Carter that Yipp is funding a political group called the People’s Action Party and orders him to investigate Yipp and find some way for him to be arrested or he threatens that he will arrest Su Ling.

Yipp is definitely up to something and involved in various dodgy dealings but Ash is struggling to work out what and can’t pin anything illegal on him. There are several different strands to the story, from a Chinese gold case that Ash Carter was investigating with Chief Inspector George McNaughton of the Kuala Lumpur police around the time of the BlackJack murders (from the previous book), to a case involving the Housing Planning and Development department’s programme of renewal (re-appropriation), which is being overseen by Major Rupert Lamb and consists of people being removed from their homes as they are living in crumbling old buildings. I found it really interesting to try and work out how these elements of the story were all linked, if at all, to Yipp and his business and political interests. There were lots of different characters and, at times, I had to look back to remember who was who.

Singapore Killer is a well-plotted, gripping thriller with lots of twists and turns, tense moments and some scenes of violence. It’s an action-packed and fast-paced read with some startling revelations! Over the eight days in which the story is set, Ash Carter covers many miles in his quest to keep Su Ling safe while trying to discover what Yipp is up to and resolve all the other cases he’s working on, with the help of various acquaintances.

There are lots of political tensions in Singapore in the period in which the book is set and it seems a very volatile and tense situation, and one that’s fraught with danger; you’re never quite sure who you can trust and who’s lurking round the corner ready to attack and dispatch you, without asking any questions first! Even the police and respected government officials seem to be corrupt. Ash Carter is brave but also rather reckless at times as he dashes into situations without really being sure of what’s facing him on the other side of the door!

Overall, I really enjoyed Singapore Fire – it was an intense and absorbing story, with great descriptions of 1950s Singapore and the culture, as well as the elements of corruption and abuse. It was good to get to know Ash Carter in more urban settings and learn a bit more about him. Although I’ve read Singapore Killer, I haven’t read any of the first four books in the series but I didn’t feel like I was missing out on lots of earlier back stories. The book works fine as a standalone but I’d recommend reading the rest first. Now that the series has reached its conclusion, I’ll have to go back and read Singapore 52, Singapore Girl, Singapore Boxer and Singapore Ghost to see what I’ve missed out on!

Buy the book

Singapore Fire (Ash Carter, book 6) by Murray Bailey is released on 1 March and can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the author

Murray Bailey got his first taste of success when he was published in The Times at 18 and in his local newspaper. Although he went on to pursue a different career, he continued to write and edit and became the editor of an international magazine and editor of four technical books.

His first work of fiction, I Dare You, was published in 2016 and The Lost Pharaoh continues the ancient Egyptian story glimpsed in Map of the Dead and is his ninth title.

Murray was born in Greater Manchester, England and has being moving south ever since. He now lives on the beautiful Dorset coast with his wife and family.

Twitter: @MurrayBaileybks
Facebook: @MurrayBaileyAuthor
Instagram: @murraybaileyauthor
Website: https://murraybaileybooks.com/

Blog tour

Thanks to Murray Bailey for my digital copy of Singapore Fire and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Blog tour: 18 to 28 February 2021

Synopsis

An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.

Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

Fiercely alive, disarmingly funny and brimming with tenderness, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot unwraps the extraordinary gift of life even when it is about to be taken away, and revels in our infinite capacity for friendship and love when we need them most.

My review

Lenni Pettersson is 17 and suffering from a life-limiting condition. She’s on the terminal ward at the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. She’s not sure how long she’s got left but she’s determined to make the most of it.

Lenni attends an art therapy class in the Rose Room at the hospital after bumping into the lady who set it up and it’s there that she meets another patient, 83-year-old Margot Macrae, who is from a nearby ward. The pair realise that together they have lived 100 years and decide to celebrate this by painting their memories of their years alive and sharing their stories with each other. It’s a brilliant idea and the pair enthusiastically get to work!

Lenni also becomes friendly with the priest at the hospital chapel, Father Arthur, and shares some lovely moments with him as she tries to work out the meaning of life and what it’s all about. At first, he’s not sure quite what to make of her as she’s quite opinionated and says what she thinks!

Margot’s story is intriguing and we build up a picture of her past from the little snippets of time that she shares with Lenni. It’s fascinating to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and discover that she’s had a full life with great moments of happiness, joy and love but there have also been dark, sad times of loss too.

Lenni is amazing! Despite her awful predicament, she tries to stay positive and has a very refreshing and humorous approach to life. I loved her little quips and observations. She was often funny in her youthful and innocent way without really meaning to be.

Lenni has such a profound effect on everyone she meets and, despite the big age gaps, it’s moving to see her friendships with Margot and Father Arthur develop. She doesn’t have any family support and she could be depressed and maudlin but she’s actually the opposite and tries to see the beauty in life and keep busy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! It was poignant, thought-provoking and sad but also amusing with a positive message about life. It was fascinating to learn more about Lenni and Margot’s pasts and see how they’d got to their current point in life. Although Lenni’s life was tragically cut short, she’d filled her life and had many special memories to look back on. She had a great impact on others at the hospital in the short amount of time they spent with her.

In spite of the sad topic, the book isn’t mawkish or depressing; the opposite in fact! In the beautiful friendship between Lenni and Margot, we see a celebration of life – the good and the bad – and the story shows us not to fear the future, even if it is uncertain.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is a beautiful, heart-wrenching read and one that I’m still thinking about several days later. This is a special read and all of the characters, even the supporting ones, are memorable and inspiring in their own way. I’ll definitely be buying a hard copy – with that gorgeous, colourful and simple but eye-catching cover – to keep and reread.

Buy the book

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Marianne Cronin was born in 1990. She studied English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning a PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Birmingham. She now spends most of her time writing, with her newly-adopted rescue cat sleeping under her desk. When she’s not writing, Marianne can be found performing improv and stand up in the West Midlands, where she lives.

Her debut novel, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, is to be published around the world and is being adapted into a feature film by Sony/Columbia Pictures. It has been sold in 25 territories to date.

Twitter: @itsmcronin
Instagram: @itsmariannecronin

Blog tour

Thanks to Hana Sparkes at Transworld Books for my digital copy of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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An Eye for an Eye by Carol Wyer

Blog tour: 1 to 10 February 2021

Synopsis

A killer running rings around the police. A detective spiralling out of control.

DI Kate Young is on leave. She’s the force’s best detective, but her bosses know she’s under pressure, on medication and overcoming trauma. So after her bad judgement call leads to a narrowly averted public disaster, they’re sure all she needs is a rest.

But when Staffordshire Police summon her back to work on a murder case, it’s a harder, more suspicious Kate Young who returns. With a new ruthlessness, she sets about tracking down a clinical, calculating serial killer who is torturing victims and leaving clues to taunt the police. Spurred on by her reporter husband, Young begins to suspect that the murderer might be closer than she ever imagined.

As she works to uncover the truth, Young unravels a network of secrets and lies, with even those closest to her having something to hide. But with her own competence – and her grip on reality – called into question, can she unmask the killer before they strike again?

My review

An Eye for an Eye is the first in a new series from Carol Wyer. Set in Staffordshire, it features Detective Inspector Kate Young, 34, who started 2021 in traumatic fashion when there was a shocking incident and she was first on the scene. Afterwards, she took some sick leave but then returned to work too soon after and has resorted to prescription pills to try and overcome the trauma of that day, which she keeps seeing in regular flashbacks.

After being commended for her actions on that awful afternoon at a special event, she’s on a train with her boss, Superintendent John Dickson, when she suffers a flashback and a kind of panic attack and reacts instinctively and nearly hurts someone. Dickson is concerned and advises her to take extended leave to try and recover.

Three months later, Detective Chief Inspector William Chase visits Kate and tells her that Dickson wants her to return to work to head up a three-person team to look into the nasty killing of a local businessman, Alex Corby, who has been tortured at his home. He runs Corby International, a British food export company, and has a wife, Fiona, and two children, Hugh and Jacob, who were on holiday at their villa in the south of France at the time of the murder.

Kate teams up with Detective Sergeant (DS) Emma Donaldson, 23, and DS Morgan Meredith, 24, to investigate the murder and they combine well as they begin working on the complicated case, in which everyone connected seems to be lying about something and the police struggle to confirm their movements and alibis.

When another man is found murdered in similarly nasty circumstances, the police must work hard to try and uncover the links between the two victims before the next grisly killing occurs.

DI Kate Young is obviously a very traumatised and troubled character but she really digs deep to try and hold it together and be strong and a good leader to her team. Her colleagues, Emma and Morgan, are very concerned about her behaviour at times, as she talks to herself and acts strangely, and they’re aware that she is taking medication for her stress and anxiety.

Kate’s husband, Chris, 38, is a journalist and very supportive; he regularly chips in with helpful comments and advice as she struggles to work out what’s going on in this complex case.

Overall, I really enjoyed this well-written and cleverly plotted police procedural. There were lots of twists and turns, red herrings and elements of misdirection, and I had my suspicions about a few people as the investigation unfolded and more clues were revealed. There were several culprits, with various motives and opportunities to murder.

The investigation unravels well and there were several breakthroughs at key moments, as well as moments of frustration when the team didn’t seem to be getting anywhere and Kate was being hassled by her rather unsympathetic boss, Dickson. She is suspicious of his motives as he seems to be hampering her case at times.

I’m a big fan of police procedural novels and this was an excellent read! The story is gripping, engaging and satisfyingly well paced. It’s also very tense and entertaining and I read it in a couple of days, frantically turning the pages to see what was going to happen next! There were quite a few revelations that I was surprised by and I hadn’t worked out how all the pieces of the puzzle were going to fit together.

Despite having several of the author’s books in Kindle and paper format, this is the first one that I’ve read so I’ll definitely be rectifying that soon and reading some more! I can’t wait for the next instalment of the Detective Kate Young series, A Cut for a Cut, which is out in June, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about this complex character.

Buy the book

An Eye for an Eye by Carol Wyer can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the author

USA Today bestselling author and winner of The People’s Book Prize Award, Carol Wyer writes feel-good comedies and gripping crime fiction.

A move from humour to the ‘dark side’ in 2017, saw the introduction of popular DI Robyn Carter in Little Girl Lost and demonstrated that stand-up comedian Carol had found her true niche.

To date, her crime novels have sold over 750,000 copies and been translated for various overseas markets.

Carol has been interviewed on numerous radio shows discussing irritable male syndrome and ageing disgracefully and on BBC Breakfast television. She has had articles published in national magazine, Woman’s Weekly, featured in Take A Break, Choice, Yours and Woman’s Own magazines and the Huffington Post.

She currently lives on a windy hill in rural Staffordshire with her husband Mr Grumpy … who is very, very grumpy.

When she is not plotting devious murders, she can be found performing her comedy routine, Smile While You Still Have Teeth.

Twitter: @carolewyer
Facebook: @AuthorCarolEWyer
Instagram: @carolwyer
Website: www.carolwyer.co.uk
Blog: www.carolwyer.com
YouTube: @CarolEWyer

Blog tour

Thanks to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my digital copy of An Eye for an Eye and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

Blog tour: 15 January to 12 February 2021

Synopsis

500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest …

My review

The Burning Girls is set in the small Sussex village of Chapel Croft, which has an intriguing and disturbing history. On 17 September 1556, eight villagers, including two young girls, were burnt to death at the stake during Queen Mary’s purge of the Protestants (the Marian Persecutions). Every year, on the anniversary of this terrible event, little twig dolls (burning girls) are set on fire to signify the martyrs who were killed.

Also, in mid-May 1990, two local teenagers, Joy Harris and Merry Lane, both aged 15, went missing, a week apart, and were never found. It was assumed that they’d run away together and the police never really investigated their disappearance properly.

After problems at their parish in Nottingham, Reverend Jack Brooks and 15-year-old daughter, Florence (Flo), are transferred to Chapel Croft. The village needs an interim vicar after the sudden death of the previous priest, Reverend Matthew Fletcher.

A week later, the pair arrive at the rather creepy chapel and the nearby tiny vicar’s cottage where they’re going to be living. It’s August and the ramshackle cottage is cramped and stuffy. They’ve only just arrived but, straightaway, they’re greeted by a rather frightening sight when they find a little girl who seems injured.

Someone leaves a welcome gift for Jack at the chapel and, when opened, it turns out to be an exorcism kit! Then threatening messages and symbols are left on the doorstep and Jack and Flo both start to see strange visions in the chapel and wonder what on earth they’re letting themselves in for.

This is an atmospheric and tense creepy read and there are lots of chilling secrets to be revealed in this close-knit village with its macabre traditions and superstitions. All the characters seem to be hiding things, even Reverend Jack. The secrets are bubbling beneath the surface and everyone seemed suspicious and untrustworthy at one point or another.

There are some strong characters, especially Jack and Flo, as well as the rather wily 85-year-old Joan Hartman. There’s some violent and intense imagery throughout the novel and the descriptions of what happens within the chapel and derelict house are particularly vivid and disturbing.

There are some supernatural elements to the story, which I’m not usually a fan of, but they really added to the creepiness and suspense in the novel.

Overall, The Burning Girls was a gripping, fast-paced read, with lots of twists and turns, and it had me on the edge of my seat, frantically turning the pages, desperate to see what was going to happen. The book is entertaining and enthralling with lots of action! It’s well written and very cleverly plotted – I had a few suspicions but was very surprised by how everything was resolved. There are several threads to the story but they’re woven together well, though I did have to have a think about everything at the end and put it all together. I almost want to reread straightaway to see all the hints and clues that I missed!

This was actually the first book of C.J. Tudor’s that I’ve read but I’ve got The Chalk Man, The Taking of Annie Thorn and The Other People on my shelves so I’m looking forward to catching up!

Buy the book

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

C.J. Tudor‘s love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and has sold in over 40 countries. Her second novel, The Taking of Annie Thorne, was also a Sunday Times bestseller, as was her third novel, The Other People.

Over the years, she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voiceover and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. She lives in Sussex with her family.

Twitter: @cjtudor
Facebook: @CJTudorOfficial
Instagram: @cjtudorauthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Gaby Young at Michael Joseph Books for my digital copy of The Burning Girls and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

Blog tour: 11 January to 12 February 2021

Synopsis

Three brothers are at the funeral.
One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother’s unequal love. As men, the competition continues – for status, money, fame, women …

They each betray one another, over and over, until one of them is murdered.

But which one?

My review

Told from the viewpoints of three brothers, William, Brian and Luke, Our Little Cruelties is a fascinating look at the disturbing dynamics of the Drumm family. The novel tells the story of the brothers from early childhood in 1976 to the untimely death of one of the men in March 2018. We know from the funeral scene at the beginning of the book that one brother has come to a nasty end, but we don’t know which one.

We first hear from the oldest brother, William, who has his own film production company, a wife called Susan and a daughter, Daisy. Next up is Luke, a singer in a band, who is also an addict and has lots of mental health problems. As a child, he got very into religion and behaved quite strangely and has a difficult relationship with his mother. Brian is the middle brother and the more non-descript one – he bounces between William and Luke, trying to stay involved in their lives and syphon money off them where he can.

The boys’ mother, Melissa, was 15 years younger than their father (who died when the boys were in their mid/late teens), and she was a showband singer and actress and even years after the peak of her career, she still expected people to know who she was. She’s quite selfish and self-absorbed, and has been affected by events in her past.

The brothers are all really close in age: Brian was born 14 months after William and their mother was pregnant with Luke two months after that. As a result, they’ve always battled for their parents’ affections, particularly from their mother, who doesn’t treat them all the same. The brothers are all rather selfish and take each other for granted. They’re jealous and competitive and always trying to outdo each other, often in a nasty way.

The timeline hops about and, as the story progressed, I found myself flicking back to earlier sections to compare each brother’s view of what had happened. It was interesting to see the same events from each of their perspectives as things often varied wildly! I imagine the truth was a combination of the experiences of all three! I’m curious to know the logic to the timeline and the order of the chapters – I couldn’t figure out how it all fitted together but it worked very well!

Overall, I really enjoyed this fascinating character-driven novel about a rather dysfunctional family, none of whom seemed to actually like each other very much! The family dynamics are very intriguing and they all seem to have very unhealthy relationships with each other and with other people. The brothers are unpleasant and all damaged to some extent and it makes uncomfortable reading at times, especially their treatment of women and Luke’s mental health issues.

This was an intriguing, well-layered and cleverly plotted novel. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you have to try and put all the pieces together but they don’t always fit! We’re only told a third of the story each time, from a specific angle. The truth is somewhere in the middle of the recollections of all three men. It makes for a compelling, if disturbing, read. I almost feel like going back to the beginning and start the book again, to see how everything plays out once I know what actually happens.

This was the first book by Liz Nugent that I’ve read but I’ve got all her others on my shelves so will definitely be picking up another one soon!

Buy the book

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Before becoming a full-time writer, Liz Nugent worked in Irish film, theatre and television. Her four novels – Our Little Cruelties, Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep – have each been number one bestsellers in Ireland and she has won four Irish book awards (two for Skin Deep). She lives in Dublin with her husband.

Twitter: @lizzienugent
Instagram: @liznugentwriter
Website: http://www.liznugent.ie

Blog tour

Thanks to Ellie Hudson at Viking Books for my copy of Our Little Cruelties and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banners below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Captive by Deborah O’Connor

Blog tour: 4 to 24 January 2021

Synopsis

The cage is installed in Hannah’s kitchen. Small, the size of a shopping centre parking space. A bed, a basin, a table and chair. A hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food and other items.

Then there’s him. Always there on the edges of her vision, no matter how hard she tries to block him out. Every day, the same thoughts run through Hannah’s mind:

What if he speaks to me?
What if he hurts me?
What if he gets out?

In a near-future justice system Jem, the murderer of Hannah’s husband, arrives at her home to serve out his twenty-year sentence in a cell. There it’s hoped he will learn the true cost of his terrible crime.

But Jem tells Hannah he’s innocent, and not only that, her husband had been lying to her. Soon Hannah begins to question everything she thought she knew. Was Jem wrongly convicted? Or is he simply a desperate man, willing to say and do anything that might grant his freedom?

Only he can unlock the truth. Only she can set him free.

Extract

I’m delighted to share an extract of The Captive with you today.


‘The worst prison would be a closed heart’

Pope John Paul II

‘Restore is an Old Norse term. It means, literally, to raise once more the
wooden stocks, staur, that have fallen down … to rebuild the house’

Professor Nils Christie, A Suitable Amount of Crime


Hannah

The man who had murdered Hannah’s husband was due to arrive at midday.

Half an hour, and her home would no longer be her own.

She’d tried to keep busy all morning – cleaning, washing up, doing laundry – anything to take her mind off what was about to happen. Now though, she found herself adrift, stranded in a corner of the kitchen with nothing to do but wait.

She curled her hands in on themselves, tightening and squeezing. Still, they trembled.

I do not want him here.

The urge to scream was overwhelming.

Slowly, she approached the barred cage now fixed to the wall in the middle of the room. The cell was small, the same footprint as a shopping centre parking space, and yet they’d managed to cram in a bed, basin, screened toilet, cupboard and a table and chair. A hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food, dirty dishes, commissary items and any post the prisoner might receive had been incorporated into a section to the left of the cell door.

The prisoner.

No one could be sure why he did it – he’d entered a not guilty plea – but the consensus in court was that it had been a mugging gone wrong.

She ran her fingers across the steel bars. A harsh metallic noise ricocheted around the room. Heart jittering, she considered the door. Despite regular practice, she’d yet to master the lock. It was strange. She was expert at fashioning the tiny sugar-paste flowers and fondant animal figures that sat atop the bespoke cakes she made for a living but this, a key so large it looked like it had been found at the bottom of a prop drawer and a bulky government issue deadbolt, had her beat. Fear, it turned out, could do that to a person.

She wafted her apron and leaned toward the fan. It was the last week in September but the heat was oppressive, the temperature in the high twenties and set to rise. It had been the same for weeks, London looped into a nightmarish summer that showed no intention of ending any time soon. The cherry blossoms that lined her street had re-bloomed, the flowers pinking their way through crumbly autumn leaves, and everywhere you looked, confused daffodils lurched from the soil.

She steadied her fingers as best she could and grabbed the key. She wanted to try to get it right at least once before the prisoner arrived.

Technically, her ineptitude wasn’t a problem. The lock was electromechanical and operated remotely via the device she now had to wear on a rope round her neck. The deadbolt was nothing more than a fail-safe. A backup in the event of a power cut. It didn’t matter if it took her two or even ten times to get it right because she would be doing it with the prisoner already secure in his cell. For Hannah though, being able to operate the lock was important. She’d spent time on message boards in preparation for today and one of the things the more experienced Hosts talked about was how critical it was to show the prisoner you were in control right from the off. ‘This is your house,’ said Malorie21, who’d hosted her burglar in the box room of her 1930s semi for the last nine months, ‘your space. Make sure they know it. Take ownership.’

For Hannah ownership meant having the knack. Only she knew how to waggle the handle on the washing machine whenever it refused to open or how long to leave the bathroom tap before it ran hot. She wanted the cell door to be no different.

She lined the key up to the slot and was about to give it another go when she sensed someone behind her.

‘You’ll be quite safe.’

She jumped and the key clattered to the floor.

Mr Dalgleish. Hannah’s Domestic Liaison Officer (DLO). He’d been doing a final survey of the house and must have come back down to the basement without her noticing. Tall with a ‘hup-two’ posture hardwired during his military service, Mr Dalgleish refused to tell Hannah his first name (‘Helps keep things proper’) and was working full time despite being two months into chemotherapy for bowel cancer.

He picked up the key and passed it to her.

‘Just checking,’ she said, trying to keep her voice steady.

He smiled sympathetically as though he knew something about her she had yet to realise, then stopped, noticing the row of sponge cakes on the side. She’d made them the night before.

‘You better not have baked a file into one of those,’ he said, wagging a finger.

‘They’re for a client. A christening,’ said Hannah, so on edge she failed to register the joke. ‘I had to do the bases yesterday otherwise I wouldn’t have enough time to ice.’

‘I was kidding, obviously.’ He sniffed and brushed a piece of lint from his shoulder. ‘You’re the last person who’d want to help him escape.’

Hannah looked again at the cakes, each one sealed inside a glass cloche. She’d agreed to the job because she couldn’t afford to turn down new clients, no matter how inconvenient. John’s death in service pay had gone toward what had turned out to be his surprisingly large credit card debt and her police widow’s pension amounted to eight grand per annum. Not nearly enough to cover the bills, let alone her rent.

Now though she was struck by a horrible thought. Would the prisoner think she’d made the cakes for him, to welcome him? There’d been some Hosts on the message boards who believed wholeheartedly in the merits of the system. They had talked of preparing a special meal for their inmate’s first night. A lasagne, a roast chicken. One person had made a strawberry trifle for dessert.

She took the top of her dungarees between her fingers. At least there was no chance of him thinking she’d gone to any effort with her appearance. The denim was frayed, a hole forming in the right knee, her apron raggedy, its blue and white daisy pattern blotched with stains. The rest of her was no better. Her hair was the kind of white blond that emboldened strangers to come up to her on the Tube, cock their head to one side and say, ‘Swedish?’ but she hadn’t felt much like washing it this last week and so today it was more of a dirty straw colour, tied into a lank bun that lolled from side to side. No, she looked quite plain. The only thing of note was her amber pendant – a gift from John – and she’d tucked it out of sight down the front of her vest.

John was always getting her things, whether it be a daisy he’d found growing in a pavement crack on his way home, the underside of its petals tinged pink, a new Thermomix when her old one broke down, or a pain au chocolat, still warm, from the bakery at the bottom of their street. He always said that the manner of giving was worth more than any gift, that – his offerings to her aside – the most generous thing you could give someone was something they had no idea was a gift in the first place. He was fifteen years older than Hannah and his hair had been thick and white, having gone that way in his twenties, and sometimes when he went without shaving, Hannah would tease that he looked more like Santa Claus than a Met detective.

She felt for the nub of amber beneath her vest. The pendant wasn’t to her usual taste; she preferred delicate jewellery – frail strings of gold or thin bracelets of silver, tasselled with tiny charms – but she figured John had chosen it because of the way the stone matched the streak of tannin in her eyes. Like so many objects she’d once paid no mind – the bottle of hot sauce on the top shelf of the fridge that John added to everything from scrambled eggs to shepherd’s pie, the Billie Holiday vinyl they’d liked to slow-dance to before bed – the necklace helped her feel as though John was still around, that any minute now he’d walk through the front door and tell her this had all been a terrible mistake.

A beep. Mr Dalgleish’s phone. He checked the screen.

‘Oh.’

He seemed disappointed.

For a moment Hannah was visited by an impossible hope. There’d been a change of plan. The prisoner wouldn’t be coming after all.

‘Better finish up.’ He smiled reluctantly, as though he’d just conceded a point in an argument. ‘They’re two minutes away.’

A crush of disappointment and then Hannah’s head began to ring with the same questions that had haunted her since the guilty verdict.

What if he gets out?

What if he tries to hurt me?

During her Host training Mr Dalgleish had reassured her again and again that the system was secure, that the protocols would protect her, that she’d soon relax into it. But Hannah had heard the stories; she knew she couldn’t let her guard down, not for one second.

He performed a final lap of the kitchen, checking for objects the prisoner might be able to get at through the bars. His hair was black and dead straight, worn in a dashing Clark Gable sideparting. As he walked he rubbed absent-mindedly at a point just above the nape and a clump came loose and drifted to the floor. The first time Hannah had seen this happen they’d been midway through one of their training sessions. Mr Dalgleish’s face had crumpled and, after picking it up with a monogrammed handkerchief, he’d told her about his cancer and how he’d decided to continue working during the treatment, partly because he wanted to but also because he needed the money. Then he’d parcelled the hair inside the handkerchief and placed it in his pocket, a look of such naked humiliation on his face that Hannah had had to turn away.

Since then, whenever a tuft fell out Hannah would either pretend not to notice or, if he didn’t see, she would, with a sideswipe of her foot, discreetly shift the hair out of view. She did this now. Later, when he was gone, she’d sweep it into the bin.

Hannah clocked her wedding rings, still on the side by the sink. She’d taken them off to wash up. She replaced her gold band and was about to put on her engagement ring when she heard the growl of a van pulling up outside.

A thump on the front door.

What if he gets out?

What if he tries to hurt me?

‘Here we go,’ said Mr Dalgleish. He grabbed the white oval round his neck, identical to her own. ‘Black button to lock up, red in case he causes you any trouble. Remember, if you press the red one we’ll send someone out to check on you within half an hour.’ He made eye contact and held it. ‘It needs to be second nature, you understand?’

Hannah nodded, then followed him toward the stairs that led from the basement kitchen to the hall. He reached the front door and went to open it but, as usual, the Yale lock refused to play ball. He fudged it twice before Hannah placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘This is my house,’ she said, loud enough for the people on the other side of the door to hear. She stepped forward. ‘Let me.’

Buy the book

The Captive by Deborah O’Connor can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Deborah O’Connor is a writer and TV producer responsible for well-loved programmes such as ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’ and ‘A League of Their Own’. She lives in North Yorkshire with her husband and daughter. Deborah’s first novel was the bestseller, My Husband’s Son, and she followed this with The Dangerous Kind.

Twitter: @deboc77
Instagram: @deborahleighoconnor

Blog tour

Thanks to Clare Kelly at Bonnier Books for my copy of The Captive and to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Marlow Murder Club by Robot Thorogood

Blog tour: 18 to 22 January 2021

Synopsis

To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero …

Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy. She lives on her own in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there’s no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy she sets crosswords for The Times newspaper.

One evening, while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder. The local police don’t believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself, and is soon joined in her quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog-walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local Vicar.

Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.

When another body turns up, they realise they have a real-life serial killer on their hands. And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape …

My review

One evening, while swimming in the Thames near her mansion, which was inherited from her great aunt, 77-year-old Judith Potts is horrified to hear the noise of a gunshot coming from the garden opposite, where her neighbour, Stefan Dunwoody, lives. She’s not sure what’s going on so swims home quickly and phones the police.

When a police officer arrives half an hour later, takes a cursory glance around and drives off, Judith is annoyed and, after speaking to Detective Sergeant Tanika Malik, who rather dismisses her fears that art gallery owner Stefan has come to harm, Judith stews on things and decides to punt across the river and investigate for herself.

Even after Judith makes the shocking discovery of Stefan’s body in the river, the police still don’t take her seriously and claim it could be a terrible accident or suicide. She’s determined and has a clever mind – she compiles cryptic crosswords for national newspapers – and she begins to carry out her own investigations about the circumstances surrounding Mr Dunwoody’s death, carefully piecing together clues and snippets of information that she discovers.

Judith meets the vicar’s wife, Rebecca (Becks) Starling, in slightly strange circumstances at the church, and then, after a second person is murdered, she tracks down a woman who was filmed leaving the house of the victim. This woman is Suzie Harris, a local dog walker, and after some persuasion from Judith, the trio eventually join forces to try and solve the murders, which are causing a big stir in Marlow.

Judith is feisty, unflappable, nosy and not afraid to get involved in police matters. She cleverly gathers information from DS Malik every time she asks her how the case is going! In her dark grey, woollen cape, Judith is rather eccentric and a big hoarder but she’s also intelligent, methodical and likable, with a wry sense of humour.

The other characters are well rounded and also have hidden depths, which we discovered as they got to know each other better. I liked the vicar’s wife, Becks, who isn’t as meek as she seems and Suzie is an unusual character who’s difficult to get the measure of. There are some very funny moments as the women try to gather evidence to solve the crimes. Acting senior investigating officer, DS Malik, seems well and truly out of her depth but ends up making some bold decisions too!

Overall, I really enjoyed The Marlow Murder Club and I raced through it in a few hours, desperate to find out whodunnit! It’s an entertaining and engaging murder mystery story, well written and cleverly plotted. I didn’t have a clue who the murderer was and there were some clever twists and turns, which had me totally flummoxed!

Judith, especially, is intriguing with a curious past and back story. She reminds me of Jessica Fletcher from the TV series, Murder She Wrote, or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple! I’m looking forward to finding out more about her in the next book in this cosy crime series. I’ll have to check out books from the author’s Death in Paradise series too.

Buy the book

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks. Or order using one of these links.

About the author

Robert Thorogood is an English screenwriter and novelist. He is best known as the creator of the internationally acclaimed BBC murder mystery series Death in Paradise, and has written a series of spin-off novels featuring Detective Inspector Richard Poole.

After graduating from Cambridge University, he spent many years supporting his writing career with a variety of temporary jobs, including dressing up in a full bear costume to taunt the then Prime Minister, John Major; being a magician at Hamley’s; and being employed to change the batteries in the remote controls for a minor branch of the Saudi Royal Family.

He’s been an avid fan of murder mysteries since he read his first Agatha Christie novel, Peril at End House, at the age of 10. So far, he has written four Death in Paradise mystery novels.

He now lives in Marlow in Buckinghamshire with his wife, children and two whippets called Wally and Evie.

Twitter: @robthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of The Marlow Murder Club and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Rescue Me by Sarra Manning

Blog tour: 1 to 31 January 2021

Synopsis

Margot doesn’t have time for love.

Will is afraid to love.

And neither of them are expecting to fall in love with Blossom: a gentle Staffy with a tragic past, a belly made for rubbing and a head the size of a football.

After their first meeting at the rescue centre, both Margot and Will want to adopt Blossom so reluctantly agree to share custody. But Will’s obsession for micro-managing and clear-cut boundaries and Margot’s need to smother Blossom with affection, means that soon they have a very confused and badly behaved dog on their hands.

Can they put their differences aside to become successful ‘co-pawrents’ and maybe even friends? And meanwhile, does Blossom have plans of her own?

My review

After the break-up of her two-year relationship and having to give up her cantankerous cat, Percy, Margot Millwood, 36, decides to adopt a dog from the local rehoming shelter. She goes there with her friend, Tracy, originally from New Zealand, who she’s known for 18 years since they were at fashion college together.

Will has spent the last 20 years working in Boston, Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong and New York for a couple of investment banks but takes a year’s sabbatical from work after the pressure gets too much and moves back home to help with the family florist business in Muswell Hill. He’s been having therapy for the last year but hasn’t had a panic attack for months and has stopped taking antidepressants and feels a lot happier. After an off-the-cuff comment about his avoidance of emotional connections by his therapist, Will decides to volunteer at a rescue kennel.

Margot looks at a few dogs and then sees the timid and cowering Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Blossom, aged about three, and falls in love with her. She bursts into tears when told she can’t reserve the dog because she’s away with work for a week. This is where Will steps in and he offers to foster Blossom.

After a rather stressful week where Will wonders what he’s let himself in for, he realises that he can’t give up Blossom and him and Margot come to an arrangement whereby they’ll become co-pawrents and alternate looking after the dog for a week at a time.

At first, Will and Margot clash about Blossom’s care and try to outdo each other for her affections. Not helped by them both saying one thing and doing another with regards to her food, treats and sleeping arrangements! After one particularly traumatic walk, they decide to enrol Blossom in doggy training classes to sort out her behavioural issues as she’s basically acting like a small child and playing them off against each other!

As the trio get closer and learn more about other, what follows is a journey of discovery for them all, and they learn to trust each other, with Will and Margot eventually opening up about their pasts. The pair are both complicated characters and quite stubborn. They both had difficult childhoods but for very different reasons. It was emotional to read about what happened to them both.

Margot is a bit of a funny woman – she’s too chatty, interrupts people when they’re talking, analyses everything far too much and says her daily affirmations! But she’s lovely and kind and caring and always says the right things to people. She also has a great sense of humour and made me chuckle at some of the things she came out with. Margot has lovely relationships with her friends, who are very caring and protective of her.

Will was a bit harder to read and I wasn’t sure about him at first. It wasn’t until I got a bit further into the story that I realised why he acted the way he did. Will’s family are lovely, cheerful and welcoming, despite facing various traumas over the years.

Blossom is adorable! I’m not really much of a dog fan but she regularly tugged at my heart strings and I loved her antics! She’d obviously had a hard start to life but her bravery and lovely little character shone through!

Overall, I really enjoyed Rescue Me! It’s a lovely light-hearted story but also has some darker elements to it and a hidden depth. The novel was well written and engaging and I liked the way the story developed. It’s a heart-warming tale of a damaged little dog who brings together two people who are also damaged by their life experiences, and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy! A perfect antidote for these troubled times!

Buy the book

Rescue Me by Sarra Manning can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Charlie Hopkinson

Sarra Manning has been a voracious reader for over 40 years and a prolific author and journalist for 25 years.

Her seven novels, which have been translated into 15 different languages, include Unsticky, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, The House of Secrets and The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp.

She started her writing career on Melody Maker and Just Seventeen, has been editor of ElleGirl and What To Wear and has also contributed to The Guardian, ELLE, Grazia, Stylist, Fabulous, Stella, You Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and is currently the Literary Editor of Red magazine.

Sarra has also written over 15 young adult novels, and light-hearted romantic comedies under a pseudonym. She has also been a Costa Book Awards judge and has been nominated for various writing awards herself.

She lives in London surrounded by piles and piles of books.

Twitter: @sarramanning
Facebook: @sarramanningbooks
Instagram: @sarra_manning

Blog tour

Thanks to Niamh Anderson at Hodder & Stoughton for my copy of Rescue Me and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello by Chris McDonald

Blog tour: 12 to 25 January 2021

Synopsis

Wedding bells are chiming in the idyllic, coastal town of Stonebridge. For Sam and Emily, it should be the happiest day of their lives. But on the morning of the ceremony, the best man is found dead. The police quickly write his death off as a tragic accident, but something doesn’t seem right to wedding guest and groomsman, Adam Whyte.

Armed with an encyclopaedic, but ultimately ridiculous knowledge of television detective shows and an unwarranted confidence in his own abilities, Adam and his best friend (and willing Watson) Colin, set out to uncover what actually happened to Daniel Costello.

My review

After really enjoying Chris McDonald’s DI Erika Piper series, I was excited to read The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello, which is the first in The Stonebridge Mysteries series of cosy crime novellas.

A month after his stag do in Ibiza, it’s time for Sam McMullan’s wedding to Emily Campbell, which will take place at the exclusive Milton Manor in Stonebridge, on the north coast of Northern Ireland.

Adam Whyte is one of the groomsmen and he still lives with his mum after a failed attempt to earn a psychology degree at Queens University in Belfast. He’s looking forward to the wedding weekend, especially as his best friend since primary school, Colin McLaughlin, will be there.

On the first night, everyone has rather too much to drink and there are a few flashpoints as the twentysomethings, who know each other from school or uni, fill up on lager, spirits and shots, and attempt to strut their stuff on the dancefloor.

At breakfast the next morning, most people are feeling a bit worse for wear and there’s no sign of the best man, Daniel (Danny) Costello. The groom, Sam, asks Adam if he’s seen Danny. Adam is struggling not to throw up and offers to head off to see if he can find him.

After entering Danny’s hotel room, he’s horrified to find him lying dead in the bed. Adam holds it together long enough to phone the police then throws up outside in a bush.

It’s the Twelfth weekend, a busy time of the year for the local police, and the few officers who do eventually arrive soon proclaim that the death isn’t suspicious and head off, leaving Danny’s body in the hotel room. Adam and Colin aren’t so sure and decide to carry out their own unofficial investigation and speak to some of the other wedding guests.

What follows is an amusing amateur detecting session (with some highly lucky breaks!) as the two men style themselves as Sherlock Holmes (Adam) and Dr Watson (Colin) and get to work on trying to solve the murder of their friend.

At just under 100 pages, this is a quick read and it’s a shame it wasn’t a little longer, with even more twists and turns and backstory, but it’s great fun and cleverly written. It’s an entertaining novella and well plotted, with some amusing moments throughout. I particularly liked the chapter titles, which gave a great insight into what was to come! The story unfolded well and, looking back, there were clues scattered throughout the pages but I think I missed most of them!

The main characters of Adam and Colin are well described and I enjoyed following their amateur sleuthing as they tried to figure out who would want to kill Daniel and why. I had a few suspects as the novel unfolded but I was surprised by the big reveal! It’s a good job I wasn’t helping out!

I really enjoyed this well-paced novella and I’m already looking forward to book two and seeing how this series develops! Great stuff!

Buy the book

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello by Chris McDonald can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo. Or purchase the paperback directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in south Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, the Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime.

A Wash of Black was his first attempt at writing a book. He came up with the initial idea whilst feeding his baby in the middle of the night, which may not be the best thing to admit, considering the content. Whispers in the Dark is the second instalment in the DI Erika Piper series.

He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs.

Twitter: @cmacwritescrime
Facebook: @cmacwritescrime
Website: https://macsbookreview.wordpress.com
Instagram: @cmacwritescrime

Blog tour

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton

Blog tour: 19 November to 3 December 2020

Synopsis

This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dancehalls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more …

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning … but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

My review

Set mainly in Morecambe, in the period from the 1950s to the New Millennium, In the Sweep of the Bay tells the story of a couple called Edward (Ted) and Irene (Rene) Marshall. We find out more about their courting days, their wedding, bringing up two children and their twilight years, and all the little battles and struggles, high points and lows, that they experience over the years.

It was a way of showing she loved him. She wished she could say it, wished they could say it to one another, like they did in the early days. She didn’t know what had happened to the words, why they wouldn’t come out.

Ted works for the family ceramics firm, S. & L. Marshall, leaving school aged 15 to be an apprentice and eventually taking over as head of the firm. Rene did have an office job but gave this up when they got married. The couple still love each other but have forgotten how to communicate and have slowly drifted apart. They just need to reach out to each other and show that they care.

They forgot the happiness. Or rather, they pushed it away. But it was there, all their lives, waiting to surprise them. Now and again it did.

We also meet a street sweeper who looks after the Eric Morecambe statue, learn more about a couple called Vincenzo and Henry and their relationship/friendship, and we also get to know Rene and Ted’s daughters, Margaret (Peg) and Dorothy (Dot), their granddaughter, Cecily, and Ted’s young personal assistant, 20 years his junior, Madge Turner.

The story includes little snippets of life and put together they create a rich tapestry of life and all its elements: relationships, marriage, children, work and death.

This is a poignant and touching read, and beautifully written with simple but pertinent observations. At times, sad, but also with moments of joy when the characters are enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I also liked the lovely descriptions of the town with its Eric Morecambe statue!

A reminder of happiness to ease the sorrowful times.

It’s a cleverly observed novella and touches upon the negative elements of life and marriage: apathy, boredom, complacency, niggles, taking each other for granted and a lack of communication, effort and intimacy. It also shows the defined and expected roles of couples in the 1950s and 1960s and the sacrifices that women were expected to make. Rene gave up her job to be Ted’s wife and a mother, and their daughter had to forfeit a place at university too.

Realising how little we know of other people’s lives, even our own parents. Perhaps especially our own parents.

It’s a thought-provoking and touching read and there were some lovely phrases and observations in the book – I’ve quoted a few above – and I will definitely be rereading In the Sweep of the Bay again at some point soon. I look forward to checking out the author’s other novella, The Plankton Collector, and reading her work in the future.

Buy the book

In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks. It’s also available to buy as an eBook and paperback from the Louise Walters Books bookshop.

About the author

© Toril Brancher

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny, Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.

Twitter: @CathBarton1
Website: https://cathbarton.com
Louise Walters Books: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/cath-barton

Blog tour

Thanks to Louise Walters Books for my digital copy of In the Sweep of the Bay and to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Foul Play: Murder mystery card game

Blog tour: 2 to 11 December 2020

Game details

Foul Play: The Manor House Murder

Welcome to Edwardian England. The Lord of the Manor is dead! The servants are our lead suspects and it’s up to you to unearth the evidence, seek out the suspects and catch the culprit in order to scupper the other sleuths, and win this game of murder!

There’s more than one way to catch a killer though. So what’s it gonna be? Good Cop or Bad Cop? These two game versions come with their own set of rules and tactics to crack the case and finger your suspect, but will you use fair play or FOUL PLAY?

The game is afoot! Playing as detective, you’ll need to find the three evidence cards that point to a specific suspect in order to catch a killer in this crazy criminal caper. Will you uncover them in the crime scene? Could the other detectives be willing to collaborate and share their findings? Or will you resort to more tricky tactics, and plunder the proof you need to solve this crime?

A game for 2–5 players | Age 14 +
£8.95 + p&p

My review

Foul Play by After Dark Murder Mystery Events is a fun murder mystery card game for two to five players (aged 14 plus) and I was excited to take part in the blog tour and be one of the first to try it out!

The Lord of the Manor, Lord D’Arque, has been murdered and there are eight suspects to the crime: the servants of the manor. They are Mortimer Throttle (chauffeur), Frau Vermuten (governess), Harry Hemlock (gardener), Lilith Lynch (housekeeper), Ivy Smothers (maid), Cillian Lynch (stablehand), Olive Mangle (cook) and Mason Smothers (butler). Each suspect has various distinguishing features, is wearing various items of clothing/jewellery and carrying a potential murder weapon, and some of them are related.

Foul Play consists of a pack of 52 game cards and four instruction cards. The cards are red, blue, green and purple and there are 13 of each. The red cards include cards for the eight suspects and various action cards (block, crime scene, fair play, foul play, full cooperation, interrogate and red herring). There are five blue Evidence A cards, five green Evidence B cards, five purple Evidence C cards and various action cards.

Both games need to be set up in the formation shown:

You can play the game as good cops or bad cops and there are a set of instructions for each method of play. The Good Cop game is shorter and there is only one set of evidence (A, B, C) cards, whereas the Bad Cop game takes longer and the evidence changes. You must have three evidence cards and a suspect card in your possession to win the Bad Cop game but, as long as you’ve seen all three evidence cards, you just need the card for the person you want to accuse in the Good Cop game.

I have to admit that we struggled to work out what to do initially and were a little confused by the evidence cards and how to set up the game, so we checked out the instructions online. We started by trying to play the Bad Cop game but I’d recommend starting with the Good Cop one as it’s shorter and it give you a good overview of the game techniques; it’s simpler as the evidence remains the same. It would be good if there was a walkthrough video on the website showing you how to set up each game, just to get people started. We were also a little confused about playing the action cards and whether we needed to pick up a replacement card or not, but I’m sure this will become clearer as we explore the game even more.

I played the game with my husband, Mark, and once we’d got in the swing of things, we had great fun doing the Good Cop game and attempting to pull our best poker faces! In one of the games we played, I was convinced that I had the correct suspect card (Cillian Lynch) but Mark pulled a win out of the bag by revealing that he’d seen the third and final evidence card and the murderer was actually Mason Smothers! Denied!

My husband got annoyed when I kept using the foul play action to steal his cards so we agreed not to use those in order not to force the end of the game as the case has gone cold!

The game is quite varied, with two different techniques of play required for the Bad Cop and Good Cop versions, and we had fun trying to work out how and when to use the action cards. A few times I thought I’d played a good card but it actually didn’t work out that way! It’s definitely a game you need to play a few times to identify the best strategies!

The Bad Cop game is a bit trickier to play with two people and lasts longer as all 52 cards are in play. We need to spend a bit more time getting the hang of this one and learning how to play it properly.

The game is different every time as the evidence and suspect changes and I liked the fact there were two games in one, adding to the variety. It can even be played with more than five players if you purchase extra decks.

Overall, once we knew what we were doing, we had great fun playing this entertaining game! The game play is varied and the logic is good. I can imagine us playing it lots over Christmas with other family members and maybe trying to adapt it so that our children (aged 4 and 6) can play too. It would be good to play with more people and increase the competitiveness!

There’s scope for the creators to bring out different versions too and it would be fun to play the game if it was set in another location and with an alternative cast of characters!

For more information about the game, including the rules of play, action and suspect cards, and FAQs, visit the Foul Play website.

Buy the game

Foul Play: The Manor House Murder, the murder mystery card game, can be purchased online from the Foul Play shop for £8.95 plus postage.

About the creators

Game concept: Ben and Lee Cooper-Muir
Character design and illustration: James Lawrence
Graphic design: Ian Robinson

Twitter: @afterdarkmurder
Facebook: @afterdarkmystery
Instagram: @afterdarkmurder
Website: https://www.afterdarkmurder.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks very much to After Dark Murder Mystery Events for my Foul Play card game pack and to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden

Publication day blitz

Synopsis

Lucas Findlay thinks he has struck gold when he marries Rebecca, but she married him for one reason only – to destroy him.

Trauma runs deep

When her past comes back to haunt her, Rebecca begins to disconnect from herself and the world around her. As secrets are unearthed, she begins to fear for her sanity … and her life.

Truth will out

With her world unravelling around her, Rebecca clings to her determination to make Lucas pay, whatever the cost.

Forgive his sins

But someone must pay for the sins of the father …

Buy the book

Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. Or purchase a copy directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

By day, Sharon Bairden is the services manager in a small, local independent advocacy service and has a passion for human rights; by night, she has a passion for all things criminal. She blogs about books at Chapterinmylife and is delighted to be crossing over to the other side of the fence to become a writer.

Sharon lives on the outskirts of Glasgow, has two grown up children, a grandson, a Golden Labrador and a cat. She spends most of her spare time doing all things bookish, from reading to attending as many book festivals and launches as she can. She has been known to step out of her comfort zone on the odd occasion and has walked over burning coals and broken glass – but not at the same time!

Twitter: @sbairden

Thanks

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for the publicity materials for the Sins of the Father publication day blitz.

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33 Women by Isabel Ashdown

Blog tour: 23 to 27 November 2020

Synopsis

33 women … one big secret

When sisters Celine and Pip get a call telling them their reclusive mother has died, the women are reunited. But someone is missing – their middle sister, Vanessa, murdered years ago and the victim of an unsolved case.

The discovery of another body in similar circumstances raises questions about Vanessa’s death. What do the mysterious residents of Two Cross Farm, the women’s commune, have to do with it? What secrets are lurking behind their locked gates? And what is the significance of the number 33?

My review

After the death of their estranged mother, Delilah Murphy, sisters Celine and Pip (and her daughters, Olive and Beebee) head to her rather grand house (called Belle France) in Arundel, West Sussex, where she’s lived for over 17 years. Their mother’s old friend and their ‘auntie’, Una, 57, is the executor of the will and is helping the women to arrange her funeral. Pip, her husband, Stefan, and their children live in the old family home in Kingston and Una still lives next door.

While sorting Delilah’s belongings for charity, the women are paid a visit by the police who tell them that a 24-year-old American chef called Robyn Siegle has been found dead, in suspicious circumstances, on the river bank a mile away. The police think she was a resident of the woman’s commune, Two Cross Farm, which is a big gated property down the road from Belle France.

Celine and Pip’s sister, Vanessa, died in March 2005, aged 20, and her body was discovered on Brighton pier, which is 20 miles away. It was thought that her boyfriend, Jem Falmer, murdered her but he disappeared and his whereabouts are unknown. The women believe there is a connection between the two deaths and Una, a former detective at Scotland Yard, speaks to an old colleague, Detective Inspector Dave Aston of Sussex Police, to see if the 15-year-old case can be reopened.

The short, snappy chapters alternate between the present day (May 2020), which tells Celine’s story, and various periods of time (mid-1970s, 1990s and the present day) at Two Cross Farm, which are told from a woman called Bramble’s viewpoint.

Two Cross Farm was set up in 1976 by the six Founding Sisters, Bramble, Fern, Kathy, Regine, Susan and later, Seed, who is the current leader. It is a place of sanctuary and ‘a shelter from oppression, a place women can settle, free of their chains of enslavement, where they may never fear the raised hand of violence again’. Fern believes in the power of numbers and selected 33, the highest of the master numbers, as the maximum number of women who may stay at the farm at any one time. There is a code of conduct of 12 rules that all the women must abide by.

Seed is rather mysterious and intense and seems to be hiding numerous secrets: her own and that of the farm. All the women are rather secretive and reluctant to talk about things. Various incidents have obviously happened at Two Cross Farm over the years – nearly 400 women have stayed there since it was opened – but everyone is keeping quiet.

As Celine, Pip and Una look into the deaths of both women, with the help of DI Aston, and pay a visit to the commune to speak to Seed, things start to unravel at Two Cross Farm and they get nearer to discovering the truth about what happened to Vanessa and Robyn, and uncovering other well-hidden secrets.

Overall, I really enjoyed 33 Women – it was an intriguing and tense read with a well-plotted and gripping storyline. I had several theories as the story progressed but the twists and turns kept me guessing about exactly what was going on. The short, alternating chapters cleverly disclosed key elements of the plot and we found out more revealing details about various characters.

The descriptions of all the characters were good and I enjoyed getting to know Celine, Pip and Una. The sisters were obviously damaged by their upbringing but had pulled together to support each other and Una is a strong mother figure who cared deeply for the girls.

Two Cross Farm was also well described – very mysterious and atmospheric – and seemed a rather troubled and dubious place to live. The 12 rules were quite severe and women had to give up a lot to join the commune and conform to its way of life. It all made me feel rather uncomfortable, uneasy and suspicious!

The pacing of the story was good with lots of suspense and misdirection and, in several places, I was frantically turning the pages to see what was going to happen. It was compelling and engaging and there were some shocking revelations, which I hadn’t expected!

I already have several of the author’s other books on my Kindle and I look forward to reading them soon and checking out her future novels.

Buy the book

33 Women by Isabel Ashdown is released on 26 November and can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

With several critically-acclaimed novels already to her name, Isabel Ashdown first burst onto the thriller scene in 2017 with her Amazon bestseller, Little Sister. She has since seen two of her thrillers shortlisted in the prestigious Dead Good Reader Awards, and her dark family dramas continue to hook readers across the globe. 33 Women is her eighth unmissable novel.

Isabel was born in London and grew up on the south coast, where she now lives with her family and their two dogs, Charlie and Leonard. She is a full-time novelist, a Royal Literary Fund associate, and a regular creative writing host at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

Twitter: @IsabelAshdown
Facebook: @IsabelAshdownBooks
Instagram: @isabelashdown_writer
Website: https://isabelashdown.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Alainna Hadjigeorgiou at Orion Publishing for my copy of 33 Women and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Whispers in the Dark by Chris McDonald

Blog tour: 9 to 25 November 2020

Synopsis

Who will heed the call when Death comes whispering?

Small time drug dealer, Marcus Sharpe and DCI Clive Burston had never met until one night in August. By the end of that night, both had been shot dead in a small bedroom in the heart of gang territory. DI Erika Piper is called to the scene but is at a loss to explain what’s happened. How did these two even meet, let alone end up dead in what appears to be a strange murder-suicide?

As Erika leads the investigation, another two bodies are found, killed in a similar fashion. One murder, one suicide. But who is controlling this macabre puppet show? As Erika delves deeper into the lives of the dead, the pieces begin to fit together and a number of nefarious characters crawl out of the woodwork – one of whom is almost certainly pulling the strings.

A catastrophic event and a personal miracle threaten to derail the investigation. Erika must find the strength to continue, before the whispers catch up with her too …

My review

After really enjoying the first book in the Erika Piper series, A Wash of Black, I couldn’t wait to read the second instalment, Whispers in the Dark.

Set six months later, in August 2019, the story opens with Detective Inspector Erika Piper attending the wedding of her colleague, Detective Sergeant Liam Sutton. As most of their team are also at the reception, her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Bob Lovatt, has asked her to be on call in case there’s an emergency. Towards the end of the evening, just when she thinks she can relax, Erika receives a phone call requesting her help.

She heads a few miles down the road to a residential street where she discovers not one but two dead bodies waiting for her in the bedroom of a terraced house. The dead men are drug dealer and Bennett Street Rebels gang member, Marcus Sharpe, and, shockingly, DCI Clive Burston, who was on gardening leave after misplacing evidence, which lead to a suspect walking free.

Erika and the rest of the team investigate possible connections between the two men, coming up with all kinds of theories, and look into whether Sharpe’s dealing had got him into trouble with a rival gang called the Longsight Lunatics and their leader, Olly Pilkington.

While enjoying a meal at the Italian restaurant in Marple village in Manchester with her boyfriend, Tom, a former policeman and now security guard, she receives a call to say another two bodies have been found at St Peter and the Light Anglican church, which is next to the street where the other two men were discovered. One of the victims is another Bennett Street Rebels gang member, while the other is a woman this time.

The circumstances of the killings are bizarre and the police are now following a murder–suicide line of enquiry for both cases but are still completely confused about what’s going on, except for the fact that there is obviously a gang connection. Things are spiralling out of control! Will Erika and the team figure it all out before the killer or killers carry out more murders?

Whispers in the Dark is another superb read from the author and I flew through it in a few hours, frantically turning the pages to see how everything was going to be resolved! The pacing was good with lots of intrigue and tension to keep me entertained. There were several twists and turns and red herrings, as well as some shocking revelations, which I didn’t see coming at all.

Although the book is part of a series, I think it could be read as a standalone as events in the first book were mentioned in passing, to set the scene. I definitely recommend reading A Wash of Black first though as it helps you to get to know the characters and see the lovely rapport that Erika and Liam have.

I really enjoyed this gripping, action-packed and cleverly plotted police procedural. It was compelling, engaging and well put together, with great descriptions and attention to detail. I enjoyed spending more time with the main protagonist, DI Erika Piper, who yet again had an eventful time of it, and I hope we see her in another book soon!

Buy the book

Whispers in the Dark by Chris McDonald is released on 14 November and can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback. Or purchase paperback and hardback editions directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in south Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, the Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime.

A Wash of Black was his first attempt at writing a book. He came up with the initial idea whilst feeding his baby in the middle of the night, which may not be the best thing to admit, considering the content. Whispers in the Dark is the second instalment in the DI Erika Piper series, and Chris is currently working on his latest series, The Stonebridge Mysteries, to be published by Red Dog Press in 2021.

He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs.

Twitter: @cmacwritescrime
Facebook: @cmacwritescrime
Website: https://macsbookreview.wordpress.com
Instagram: @cmacwritescrime

Blog tour

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of Whispers in the Dark and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

Featured

Street Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary

Publication day blitz

Synopsis

A quiet life for Aubrey?

After spending several months banged up in Sunny Banks rescue centre, Aubrey, a large tabby cat, has finally found his forever home with Molly and Jeremy Goodman, and life is looking good.

However, all that changes when a serial killer begins to target elderly victims in the neighbourhood.

Aubrey wasn’t particularly upset by the death of some of the previous victims, including Miss Jenkins whom Aubrey recalls as a vinegar-lipped bitch of an old woman who enjoyed throwing stones at cats, but Mr Telling was different.

Mr Telling was a mate …

Please note: this is a revised second edition, which is being re-released ahead of the rest of the series.

Competition

Do you have a cat? Do you love cats?

Tweet a picture of your little terror to @RedDogTweets with the hashtag #CatWithABite and you will be entered in the cat hat to win a signed paperback copy of Street Cat Blues!

The competition is UK only and ends at midnight on Wednesday 4 November.

Buy the book

Street Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and Google Books. Or purchase a copy directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Alison O’Leary was born in London and, during her teenage years in Hertfordshire, she spent large amounts of time reading novels, watching daytime television and avoiding school. Failing to gain any qualifications in science whatsoever, the dream of being a forensic scientist collided with reality when a careers teacher suggested that she might like to work in a shop. Alison doesn’t think she meant Harrods. Later studying law, she decided to teach rather than go into practice and has spent many years teaching mainly criminal law and criminology to young people and adults.

Alison enjoys reading crime novels, doing crosswords, and drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order.

Twitter: @alisonoleary81
Website: https://www.alisonoleary.co.uk

Thanks

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for the publicity materials for the Street Cat Blues publication day blitz.

Featured

Inside Out by Chris McGeorge

Blog tour: 26 to 30 October 2020

Synopsis

She was sent down …
Cara Lockhart has just commenced a life sentence in HMP North Fern – the newest maximum security women’s prison in the country. She was convicted of a crime she is adamant she didn’t commit.

She was set up …
One morning she wakes up to find her cellmate murdered – shot in the head with a gun that is missing. The door was locked all night, which makes Cara the only suspect.

But that was just the beginning.
Cara needs to clear her name, unravelling an impossible case, with an investigation governed by a prison timetable.

But as Cara starts to learn more about North Fern and the predicament she is in, she finds connections between the past and present that she never could have imagined.

Indeed it seems that her conviction and her current situation might be linked in very strange ways …

My review

When Cara-Jane Lockhart, a 23-year-old prisoner serving a life sentence, is transferred from New Hall prison in Wakefield to North Fern in Buckinghamshire, she’s rather surprised to find herself at a new, futuristic prison that has its own rules and regulations.

At North Fern, prisoners wear Cuffs, which are like ID cards with a built-in tracker and allow them access to some areas and restrict where they can go. If the prisoners stray somewhere they shouldn’t, they get an electric shock. The prison guards also wear Cuffs.

The prison has impressive, state-of-the-art facilities and, rather than actual windows, there are multiple screens on the ceiling that show images of the sky. There are no clocks or any indication of time passing. Rather than time outside, the women have periods of illumination where the natural light system is turned on. The exercise yard is actually indoors and like a sports hall with mats and equipment, a wooden floor and gym equipment. It all feels like a bizarre social experiment.

The women aren’t allowed to have visitors, due to the seriousness of their crimes, but they can receive letters and small parcels from their families and friends. Movie night on Saturdays is compulsory and a rather repetitive event.

Cara was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’ at New Hall and her reputation has followed her to North Fern. She’s very wary of the other women and has a few run ins but soon makes friends with her cellmate, Stephanie Barnard, and the two women get into a routine and support each other.

When she wakes up one morning to find her cellmate dead, with a bullet hole in her forehead, Cara is horrified and protests her innocence. It seems futile with the overwhelming evidence against her – the pair were in a locked cell together and, despite a 12-second blank period in the camera feed, the systems prove that no one else had any access to the room.

As Cara is marched into an isolation cell, she’s left alone with her thoughts and decides that she needs to be strong and work out exactly what’s going on. There’s something really off about the prison but she has to remain calm and not give up, and work out the whys and hows of the situation and find the murder weapon if she has any hope of proving her innocence.

At first, there seems to be no reason why Cara has been set up but, as we learn more about past events, everything becomes clearer and there were some good twists and turns and a few aha moments!

I’m a big fan of books set in prisons and this was certainly a bit different and even more claustrophobic than your average establishment. Cara seemed the ultimate unreliable narrator – I was never sure if she was imagining things, lying or telling the truth. I wanted to like her but the crime she was convicted of was horrific and she seemed strangely detached from reality at times.

Overall, I really enjoyed Inside Out – it was entertaining, cleverly plotted and had a gripping storyline. Once I’d got into the story, I was frantically turning the pages to see how the main protagonist was going to get out of her impossible predicament. There were some interesting characters and I was never really sure who could be trusted. I had to suspend belief at times but that was all part of the charm!

I’ve already got the author’s other books, Guess Who and Now You See Me, on my Kindle and I’ll be checking them out soon!

Buy the book

Inside Out by Chris McGeorge can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Chris McGeorge is a graduate of MA Creative Writing (crime/thriller) from City University London where he wrote debut thriller, Guess Who, as his thesis. He told stories from an early age, writing and drawing comics and then scripts and finally novels. He loves Golden Age crime and gets incredibly excited about anything a little out of the ordinary. In his spare time, he is an actor with Durham Dramatic Society.

He lives in Durham with his hamster, Agatha Christie.

Twitter: @crmcgeorge
Facebook: @chris.mcgeorge.1

Blog tour

Thanks to Alainna Hadjigeorgiou at Orion Publishing for my copy of Inside Out and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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We Wait by Megan Taylor

Blog tour: 26 to 31 October 2020

Synopsis

The wealthy Crawleys can’t abide a scandal, so when fifteen-year-old Maddie’s behaviour causes concern, she’s packed off to the family’s country estate, along with her best friend, Ellie. But while Maddie is resentful, Ellie is secretly thrilled. A whole summer at Greywater House, which she’s heard so much about – and with Maddie, who she adores …

But from the moment the girls arrive, it’s clear there’s more to the house and the family than Ellie could ever have imagined. Maddie’s aunt, Natalie, and her bedridden grandmother are far from welcoming – and something has been waiting at Greywaters, something that flits among the shadows and whispers in the night.

As the July heat rises and the girls’ relationship intensifies, the house’s ghosts can’t be contained, and it isn’t just Ellie who has reason to be afraid. Three generations of the Crawley family must face their secrets when past and present violently collide.

‘Hill House for the 21st century: haunting, dark, and very, very real. Chilling and very sinister, but still rippled with the confusion of being a teenager, of first love, and of making impulsive mistakes. A masterpiece.’ – Anstey Harris

‘As poetic as it is unsettling, We Wait is an absolute triumph. The beautifully vivid prose is reminiscent of Du Maurier – both haunting and chilling at the same time. An eerie, clever, spine-tingling novel. This is Megan Taylor at her most thrillingly dark.’ – Kerry Hadley-Pryce

My review

From the chilling and rather disturbing prologue, I knew this coming-of-age novel set in an eerie country house was going to be a very creepy read and perfect for Halloween!

It’s 2016 and Sara Crawley is driving her 15-year-old daughter Madeleine (Maddie) and her friend, Eleanor (Ellie), to Greywater House where the teenagers are going to be spending the summer. Maddie has been involved in something scandalous at school and, as a result, her father, Hugo, wrote to his sister, Natalie, who lives at the house with their elderly mother, and asked if she could stay with them to give her parents a break.

Before they even get to Greywaters, strange things start happening and there’s sense of anticipation, fear and trepidation. It’s clear there’s something not right about the house; a feeling of evil and foreboding. Sara drops the girls off and talks to her sister-in-law but can’t wait to leave.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Maddie’s friend, Ellie, and her aunt, Natalie. Ellie’s mother is suffering from cancer and she’s looking forward to having some time to relax with her best friend after caring for her mum, who is going on a retreat. Natalie is also a carer for her elderly mother and resents looking after her while brother, Hugo, carries on with his life.

Natalie already seems to be dealing with enough without having two teenagers thrust on her as well! There are hints about something dark in her past, and a childhood friend called Jess often features in her memories.

Ellie has always had awful nightmares and she sleepwalks at the house. She’s upset about her mum but feels reckless and freer being there. She’s always had a bit of a crush on Maddie and looks up to her and the girls grow much closer in the claustrophobic and intense setting.

In the second part of the book, we’re whisked back to the summer of 1986 at Greywater House, where we learn about the events that brought us to where we are in the present day. Things are hinted at in the first part and all becomes clearer as we put the pieces of the puzzle together and work out exactly what’s happening. The story comes together in a dramatic, life-changing conclusion.

The house is old, dark, menacing and creepy and feels like it has a life of its own, with something lurking within the walls. Everything feels off and ominous, everyone begins to feel more and more and out of control and they’re all hiding secrets and waiting for something to happen. It’s like there’s a creeping, malignant force hiding in the house that taints all around it. It grabs hold of people and stops them from leaving.

Overall, I really enjoyed We Wait – it’s beautifully descriptive with lovely imagery. Megan Taylor creates an excellent sense of place in the dark, gloomy, disturbing and atmospheric location of Greywaters with its hostile grounds including various outbuildings, gardens and a deep, silver lake.

The novel is cleverly written, with an intriguing and compelling plot. There were some shocking moments and I was surprised by how the story unfolded, with its twists, turns and revelations. As the tension rose, the pace quickened and the walls started closing in, I wasn’t really quite sure what was real and what was a dream. The writing was excellent – tense, claustrophobic and it made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy.

I’m already looking forward to checking out the rest of the author’s novels and reading some of her short stories.

Buy the book

We Wait by Megan Taylor can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and directly from the Eyrie Press bookshop.

About the author

Megan Taylor is the author of three previous novels. Her first, How We Were Lost, a dark coming of age story, was published in 2007. Her second, The Dawning, a domestic thriller set over the course of a single night, was published in 2010. Megan’s third novel, The Lives of Ghosts (2012), is a mystery about repression, inheritance and motherhood.

Megan also writes short stories, some of which form her collection, The Woman Under the Ground (2014), beautifully illustrated by Nikki Pinder.

Megan lives in Nottingham, where she provides creative writing workshops and courses when she isn’t busy playing with her own fiction.

Twitter: @meganjstaylor
Website: https://www.megantaylor.info/

Blog tour

Thanks to Emily Powter-Robinson at Eyrie Press for my paperback copy of We Wait and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Say Goodbye When I’m Gone by Stephen J. Golds

Blog tour: 21 to 27 October 2020

Synopsis

1949: Rudy, a Jewish New Yorker snatches a briefcase of cash from a dead man in Los Angeles and runs away from his old life, into the arms of the Boston mob.

1966: Hinako, a young Japanese girl runs away from what she thought was the suffocating conformity of a life in Japan. Aiming to make a fresh start in America, she falls into the grip of a Hawaiian gang dubbed ‘The Company’.

1967: Rudy and Hinako’s lives collide in the city of Honolulu, where there is nowhere left for either of them to run, and only blood to redeem them.

My review

Spanning nearly 20 years from 1950, Say Goodbye When I’m Gone skips back and forth in time and location as we follow the two main protagonists and their stories and eventually find out how they become associated.

Rudy is married to Maggie and they have six children. The family are Jewish and live in New York. The couple met aged 13 when they both lived in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. One evening in July 1950, Rudy, Maggie and three of their children are at a restaurant for their oldest daughter Grace’s 16th birthday when Rudy’s past catches up with him and a shocking event occurs.

In Nagoya, Japan, it’s December 1966 and Hinako, aged 16, lives with her mother in a small one-bedroom apartment. Her father no longer lives with them. Hinako works in a ramen shop and is desperate to escape her claustrophobic, restricted and boring life and move to America in the next few years. When she sees a flyer on a pillar for maids and waitresses for new Japanese hotels in the United States, with flights and accommodation, she can’t believe her luck and naively thinks all her prayers will be answered if she gets the job. Sadly, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.

We also learn more about another character who was a child in Seoul in 1951 during the Korean war and had to fend for himself after the deaths of his parents. He did what he had to do to survive and this time has a profound effect on the boy and turns him into a disturbed individual who is confused about right and wrong and carries out some dreadful acts.

At first, there seems to be no link between any of the three but all becomes clear as more of the story is revealed. It’s cleverly done and helps to build up a good picture of each of their lives, with lots of shocking and pertinent moments, which explain what was to follow.

With themes of torture, murder, sexual abuse and rape, among others, with graphic violent scenes, this book won’t be for everyone but I found the descriptions were in keeping with the novel and not at all gratuitous.

Overall, I really enjoyed this well-plotted, cleverly written and action-packed novel. It’s a bit different from the norm and the story is engaging and gripping as we move between different timelines and countries and learn more about Rudy and Hinako and how they come to meet in an antiques shop in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Despite the fact that he’s a criminal with a rather chequered history, I felt a lot of sympathy for Rudy. He’s a family man who desperately loves his wife and children and wants to support them and do his best for them. There’s good in him but he’s caught up in this line of work; it’s difficult for him to escape due to the constant fear of retaliation.

Hinako’s story is heart breaking – she doesn’t really relate to her mother and feels trapped and constrained by her life and the constant pressure to conform. She wants the freedom to find herself and experience individuality. What she actually experiences in America is one of the worst nightmares you can imagine and she has no life or even freedom. It’s terrifying and tragic.

Say Goodbye When I’m Gone is a gritty, shocking, dramatic and violent book but it’s also gripping, intense and poignant. I found myself caring for Rudy, Hinako and others, like Irishman Joey McCarthy, and hoping that they’d all survive and have happy futures. An entertaining read and one which definitely sticks in the mind! I’m looking forward to seeing what the author writes next. And I can’t finish this review without mentioning that gorgeous blood-splattered cover, which looks like a slightly worn postcard! I’m definitely going to order a copy of the book so I can see it in the flesh!

Buy the book

Say Goodbye When I’m Gone by Stephen J. Golds can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo. Or purchase a copy directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, travelling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novel, Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, will be released by Red Dog Press in October 2020 and another novel, Always the Dead, will be released by Close to the Bone Press January 2021.

Twitter: @SteveGone58

Blog tour

Thanks to Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of Say Goodbye When I’m Gone and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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When You Were Mine by Kate Hewitt

Blog tour: 19 to 21 October 2020

Synopsis

‘Dylan …’ I croak, but my little boy doesn’t even look at me. ‘Dylan!’ My voice is louder now, and my gaze stays locked with my son’s as the car pulls away from the curb and drives away, taking my very life with her.

Single mother Beth loves her seven-year-old son Dylan with all her heart. He’s her world. So when a terrible series of events lead Dylan to be taken into foster care, she is determined to do whatever she can to get him back.

Mother of two, Ally has always dreamed of fostering – it feels like her chance to give back when she has been so lucky in life. But when Dylan joins their family, Ally finds herself struggling to balance his needs with those of her own children and husband – something Beth can’t help but witness when she visits.

Beth wants nothing more than to find a way to bring her beloved child home. But when she also sees Dylan bonding with Ally, she has to ask herself – where is the right home for Dylan? She wants to believe it is with her … But does a mother always know what’s best for her child?

A beautiful, powerful and ultimately hopeful story of the heartbreaking power of a mother’s love, for fans of Diane Chamberlain, Jodi Picoult and Jojo Moyes.

My review

With their children soon to fly the nest – Emma, 18, is headed to college and Josh, 16, is a junior in high school – Ally, 46, and Nick Fielding decide to look into fostering. They attend a 10-week course and, before they know, it have been allocated a child called Dylan.

Beth McBride is a single mum to seven-year-old Dylan. She has no family support, few friends and Dylan’s dad no longer sees him. Her son is selectively mute and has behavioural and anxiety issues. Beth loves Dylan desperately but their relationship is rather intense, obsessive and unhealthy and she’s terrified of him having tantrums and screaming in public. He often has meltdowns if he’s in an unfamiliar place so Beth restricts what they do and keeps to certain routines and places like the library, parks and the supermarket. He hasn’t attended preschool or kindergarten and doesn’t go to school either.

One particularly trying day, Dylan has a screaming episode in a shop over sweets and Beth shouts at him and grabs his arm. Someone phones the hotline for Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), whose radar the family have been on since Dylan was two when his father, Marco, called them and asked for a ‘voluntary relinquishment’ of his son. Susan from DCF speaks to Beth about what has been happening over the past five years and decides that she needs help and Beth reluctantly agrees to give up her son for a fostering placement for three months.

When Ally and Nick take on Dylan’s care, life is going well for the family with Emma about to start at Harvard and Josh doing well at high school, especially at sports. They own a beautiful house and have good jobs – Nick is a financial analyst for a large insurance company and Ally works as a part-time bookkeeper. Before long, cracks start to appear and soon their perfect life is anything but. Looking after Dylan is challenging and hard work, and most of his care seems to fall to Ally, but it seems easy compared to the other problems that the family face.

Having some time away from her son is really distressing for Beth but gives her the chance to evaluate her relationship with Dylan and others. They’ve had an isolated existence, which hasn’t been healthy for either of them. Beth has sacrificed her own life, relationships and friendships to look after Dylan and something needed to give because it’s no existence for either mother or son.

The story is told in alternating chapters, from the viewpoints of Beth and Ally, and we really get to know both women and their innermost thoughts and feelings. I felt for Beth and later Ally as her own life imploded. They’re both trying to do their best but, for differing reasons, things don’t work out and the women are struggling to hold their lives together. They’ve been put on opposing sides as carers of Dylan and neither of them is sure how to react around the other – you can feel their tension and unease, and Beth’s hostility and hurt.

Beth wants her son back but feels completely disengaged from Dylan and like she’s not good enough to take care of him. Ally is worried about her own family and is shocked how things have deteriorated over a matter of months.

Overall, I really enjoyed When You Were Mine – it’s an emotional and heart-wrenching read and the story develops well, with some surprising revelations. It’s engaging and sensitively written and I really cared about all the characters, especially Beth and Ally. I was rooting for them both to have a happy ending but wasn’t sure if that would be possible for either. It’s a gripping and thought-provoking novel and I was keen to find out how it was all going to be resolved.

This is the first book of the author’s that I’ve read but I’ve got a few of her others on my Kindle and will definitely be checking them out soon.

Buy the book

When You Were Mine by Kate Hewitt can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from KoboiBooks and Google.

About the author

Kate Hewitt is the author of many romance and women’s fiction novels. A former New Yorker and now an American ex-pat, she lives in a small town on the Welsh border with her husband, five children and their overly affectionate Golden Retriever. Whatever the genre, she enjoys telling stories that tackle real issues and touch people’s lives.

Twitter: @author_kate
Facebook: @KateHewittAuthor
Instagram: @katehewitt1
Website: http://kate-hewitt.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sarah Hardy at Bookouture for my digital copy of When You Were Mine and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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First Date by Sue Watson

Blog tour: 16 to 19 October 2020

Synopsis

She’s been waiting her whole life to meet a man like Alex. But he’s been waiting too. And once he has her, he’ll never let her go …

Hannah has done everything to make sure her life is safe and secure. A long way from her unstable childhood growing up in foster care, she’s content with her sweet, little, messy apartment and her satisfying job as a social worker. She quietly worries that, aged 36, she might never fall in love. But otherwise her life is where she wants it to be.

Until, encouraged by her best friend to join a dating app, she meets Alex. He’s irresistibly handsome. He loves the same music as her. The same food as well. They both dream of travelling the world but agree they’d be equally happy escaping to a cottage by the beach in Devon. Both of them would love to own a Labrador one day. It’s like he’s made for her. It’s like he’s too good to be true.

Hannah’s friends aren’t so sure about him. But Hannah thinks he’s perfect.

Which is good. Because Alex knows she’s perfect for him too. In fact, she’s exactly the girl he’s been looking for …

And nothing Hannah’s done to make her life safe will ever be enough.

A gripping and suspenseful psychological thriller about dark obsession and internet dating. Fans of The Wife Between Us, Friend Request and Gone Girl will adore this unputdownable twisted love story.

My review

When Hannah Weston, a 36-year-old social worker, meets Alex Higham, a solicitor, online via Meet your Match, she thinks she’s found the perfect man. They have so much in common and want the same things, right down to the number of children (three), the Labrador and the holidays in Devon.

Alex is handsome, charming and really keen on Hannah. Her friends at work aren’t so sure about him as she’s prone to falling in love easily and getting infatuated. They’re worried that history is being repeated and she doesn’t really know him at all. She’s clever but a bit naive and easily persuaded and distracted.

Things were tricky after she split up with her ex, Tom, as he didn’t take it very well, and as she begins a whirlwind romance with Alex, strange events happen, which Hannah is convinced Tom is responsible for.

Hannah had a difficult childhood and moved into a foster home aged nine when her mum couldn’t cope. Alex also had a unhappy time as a child and things were tough with his parents. The couple are both vulnerable after lacking this parental support and drawn to each other by all their similarities.

The story is tense and builds well as Hannah completely misses all the red flags that are waving and it’s like watching a car crash about to happen as she ignores the advice from her boss and best friend, Jasmine (Jas), 42, and constantly justifies all the overbearing and worrying things that Alex says and does. He’s creepy and dotes on her far too much and wants her to be with him all the time.

At times, I was shaking my head and felt like shouting at Hannah as she blindly ignored his obsessive, intense and controlling behaviour. Alex begins to alienate her from her friends and says that they don’t have her best interests at heart or they fancy her, in the case of a male colleague. The relationship gets more and more unhealthy as the story progresses and they both lose control of life and reality in different ways. Things have to come to a head in one way or another, and they certainly do!

Overall, I really enjoyed First Date – it was well written and cleverly plotted and kept me entertained throughout, just revealing enough of the story to leave me wanting more. The gripping story was claustrophobic and intense and had me frantically turning the pages in horror. There are some good twists and turns, red herrings and moments of misdirection and I was shocked by some of the reveals later in the book!

This is the first book by the author that I’ve read but I’ve got several of her other psychological thrillers on my Kindle and will definitely be checking out another one soon!

Buy the book

First Date by Sue Watson can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from KoboiBooks and Google.

About the author

Sue Watson was a TV producer at the BBC until she wrote her first book and was hooked.

Now a USA Today bestselling author, Sue has written 16 novels, and many have been translated into several languages. She is now exploring the darker side of life with her latest thrillers: Our Little Lies, The Woman Next Door, The Empty Nest and The Sister-in-Law.

Originally from Manchester, Sue now lives with her family in Worcestershire where much of her day is spent writing – okay, procrastinating, eating too much confectionery, and watching ‘My 600lb Life,’ on the sofa.

Twitter: @suewatsonwriter
Facebook: @suewatsonbooks
Instagram: @suewatsonbooks
Website: http://www.suewatsonbooks.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sarah Hardy at Bookouture for my digital copy of First Date and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley

Blog tour: 21 September to 3 October 2020

Synopsis

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.

Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out …

My review

The Life We Almost Had tells the unusual love story of Anna Addlington and Adam Curtis who meet on holiday on the Spanish island of Alircia. Anna is 24 and has just been dumped two weeks before her wedding and is there on what would have been her honeymoon with her best friend and bridesmaid, Nell. Adam has recently come out of a disastrous relationship and is on holiday with his best mate, Josh, who is keen to have as many holiday romances as possible!

At first, the couple resist their feelings due to the circumstances but, before long, they’re spending all their time together in Alircia. When they get home, they have a long-distance relationship for 10 months before moving in together and getting married six months later.

Seven years later, things are rather different – the couple are married and have been trying to conceive for five years. Life has become rather mundane and boring and they don’t talk properly and snipe at each other over the smallest of things.

Adam decides to treat Anna to a holiday in Alircia in a last-ditch attempt to revive their relationship and it’s here where things take an unusual turn after something shocking happens.

I really enjoyed this book but I don’t want to give too much away. It was an emotional read at times and I felt sympathy for Anna and Adam who’d just lost their way in their relationship and stopped talking to each other as a result of being unable to conceive. The plot was a bit different from the norm and had some good twists, which I wasn’t expecting. A tragic but heart-warming and touching read. Not a typical love story at all!

Buy the book

The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Amelia Henley is a hopeless romantic who has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories.

Amelia also writes psychological thrillers under her real name, Louise Jensen. As Louise Jensen, she has sold over a million copies of her global number one bestsellers. Her stories have been translated into 25 languages and optioned for TV as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Louise’s books have been nominated for multiple awards.

The Life We Almost Had is the first story she’s written as Amelia Henley and it’s out now.

Twitter: @MsAmeliaHenley
Facebook: @msameliahenley
Instagram: @msameliahenley
Website: http://www.ameliahenley.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my place on the blog tour for The Life We Almost Had.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies

Blog tour: 17 September to 1 October 2020

Synopsis

One little girl.
Mirabelle’s mother loves her. She’s her ‘little doll’. Mother dresses her, paints her face, and plaits her hair. But as Mirabelle grows, the dresses no longer fit quite as well, the face paint no longer looks quite so pretty. And Mother isn’t happy.

Two little girls.
On Mirabelle’s 13th birthday, Mother arrives home with a present – a new sister, 5-year-old Clarabelle, who Mother has rescued from the outside world.

But Mother only needs one.
As it dawns on Mirabelle that there is a new ‘little doll’ in her house, she also realizes that her life isn’t what she thought it was. And that dolls often end up on the scrap heap …

Extract

I’m delighted to share an extract of Chapter 2 of Mother Loves Me with you today.

Chapter 2

Mother loves me. I listened to the sound of her locking and bolting the front door and bit a chunk out of my apple, careful not to let any juice spoil my face. After tidying up my little white desk, I ran downstairs into the living room.

Mother owned at least a thousand books. Every week she turned up with a couple more. Most of them were adult books that I wasn’t allowed to go near, but sometimes Mother let me read what she called the ‘not so corrupting’ ones. She also liked me to look at her big picture books from time to time – the ones that contained amazing glossy pictures of animals and buildings and cities – so that I knew more about the outside. She said it made me less boring to talk to. And next to the door connecting the living room to the hallway there was a small bookcase that was just for me.

The room was gloomy because of the wooden boards and blackout curtains, the red sofa a murky brown in the darkness. I flicked on the orange lamp beside the rocking chair then walked over to my little white bookcase. I saw the present immediately. There, at the end of the third row of books leaning against Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was a book-shaped object wrapped in scarlet paper. I smiled and plucked the present off the shelf.

In Mother’s slanted hand my name was spelled out in capital letters.

MIRABELLE

Underneath my name were the words:

For a beautiful little doll who works so hard and behaves so well. All my love, Mother. P.S. You may open this now!

I tore into the paper and stared excitedly at the book. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This was Mother’s way of giving me a piece of the outside world. I half-smiled and lifted up the front cover. The pages were yellow with age and a little rough. I had a sniff. The book smelled intensely booky; good and musty. It was perfect. I curled my legs beneath me in the rocking chair and lost myself in the story, escaping into another girl’s world.

I was at the part where Mary Lennox meets a chirpy little robin, a bird which I had only ever seen in Mother’s bird books, when I heard something. My heart seemed to jump into my throat. I held stock-still. The sound was coming from the back of the house, but Mother wasn’t home yet. I was home alone. No one else lived in the cottage. Just Mother and me. And, horrid as he was to think about, Deadly, the spider who lived in the bathroom.

Without moving, I trained my ears on the direction the sound was coming from. The sound was strange, unidentifiable. Uneven and raw. It was definitely not coming from the front door and it wasn’t coming from upstairs, so it couldn’t be the boiler having a tantrum.

I remained where I was for a while, my legs pinned under me, eyes wide. I listened. An idea crossed my mind. No, I told myself, you’re not imagining it. You’re not a little girl any more. You know what’s real and what’s not. But I thought about Polly and doubt crept around my mind like a sneaky rat. As a little girl I’d had an imaginary friend called Polly. Polly had looked exactly like me, but she’d been mute. I had played imaginary games with her whenever the opportunity arose and sometimes we just sat beside one another, keeping each other company. One day when I was six, Mother had said I was too old for her and told me I had to make Polly disappear from my head or she would. Worried about what Mother might do, I had ignored Polly until she had shaken her head sadly at me and vanished. I never saw her again, no matter how hard I tried to.

With a frown, I pushed myself up from the chair. The sound is real. It’s real.

I had to see where it was coming from.

I tiptoed across the living room and carefully opened the door to the dining room. The noise was slightly clearer here. The oak floorboards creaked underfoot and I cringed and leapt through the door into Mother’s kitchen. Again, the noise was louder in here – louder than before. My eyes fell on the Venetian blinds and I froze. The strange sound was coming from outside. Outside in the back garden. I was sure of it.

The blinds remained, as always, shut, drawn down over the wooden boards that had been nailed over the windows. Nailed firmly over the glass so no light could break in.

I had never heard anything like this sound from outside before. Outside sounds to me were the perfect twitter of busy birds, the mad onslaught of hail-beasts and the pitterpatter or hammer-attack of rain – depending on its mood – spooky wind wails, thunder roars and the grumbly engine of Mother’s car.

Just as I wasn’t allowed outside, there were certain places in the cottage that I was not allowed to go. I wasn’t allowed in Mother’s room and I had been banned from the spare room a few months ago. I thought about the spare room. Mother had carried boxes into that room and spent a lot of time in there recently, but she wouldn’t tell me why. I wanted to know but didn’t dare ask.

The strange sound from outside stopped. I stared at the blinds above the dark brown cabinet and listened. Nothing. I scanned the room. Mother had nailed her new pop art print to the wall next to the one she’d brought home last month, which was of a singer called Elvis Presley. The new silkscreen print was of a very pretty lady with curly blonde hair. Mother hadn’t told me who she was yet. Like the Elvis Presley picture, it was eye-poppingly bright and colourful. I liked it a lot. It made the kitchen less gloomy.

I glanced at the pop art calendar pinned to the wall above the Formica table. Mother had circled today’s date in red pen. In the Friday, 23 April box she had written the words LITTLE DOLL’S BIRTHDAY – collect second present. Guilt lifted its hot, prickly head.

I heard something else. Jumped as the front door slammed. Heard the locking and bolting of the door.

Mother’s back.

I grabbed a glass from the cupboard and turned on the cold tap.

A moment later Mother giggled and I turned around, my heart thumping hard. Mother stood in the entrance to the kitchen wearing opaque sunglasses and a floppy sun hat. She carried a large black holdall in her sinewy arms. She placed the holdall on the kitchen table and looked at me. A smile spread across her face as she took off the sunglasses and hat and dropped them on the table.

‘This is your surprise!’ she said, spreading her hands wide.

‘What is it?’ I said, mustering up as much excitement as I could to conceal the frantic pounding of my heart.

She grinned. ‘Open the bag and see.’

I put the glass of water on the counter and reached the table in two steps. Outside, in the other world, everything remained silent.

Mother leaned over the bag as I took hold of the silver zip and tugged, wondering why she had not wrapped the present. She’s probably too excited to, I thought. The zip caught on the black material. I struggled to loosen it and Mother pushed my hands away.

‘Let me do it,’ she snapped. She ripped the bag clean open and squealed excitedly, her hands balling into fists against her pale cheeks. ‘Look, Mirabelle, look! Isn’t she perfect?’

I stared, unable to speak. Inside the bag lay a little girl. She was curled up on her side, her tiny chest rising and falling steadily, her eyes closed. She had long, fair eyelashes that fluttered every now and then as if she was having a dream or a nightmare. Her hair was the same butter-blonde as mine, but curly rather than straight and no way near as long. Like me, her milky skin was freckle-free. She wore a pale blue dress, a white cardigan and sparkly, silver tights. There were no shoes on her feet.

‘Isn’t she perfect?’ Mother repeated, stroking the little girl’s cheek.

‘Who is she?’

‘Her name’s Clarabelle. Such a pretty name for such a pretty little doll, don’t you think?’

I swallowed with difficulty, my mind racing. ‘Where’s she from?’

‘Utopia,’ Mother said dreamily.

I hesitated. There was a fiction book in Mother’s bookcase called Utopia, which meant it couldn’t be real. My textbooks had taught me the difference between fiction and non-fiction, so I knew that much. I swallowed. ‘Where’s she really from, Mother?’

Mother’s head whipped around, her hair spraying out like sparks of fire. She glared at me, nostrils flaring. ‘Don’t you like her? Don’t you like your present?’

I took a step away from the table. ‘I think she’s perfect, Mother, I do. I just want to know more about her, that’s all.’

Mother’s eyes narrowed and she tilted her head to the side. ‘If I tell you she’s from Utopia, she’s from Utopia.’

I nodded and glanced at the sleeping child, a queer, sick feeling working its way up my throat like thick treacle.

‘Thank you for my book, Mother,’ I said.

‘That’s fine. Tell me what you think of her, of Clarabelle.’

Mother watched me intently. I looked at the child’s face, thought about how oddly similar our names were. Mirabelle and Clarabelle.

‘She’s beautiful and, er, really small. She must be quite young.’ I paused, telling myself to be brave, ‘How old is she?’

‘She’s five,’ she said. ‘I rescued her.’

The sick feeling eased a little, ‘You rescued her?’

Mother nodded. She bent down and lifted the little girl out of the bag. Kissing the girl’s forehead, she left the kitchen and walked through the dining room into the living room where she placed the child on the sofa and covered her with the crochet blanket. I watched Mother perch on the edge of the sofa and stroke the child’s face over and over again, a faint smile on her thin lips.

‘If I hadn’t saved her, she’d be dead right now,’ Mother said softly.

‘What do you mean, Mother?’

‘That’s enough, Mirabelle,’ she said, her tone sharpening. She picked up the little girl and I watched her carry her out of the room.

Buy the book

Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Abby Davies studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield, then went on to teach English. She has taught at both state and independent schools, including Jilly Cooper’s and Minnette Walter’s old school in Salisbury.

She was shortlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition in 2018 and longlisted for the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award in 2019.

She lives in Wiltshire with her husband and daughter. Mother Loves Me is her first novel.

Twitter: @Abby13Richards
Facebook: @abby.richards
Instagram: @abbydaviesauthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Jennifer Harlow at HarperCollins UK for my copy of Mother Loves Me, the extract material and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Cottage of Curiosities by Celia Anderson

Blog tour: 17 to 23 September 2020

Synopsis

Tucked away amongst the winding, cobbled streets of Pengelly in Cornwall, the old stone cottage on Memory Lane is full of secrets. Brimming with trinkets and treasures, there are thousands of stories hidden within its walls.

Fifty-four-year-old Grace Clarke arrives in Pengelly determined to uncover the secrets of her past. Standing outside the little cottage, she feels sure that the answers she craves lie inside. The truth about her mysterious long-lost mother and the even more mysterious gifts she was born with …

Extract

This is the second book in the Pengelly series and follows 59 Memory Lane, which was released in 2019. I’m delighted to share an extract of Chapter 1 of The Cottage of Curiosities with you today.

Chapter One

April

Train travel has always been difficult for Grace Clarke, and today she’s stuck right inside one of her worst nightmares. When passengers stare out of the windows on public transport their minds often spiral out of control, flitting from thought to thought with breath-taking speed as their memories are jogged by the scenery flashing past, a snatch of overheard conversation or the happy rustle of a crisp packet being opened. Being forced to listen in to the memories all around her is something Grace lives with on a day-today basis, and has done as far back as she can remember, but speeding south on the overcrowded train to Penzance, she feels as if she’s drowning in them.

The girl in the next seat is clutching her phone like a lifeline. She snorts quietly to herself as she reads the latest message that’s landed with a loud ping. A sudden vivid picture flashes into Grace’s mind, and she blushes. The memory the text has sparked isn’t one she wants to share. Who knew golden syrup had so many uses?

‘My mother’s in that retirement home near the sock factory now,’ says a clear voice from the seat in front, ‘but she still refuses to be parted from her can of squirty cream. Always has one tucked away in her handbag, just in case somebody gives her a cake, or a dish of apple crumble. Then she whips it out, and Bob’s your uncle.’

The girl next to Grace looks up from her phone at last and raises her eyebrows. Then she begins typing out a new message at great speed.

Grace sighs and makes a huge effort to block out any more stray recollections that might come her way. This is a work in progress. Over the years she’s tried yoga, meditation and sheer bloody-mindedness, but the only sure-fire method of stopping other people’s random memories entering her brain is to instantly conjure up a more vivid one of her own as a kind of shield, and that’s not always possible if your energy levels are down. Sometimes chocolate is the only answer.

The travellers who drop asleep as soon as the station is behind them and snore gently until an announcement jolts them into life again are the easiest to handle. They’re no trouble at all. Their souls must be either full to the brim of good memories, or maybe it’s just that they won’t let the bad ones out. This morning, nearly everyone around Grace is wide awake. The spring sunshine is warm on her face and her coffee is hot and strong, but neither of these comforts is helping. There’s at least another hour to kill.

Desperate to distract herself, Grace pulls out the now-tattered letter to read yet again.

Dear Barbara,
This is the last time you’ll ever be addressed by that name. I’ve asked Audrey and Harry to give you this letter when you’re old enough to understand that your new life as Grace Clarke was chosen with care. The alternative would have been much, much worse, but you’ll have to trust me on that one. Motherhood isn’t one of my talents.

The meeting with Audrey in that grim Midlands hospital as she grieved for yet another miscarriage was nothing short of a miracle in my eyes. A lucky chance for both of us, and hopefully for you too. I discharged myself as soon as I was strong enough to escape that nasty place of rules, routines and disinfectant. I never could bear being told what to do. By then, our secret adoption pact was made.

I will think of you with every day that passes and wonder how you are, what you’re doing and what talents we share. It seems highly likely that you’ll have discovered what I mean for yourself by the time this letter gets to you. I’m fifty-seven years old now, and I thought I was long past the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Foolishly, I hadn’t taken into account my unusual gift, if you can call it that. Of course, the other way of looking at the situation is that if I had been more aware, you wouldn’t exist, would you? There will be difficult questions you’ll want to ask me, I’m sure of it, and I’ll answer most of them if ever you decide to come and find me. A big part of me hopes you will, although I don’t deserve it.

I was never going to be a good mother. This way is best, but you will always be in my heart.

May Frances Rosevere,
Seagulls, 22 The Level, Pengelly, Cornwall

What talents we share. The words echo around Grace’s weary brain. Is she jumping to conclusions? The only thing she can think of as a talent is this ridiculous ability to experience other people’s memories the instant they have them, and it’s more of a curse than a gift. From an early age, Grace knew she was different from other children. Vague memories of playing on her own at school and feeling all at sea in company haunt her.

Grace grew to learn she had to be very careful and keep her thoughts to herself. People didn’t like different. Friendships were never easy, and it soon became a habit to be solitary. She tried to tell her father about all this once or twice but, although kind-hearted, Harry wasn’t one for what he called fanciful ideas, and so Grace resolved to make sure she was never in such a fragile position again. Self-preservation became the main aim of her childhood.

Was that what this May Frances Rosevere person meant in her letter, though? Could May have shared her difficulties? The shattering news that her mother was alive and in Cornwall all through her growing-up years has rocked Grace’s world. May was there, just waiting for her to get in touch, when she believed her birth mother to be long dead.

Grace glances at her watch and puts the letter away again, willing the time to pass more quickly. Her head is already pounding and she feels short of breath. Unable to bear sitting still any longer, she retrieves her travel bag from the rack and makes her unsteady way down the carriage to where she’s stowed her case. It might be easier to pass the time by the doors, where there’s a better view from the window.

The carriage makes a violent lurch and Grace is forced to pause and hang on to a seat for a moment. The man sitting there is white-faced, gripping his newspaper tightly. Before she can try to put up her usual thought block, his frantic memories flood her mind. In his head, he’s on another train and this time the jolt is much more drastic. People are screaming and reaching for their phones.

Grace puts a hand on his shoulder and he flinches. ‘It’s okay, we’re off again now,’ she says reassuringly.

The man looks up, and the fear in his eyes starts to fade away. ‘It just reminded me …’ he begins.

‘I know,’ says Grace, giving him a quick pat and moving on. She’s learnt to be strong in these situations. If she let people go into detail when they pick up on her sympathy, she’d never get anything done.

She moves on as swiftly as possible, feeling a tingle of second-hand excitement as she passes a young mother with a toddler on her knee. The woman is talking softly to the little boy, almost crooning. ‘Soon be with your Nana,’ she says softly, cuddling him close, ‘and then we’ll have one of her special stews and some lovely fluffy dumplings with it. You don’t know about dumplings yet, do you, sweetheart?’

The rush of happy childhood memories flowing from the woman goes some way to cancelling out the other man’s panic, but by the time Grace reaches the relative safety of the space near the doors, she’s grumpy and jaded.

It’s a good time to change places, as it happens. The train line has just started to follow the coast, and the sight of waves breaking on the shore takes Grace’s breath away. Although spring is well under way, the air is chilly. Weak sunshine illuminates an almost-empty beach. Grace itches to be out there, wrapped up warmly and making fresh footprints as she heads for the waterline. Brought up in the heart of the Midlands, she has always longed to spend more time by the sea, with flat, firm sands to walk on every day and sea breezes to blow the cobwebs away. Well, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t now.

It’s high time to take stock. The death of both of her adoptive parents and the decision to take early retirement mean Grace can travel wherever and whenever she likes. She’s saved hard and invested her money well over the years. Audrey and Harry don’t need her care any more. The bitterness when she remembers their years of deception about her start in life ebbs slightly. She is completely free. It’s an exhilarating thought.

The plan of coming to Cornwall to stay so near to the water in Pengelly has kept Grace sane over the past month, making funeral arrangements and finishing the clearing of her parents’ house. Audrey’s heart attack only six months previously was a shock, and it wasn’t long before Harry followed her. It’s taking Grace a while to handle the backlash. Her unwieldy thoughts flit again to those last moments with Harry, while his mind was still reasonably clear.

‘Dad?’ she said. ‘Can you hear me? Why on earth didn’t you give me this letter years ago? It’s mine. I should have had it.’

‘Your ma …’ He shook his head. A tear ran down his cheek and Grace automatically reached to wipe it away.

She leant closer. ‘Are you trying to say Mum didn’t want me to know?’

A nod this time, and a second tear.

‘But … why not? And who’s my real father? There’s no clue in the letter. I need to know, Dad. Please …’

Harry was clearly making a huge effort to speak now, and Grace held his hand more tightly, willing him to get the words out but flinching as his tortured memories crowded her brain.

‘I … we … we weren’t never told who your father was. He weren’t the man she were married to, love, I do know that.’

‘Really? You’re sure?’

‘We … didn’t want no details. It was best that way.’

As the train to Penzance rattles and sways, bringing Grace nearer and nearer to her only chance of finding out the truth about her start in life, exhaustion fights with alarm. An unaccustomed fear of the unknown hits her with a force that makes her pulse race.

‘I’m going to find her, Dad,’ she whispers, with her back to the rest of the carriage, ‘I’m going to track May Rosevere down. There’s just a tiny chance she might still be alive. People are living longer and longer these days. Whatever happens, at least I’ll have tried.’

Buy the book

The Cottage of Curiosities by Celia Anderson can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Celia Anderson lives with her husband and one handsome but antisocial cat in land-locked Derbyshire. She now writes full time, having been a teacher and assistant head in her previous life. Her finest hour was getting a post as a cycling proficiency tutor without mentioning that she couldn’t ride a bike.

An enthusiastic member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Celia currently organises the judging for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. Her first novel, 59 Memory Lane, sold over 50k copies in eBook and hit the top 10 in the Kindle bestseller chart.

Twitter: @CeliaAnderson1
Facebook: @CeliaAndersonAuthor
Instagram: @cejanderson
Website: http://celiaandersonauthor.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Jennifer Harlow at HarperCollins UK for my digital copy of The Cottage of Curiosities, the extract material and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Blog tour: 1 September to 12 October 2020

Synopsis

In a peaceful retirement village off the A21 in Kent, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

My review

At the Coopers Chase Retirement Village in Kent, four of the residents meet up every Thursday night in the Jigsaw Room, booked under the guise of a Japanese opera discussion group, to talk about unsolved police crimes (cold cases).

Calling themselves The Thursday Murder Club, the group consists of Elizabeth, whose former occupation is mysteriously only alluded to, Joyce Meadowcroft (79), who was a nurse, Ibrahim Arif (80), a former psychiatrist, and Ron ‘Red Ron’ Ritchie (75), a famous ex-trade union leader who ‘never believes a single word anyone ever tells him’.

Joyce is the newest member, invited to join after Penny Gray, a former detective inspector in the Kent Police, has to move into the on-site nursing home, Willows. Penny used to supply the group with the unsolved murder case files that they study carefully – reading all the evidence and every witness statement and poring over photos, trying to find anything that might have been missed.

The retirement village sounds wonderful! It’s for over 65 year olds and currently has around 300 residents. It was built 10 years ago on the now-extended site, which used to be a convent and voluntary hospital (later a care home and now Willows). The village has numerous facilities: swimming pool, gym, exercise studio, bowling green, library, lounge and ‘contemporary upscale restaurant’. The development has a chapel, which is the original and unchanged, and it is set in 12 acres of woodland and hillside with two small lakes and there are sheep and llamas on the hills.

There are plans to carry out a new development at Coopers Chase, and this has caused a furore with the occupants. There’s talk of trees being felled, the graveyard being moved and wind turbines installed, so a consultation meeting between the owner, Ian Ventham, and the residents is held.

The following day, after a rather heated discussion between Ventham and his builder, Tony Curran, who has a shady past, one of the men is found dead in the kitchen by his wife – he’d been bludgeoned with a heavy object.

With a real-life crime to get their teeth into, The Thursday Murder Club investigates the murder with the help of PC Donna De Freitas, 26, who they first met when she visited Coopers Chase to do a talk about home security tips, which the group rather hijacked! Donna transferred from the Metropolitan Police in London to Fairhaven and is rather bored by the lack of action in the seaside town. The group cunningly persuade Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Chris Hudson (51) to allow Donna to join the squad investigating the murder and from then on manage to exchange information with the officers without them really realising what’s going on! The pensioners always seem to be a couple of steps ahead of the police by using their clever minds and some handy contacts!

This was an excellent cosy murder mystery with numerous twists and turns, secrets and startling revelations, as well as lots of wry humour and some amusing and witty observations, which really made me chuckle at times. The main protagonists of the murder club are brilliantly drawn: feisty and eccentric but enthusiastic characters who make funny little asides and carry out some impressive detecting work. Despite the subject matter, this is a heart-warming tale with some poignant and touching moments and I found it really delightful and intriguing.

The short chapters work well and definitely made me fly through the book, thinking ‘Just one more chapter …’! It’s written in an engaging conversational style and Joyce’s diary entries add another angle to the story and are a nice little interlude.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cleverly written book; it was entertaining, action packed and gripping. I had to suspend disbelief at times but that was all part of the fun! I’m excited to hear that there’s going to be a book two out in September 2021 – I can’t wait!

Buy the book

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks. Or from these retailers.

About the author

Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel. He is well known for TV shows including Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. As the creative director of Endemol UK, Richard has worked as an executive producer on numerous shows including Deal Or No Deal and 8 Out of 10 Cats. He is also a regular on panel and game shows such as Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and Taskmaster.

Twitter: @richardosman
Facebook: @MrRichardOsman
Instagram: @misterosman

Blog tour

Thanks to Ellie Hudson at Penguin Books UK for my proof copy of The Thursday Murder Club and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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In Cold Blood by Jane Bettany

Blog tour: 4 to 8 September

Synopsis

No secret can stay buried forever …

As the Whitworth family begin renovations on their new home, their plans are brought to an abrupt end when they discover a body buried in the back garden.

DI Isabel Blood and her team are called to investigate, but as she approaches Ecclesdale Drive, a feeling of unease settles in her gut.

The property cordoned off is number 23. The house she used to live in as a child …

The forensic team estimate that the body has been in the ground for up to forty years – coinciding with the time Isabel’s family lived in the house.

Isabel’s father vanished without a trace when she was fourteen years old. And with her mother remaining tight-lipped about her father’s disappearance, Isabel can’t escape the unnerving sense of dread that it’s his body, buried in the garden.

My review

In Cold Blood is set in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bainbridge and the novel’s main protagonist is Detective Inspector (DI) Isabel Blood (56), wife of Nathan, an illustrator and designer, and mother to Kate, a primary school teacher in Matlock, Bailey, who’s currently travelling with his girlfriend, and Ellie (14).

Amy and Paul Whitworth have recently purchased a 1960s house to renovate and sell. While digging out the foundations for a large extension, Paul is horrified to find a human skeleton at the bottom of the trench that he made. Although tempted to keep quiet and pretend they didn’t find the bones, the pair phone the police and tell them of their discovery.

DI Isabel Blood is attending a parents’ evening for daughter Ellie when she’s told about the body and has to rush off to the crime scene. She’s shocked to discover that the location is 23 Ecclesdale Drive, which is the house where she used to live with her mother and father, until he upped and left suddenly when she was only 14 years old.

When the crime scene investigator, Raveen Talwar, tells them that the body is of a male and it has been in the ground for 20 to 40 years, Isabel is concerned that it may be her missing father, Donald, as he hasn’t been in touch with her since he disappeared.

As the police make enquiries about previous residents of the house and talk to the current and past neighbours, we discover there’s a lot more to the murder than meets the eye and that a previous missing persons case was not investigate thoroughly enough. Investigating a historical crime brings its own problems and the team are limited by the availability of technology at that time and by the fact that several people connected with the victim are now long dead. It’s definitely not going to be straightforward case to solve and they’re going to need some lucky breakthroughs!

Isabel Blood is a great character and I really enjoyed getting to know her. She’s rather dedicated to her job – as most police officers are – often to the detriment of her husband and her youngest daughter but she’s also likeable, fair and very thorough, sharp-witted and shrewd at work. She’s never got over the abandonment by her father and it has affected her whole life and her relationship with her mother, Barbara, who now lives in Spain and has been keeping her own secrets.

Detective Sergeant (DS) Dan Fairfax (33) makes a good sidekick for Isabel and I’m curious to learn more about Detective Constable (DS) Zoe Piper (29), who seems to work far too hard and doesn’t have much of a home or social life.

I’m a great fan of police procedural novels and this was an excellent read! The case was a fascinating one and the story was cleverly plotted and well written and unfolded at a satisfying pace, keeping me intrigued with numerous twists and turns and some rather surprising revelations! There were several culprits, with various motives, and I must have suspected everyone at some point or another.

In Cold Blood was an engaging read with some good old-fashioned police work. I really hope this is the start of a new series as I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling and entertaining book and can’t wait to find out which case DI Isabel Blood investigates next!

Buy the book

In Cold Blood by Jane Bettany can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Jane Bettany is the author of In Cold Blood, a crime novel featuring DI Isabel Blood and set in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bainbridge. The book won the 2019 Gransnet and HQ writing competition, which was for women writers over the age of 40 who had written a novel with a protagonist in the same age range.

In Cold Blood is her first novel, but she has been writing short stories and non-fiction articles for over 20 years, many of which have appeared in women’s magazines, literary magazines, newspapers and online.

She lives in Derby, UK and has an MA in Creative Writing.

Twitter: @JaneBettany
Facebook: @JaneBettanyAuthor
Instagram: @bettanyjane
Website: http://www.janebettany.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of In Cold Blood and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah

Blog tour: 3 to 7 September 2020

Synopsis

Are you ready to start this conversation?

Kamran Hadid feels invincible. He attends Hampton school, an elite all-boys boarding school in London, he comes from a wealthy family, and he has a place at Oxford next year. The world is at his feet. And then a night of revelry leads to a drunken encounter and he must ask himself a horrific question.

With the help of assault counsellor, Zara Kaleel, Kamran reports the incident in the hopes that will be the end of it. But it’s only the beginning …

Powerful, explosive and important, Truth Be Told is a contemporary courtroom drama that vividly captures today’s society. You will not stop thinking about it for a long time to come.

My review

After reading and enjoying the author’s debut novel, Take It Back, I couldn’t wait to devour this one! I knew it was going to be a gripping and thought-provoking read.

Truth Be Told tells the story of Kamran Hadid (17), who, along with his brother, Adam (16), attends the elite all-boys boarding school, Hampton College, in London. All the pupils are privileged and from affluent families and great things are expected of them. Kamran himself has a place at the University of Oxford the following year and is expected to follow a similar path to his father with an MBA, high-ranking role at his father’s international medical supplies company, marriage and children. His mum’s family are also wealthy and her father ran a steelwork business.

The Hadid family live in a large townhouse in Belsize Park. Kamran’s parents, Mustaque (Mack) and Sofia, are very traditional and conservative Muslims and worried about what other people, especially extended family members, think. Their sons are always expected to do what’s right.

One evening, following a spring fundraiser party at school, Kamran is a bit the worse for wear after several drinks and heads back to his room. When he wakes up, he finds another pupil, Finn Andersen, in his bed and realises that the two of them had sexual relations while he was half asleep and drunk, which he didn’t consent to.

Kamran decides to speak to Zara Kaleel, a qualified lawyer, who is now an independent women’s sexual violence counsellor. He feels that he needs to do something to get over this incident, that it won’t just go away and he doesn’t want to have to pretend everything is ok for the rest of his life. Zara takes some time off from her job to help Kamran. She is a rather flawed protagonist and has her own problems but she’s dedicated, loyal, determined and compassionate.

The school wants to keep things quiet and investigate internally – in other words, sweep everything under the carpet, especially as Finn is an assistant to the housemaster. Despite his family’s misgivings (they’re concerned about the stigma of male rape and their son being accused of homosexuality) and the fact that he’s constantly reliving his ordeal and feeling ostracised by his peers, Kamran is determined to go to court and get justice for himself.

The rape trial is difficult for all concerned and brings with it the issues of consent and the blurred lines between saying no or not saying no – is that implied consent, does it mean yes?

This was a tense and dramatic read: there was a good sense of foreboding as we build up to the events after the party and the courtroom scenes were intense and emotional and evoked strong feelings of frustration and anger as I read them.

Overall, Truth Be Told is a powerful, compelling, thought-provoking read and the author writes sensitively and intelligently about some disturbing and emotive issues. This legal/courtroom thriller was multi-layered and well written with several great twists and turns and some rather startling revelations, which I didn’t see coming at all!

The author’s debut novel, Take It Back, was also a great read and I can’t wait to see what her next book is like! I’m looking forward to reading it again for The Motherload Book Club‘s readalong in December and discussing it with the rest of the group.

Buy the book

Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. Her novel, Take It Back, was named one of the best thrillers of the year by The Guardian and The Telegraph and was selected for an industry-first audio serialisation by HarperCollins and The Pigeonhole.

Kia has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a non-profit organisation that advocates for diversity in publishing.

Born in Tower Hamlets in East London, Kia was raised in a family of eight children and has five sisters. She has a degree in computer science from the University of London.

In 2007, Kia left her job in tech to pursue a career as a writer and worked as sub-editor and later features editor at Asian Woman Magazine. She then went on to join global publisher Penguin Random House working on the digital Rough Guides. In 2014, she quit her day job to found Atlas & Boots, an outdoor travel blog.

Today, she splits her time between London and the Yorkshire Dales town of Richmond, and spends her time writing, hiking, mentoring pupils from Tower Hamlets and visiting far-flung destinations for Atlas & Boots.

Kia loves to travel, hates to cook and is a Star Trek fan.

Twitter: @KiaAbdullah
Facebook: @kiawriter
Instagram: @kiaabdullah
Website: https://kiaabdullah.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HarperCollins UK for my digital copy of Truth Be Told and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley

Blog tour: 1 to 16 September 2020

Synopsis

Because there’s never enough time to say goodbye …

Sylvia knows that she’s running out of time. Very soon, she will exist only in the memories of those who loved her most and the pieces of her life she’s left behind.

So she begins to write her husband a handbook for when she’s gone, somewhere to capture the small moments of ordinary, precious happiness in their married lives. From raising their wild, loving son, to what to give their gentle daughter on her eighteenth birthday – it’s everything she should have told him before it was too late.

But Sylvia also has a secret, one that she’s saved until the very last pages. And it’s a moment in her past that could change everything …

My review

For When I’m Gone tells the story of Sylvia Clarke, in her late thirties, who has terminal breast cancer. She’s married to Paul and they have two children, Jude (5) and Megan (8). She was an embryologist at a fertility clinic on Harley Street. Paul is a vet and the couple met 10 years ago when Sylvia brought in her injured pug, Ted, which had been attacked in the park.

Sylvia decides to write a manual for Paul for when she’s gone; a how-to guide to help him navigate the tricky times that will be ahead as the children grow up. She writes about all the little things that will be useful for him to know and the emotional load that comes with being a mother. She wants to pass this knowledge onto her husband and support him. Her comments are amusing and poignant – she tells Paul which school mums to avoid and suggests who will be keen to get closer to him when she dies. The manual is like a conversation from Sylvia to Paul, with little snippets and memories of their life together.

The book is written in the ‘Then’, with viewpoints from Sylvia and Paul, and the ‘Now’, as Paul and the children struggle to cope with what’s happened and try to move forward with their lives, interspersed with entries from Sylvia’s manual.

We learn all about the events that lead us up to the current day; Sylvia and Paul’s individual pasts and the various events that make up the couple’s relationship and their life together. It’s a fascinating insight into the elements that make them the people they are. It includes all their experiences over the years: the positive, happy moments, as well as the more challenging, difficult times.

The portrayal of Sylvia is very realistic and honest, and we get a full picture of her character and what she’s like. Sylvia seems so normal and she’s not perfect by any means. She had a bad falling out (the reasons for which are revealed later on) with her younger sister, Tess, has a difficult relationship with her mum, Barbara, who left both her children when they were very young (9 and 7), and is still mourning her dad, William, who died the previous year and brought the girls up by himself. The sisters are very competitive and Tess is a free spirit and rather different to Sylvia.

To add another dimension to this compelling and tragic story, Sylvia is hiding an awful secret and the truth is revealed to Paul as the story progresses.

Overall, I really enjoyed this touching novel and was thoroughly absorbed reading Sylvia’s personal and honest thoughts on life as she courageously faced what was to come and left a few bombshells along the way! It was poignant, moving and heartbreaking but also uplifting and full of hope. Sylvia’s strength of character shone through and, with her caring, thoughtful personality, she left her family in a strong position to get through the toughest of times, even though there’s never enough time to say goodbye. Such a fascinating and thought-provoking book and I look forward to reading more from the author.

Buy the book

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Rebecca Ley is a journalist who wrote a column for the Guardian called Doing it for Dad, about her father’s dementia. She has previously worked at The Times, The Sun and the Daily Mail. She also writes scripts for an animation company. For When I’m Gone is her debut novel.

She is a graduate of the Faber Academy and lives in London with her husband and three children.

Twitter: @rebeccahelenley
Instagram: @rebeccaley

Blog tour

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my digital copy of For When I’m Gone and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Bang Bang, You’re Dead by Evan Baldock

Blog tour: 19 to 31 August 2020

Synopsis

When it comes to vengeance, age is just a number.

Gloria Jones has had enough. She’s sixty-five, approaching retirement, and nearing the end of her tether. If she gets abused in the street by another toerag, someone’s going to swing.

When Gloria collects a gun she saw being thrown into her local park, her decision to turn it in is quickly scuppered after she’s attacked on her way to the police station. Using the gun to make her attackers back off, she accidentally pulls the trigger, and ends up killing them both. In that moment, her life changes forever.

As she struggles to come to terms with what she’s done, Gloria begins to realise there is injustice all around and finds herself transforming from a shy, peaceful woman into a confident and ruthless vigilante, determined to help victims of crime unable to defend themselves. And so begins a three-month campaign, taking revenge against violent criminals up and down the country, helping those who can’t help themselves.

After all, who’s going to question a little old lady just going about her business? Turns out, quite a few people, on both sides of the law, and one in particular seems to know exactly what she’s been up to.

My review

Set in 1998–1999, Bang Bang, You’re Dead tells the entertaining, action-packed story of Gloria Jones and her one-woman crusade to rid the country of some nasty criminals!

Gloria is nearly 65 and lives in a third-floor flat on New Compton Street in the West End of London. She’s widowed after the death of her husband, Graham, who passed away from liver failure less than 10 months after their son, Darren. He was a heroin addict and died 10 years ago from septicaemia after sharing a needle. She has a daughter, Sandra, who lives in Newcastle with her family.

Gloria works four days a week at the local Department of Social Security office but often does extra hours and covers for colleagues. She also works in local soup kitchens and drug treatment centres once a week to help street beggars, drug users and the homeless.

As she nears retirement, Gloria is getting fed up with the problems in the streets around her home – violent drug users are regularly shooting up in nearby doorways, in full view of everyone, and leaving their discarded paraphernalia behind. She’s been shouted at and threatened and was even attacked at a cashpoint a few weeks before.

One evening, while smoking at her open lounge window, Gloria hears a disturbance and watches two uniformed police officers chasing a man, who throws something over the fence into the local park, Phoenix Gardens. When she goes to investigate the following morning, Gloria discovers a black handgun in a thick patch of stinging nettles. She decides to put the gun in her handbag, take it home and contact the police.

She’s just reached her block of flats when she’s attacked by a couple of drug users who she’s had a run in with before. They smash her face into the door and punch her in the side to try and get her to release her grip on her handbag. But Gloria stands firm and is helped by a neighbour who hears the disturbance, opens the door and scares the couple off.

Later, after a visit to the hospital to check her injuries, Gloria tries unsuccessfully to contact the police to tell them about the gun so she decides to take it there in person. It’s now getting dark and as she makes her way to Holborn police station, she’s horrified to come across the woman who attacked her earlier. Again, she tries to steal her bag but Gloria is fed up of being frightened and she decides to wave the gun to scare her. When the woman takes out a knife, Gloria panics and shoots her and when the woman’s boyfriend appears after hearing the gunfire, she shoots him too!

At first, Gloria is horrified by what she’s done and feels awful but then she surmises that no one will miss these people and they got what they deserved. And there begins Gloria’s new role as a vigilante who rids the country of horrible criminals who are threatening others and ruining people’s lives. When her daughter’s family in Newcastle get caught up in their own problems with drug dealers, Gloria knows she has to help out.

The local police set up an incident room called Operation Chiddingstone and investigate the various murders and interview hundreds of suspects but struggle to find any leads, never suspecting for one moment that the killings are being carried out by a little old lady!

Gloria is a great protagonist – she’s fearless, reckless and brave and I was really rooting for her and hoping there would be a positive resolution in this crazy situation! She had some good friends who looked out for her, including a local police sergeant, Sean Aylen, and her old school friend, Lily, from Bristol.

I really enjoyed the police procedural parts and all the investigations, watching the police being clueless about what was going on. It was also fun to read about all the news headlines and see them hunting for the man who’d committed these awful serial killings!

Overall, I really enjoyed Bang Bang, You’re Dead! It’s amusing and great fun! It’s rather far fetched and I had to suspend disbelief at times but it’s all part of the story’s charm and its uniquely different premise. The novel is well written and cleverly plotted and flows well, with plenty of action. There were lots of twists and turns and I was imagining all kinds of conclusions. I was gripped and enjoyed seeing Gloria get more and more embroiled in things as the story progressed. I never knew what was going to happen next and the engaging storyline was tense at times and kept me on my toes! A great debut novel and I hope the author is already writing another book!

Buy the book

Bang Bang, You’re Dead by Evan Baldock can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback and, on 2 October, hardback. Or purchase paperback and hardback editions directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Evan Baldock was born in Pembury, Kent in 1956 and attended grammar school in Tunbridge Wells.

He left the Metropolitan Police after 30 years’ service in 2011, serving as one of the country’s first football intelligence officers until 1996, then transferring to West End Central, where for 15 years he worked in Soho.

For several years, Evan helped run the Soho Unit, specialising in combating drug dealing in the West End. During his career, he frequently ran test purchase and buy-bust operations against drug dealers, resulting in the seizure of large amounts of drugs, and the successful prosecution of over 200 dealers, many of whom received lengthy prison sentences.

After retiring from the Metropolitan police, Evan opened ‘Sweet Expectations’ in Rochester, Kent, the UK’s first vegetarian sweet shop.

In 2016, he sold the shop business and retired, before taking up writing in January 2019.

Twitter: @BaldockEvan

Blog tour

Thanks to Sean Coleman and Meggy Roussel at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of Bang Bang, You’re Dead and for my place on the blog tour.

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Blurred Lines by Hannah Begbie

Blog tour: 10 to 23 August 2020

Synopsis

There are two sides to every story.

When Becky accidentally sees her boss with a woman who isn’t his wife, she’s horrified but keeps her counsel. She owes Matthew so much for all he’s done for her career. But when the same woman accuses him of rape and asks for the witness to come forward, Becky is trapped in her lie.

Was what she saw rape? Or is this a young actress looking to get ahead. And can Becky separate her own traumatic past from the present?

As Becky attempts to untangle these blurred lines, she must risk everything to find the truth …

My review

When Rebecca (Becky) Shawcross, 32, visits her boss’ house in West London unannounced one evening and sees him in a compromising position on his kitchen floor with a woman who isn’t his wife, she makes a sharp exit. She isn’t really sure what she saw and it’s none of her business who Matthew Kingsman socialises or has an indiscretion with.

Becky’s career is on the up – she’s a development assistant to Matthew, who is a film producer and the owner of Kingfisher Films, and he’s keen on her film idea, which is a contemporary retelling of the Greek tragedy, Medea, and is helping her to pitch it to directors and actors at the Cannes Film Festival.

When the story breaks and the woman is forced into making a statement to the press, she accuses Matthew of raping her and mentions that someone saw it happening. She appeals to this witness to come forward and speak to the police.

Becky has a traumatic event in her past that regularly causes her anguish, especially if she drinks as she suffers from panic attacks, and she needs to protect herself and daughter, Maisie, 15. The event constantly plays on her mind and has deeply affected her over the years, leading to self-harm, periods of depression and dark thoughts. We see flashbacks to this period of her life. She’s still trying to make sense of what happened and the alleged rape is bringing all her trauma to the surface.

Becky is also reluctant to speak to the police as she feels loyalty to Matthew, her mentor, and is worried about the effect this could have on her career in the film industry. She’s aware that it could be make or break for herself and her film just by being associated with the awful alleged events, whether Matthew is guilty or innocent. There are various rumours about the woman involved and Becky is torn between telling the truth and emotionally exposing herself or keeping quiet to protect Matthew and hoping that things blow over quickly with some tactical public relations.

There were some good twists and turns in Blurred Lines and it was a thought-provoking read with a moral dilemma about a shocking event. It cleverly linked to the devastating events from Becky’s past and she was greatly influenced by what had happened to her. She had made some wrong decisions but so had others around her.

Despite being nearly 400 pages long, I sailed through this fast-paced book and couldn’t put it down; I was desperate to find out what happened in both situations. I had my suspicions and was partially right but was still shocked by the turn of events.

Overall, this was a thought-provoking, gripping and emotional read. There are definitely two sides to every story and lines do become blurred. Throughout the book, there were people making wrong decisions that had awful repercussions for all involved. It’s a compelling story with believable characters whose betrayal and heartache are vividly described. This is a relevant story about consent and power in this era of #MeToo and discusses some distressing topics in a sensitive manner.

I’m looking forward to checking out the author’s debut novel, Mother, which I already have waiting on my Kindle!

Buy the book

Blurred Lines by Hannah Begbie can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Hannah Begbie studied art history at the University of Cambridge. She went on to become a talent agent, representing BAFTA and Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning writers and comedians for 15 years. She also enrolled in The Novel Studio course at City University, winning that year’s new writing prize. The book she developed there became her debut novel, Mother, which later went on to win the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers from the RNA. The TV rights were snapped up by Clerkenwell Films (Lovesick, Misfits) after a heated auction, with screenwriter Tom Edge (The Crown, Judy) attached.

She lives in north London with her husband and their two sons.

Twitter: @hannahbegbie
Facebook: @HannahBegbieAuthor
Instagram: @hannahbegbie

Blog tour

Thanks to Jen Harlow at HarperCollins UK and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my copy of Blurred Lines and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Blog tour: 10 to 20 August 2020

Synopsis

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation. But this particular open house in a small town in Sweden becomes just that when an unsuccessful bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage.

With the bank robber refusing to communicate demands to the police, fear quickly turns to irritation for those trapped inside. If this is going to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be a bit more … dramatic?

As they wait, the eight incredibly anxious strangers slowly begin opening up to one another, revealing long-hidden truths.

And as the minutes tick on, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are …

A poignant, unpredictable locked-room comedy about a crime that never takes place, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they could ever have realised.

My review

Set in a small town in Sweden, on the day before New Year’s Eve, Anxious People tells the story of a 39-year-old pistol-wielding bank robber, who didn’t mean to be a bank robber, and the people who ended up being held hostage in a nearby apartment. They included seven prospective buyers and a real estate agent.

After the hostage situation ends, the two local policemen (father and son, Jim and Jack) interview the witnesses, starting with 20-year-old bank clerk, London. Next to be interrogated is 50-something Zara, who is wealthy and runs a bank, followed by all the other hostages from the apartment.

We slowly learn more about all the characters and their pasts and how they’re involved in the whole scenario. We follow things from various viewpoints so we build up the full picture of what’s been happening and which led us to this point in time. It’s all a lot more complex than it first appears!

The book is written in a social commentary style and includes discussions of rather dark themes, including suicide, mental health, poverty, relationship breakdowns, isolation, but these are interspersed with some comical moments from the eccentric potential apartment buyers and the incompetent bank robber/hostage taker!

This is an intriguing and quirky tale, written in an unusual style, and I wasn’t really sure where it was going at first. I soon got into the rhythm and enjoyed trying to piece all the clues together in this entertaining and unpredictable locked-room mystery.

Overall, this is a fascinating insight into human behaviour and amusingly written, with some witty observations. The character-driven storyline is well plotted and cleverly woven. Just when I thought I understood what was going on, there’d be another curveball or revelation! It’s a touching and emotional read and also rather thought provoking. The diverse cast of characters were realistically drawn and the various connections made between them were heart warming and poignant.

This is the first of the author’s books that I’ve read and I’m keen to read more of his work, especially A Man Called Ove and Beartown.

Buy the book

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Fredrik Backman made his literary debut in 2012 with the global sensation, A Man Called Ove. Wickedly funny, touching and wise, Fredrik Backman’s novels are odysseys of the ordinary man and woman, and stunningly moving tales of everyday courage. His books have sold more than 11 million copies in 46 languages and the film adaptation of A Man Called Ove was nominated for two Academy Awards. Tom Hanks is currently set to adapt and star in an English language version of the film.

Twitter: @Backmanland
Facebook: @Backmanland
Instagram: @backmansk
Website: https://fredrikbackmanbooks.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Laura Nicol at Michael Joseph Books for my copy of Anxious People and for my place on the blog tour.

Featured

The Witch House by Ann Rawson

Blog tour: 3 to 16 August 2020

Synopsis

Who can you trust, if you can’t trust yourself?

Alice Hunter, grieving and troubled after a breakdown, stumbles on the body of her friend and trustee, Harry Rook. The police determine he has been ritually murdered and suspicion falls on the vulnerable Alice, who inherited the place known locally as The Witch House from her grandmother, late High Priestess of the local coven.

When the investigations turn up more evidence, and it all seems to point to Alice, even she begins to doubt herself.

Can she find the courage to confront the secrets and lies at the heart of her family and community to uncover the truth, prove her sanity, and clear herself of murder?

My review

The Witch House tells the story of Alice Hunter, 22, who has recently been released from a mental health unit called Brookfields after suffering a breakdown when her grandmother died. She cared for Frances for three years after she had a stroke.

One autumnal morning, while looking for her friend, Harry Rook, who is the owner of the West Beach Café and Cuckmere Amusement Park, Alice is horrified to find him lying dead in his hut near the car park with various pagan symbols around his body. She touches Harry to see if he’s still alive and ends up catching herself on the murder weapon and her finger starts bleeding. She frantically phones 999 and awaits the arrival of the police and paramedics. As she found the body, the police want to take her witness statement. They seem to assume she must be guilty and DI Collingwood is rather harsh in his questioning of Alice.

Harry was the executor and trustee of Frances’ will, of which Alice is the main benefactor, but her inheritance money is tied up until she’s 30. Alice also owns half of a property company with Mrs Banerjee, as well as a cleaning and care company and a farm.

Alice is rather vulnerable and an unreliable narrator and suffers from panic attacks and has to do breathing exercises. She’s rather shy and paranoid and thinks she’s being watched. She does appear to have an artistic stalker who sends her pen and ink drawings though – or is it a figment of her imagination? The drugs she takes also play tricks with her mind: she suffers from night terrors and leaves the front door open and has had things stolen from the Witch House, which she inherited from her grandma.

Frances has a history of paganism and was High Priestess of the local pagan group, Cuckmere Coven. Several years ago, there was a scandal when the new vicar in the village disagreed with their old ways and banned followers from the church and the pagan meetings stopped or went underground. Frances also had a falling out with the Rook family, which Alice has never been able to get to the bottom of.

Alice isn’t very close with her mum, Helen, who gave up her daughter to Frances when she was younger, and they have a rather fraught and difficult relationship. She doesn’t have many friends apart from Tamsin, who runs the café and whose great uncle is Harry, and Kelly, who’s in her early thirties and is still in Brookfields where the two met.

Four years ago, Alice was due to go to the University of Oxford to study classical history and archaeology before she gives it all up to care for her grandma and then ended up in Brookfields. She decides to do a part-time course at the local university called Romans in Sussex, which is run by the TV presenter Professor Matthew Buckley, to build up her confidence. Alice has a keen interest in archaeology, after finding a Roman coin on the cliffs at Cuckmere Beacon, and she shares this passion with her grandma who had a collection of artefacts, which she discovered in the local area.

After Alice is questioned about Harry’s murder, everyone in Cuckmere already seems to think she’s guilty, due to her pagan connections, being the granddaughter of a supposed witch, and her recent stay in the mental hospital. As she struggles to prove she’s innocent, Alice learns some shocking secrets about her family, and isn’t sure who she can trust – everyone seems to think she’s responsible, including her own mother and Tamsin.

Overall, this was a well-plotted and gripping murder mystery with some intriguing characters and startling family revelations. There was lots of action, several twists and turns, and the archaeology and pagan scenes were fascinating. I was never quite sure whether Alice was telling the truth or not and was flummoxed about who had actually murdered Harry until the killer was revealed!

I really enjoyed this cleverly written, atmospheric and entertaining novel; it was something a bit different from the norm and I liked the way the rather dark story unfolded and all the different threads came together. I’m already looking forward to reading more from the author.

Buy the book

The Witch House by Ann Rawson can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. Or purchase paperback and hardback editions directly from the Red Dog Press online shop.

About the author

Ann Rawson has long been addicted to story. As a child, she longed to learn to read because she knew there was magic in those pages, the inky squiggles that turned into words and became images in her head – the stories that could transport her away from the everyday. As she grew older, she divined there was truth in books too. They were a glimpse into other minds. Her reading became the foundation of a deep and abiding interest in what makes people tick – and so she soon became hooked on crime fiction.

Age ten, she wrote to Malcolm Saville, author of the Lone Pine Series, enclosing her first short story. He wrote back and encouraged her to continue writing – and she is heartbroken that the letter is long lost. His book, Lone Pine Five, sparked a lifelong interest in archaeology, as it mentions the Mildenhall Treasure which makes an appearance in The Witch House.

A lapsed witch with enduring pagan tendencies, she lives on the south coast. She still thinks of herself as a Northerner, although she’s been in exile for many years. Almost every day she walks on the Downs or the white cliffs with her husband, plotting her next novel while he designs computer systems.

Ann’s debut novel, A Savage Art, was published by Fahrenheit Press in 2016. She has published some short fiction, and in 2019 her memoir piece, If…, was shortlisted for the Fish Short Memoir Prize.

She is currently completing a memoir and working on her third novel.

Twitter: @AE_Rawson
Facebook: @aerawson
Website: www.strawintogold.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Sean Coleman at Red Dog Press for my digital copy of The Witch House and for my place on the blog tour.

Featured

The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone

Blog tour: 13 July to 14 August 2020

Synopsis

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.

While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.

But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series. Fast-paced, darkly funny, yet touching and tender, the Skelf family series is a welcome reboot to the classic private investigator novel, whilst also asking deeper questions about family, society and grief.

My review

After reading and really enjoying the first book in the Skelfs series, A Dark Matter, I was keen to join the blog tour for the second book, The Big Chill, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book is even better!

The Big Chill can be read as a standalone as the background is explained but, as it follows on so soon after the other, I’d recommend that you read the first book in the series to get the full picture of the Skelf women and who they are and what they’ve endured.

Set six months after the first novel, in which the patriarch of the Skelf family, Jim, died suddenly from a heart attack, we once again delve into the lives of three generations of the women who have taken over the reins of the family funeral business and private investigator firm in Edinburgh. Dorothy, who’s from California originally, is 70, daughter, Jenny, is 45 and granddaughter, Hannah, is 20.

My attention was caught from the first few pages in this action-packed novel with that dramatic opening! While conducting a funeral at Edinburgh Eastern cemetery, Dorothy is nearly killed when a joyrider in a white Nissan, being chased by a police car, hurtles through the gates and pinballs through the graveyard, knocking over gravestones. When the car eventually comes to rest, in an unusual position, the driver dies after suffering a head injury.

The joyrider is thought to be homeless and the police don’t seem too bothered about identifying him. Dorothy adopts his dog, a border collie who she names Einstein, and is determined to discover who the man was, enlisting Jenny to do the private investigating work.

One of Dorothy’s drumming students, Abi, goes missing and her mum and stepdad don’t seem too bothered about finding her. Dorothy ends up watching Abi’s dad’s flat in an attempt to find her and discovers there’s a whole lot more to the situation than meets the eye.

Jenny also visits her ex-husband, Craig, in prison, where he’s on remand, and ends up having an altercation with him as he knows exactly which buttons to press and continues to try and hurt all three women with his actions and manipulative words.

Hannah is a physics student at the local university and gets close to one of the elderly professors, Hugh Fowler, who insists that the department should honour Hannah’s friend and flatmate, Melanie Cheng, who tragically died. Later on, things take a shocking turn and Hannah is left reeling by what happens with the professor.

With characters you really care about and relate to, The Big Chill is a touching and heartfelt read. All three women, Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah, are still trying to move on after the death of patriarch Jim and the events in the last book are continue to play deeply on everyone’s mind and affect them all.

Hannah is having counselling and trying not to take her lovely, supportive girlfriend, Indy, for granted. Her mum, Jenny, is still in turmoil after ex-husband, Craig’s, awful betrayal and wicked actions, and trying to enjoy spending time with new boyfriend, Liam.

Dorothy is trying to remain strong for the whole family and their colleague Archie, who suffers the bereavement of a close family member and has Cotard’s syndrome (a psychological condition that means he believe he’s dead). Dorothy’s professional relationship and private friendship with Detective Inspector Thomas Olsson continues to blossom and they seem a good match despite the 15-year age gap.

The women have great relationships – they all have a lot going on but are supportive of each other. I think Hannah should think about Indy more though – she can be a bit self-absorbed and self-sabotaging and not considerate of Indy’s feelings. Bearing in mind that Indy lost both her parents in a car crash only four years ago, Hannah leans on her too heavily at times and expects her to be strong and supportive all the time.

Again, there were some lovely detailed and evocative descriptions of Edinburgh and I even checked Google Maps so I could picture where various scenes had happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the series – it’s well written, cleverly plotted and very engaging. There are lots of threads of stories in the book with some great cliffhangers at the ends of chapters. I never knew what was going to happen next and the storyline was very tense at times and kept me on my toes! Lots happens and the book is very entertaining and gripping with several themes but easy to follow and not far fetched. This dark story unfolds well at a good pace and with some dramatic conclusions!

The concept of three generations of women working as both family funeral directors and private investigators is certainly unique and very original and I enjoy finding out more about the various techniques involved in both businesses!

I hear there’s a third book in the series – I hope this is true! – and I’m already looking forward to reading more about the escapades of the Skelfs!

Buy the book

The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and in paperback on 20 August, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Doug Johnstone is the author of more than 10 novels, most recently Breakers, which has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year, and A Dark Matter, which launched the Skelfs series. Several of his books have been bestsellers and award winners, and his work has been praised by the likes of Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions – including a funeral home, which he drew on to write
A Dark Matter – and has been an arts journalist for 20 years.

Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Twitter: @doug_johnstone
Instagram: @writerdougj
Website: https://dougjohnstone.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my digital copy of The Big Chill and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

Featured

Homecoming by Luan Goldie

Blog tour: 6 to 10 August 2020

Synopsis

For years, Yvonne has tried to keep her demons buried and focus on moving forward. But her guilt is always with her and weighs heavily on her heart.

Kiama has had to grow up without a mother, and while there is so much he remembers about her, there is still plenty he doesn’t know. And there’s only one person who can fill in the gaps.

Lewis wants nothing more than to keep Kiama, his son, safe, but the thought of Kiama dredging up the past worries Lewis deeply. And Lewis doesn’t know if he’s ready to let the only woman he’s ever loved back into his life.

When Kiama seeks Yvonne out and asks her to come with him to Kenya, the place that holds the answers to his questions, she knows she can’t refuse. And this one act sets in motion an unravelling of the past that no one is ready for.

Moving between London and Kenya, and spanning almost two decades, Homecoming is a profound and moving story of love, family and friendship. It’s about coming to terms with your past, opening yourself up to the exquisite pain and pleasure of love, and of what happens when three lost souls, all bound by one person, come together and finally share their truths.

My review

After recently finishing Luan Goldie’s debut novel, Nightingale Point, for The Motherload® Book Club group’s monthly readalong, I was excited to follow it up with Homecoming and I definitely wasn’t disappointed!

Covering nearly two decades and set in London and Kenya, it tells the story of Yvonne and Kiama (his name means ‘light of life’ in Kenyan). They’re connected through Kiama’s mum, Emma, who was Yvonne’s best friend and housemate at university. Emma died suddenly in Kenya when her son was only eight years old.

Ten years later, in September 2020, 18-year-old Kiama decides to return to Kenya to find out more about his mum’s death and try and come to terms with what happened. He remembers certain things about the past but his memories are patchy and mainly influenced by what others have told him over the last decade.

Kiama meets Yvonne (now 40), who he hasn’t seen since his mum passed away, at a coffee shop and asks her to accompany him on his trip as she knew Emma best out of anyone. After thinking about it for a week, Yvonne agrees to go to Kenya with Kiama but reluctantly as she’s hiding a few secrets and feels guilty about things that have happened since he was born and about the events leading up to Emma’s death. She was in Kenya visiting when Emma died in shocking circumstances.

Kiama plans to spend 10 days in Kenya and visit his maternal grandparents, Neil and Cynthia, in Nairobi, see his mum’s old nanny, Purity, who also looked after him for six months, and then head to Mombasa. Kiama’s dad, Lewis, is rather worried that he wants to revisit the past as there’s a lot that his son isn’t aware of; things that went on concerning his mum, dad and Yvonne.

At the start of their trip, Kiama and Yvonne are trying to suss each other out and are rather wary; they only have old memories to go on and Yvonne isn’t exactly sure what Kiama wants to know and wonders whether she should tell him everything about the past or not. He’s still mourning his mum and his nana, who died recently, and struggling to find his way in the world after being spoilt by his dad and nana too much. The trip is an emotional and tense time for Kiama and Yvonne, and brings all kinds of feelings to the surface and various flashbacks.

As the story unfolds, things become clearer and we realise why Yvonne lost touch with Kiama and his dad, we learn more about Yvonne and Emma’s university days and their friendship beyond this, and find out more about Emma’s family (her parents both work for an oil company in Kenya). It’s a rather sad tale: full of regrets, lies, love, complicated relationships and heartache.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Kenya and the difficult conditions in the orphanage in Lari, which was where Emma had worked. The Swahili phrases were also a nice touch.

Homecoming was an engaging and thought-provoking read with some shocking and emotional scenes. It was sad that Yvonne was forced to choose between her best friend and a man. She felt torn between the two and unsure who to remain loyal to. She seemed rather lonely, guilty and deeply affected by all that had happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed this captivating and poignant novel. It was well written and beautifully described and the story built up cleverly as we switched between the two timelines and the past and the truth were slowly revealed. I had sympathy for all the main protagonists, apart from Lewis who seemed a bit selfish, and it was fascinating to see how one wrong decision/omission had such repercussions for them all in the future.

After reading both of the author’s novels back to back, I’m already looking forward to her next book!

Buy the book

Homecoming by Luan Goldie can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Luan Goldie is a Glasgow-born author and primary school teacher who grew up in East London.

Her debut novel, Nightingale Point, was longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. It was also a BBC Radio 2 Jo Whiley Book Club Pick.

Her short stories have appeared in Resist: Stories of Uprising and The Good Journal. She is also the winner of the 2017 Costa Short Story Award.

Twitter: @LuanGoldie
Facebook: @luangoldie
Instagram: @luangoldie
Website: https://luangoldie.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of Homecoming and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

Featured

Eleven Lines to Somewhere by Alyson Rudd

Blog tour: 23 to 27 July 2020

Synopsis

In a world of what-ifs, a connection has been made …

When Ryan spots a young woman on the tube on his commute, he can’t take his eyes off her. Instantly attracted and intrigued, he’s keen to find out more about his mysterious fellow passenger.

The woman he thinks of as Millie spends all day travelling the Underground, unable to leave for reasons unbeknownst to Ryan. For some inexplicable reason, he just can’t shake the feeling he wants to help her escape her endless commute.

My review

Eleven Lines to Somewhere tells the story of Ryan Kennedy (33), a laboratory manager at a university, who commutes to work every day on the London Underground. One day, while people watching, he spots a young woman with ‘nearly red’ hair and, after seeing her several times, he’s smitten and tries to catch the same train as her every day and get on the front carriage, which is where she prefers to sit.

He names the woman ‘Millie’ and tries to ensure that his journey to work coincides with hers, checking the first carriage of each train as it arrives and waiting for the next one if he can’t see her. Millie appears to be in a world of her own, on a mission, and sits there reading her book, without acknowledging anyone around her.

Ryan begins to follow Millie on her daily journeys around the network and is confused by the routes she follows – there’s no pattern to her trips and she gets off at different stops every day, switches lines and, sometimes, waits for hours at a station, like she’s meeting someone. He can’t figure out what she does or where she works and assumes she’s based in several different offices and has meetings around London.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Ryan, his lodger, Naomi, and the losses that he and his family have suffered. Ryan’s mum, Grace, and his sister, Hana, look after his grandpa (his father’s dad), who is still deeply mourning the death of his son.

We learn more about Millie’s story too – her real name is Sylvie and she has nowhere to be and is trapped travelling the tube for reasons that are revealed later on in the story. There’s a sadness about her and she isn’t sure how to move on and escape her current existence of endless travel.

When Ryan and Sylvie finally connect, we’re left hoping that they will be good for each other and be able to help each other heal and move on from the distressing events in their pasts.

The setting of the London Underground is like a cast of characters in itself as Millie/Sylvie and Ryan travel round the network taking different routes. People’s lives are intersecting like the tube trains: connections made and missed, lives criss-crossing and people passing by without seeing each other.

I liked Ryan but he is slightly stalkerish when he begins to follow Millie and his behaviour does seem rather obsessive at times! He would have been better off just plucking up the courage to speak to her, as opposed to trailing her around!

This is an engaging, absorbing book; one to be read carefully and savoured. It’s a rather meandering read at times – we’re introduced to new characters we haven’t met before and then other characters are discussed and I had to check to see if they had been mentioned before. The characters are strong and intelligently written though and I found them fascinating and relatable. I was curious to see how they’re all connected to the story and to each other.

Overall, this was an intriguing, poignant and thought-provoking novel about family, friendships, relationships, love, loss and grief. It was cleverly plotted and written in an unusual style and I liked the way we gradually built up a picture of each of the different characters and learnt how their past was affecting them from moving forward on their journeys.

I haven’t read the author’s debut novel yet and I look forward to The First Time Lauren Pailing Died, which I’ve heard good things about and sounds a fascinating read.

Buy the book

Eleven Lines to Somewhere by Alyson Rudd can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Alyson Rudd started out as a financial journalist but has been an award-winning sportswriter for 23 years, all of them with The Times, bar a two year stint at The Sunday Telegraph. She has written two non-fiction titles: Astroturf Blonde, about playing football with men and women’s teams, and a biography of Matthew Harding, the Chelsea director who was killed in a helicopter crash.

She is a something of a judging panel addict and decided to write fiction after assessing the entries for the Costa First Novel Award. Her first novel, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died, was published by HQ in 2019.

Alyson, born in Liverpool, is a qualified football coach and referee, married with two sons and lives in south-west London.

Twitter: @allyrudd_times

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of Eleven Lines to Somewhere and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Storm by Amanda Jennings

Blog tour: 17 to 23 July 2020

Synopsis

To the outside world, Hannah married the perfect man. Behind the closed doors of their imposing home, it’s a very different story. Nathan controls everything Hannah does. He chooses her clothes, checks her receipts, and keeps her passport locked away. But why does she let him?

Years before, in the midst of a relentless storm, the tragic events of one night changed everything. And Hannah has been living with the consequences ever since. Keeping Nathan happy. Doing as she’s told.

But the past is about to catch up with them.

Set against the unforgiving backdrop of a Cornish fishing port in the ’90s, this is a devastating exploration of the power of coercive control in a marriage where nothing is quite as it seems …

My review

Set near Penzance in Cornwall, The Coast tells the story of Hannah and Nathan Cardew, their 15-year-old son, Alex, and dog, Cass. Nathan is a lawyer while Hannah doesn’t work and is a stay-at-home mum. The family live in New Mill in Trevose House, which was originally Nathan’s family home and used to be much larger but his father, Charles, was a gambler and ended up selling off parts of the estate to pay his debts. He died suddenly on Nathan’s 13th birthday.

Nathan is very controlling and won’t let Hannah do anything without his approval. He tells her what to wear, won’t let her have her own money, checks her receipts, she isn’t allowed to work or have her own car. He expects everything to be done to a schedule – from when meals are served to when they have sex. Their relationship is toxic: he twists her words, gaslights her and tries to convince her that he’s told her things when he hasn’t. He also enjoys putting her down at every opportunity and tries to make her feel grateful that he wants to be with her. Hannah makes excuses for Nathan to Alex and others and claims he’s just overprotective.

Hannah only has one friend, Vicky, who she’s known since they were at nursery together. Vicky is married to Phil and they have four-year-old twins. It’s coming up to her 40th birthday and she wants Hannah to go away for the night but they’re both expecting Nathan to refuse.

To try and retain a small amount of independence, Hannah meets Vicky every Tuesday in secret at a cafe in Penzance and she also sneaks out at night to smoke the pack of cigarettes that Vicky gives her every other week. Nathan has never liked Vicky – he thinks she’s a bad influence, common and a flirt – and he hates smoking. Hannah is also clever with money and uses the cash Nathan gives her carefully; buying cheaper products and pretending to lose receipts so that she can squirrel away a small amount to treat herself, her mum or Alex.

Hannah has routines that keep her going, like doing things on certain days. Her mum is in a care home after a bad fall and she visits her regularly and so does Alex. Her son is the most important thing in her life and the main reason why she hasn’t left Nathan. She can’t escape as she fears what will happen to Alex. She suffered postnatal depression when he was younger and ran away with him. Nathan said she was endangering their baby and took away her passport and bank card and he continues to uses her supposed instability as a threat to stop her from leaving him.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Hannah, Nathan and her ex-boyfriend, Cameron (Cam) Stewart, and switches between 1998 and the present day, which is 15 years later. We learn how Hannah met both men in Newlyn near Penzance when she was working in her dad’s bakery and Cam was a fisherman on The Annamae, and how things developed and the competition between the two men, who knew each other from primary school, as they vied for her affections.

When Alex disappears after an argument with his dad and Hannah’s mum falls ill, these two events are the catalyst for the truth about what happened in the past being revealed. There’s a brooding atmosphere, which is matched by the brewing storm, which is the focus of the key events of 1998 that have shaped the rest of Hannah’s life.

This compelling, well-layered story had me intrigued from the start as we know that something shattering happened 15 years previously that affected Hannah, Nathan and Cam and caused the change in direction of all their lives. Hannah still feels so guilty about what happened in the past and her punishment is her abusive life with Nathan. The coercive control of their relationship is very chilling and you can see how easy it is for someone to be in a situation like that and how difficult it would be to get away, with no money or means of escape, and the terrifying thought of uprooting your entire life.

This was a tense, dramatic and traumatic read at times – I was willing Hannah to fight back, stand up to Nathan and break free from his controlling ways. The scenes with Cam and the other fishermen as they faced the storm were also gripping and very nerve racking. There was a great sense of tension as the story unfolded and the truth was revealed. Nothing is as clear cut as it seems and there were several instances of misdirection and various twists and turns.

Being a fisherman sounds a tough life and it was interesting to get an insight into how difficult a job it is and how harsh and unforgiving the sea and weather conditions are. The men have some good banter though and enjoy their downtime in the pub!

Overall, I really enjoyed this dark, well-written and cleverly plotted novel. There was a great build up as we got to the climax of the story and realised why the main protagonists were behaving as they were. It’s a chilling and disturbing read and one I’m still thinking about days later. The storm scenes were very tense and atmospheric and conveyed the drama and trauma of the events well.

This is the first of Amanda Jennings’ books that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be checking out her others. I already have In Her Wake and The Cliff House on my Kindle.

Buy the book

The Storm by Amanda Jennings can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Amanda Jennings writes psychological suspense and is the author of Sworn Secret, which was published in the UK, US and Italy. It was an Amazon Kindle Top 5 Bestseller in the UK, a Top 100 Bestseller in the US, and reached the Number 1 spot in Italy.

Her second book, The Judas Scar, was published in 2014 and optioned shortly after by a UK film and television production company.

Her third novel, In Her Wake, is set in Cornwall, where her mother’s side of the family is from, and where she spent long and very happy childhood summers.

Her fourth book, The Cliff House, was published by Harper Collins imprint HQ in May 2018.

​Amanda is a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club and enjoys meeting readers at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals. She was born in London and lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband, three daughters and an unruly menagerie of pets. She is currently writing her sixth book, which will be set on Bodmin Moor. When she isn’t writing she can generally be found walking the dog or dreaming of mountains or the sea.

Twitter: @MandaJJennings
Facebook: @amandajenningsauthor
Instagram: @amanda_jennings1
Website: https://www.amandajennings.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of The Storm and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Darkest Night by Jenny O’Brien

Blog tour: 16 to 20 July 2020

Synopsis

A dead woman. An impossible crime.

Christine de Bertrand wakes up to her worst nightmare: rather than the man she went to bed with, lying beside her is her housemate, Nikki – dead. With no memory of the night before, Christine can’t explain what happened, and the police are baffled.

For DC Gaby Darin, newly arrived from Swansea after her last case ended in tragedy, it’s a mystery she’s determined to solve. When another woman goes missing, Gaby faces a race against time to uncover the link between the two victims and find the man who vanished from Christine’s bedroom. But as Gaby gets close, the killer gets closer – and soon one of Gaby’s own team is in unimaginable danger …

My review

This is the second book in the Detective Gaby Darin series and I was keen to find out what happens next after reading and really enjoying Silent Cry.

The opening scene of Darkest Night introduces a 30-year-old woman called Christine de Bertrand, who lives in a top-floor flat along the West Shore in Llandudno. After a rare night out drinking with her friend, Kelly, she wakes up to find herself in bed with what she thinks is a man she brought home with her. After making him a coffee, Christine pulls back the duvet and is horrified to discover the blood-soaked dead body of her flatmate, Nicola (Nikki) Jones.

Detective Constable (DC) Gabriella (Gaby) Darin has recently moved to St Asaph police station from Swansea and it’s her first weekend off in three months but a knocking at the door of her cottage in Rhos-on-Sea and the appearance of her colleague, Welshman DC Owen Bates, mean her days off are cancelled, especially as half the force are ill with Norovirus! Gaby’s new boss, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Henry Sherlock, has put her in charge of the murder case.

Christine is taken to Llandudno police station for questioning and interviewed by Gaby and DC Bates in the presence of a solicitor before being moved to the custodial suite at St Asalph’s police station. She protests her innocence, claiming she must have been drugged as she can’t remember anything, and the police can’t find a murder weapon either.

She is profoundly deaf after a riding accident as a child and wears hearing aids but her hearing loss has worsened over the years. Christine, a special needs teacher, divorced her husband, Paul, two years ago for reasons that seem to be unclear to all! He is the headmaster at St Gildas Independent Boarding School in Beddgelert. He is also asked some questions when he visits the police station to try and see his ex-wife.

The novel is mainly set over the course of six days in mid-May, with flashbacks to the University of Cambridge in 2008, where Nikki and Christine were studying classics at St Augusta’s College and Paul was one of their course lecturers.

When a person, Tracy Price, goes missing, police are convinced the two cases must be linked but can’t work out the connection between the women. Tracy, 34, is married to Barry and they have six-year-old twin boys. Police speak to various neighbours and learn that the couple’s marriage might have been in trouble but there appear to be no leads or clues.

Both investigations seem to be dragging on without any results and things take an even more sinister turn when one of the police officers goes missing and can’t be tracked down. It seems that things may be coming to a head in dramatic fashion – is the killer involved in this shocking development?

Gaby is a great protagonist and I really like her personality and the way her character is developing. It’s a shame that her love life is rather disastrous and the only man she has any feelings for is the grumpy and red-haired Irish pathologist, Dr Rusty Mulholland, who behaves very strangely towards her and is scathing of everything she does. He is rather abrupt and has bad manners.

Overall, I really enjoyed this excellent and well-written police procedural. As with Silent Cry, I liked the way we followed the investigation as it developed and were able to hear Gaby’s thought processes as she struggled to put together all the pieces of the jigsaw. The puzzling storyline was cleverly plotted and had some interesting twists and turns and the odd red herring and misdirection. There were some tense moments, lots of suspense, and I had no idea how it was all going to be resolved. I wasn’t sure who the killer was either!

The author has written another gripping, engaging and entertaining book and I’m already looking forward to the next one in the series!

Buy the book

Darkest Night by Jenny O’Brien can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Born in Dublin, Jenny O’Brien moved to Wales and then Guernsey, where she tries to find time to write in between working as a nurse and ferrying around three teenagers.

She’s an avid reader and book blogger, in addition to being a previous Romantic Novel Awards (RoNA) judge.

In her spare time, she can be found frowning at her wonky cakes and even wonkier breads. You’ll be pleased to note she won’t be entering The Great British Bake Off. She’s also an all-year-round sea swimmer.

Twitter: @ScribblerJB
Facebook: @JennyOBrienWriter
Instagram: @scribblerjb
Website: https://jennyobrienwriter.wordpress.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy of Darkest Night and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The End of Her by Shari Lapena

Blog tour: 16 to 25 July 2020

Synopsis

It starts with a shocking accusation …

Stephanie and Patrick are recently married, with new-born twins. While Stephanie struggles with the disorienting effects of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she knows for certain – she has everything she ever wanted.

Then a woman from his past arrives and makes a horrifying allegation about his first wife. He always claimed her death was an accident – but she says it was murder.

He insists he’s innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. But is Patrick telling the truth? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?

How will it end?

My review

I’ve enjoyed all Shari Lapena’s books: they’re entertaining and thrilling reads and her fifth novel is no exception!

Set in 2018, The End of Her tells the story of Stephanie, 30, and Patrick Kilgour, 32, who live in a suburb in Aylesford, New York, with their four-month-old twins, Emma and Jackie. The couple are finding it hard to cope and surviving on only a few hours’ disrupted sleep as their girls suffer from colic and fuss most of the night. Patrick is an architect and a partner in a small firm and is struggling to concentrate due to the sleep deprivation. His partner, Niall Foote, is concerned by his lack of focus at work.

When a woman from his past turns up for an interview for an admin role at the firm, Patrick is shocked. He hasn’t seen Erica Voss for over nine years, since he left Colorado, and she is a link to a tragic incident in his past. Why is she appearing in his life now? It can’t be a coincidence!

Erica emails and asks to meet Patrick and he reluctantly agrees to see her in a local bar, curious to find out what she wants. A few days later, they meet again and Erica warns him that she is going to ask the police to reinvestigate the death of his pregnant first wife, Lindsey, if him and Stephanie don’t pay her some money to keep quiet. Lindsey’s death was ruled accidental and never properly looked into.

Stephanie’s parents died in a car crash when she was a teenager and, as an only child, she was the sole recipient of their wealth of more than two million dollars. This money was put into a trust and she received it all on her 30th birthday, which was only a couple of months ago. Stephanie and Patrick decided not to make a prenup when they got married, as they were so in love.

Patrick confesses to Stephanie about what happened to his first wife and, at first, she completely believes her husband and is sure he’s innocent of any wrongdoing but then certain things are revealed that make her question whether she actually knows Patrick at all.

Stephanie and Patrick’s seemingly lovely life gets thrown into increasing turmoil as accusations are made, events get out of control and all that they know appears to be falling apart. Will the couple’s marriage be able to survive the strain or will everything be ruined forever?

Erica is cunning and intent on dragging everyone into her web of deceit so that she has as much of a hold over people as she can. She’s done her homework and knows the ins and outs of their lives – she has dirt on several people and knows how to blackmail them. She relies on them not talking to each other – as they feel guilty of their actions – to get away with her misdemeanours. She’s also good at keeping track of people without them being aware that she’s even there – she initially pretends to both Stephanie and neighbour, Hanna Bright, that she’s planning to move into the area and checks out a house that is for sale.

I really felt for poor Stephanie – the twins sounded exhausting and she was really struggling to stay sane due to the lack of sleep. She kept doing daft things as she was so tired and ended up not being able to think straight about anything. She grew closer to Hanna as the story progressed but lacked a good support network to help her through the early baby months.

There were lots of twists and turns in this novel and I wasn’t really sure who to trust – everyone seemed to be keeping secrets and lying about what they were up to. There were several red herrings and some misdirection that had me suspecting all kinds of things! I was trying to guess what was happening and kept changing my mind. This was definitely an intriguing and absorbing read.

Overall, I really enjoyed this dark, chilling, well-plotted story. It was intense and fast paced and I raced through this in a few hours, frantically turning the pages, desperate to find out how it was all going to be resolved. With that dramatic ending, I wasn’t disappointed! I’m already looking forward to the author’s next book.

Buy the book

The End of Her by Shari Lapena is published on 23 July and can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before writing fiction. Her debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, was a global bestseller, the bestselling fiction title in the UK in 2017 and has been optioned for television. Her thrillers, A Stranger in the House, An Unwanted Guest and Someone We Know, were all The Sunday Times and The New York Times bestsellers.

Twitter: @sharilapena
Facebook: @ShariLapena
Instagram: @sharilapena
Website: https://sharilapena.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Thomas Hill at Transworld Books for my digital copy of The End of Her and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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The Curious Case of Faith and Grace by David B. Lyons

Blog tour: 28 June to 4 July 2020

Synopsis

Pretty or pretty twisted?

Almost two years ago, Faith and Grace Tiddle arrived home from their Saturday morning dance class to find both of their parents face down in pools of blood.

Five days later, the twins – only nine years old at the time – were arrested for the double homicide.

And now, 20 months on, the entire country awaits with bated breath as the jury are dismissed to deliberate their verdict on a case that has become a national phenomenon.

But if Lead Detective Denis Quayle – the man who knows the case better than anybody else – isn’t fully convinced of the twins’ guilt …

Can a 12-person jury be?

My review

Set in Dublin, The Curious Case of Faith and Grace tells the story of nine-year-old twins, Faith and Grace Tiddle, who are accused of the murder of their parents, Clive and Dorothy.

The twins were at their usual Saturday morning ballet and tap class and, when they returned home, were horrified to find their mother and father lying dead, from multiple stab wounds, in the kitchen of the family bungalow at the foothills of the Dublin mountains.

Clive, aged 52, and Dorothy, aged 50, run the church at the local community centre after the original St Benedict’s Church closed. The couple are old fashioned, very religious and rather strict with their girls, who were conceived via IVF after 17 years of trying. They said prayers over the girls’ cribs when they were born and, as they grew older, made them chant Hail Marys and Our Fathers and pray for forgiveness if they were naughty.

The story is told from several viewpoints. The first is from Detective Inspector Denis Quayle, the lead investigator on the case, who is based at Rathcoole Garda station, and is from the days immediately after the killings. The second is from Alice Sheridan, one of the 12 jurors from the trial, which takes place nearly two years later and is coming to a close after nearly two weeks, with deliberations due to start shortly. Interspersed with these viewpoints are descriptive sections that tell us more about the background of the rather strange Tiddle family. These are fascinating and rather eye opening and give us an interesting alternative view of the well-thought-of family!

Quayle is rather incompetent and out of his depth, struggling to keep hold of his investigation while the two detectives from Tallaght, Tunstead and Lowe, try to take control. He believed the girls were not guilty and battled hard to convince his colleagues that the case needed more investigating and they should look at other local people as suspects, rather than just the twins. Rathcoole station is only small with four police staff: Quayle, uniformed officers, Johnny Gibbons and Olivia Sully, and Detective Superintendent Brigit Fairweather, who is nearing retirement and spends all her time on the golf course rather than doing any work.

Juror Alice Sheridan is married to Noel and they have two children, Zoe (23) and Alfie (14). They also suffered from problems with conceiving and their youngest was born after IVF and four miscarriages. Alice tries not to get too close to the other jurors and has nicknames for them like Obese Guy, Red Head, Quiff Boy, Scarhead, etc!

We learn early on that a member of the jury is being blackmailed and must encourage the other jurors to vote not guilty to avoid their darkest secret being revealed to their family. It was really interesting to see the thought processes of the jury and how they deliberated everything. There were a lot of arguments and strong opinions as the group tried to remain objective and decide whether the girls (now 11 years old) were guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. The evidence certainly seemed lacking in parts.

This was a cleverly plotted and well-paced courtroom thriller; it was engaging and compelling and I felt like I was there with DI Quayle as he tried to get to the bottom of the dreadful killings. Later on, I imagined being in the jury rooms in Dublin’s Criminal Courts as the jury are deliberating and considering their verdict.

It was an absorbing, tense and thought-provoking read with some good twists and turns throughout – there was a lot more going on in the lives of the Tiddle family than the police realised and they definitely overlooked various clues and revealing events! The twins were rather creepy and disturbing and rather shocked me out with some of their actions and discussions but I still swayed between thinking they were guilty and not guilty as the story progressed. A really entertaining novel!

I’ve already read and enjoyed She Said, Three Said and I’m looking forward to the final book in the trial trilogy and will be checking out the author’s other books, Midday and Whatever Happened to Betsy Blake?, which I already have on my Kindle, and The Suicide Pact.

Buy the book

The Curious Case of Faith and Grace by David B. Lyons can be preordered from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback and is published on 3 July, and is available now as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

David B. Lyons is an international bestselling author – a writer of psychological thrillers. He has reached number one in charts in Ireland, the UK, Canada and Australia.

David grew up in Dublin – the city in which his novels are set – but currently spends his time between Birmingham in the UK and the Irish capital. David is married to a Brummie, Kerry, and they have one daughter, Lola.

He has lectured in creative writing in colleges and universities in both Ireland and in the UK and coaches people how to write with free tutorials at TheOpenAuthor.com.

Twitter: @TheOpenAuthor
Facebook: @AuthorDavidBLyons
Instagram: @theopenauthor
Website: http://theopenauthor.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my digital copy of The Curious Case of Faith and Grace and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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Not the Deaths Imagined by Anne Pettigrew

Cover reveal

Today, I’m delighted to help reveal the cover for Not the Deaths Imagined by Anne Pettigrew.

Synopsis

In a leafy Glasgow suburb, Dr Beth Semple is busy juggling motherhood and full-time GP work in the 90’s NHS. But her life becomes even more problematic when she notices some odd deaths in her neighbourhood. Though Beth believes the stories don’t add up, the authorities remain stubbornly unconvinced.

Soon, Beth’s professional reputation is challenged. There follows a chilling campaign of harassment and she finds her professional reputation – and family – are put at risk.

Is a charming local GP actually a serial killer? Can Beth piece together the jigsaw of perplexing fatalities and perhaps save lives? And as events accelerate towards a dramatic conclusion, will the police intervene in time?

From the author of Not the Life Imagined, this slow-burning tartan noir novel from a Bloody Scotland Crime Spotlight author follows Beth on another quest for justice. Reflecting Pettigrew’s own medical expertise, Not The Deaths Imagined re-affirms the benefits of growing up in a loving family and the need for friends in hard times, while offering insight into the twisted development of a psychopathic mind.

Buy the book

Published by Ringwood Publishing, Not the Deaths Imagined is released on 1 August 2020 in eBook and paperback. It can be preordered now from Amazon on Kindle or from Ringwood Publishing.

About the author

Anne Pettigrew was born in Glasgow and was a Greenock GP for 31 years. She is a graduate of the University of Glasgow (Medicine, 1974) and the University of Oxford (MSc Medical Anthropology, 2004). She has also worked also in psychiatry, women’s health and journalism (The Herald, Pulse, Doctor, Channel 4).

In retirement, she took creative writing tuition at the University of Glasgow, aiming to pen novels about women doctors (rare in literature except as pathologists or in Mills & Boon).

She was a runner-up in the SAW Constable Award 2018 and was chosen as a 2019 Bloody Scotland Crime Spotlight Author ‘one to watch’. She is member of several writers’ groups and a short story competition winner.

She lives in Ayrshire and enjoys good books, good wine and good company.

Twitter: @pettigrew_anne
Facebook: @annepettigrewauthor
Instagram: @anne.pettigrew.author
Website: http://www.annepettigrew.co.uk

Featured

Cut to the Bone by Roz Watkins

Blog tour: 19 to 24 June 2020

Synopsis

A beautiful young social-media star goes missing.
But who took her?

When controversial internet celebrity Violet Armstrong vanishes in the middle of a scorching Peak District summer, the case sparks a media frenzy.

The clock is ticking for DI Meg Dalton and her team to find Violet before online threats explode into real-life violence. And then the blood and hair of a young woman are found in an empty pig trough at the local abattoir …

The more Meg finds out about this unnerving case, the more she becomes convinced that something very, very bad has happened to Violet. With temperatures rising and the press demanding answers, the case is about to take a terrifying turn …

My review

Cut to the Bone is the third book in the Detective Inspector (DI) Meg Dalton series but is fine to be read as a standalone.

The story is set in the village of Gritton in the Peak District, which is rather creepy and unwelcoming and no one seems to want to either visit or leave the place. The Derbyshire village has railings and cameras everywhere to keep the locals in check and sinister child-shaped bollards and painted fake sinkholes to scare off visitors!

When nearby Ladybower Reservoir was created in the 1940s, several villages were submerged by it and the residents were forced to move to Gritton. Over the last 30 years, there have been sightings of a mysterious girl, the Pale Child, who is rumoured to be the ghost of a murdered child who lived in the manor house in the former village.

Social media star, Violet Armstrong, aged 18, who barbecues burgers in a bikini, has gone missing from her summer job at Gritton Abattoir, where she works night shifts doing cleaning. DI Meg Dalton and Detective Sergeant (DS) Jai Sanghera are sent to investigate Violet’s disappearance and they speak to the owner of the abattoir, Anna Finchley, and her brother, Gary, and a man called Daniel Twigg, who also both work there.

With the help of Violet, Anna set up a website called The Great Meat Debate, with videos and posts on ethical meat producing and this has made them the target of an animal rights group called the Animal Vigilantes. The group wear horrible meat-patterned clothing and have made threats against Violet and the others involved in the website, including Kirsty Nightingale, who owns a pig farm. Her father, Tony, is also a pig farmer.

Set in two time periods, the book switches from Violet’s disappearance in the present day to August–October 1999, where we meet Bex who is visiting her dad, Tony Nightingale, and sister, Kirsty, in Gritton for a month. Their mum, Nina, left when Bex was three and headed back to her home country of Ukraine and Bex was sent to live with her Aunt Janet in Southampton.

Violet’s parents are on holiday in New Zealand and we learn that she was adopted and has headed to Gritton to find out more about her biological parents, who she believes have connections to the village.

When traces of human blood and hair are discovered in a pig trough at the abattoir, it appears that the worst has happened and Violet has been murdered and fed to the pigs.

As the police investigate further, it seems that there is more to the case than meets the eye and they discover that the whole village seems to be keeping secrets. DI Meg Dalton and DS Jai Sanghera struggle to crack the case and can’t get a break. Things take an even more sinister turn when the Justice for Violet group is formed and causes trouble and the police have to do battle with both activist groups which attack Meg online and in person.

Poor Meg is still struggling after the recent death of her gran and she has a lot to deal with, including a visit from her estranged father who seems to be acting suspiciously and being far too friendly. She has a good relationship and banter with her colleague, Jai, and I liked the way they work together, and I loved her cat, Hamlet!

This was a dark and engaging police procedural and I raced through it trying to work out who Violet’s killer was. There were several untrustworthy suspects but the plot actually turned out to be a lot more layered and complex than I expected and I hadn’t guessed how things were going to turn out at all! A gripping read and rather chilling, despite the intense, claustrophobic heat!

Overall, I really enjoyed this twisty and disturbing tale, which had a cleverly written storyline and kept me entertained throughout. There was lots of tension and some shocking moments.

I haven’t read the other books in the series, The Devil’s Dice and Dead Man’s Daughter, and although there were a few mentions of past events, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage. I have both books on my Kindle so will be checking them out to find out more about DI Meg Dalton’s history and discover what happened to her family members.

Buy the book

Cut to the Bone by Roz Watkins can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback on 25 June, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Roz Watkins is the author of the DI Meg Dalton crime series. She lives on the edge of the Peak District, where the series is set. (Meg lives just down the road in Belper, and the fictional town Eldercliffe was inspired by nearby Wirksworth.)

Her first book, The Devil’s Dice, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. It was The Times crime book of the month and has been optioned for TV. Her second book, Dead Man’s Daughter, was also a top pick in The Times.

Roz studied engineering at Cambridge University, before training in patent law. She was a partner in a firm of patent attorneys in Derby, but this has absolutely nothing to do with there being a dead one in her first novel.

In her spare time, Roz likes to walk in the Peak District, scouting out murder locations.

Twitter: @RozWatkins
Facebook: @RozWatkinsAuthor
Website: https://www.rozwatkins.co.uk

Blog tour

Thanks to Isabel Smith at HQ Stories for my digital copy of Cut to the Bone and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.