Featured

Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay

Blog tour: 1 to 5 April 2020

Synopsis

South London, 1896.

William Arrowood, Victorian London’s less salubrious private detective, is paid a visit by Captain Moon, the owner of a pleasure steamer moored on the Thames. He complains that someone has been damaging his boat, putting his business in jeopardy.

Arrowood and his trusty sidekick Barnett suspect professional jealousy, but when a shocking discovery is pulled from the river, it seems like even fouler play is afoot.

It’s up to Arrowood and Barnett to solve the case, before any more corpses end up in the watery depths.

My review

In South London in 1896, private enquiry agent William Arrowood and his assistant, Norman Barnett are visited by Captain Moon and his daughter, Suzie, who run the little pleasure steamer, the Gravesend Queen, on the River Thames. They pick up passengers at Old Swan Pier by London Bridge and take them to Terrace Pier in Gravesend and have been doing this route for 13 or 14 years. They’ve been having trouble with a man called Polgreen who started up on the same route a year ago and is now trying to put them out of business by sabotaging their boat. They ask Arrowood and Barnett to help them out and gather evidence to prove that it is Polgreen who has been damaging their steamer.

At first, the case seems fairly straightforward but then, following an arson attack by a gang of masked men, a shocking discovery turns things on its head and the private detectives soon realise they’ve become embroiled in something far bigger and more dangerous than they were expecting.

As the story races along and the body count rises, we follow Arrowood and Barnett all over dirty, impoverished London to various areas and establishments as they try to get to the bottom of things and stay out of trouble, while struggling to survive on little money and, in Arrowood’s case, trying to support his sister, Ettie, and a baby. They both ending up pawning things just to have enough money to eat sometimes.

The two main protagonists work well together and have a good partnership. They each have their flaws but they look after, and bring out the best in, each other.

This was a fascinating historical read, with brilliant attention to detail, and vividly descriptive; I could almost smell the pungent and disgusting aromas of Victorian London. The story was rather gory and revolting at times but it definitely helped to create an atmospheric and graphic read. Everything and everyone seemed to be grimy, sweaty, greasy, bloody or oozing and there were rats and other nasties everywhere! I feel like I need a good wash after reading it!

There was a great cast of characters, with lovely names like ratcatcher Foulpipe Annie and cracksman Flatnose Fisher, from all walks of life, from the street urchin children to the violent thugs and the more distinguished individuals. The story was well researched and I really felt that I got to know all the types of people and the period of time in which the book is set.

There were several twists, turns and misdirections, as well as some shocking revelations, which I hadn’t seen coming! The story had a lot of depth and, at times, I was a little overwhelmed by the cast of characters and had to remind myself who was who.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cleverly plotted and well-written story. It’s not my usual genre but I found it really absorbing and loved the layering of the story and the way it built up a great picture of the horrors of the city at the time. I hadn’t realised this was the third book in the series but I’ll definitely be checking out the others, Arrowood and The Murder Pit, now!

Buy the book

Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Hannah Mornement

Mick Finlay was born in Glasgow and grew up in Canada and England. He now divides his time between Brighton and Cambridge. He teaches part-time in a psychology department, and has published research on political violence, persuasion, and verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Before becoming an academic, he ran a market stall on Portobello Road, and has worked as a tent-hand in a travelling circus, a butcher’s boy, a hotel porter, and in various jobs in the NHS and social services.

He writes historical crime fiction set in 1890’s South London. The first in the series, Arrowood, was published in 2017 by HQ (Harper Collins). The sequel, The Murder Pit, came out in January 2019 and Arrowood and the Thames Corpses is the third book.

Twitter: @mickfinlay2
Facebook: @mickfinlayauthor
Instagram: @mickfinlay_books
Website: https://mickfinlay.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital copy and proof copy of Arrowood and the Thames Corpses and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

Blog tour: 2 to 16 April 2020

Synopsis

Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead?

Julian Jessop is living a lie. He’s lonely but refuses to speak to his neighbours. He loved his wife when she was alive, but he didn’t tell her. (In fact, he wasn’t very kind to her at all.) He feels invisible to the world but he doesnt want to go out. But now he wants to be honest. So he writes his truth in a small green notebook and leaves it in his local café.

Monica gave up a high-flying career as a lawyer to open her own café, but it isn’t going as well as she hoped. On finding the notebook, she’s both inspired to write her own truth and to help Julian out of his loneliness.

Little does Julian know that his one small act is about to bring a whole group of people together as they discover the power, and the danger, of honesty.

My review

Julian Jessop is in his late seventies (or is it early eighties?!) and a flamboyant artist who has lived in the Chelsea Studios on Fulham Road for the last 57 years. He’s lonely and misses his wife (who he didn’t treat very well), their friends and active social life. He decides to write a few pages about his life in a pale green exercise book, which he entitles The Authenticity Project and leaves in his local café.

Monica is 37 and runs her own café called Monica’s Café, which is where the exercise book is left. She used to be a solicitor in a big City firm but then she realised she was single and that her life revolved around work, work parties and client entertaining. She became disillusioned by it all, quit her job and took over the lease on a derelict sweet shop and turned it into the café. She’s also lonely and still single and wants more than anything to have a husband and a baby. She’s a planner and hates the fact that she can’t make things happen and feels she’s running out of time.

Benji is in his mid-twenties and a red-headed Scot who works in the cafe. We meet his boyfriend Baz’s granny, Mrs Wu, who brings a great comedic element to the proceedings!

Timothy Hazard Ford (known as Hazard), aged 38, is an equity trader. He’s also an addict and behaves recklessly: drinking, taking drugs and regularly sleeping with different woman. He realises that he hates himself and something needs to change, which coincides with the exercise book making an appearance on his table in a fancy wine bar.

Alice Campbell is 26, married to Max and they have a little girl called Amelie (nicknamed Bunty). She’s an Instagram influencer and posts regularly about her experiences online. She’s struggling but feels like she has to keep up appearances and post about what a marvellous time they’re having, even though she feels like crying most of the time.

Riley is 30, Australian and has recently arrived in the UK from Thailand. He’s staying with friends in Earl’s Court while he explores London.

One by one, the characters are brought together by the exercise book, either directly, by finding it somewhere, or indirectly, as a result of someone else’s actions. At first, some of the main protagonists seem a bit shallow or horrible but, as we get to know them, we learn more about the secrets they’re hiding and realise why they behave the way they do.

The Authenticity Project was an engaging and thought-provoking read and I loved the concept of the green exercise book, which revealed people’s innermost thoughts and helped them tell their own truths. It brings them together and creates connections and a sense of community. There are some sad moments to the story but, generally, it’s an uplifting read and has some touching and perceptive moments, as well as some funny bits!

Overall, this was a lovely, heart-warming story and I really enjoyed getting to know all the characters in the book. They were a real mix of people and it was fun to see how they all interacted and ended up looking out for each other and forming lovely friendships. I’m looking forward to reading more from Clare Pooley and hoping she writes another book soon!

Buy the book

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Clare Pooley graduated from Cambridge and spent 20 years in the heady world of advertising before becoming a full-time mum. She is the author of the hugely popular blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker, under the pseudonym ‘Sober Mummy’ and her memoir, The Sober Diaries, was published by Hodder in 2017 to critical acclaim.

Her blog has had over two million hits and she recently gave a TEDx talk titled ‘Making Sober Less Shameful’.

Clare’s debut novel, The Authenticity Project, is inspired by the time she spent in advertising, a world where the line between authenticity and fiction is constantly blurred, and by her own experience of exposing truth about her seemingly perfect life in her memoir.

Clare writes from her kitchen table in Fulham, London where she lives with her long-suffering husband, three children, dog and an African pygmy hedgehog.

Twitter: @cpooleywriter
Facebook: @SoberMummy
Instagram: @clare_pooley
Website: https://clarepooley.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Mine by Clare Empson

Blog tour: 16 March to 10 April 2020

Synopsis

‘Who am I? Why am I here? Why did my mother give me away?’

On the surface, Luke and his girlfriend Hannah seem to have a perfect life. He’s an A&R man, she’s an arts correspondent and they are devoted to their new-born son Samuel.

But beneath the gloss Luke has always felt like an outsider. So when he finds his birth mother Alice, the instant connection with her is a little like falling in love.

When Hannah goes back to work, Luke asks Alice to look after their son. But Alice – fuelled with grief from when her baby was taken from her 27 years ago – starts to fall in love with Samuel. And Luke won’t settle for his mother pushing him aside once again …

My review

Luke is 27 and works in the music industry as an artists and repertoire (A&R) man and runs his own record label, Epic, and his girlfriend, Hannah, also 27, is an arts correspondent for the culture section of The Sunday Times. They’ve recently had a baby, Samuel, who is three months old.

Luke was adopted and has always felt that he didn’t really belong anywhere. Becoming a father has made him think about his birth parents. When he tracks down his mother, Alice Garland, they meet up and there’s an instant connection. He learns more about Alice, who is now aged 47, single, has no other children and is an artist, and his father, Richard (Rick) Fields, who is a famous artist. Hannah is looking to go back to work, three days a week, and they’ve been unable to find a suitable au pair. Alice seems the ideal person to look after Samuel and she readily agrees.

As Luke and Hannah get to know Alice, and then Hannah goes back to work, things seem to be going well and Alice shares a great bond with baby Samuel, taking him to cafés, the library and the park, and having a great time. Luke, though, suffers from mixed emotions as he feels that he’s no closer to having a relationship with his biological mother and he’s jealous of her closeness with Samuel and also begins to become suspicious of her motives and behaviour and there are a few red flags that things aren’t right.

The story is told in two timelines: the ‘Now’ in 2000, which begins with Luke meeting Alice after all these years, and the ‘Then’ in 1972, where Alice and Rick are 18/19 years old and two of only 12 students on the fine arts degree at the Slade, the best arts school in the country.

We learn more about Alice’s past and the carefree but intense times she shared with friends and the relationship that defined her younger years, which all ended with the birth of Luke and subsequent act of giving him up for adoption.

At the beginning of Luke’s chapters, the paragraphs from Who Am I? The adoptee’s hidden trauma by Paul Harris, were an interesting insight into Luke and Alice’s emotions and feelings, and explained a lot of what they were experiencing. (I assume this is a fictional book as I couldn’t find it online.)

Mine was an intriguing and compelling story, with some great descriptions of music and art, and was cleverly written with a plot that built up nicely, with a great sense of tension, foreboding and fear. I felt that something bad was going to happen but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what!

Emotionally charged and beautifully written, Mine was an interesting look at the impact of adoption and how, for Luke, it defined him and had affected his whole life and relationships with others and meant that he had a sense of not belonging. Alice had also been deeply affected by giving up her son and had never got over it, which was equally sad.

Overall, I really enjoyed Mine; it was very thought provoking and emotional, and I liked the way the heartbreaking story unfolded and we got to know the real truth about the past, which several of the main protagonists had tried to hide in various ways. I’m really looking forward to reading Him now, which I bought over a year ago!

Buy the book

Mine by Clare Empson can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Clare Empson worked as a staff writer on national newspapers, covering everything from collapsing merchant banks to tea with the late Barbara Cartland (everything pink including the cakes).

When she moved to the West Country, she founded the arts and lifestyle blog, countrycalling.co.uk. The idyllic setting inspired her first novel, Him, which reveals the darker side of paradise.

Clare lives on the Wiltshire/Dorset border with her husband and three children.

Twitter: @ClareEmpson2
Facebook: @clareempsonauthor
Website: https://www.clareempson.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my digital copy of Mine and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Dark Corners by Darren O’Sullivan

Blog tour: 30 March to 3 April 2020

Synopsis

You thought you’d escaped your past
It’s been 20 years since Neve’s best friend Chloe went missing. Neve has never recovered and promised herself she’d never go back to that place.

But secrets can come back to haunt you
When Neve receives news that her first boyfriend Jamie has gone missing, she’s forced to return. Jamie has vanished without a trace in a disappearance that echoes the events of all those years ago. Somebody is watching and will stop at nothing until the truth about what took place that night is revealed …

My review

Dark Corners tells the story of Neve Chambers, in her late thirties, who lives near Brent Lodge Park in Hanwell, London and is the joint partner, with her university friend, Esther, of a coffee shop called The Tea Tree, which they’d set up three years before. Her fiance, Oliver, splits up with her after nearly seven years together and Neve starts drinking heavily and begins to let things slide at work. After an incident at the cafe, Neve decides that she needs to take control of her life and when she coincidentally hears from an old school friend, Holly, who says Neve’s first boyfriend, Jamie Hardman, is missing, she decides it’s the perfect time to get away for a while.

Neve hasn’t been home to the small, ex-mining village for several years. She left after the disappearance of her school friend, Chloe Lambert, over 21 years ago, and has only been back a couple of times to see her father, Sean, who used to be a miner.

There was a gang of seven of them from school, Baz, Chloe, Georgia, Holly, Jamie, Michael and Neve, who used to hang around together and they often met up in an old abandoned and boarded-up security hut near the mine. Chloe went missing in the summer of 1998 after exams, when they all turned 16, and was never found, despite numerous searches. A mysterious man who was nicknamed the Drifter was blamed for her disappearance as the gang had spotted him lurking at night around the village and near the mine, which had been closed the year before.

When Neve returns to the village, she gets a rather cold reaction from most people, especially her old friends, who were disappointed that she just upped and left straight after the tragedy, leaving them to deal with things, and never returned. Neve ran away to live with her mum who herself had left the village and her family, just before Chloe disappeared, and didn’t return.

Neve stays with her dad but even he is a bit off with her and is frail and seems to be suffering from memory problems as he keeps forgetting things and leaving the oven on. Him and Neve rarely spoke over the years, except on the phone occasionally, and they have to get to know each other again after all this time and everything that has happened.

Set in two timelines, June to August 1998 and November to January 2019, we learn about the events leading up to Chloe’s disappearance that summer. And the current day, with Neve reacquainting herself with old friends and trying to work out what has happened to Jamie while laying the ghosts of the pasts to rest. All of Chloe’s friends were deeply affected when she went missing and none of them have been able to put things behind them.

I really liked the atmospheric and dark setting of an old mining village for this intriguing tale; it was something a bit different and the mine’s headstocks and past seemed to cast a shadow over the whole area, even decades later, with many of the men who used to work there still struggling to move on after its closure in 1997.

The story was cleverly written with several twists and turns and I didn’t guess the truth of what had happened to Chloe and Jamie. There were definitely a few of the characters who were not to be trusted and I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to be revealed at the end!

I liked Neve’s friend, Esther, who was very supportive and kind despite being let down several times by Neve and having her own family, a two-year-old daughter, to look after. Neve didn’t have a very good relationship with her father as he felt that he’d failed her and her mum when he lost his job at the mine but it was good to see things between them improve as the story went on.

Overall, I really enjoyed this intriguing, absorbing mystery, which was well plotted and entertaining. I sped through it in my rush to work out exactly what secrets everyone was hiding and where the missing were. I already have the author’s other books, Our Little Secret, Close Your Eyes and Closer Than You Think, on my Kindle so will have to read them all soon!

Buy the book

Dark Corners by Darren O’Sullivan can be purchased from 2 April from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Peterborough Presents

Darren O’Sullivan is the author of psychological thrillers, Our Little SecretClose Your Eyes and Closer Than You Think. He is a graduate of the Faber Academy and his debut novel, Our Little Secret, was a number one bestseller in the UK and bestseller in four countries.

He lives in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire where his days are spent either behind his laptop writing, in front of a group of actors directing theatre, or rolling around pretending to be a dinosaur with his young son.

Twitter: @darrensully
Facebook: @darrenosullivanauthor
Instagram: @darrensully

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my digital and paperback copies of Dark Corners and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Containment by Vanda Symon

Blog tour: 1 to 31 March 2020

Synopsis

Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.

What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning …

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims …

My review

The story begins with the rather dramatic event of a cargo ship, Lauretia Express, running aground in the harbour of the village of Aramoana, near the spit, and when the shipping containers wash up ashore, the scavenging locals rush to carry off as much loot as they can! Detective Constable Sam Shephard is one of the first officers on the scene and when she confronts two of the looters, she is assaulted and ends up unconscious and in an ambulance with the man who hurt her, who is in a bad way after being beaten up by the other man.

An old lady finds a skull in one of the boxes from the container ship and then, later on, a diver is discovered dead and DC Shephard, still battered and bruised with a pounding headache, is thrust headlong into a murder investigation. We get some great forensic descriptions of the state and smell of a nibbled, water-bloated body and the subsequent post-mortem, which both make gruesome reading.

Sam Shephard is great; she’s a feisty character and I love her no-nonsense attitude, sense of humour, confidence and directness. She has a difficult relationship with some of her work colleagues as she was fast tracked into the detective training programme and her boss, Detective Inspector ‘Dickhead’ Johns, is really unfair and treats her badly. He delights in giving her the most menial or demeaning tasks. She has a good relationship with her work partner and mentor, Detective Malcolm Smith (Smithy) and he looks out for Sam and stands up for her.

She has been with her boyfriend, Paul Frost, a detective in Gore, for several years but doesn’t let him get close and pushes him away when he suggests they move their long-distance relationship on a bit. I loved Sam’s flatmate; they have a great friendship and seem to understand each other well and Maggie knows exactly what to say to Sam, especially when discussing her relationship with Paul.

This was a suspenseful and cleverly plotted story with a few surprising twists, turns and misdirections. The investigation developed well and I hadn’t guessed in which direction it was going to go; there were some surprising revelations. We got to know a fair few interesting characters, dodgy and otherwise, and it was fun trying to work out whether they were connected or not and what linked the various threads of the story.

An entertaining and intriguing thriller, with some great descriptions of the New Zealand scenery, and I enjoyed getting to know Sam Shephard and her colleagues, friends and family.

I visited Dunedin when I was travelling round the South Island of New Zealand in over 10 years ago and I was fascinated to read about the city and surrounding area in this novel. It’s beautifully described and I could really picture the place. I’d love to visit again one day!

Containment is the third book in Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series and I’m ashamed to say it’s the first one I’ve read, despite having the other two, Overkill and The Ringmaster, on my Kindle! I’ll definitely be rectifying this now as I love a good police procedural and this was gripping, absorbing and really well written, and I raced through it!

Buy the book

Containment 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
Website: http://www.vandasymon.com

Blog tour

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

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

Featured

The Codes of Love by Hannah Persaud

Blog tour: 20–26 March 2020

Synopsis

Ryan and Emily appear to have it all, successful jobs, a beautiful house and the secret to a happy marriage. A secret that involves certain ‘rules’.

Beneath the surface trouble is brewing in the shape of Ada. Whimsical, free spirited and beholden to no-one, she represents the freedom Emily’s been striving for, and the escape that Ryan didn’t know he wanted.

As they are separately, and secretly, drawn to her, things start to unravel. The ‘rules’ are still the rules, to be taken seriously, not to be broken …

My review

Beautifully written, The Codes of Love tells the intriguing story of married couple Ryan and Emily Bradshaw, who have a rather unconventional open marriage. They have been together 22 years and have two teenage sons, Tom and Sam. Ryan is a successful architect and Emily is a creative writing lecturer at University College London (UCL) and the family live in London.

The title of the book refers to the rules of an open marriage, all 25 of them, which are listed by chapter. When the couple married, Emily insisted that they should draw up some rules to try and save their marriage from failing. Ryan wasn’t quite so keen but he went along with it as he was so in love with Emily.

It’s certainly a different marriage, and then Adeline (Ada), a consultant on Ryan’s project, joins the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, with the rules being challenged one by one. One of Emily’s students takes a liking to her too, causing further problems in her and Ryan’s relationship.

It’s a fascinating look at an unusual relationship and I felt almost voyeuristic reading about it from Ryan and Emily’s points of view. It’s compelling and absorbing and I was drawn into the story, especially the almost ethereal world of Ryan’s holiday cottage in Wales, which is beautifully described. I was curious to read that the cottage, named Cyfannedd Fach, was first mentioned by the author in a short story, which was published in 2016, and can be found on her blog.

Throughout the book, there’s a great sense of foreboding and tension. I kept expecting bad things to happen and there were a few instances of misdirection, which were cleverly done. It’s quite a haunting, disturbing tale and builds up well.

The main protagonists in the story were rather volatile and untrustworthy and all seemed to be hiding secrets and not revealing their true selves to each other. The passion and desire they were experiencing led to some rather rash decisions and feelings of being out of control and reckless. It made uncomfortable reading at times, almost like watching a car crash about to happen!

Overall, I really enjoyed this cleverly written story and I found it very absorbing and something a bit different from the norm. I’m already looking forward to reading the author’s next novel. And I can’t finish this review without mentioning that stunning and eye-catching rainbow-like cover! So vivid and bright, it deserves a closer look and will definitely stand out on the shelf.

Buy the book

The Codes of Love by Hannah Persaud can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Hannah Persaud was born in Yorkshire and spent her childhood in Devon, before her family moved to South East Asia, where she lived in Kathmandu, Nepal and, later, India. She now lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire, with her husband, children and two boisterous cocker spaniels.

She spends much of her time freezing in a writing hut at the bottom of her garden, and writes short stories, poetry and novels. When not writing, Hannah is mainly wandering the woods with her dogs, wild swimming, running, reading and drinking wine (not simultaneously).

Hannah won the InkTears Short Story Contest with her story Cyfannedd Fach, and The Codes of Love, her debut novel, is based on the winning story. She is currently working on her second novel.

Twitter: @HPersaud
Website: http://www.hannahpersaud.com/

Blog tour

Thanks to Fiona Brownlee at Muswell Press for my digital copy and beautiful hard copy of The Codes of Love and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green

Blog tour: 15 to 19 March 2020

Synopsis

It was always going to end in trouble. But how did it end in murder?

Jenny Kennedy appears to have it all. She’s the perfect daughter, the popular girl at school and a successful beauty queen. But then Jenny is found dead, in a murder that rocks the small town she grew up in to the core.

Her estranged half-sister Virginia finds herself thrust into the spotlight as the case dominates the news and is desperate to uncover who killed Jenny. But she soon realises that maybe Jenny’s life wasn’t so perfect after all. The truth is that Jenny has more than a few secrets of her own, and so do her neighbours …

What really happened that night?

My review

The Prized Girl tells the story of Jenny Kennedy, aged 13, and a former pageant queen who was found murdered in the woods bordering cornfields, near her home in Wrenton, New England. The police think they’ve got the killer, a man who is a fan and attended all her pageants, but her estranged half-sister, Virginia, who’s 13 years older, isn’t convinced and begins to do a bit of digging herself to try and find out the truth.

Jenny’s mum, Linda, adores her but pushes her to perform in the pageants. She eventually rebels, which sets off a chain of catastrophic events. Jenny shares a father, Calvin, with Virginia, who was 11 when her mum died.

Told in two timelines, before and after the murder, and from the points of view of Jenny and Virginia, we learn more about the secrets that both sisters are hiding and how things are connected between various people in the small town in which they live. Everyone seems to be mixed up in each other’s business to a large extent!

Virginia has her own demons, after a traumatic childhood, and she doesn’t get along with her father, stepmother or stepsister but she joins forces with the local cop, Detective Brandon Colsen, to investigate Jenny’s murder and together they uncover some new evidence, which sends the story in several different directions.

Neither of the main protagonists is very likeable but they were both rather misunderstood, abused and vulnerable. It’s a shame the two sisters weren’t closer as they were more similar than they realised and had both been mistreated by people around them.

The Prized Girl is well paced and secrets are slowly and intriguingly revealed until things come to a dramatic conclusion with several shocking revelations. It was twisty and cleverly plotted and I didn’t have a clue how it was all going to be concluded or work out who the killer actually was!

Overall, I really enjoyed this dark, chilling story and liked the various twists, turns and misdirection. Gripping reading at times. Just when I thought I knew who had done it, another thing was revealed by one of the sisters that sent me back to the drawing board! I’m looking forward to reading the author’s next book.

Buy the book

The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Amy K. Green was born and raised in a small New England town where she was once struck by lightning. She was a practicing CPA before leaving the corporate life to work in film production, write, and wear fewer high heels. She now lives in Los Angeles but spends as much time as she can in Boston.

Twitter: @amykgreen
Instagram: @amykgreen1

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my copy of The Prized Girl and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Operator by Gretchen Berg

Blog tour: 9 to 20 March 2020

Synopsis

Be careful what you wish for

It’s 1952. The switchboard operators in Wooster, Ohio, love nothing more than to eavesdrop on their neighbours’ conversations, and gossip about what they learn. Vivian Dalton is no different (despite her teenage daughter’s disapproval), and always longs to hear something scandalous. But on the night of December 15th, she wishes she hadn’t. The secret that’s shared by a stranger on the line threatens to rip the rug of Vivian’s life from under her.

Vivian may be mortified, but she’s not going to take this lying down. She wants the truth, no matter how painful it may be. But one secret tends to lead to another …

This moving, heart-felt and ultimately uplifting novel brilliantly weaves together an irresistible portrayal of a town buzzing with scandal, and an unforgettable story of marriage, motherhood and the unbreakable ties of family.

My review

In December 1952, Vivian Dalton is 38 years old, mum of Charlotte (15) and wife to Edward, and a switchboard operator at Ohio Bell in Wooster, Ohio. Vivian is also rather nosy and after connecting callers with their requested numbers, she often stays on the line to have a listen for any good gossip! Most of it is usually mundane but Vivian takes delight in knowing these secrets facts about everyone.

Late one night, she gets more than she bargained for when she hears four-flusher (someone who makes false or pretentious claims) Betty Miller and another woman swapping some scandalous gossip about Vivian’s family! Getting a taste of her medicine, Vivian is horrified and paranoid that people are talking about her and feels uncomfortable around everyone in the small town where she lives. She vows to uncover the whole truth about the saga and find out who the caller was.

We also learn about a bank robbery, which keeps the locals talking as the couple who carried out the crime, Gilbert Ogden and Flora Parker, are still at large. Ogden was a teller at Wayne Building and Loan and he embezzled $250,000 and absconded with the bank director’s secretary and married woman, Flora Parker. Betty’s father, J. Ellis Reed, is the mayor of Wooster and also the owner of the bank and he had promised to reimburse people in the town who’d lost money with his own cash.

The story is set in 1952–53 and told in flashbacks to various points in Vivian’s life (1925, 1931 and 1936) when she is 10, 16 and 21 respectively. Her maiden name was McGinty and she has four siblings: Henry, Vera, Violet and Will. She first joined Ohio Bell at aged 16, before moving out to upstate New York shortly after marrying her husband, Edward, in June 1937, after he took up a job at The Institution for Male Defective Delinquents. They returned to Wooster a few years later, with a young Charlotte, after Edward quit his job at the prison.

Interspersed in the story are dictionary definitions, newspaper articles and tasty-sound recipes, which add to the familiarity and homeliness. Vivian’s daughter, Charlotte, is rather intelligent and mocks her mother for not knowing what words mean and how to spell them correctly. Vivian is very emotional and screams into a pillow and smokes when she’s angry and uses baking to calm herself down.

The Operator was delightfully written and cleverly woven and I enjoyed getting to know all the characters and learning their secrets and hearing more about some of the events that had shocked the town over the years. Some surprising revelations are revealed throughout the book and I certainly hadn’t imagined half of the scandals in this small town!

There were lots of twists and turns and various storylines and I especially enjoyed getting to know the women, who all seemed rather two faced and petty and took great delight in each other’s failures and loss of face! It was interesting to look back at their pasts and see how everything had come about in the story.

Overall, this was a lovely read and an intriguing, authentic look at 1950s small town America. There was plenty to keep my attention and I loved the way nearly all the characters had hidden, juicy secrets! Not my usual read but it was a great insight into how life was in the time period and it was fascinating to learn that the book was loosely based on the author’s switchboard operator grandmother and family history details from her little brown notebook!

Buy the book

The Operator by Gretchen Berg can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Ann Schluter Kowaliczko

Gretchen Berg grew up in the US Midwest and now lives in Oregon. She has always been curious about history and families, and has a personal family tree of over 16,000 people. Her family research started with her own grandmother’s little brown notebook full of details, and it was the story of her grandmother – herself a switchboard operator in Wooster, Ohio, in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s – that inspired The Operator.

Website: http://www.gretchenbergbooks.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my hardback copy of The Operator and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

Blog tour: 10 to 14 March 2020

Synopsis

The drinks are flowing. The jazz is swinging.
But for the city’s newest arrivals, the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

My review

This Lovely City tells the story of the Windrush generation; the people who came over to the United Kingdom after the Second World War from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands, to help with the post-war labour shortages that were being experienced. Many of them had served in the British armed forces and decided to come to live in Britain.

The Windrush generation was so called after the ship, MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex on 22 June 1948 carrying nearly 500 men, women and children. The aim was for them to be welcomed into and be housed in the local communities to help rebuild the country, but they were treated with contempt, suspicion, discrimination and racism rather than being received with open arms and appreciation.

In this fictional story, one of the Windrush men is 19-year-old Lawrie Matthews who spent nearly all his savings on a ticket to England and was shown to a deep-level shelter in Clapham Common when he arrived. He ‘hated that they’d been shoved down into the bowels of the city, unexpected guests that no one knew what to do with’ and initially struggles to find work after a run in with a local man leaves him with a black eye.

Lawrie is a musician and enjoys playing his clarinet in the dance halls in Soho at night time with his band, formed with some of the other men, and then rushes to his morning job as a postman. While playing their music, the men are respected and admired but Lawrie soon discovers that this turns to suspicion and mistrust afterwards and, fearing for his safety, he learns how to keep his head down and avoid antagonising anyone.

He moves into new lodgings, a tiny boxroom, next door to his 16-year-old girlfriend, Evie, and her mum, Agnes Coleridge, and all seems to be going well for him at last. Until, one day, while delivering a ‘special package’ for the rather dodgy Derek, his housemate and son of his landlady, Nóirín Ryan, he makes a startling discovery on Clapham Common, which has far-reaching repercussions that affect all that he knows.

In the quest for the truth of the matter, the local policeman, Detective Sergeant Kenneth Rathbone, questions Lawrie, Evie and others connected to them, and locals start to turn against anyone black, in shocking displays of racism and unrest, blaming them for the awful incident.

The story was told in a few time periods, 1948 and March to April 1950, and from the points of view of Lawrie and Evie, cleverly interspersed with articles from newspapers and letters between Agnes and her sister, Gertrude.

I really enjoyed this beautifully written, compelling story and it was an eye-opening insight into the Windrush generation and how they were so badly treated when they were just here to help the country rebuild. It was cleverly plotted with some intriguing twists and turns and tense moments. Several of the characters were hiding some big secrets from each other and I certainly hadn’t guessed how everything would pan out!

This Lovely City was so captivating and absorbing and I could really imagine all the scenes in the book and was desperate to see how the story unfolded and hoped it would have a satisfactory and happy conclusion for all. The Windrush migrants were so unfairly and unjustly treated at times and I felt quite upset and angry at some of the unsettling incidents I was reading about.

Overall, I really enjoyed this touching, though-provoking story, which evoked some strong emotions about an event and period in history that I didn’t know much about, and I’m looking forward to reading the author’s next book.

Buy the book

This Lovely City by Louise Hare can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Louise Hare is a London-based writer and has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Originally from Warrington, the capital is the inspiration for much of her work, including her debut, This Lovely City, which began life after a trip into the deep level shelter below Clapham Common.

Twitter: @LouRHare
Facebook: @louisehareauthor
Instagram: @LouRHare
Website: http://louisehare.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my hardback copy of This Lovely City and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Second Wife by Rebecca Fleet

Blog tour: 4 to 13 March 2020

Synopsis

Everyone brings baggage to a new relationship.

When Alex met Natalie she changed his life. After the tragic death of his first wife, which left him a single parent to teenage daughter Jade, he’s determined to build a happy family.

But his new-found happiness is shattered when the family home is gutted by fire and his loyalties are unexpectedly tested. Jade insists she saw a man in the house on the night of the fire; Natalie denies any knowledge of such an intruder.

Alex is faced with an impossible choice: to believe his wife or his daughter? And as Natalie’s story unravels, Alex realises that his wife has a past he had no idea about, a past that might yet catch up with her.

But this time, the past could be deadly …

My review

In September 2017, it’s past midnight and Alex Carmichael is walking home after an evening of socialising with clients from London when he spots strange lights and an unusual smell and realises that something is burning and, to his horror, realises it’s his house that’s on fire. His second wife, Natalie, has escaped and is standing outside but there’s no sign of his 14-year-old daughter, Jade.

Eventually after much confusion, a fireman walks out of the burning house carrying Jade and paramedics look her over and check her pulse and perform compressions on her chest. She’s put on a stretcher and into an ambulance, which races to the hospital, and is rushed to the intensive care unit, where she remains unconscious in a coma due to smoke inhalation.

Alex and Natalie end up being housed in the Sea Breeze hotel while they wait for Jade to recover. When she eventually comes round after a few days, Jade tells her dad that it wasn’t an accident and that she saw a strange man in the house but Natalie denies there was anyone there and says her stepdaughter imagined it. This makes Alex suspicious and he wonders what exactly Natalie is hiding. Eventually, she confesses some truths about her past and we learn a bit more about her.

Jade was only five years old when her mother, Heather, died of cancer and Alex wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to love someone again until Natalie came into their lives a few years ago. They’ve only been married six months but he thought he knew her; now it appears that she’s been hiding things from him.

The story is told in the present day (2017) and the period from 1999 to 2000, and from the perspectives of several different protagonists, who all seem to be hiding secrets, and lots more is revealed as the book progresses. It’s a dark, intense story of obsession, desire, egotism, narcissism, lack of trust, violence, menacing characters and dodgy dealings in nightclubs, as well as a family struggling to make sense of things after a shocking event. What initally seems like a horrible, accidental domestic incident is actually a more complicated situation that has far-reaching consequences.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving anything away but this was an exciting, action-packed psychological thriller with a few twists, turns and red herrings, and I read it quickly to try and discover the truth! It made tense and uncomfortable reading at times and I was shocked by some of the events that happened.

Overall, this was an enjoyable, sinister read and cleverly crafted! There were a few clues scattered throughout and I sort of guessed how the story would pan out but there were still a few shocks and revelations! I’ll be checking out the author’s debut, House Swap, now as it’s on my Kindle already!

Buy the book

The Second Wife by Rebecca Fleet can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Rebecca Fleet lives in London and works in Windsor. Her debut thriller, The House Swap, was published in 2018 to great acclaim.

The Second Wife is her eagerly anticipated second thriller. It examines love, loyalty and trust in a family torn apart by tragedy. It marries all of the suspense, tension and compulsion of the best psychological thrillers with a powerful, emotional portrait of our closest relationships.

Twitter: @RebeccaLFleet

Blog tour

Thanks to Hayley Barnes at Transworld Books and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my digital copy of The Second Wife and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Little Friends by Jane Shemilt

Blog tour: 20 February to 24 March 2020

Synopsis

Their children are friends first. They hit it off immediately, as kids do. And so the parents are forced to get to know each other. Three wildly different couples. Three marriages, floundering.

There are barbeques, dinner parties, a holiday in Greece. An affair begins, resentments flare, and despite it all the three women become closer.

Unnoticed, their children run wild. The couples are so busy watching each other that they forget to watch their children. Until tragedy strikes.

But the summer won’t be over until the story twists, and twists again, while three families search desperately for answers. Because while they have been looking the other way, evil has crept into their safe little world – and every parent’s biggest nightmare is about to come true …

My review

Little Friends tells the story of three couples and their children who become friends after one of the mums, Eve Kershaw, a teacher, takes an online course to enable her to teach dyslexic children. She arranges a Sunday class at their home to tutor her daughter, Poppy (11), and two other children, Blake (11) and Isabelle (Izzy), aged 13. Their younger brothers and sisters also come round to play.

Eve is married to Eric, a landscaper, and they have three children, Poppy, Sorrel (6) and Ash, nearly three, and a Labrador puppy called Noah. Eric has a co-worker called Igor, who is Polish. They live in Eve’s childhood home, with its two acres of land that the children love exploring, which was left to her by her parents when they died, along with a beautiful villa in Greece.

Melissa, an interior designer, is married to architect Paul and they have a daughter, Isabelle (13), and a kitten called Venus. Their live-in maid/cleaner, Lina, is from Syria.

Grace, originally from Zimbabwe, is a hotel receptionist and aspiring author and married to Booker prize-winning author Martin Cowan. They have two children, Blake (11) and Charley (9), and live on the thirteenth floor of a tower block in a rather dodgy area.

I’m rather hopeless with character names and there were rather a lot in this book so I made a list of all the families that I could refer to! This helped me keep track of who was who, especially in the beginning when I was getting to know them all.

The children hit it off straightaway and were soon thick as thieves running around the grounds of the house and getting up to mischief. Eve believes in allowing children to have free rein to explore and so they were left to their own devices and not closely watched by any of the adults, allowing them to run wild. Izzy was the ringleader and the others looked up to her and wanted to impress her.

The families spend lots of time together and even holiday in Greece for a week in the Kershaw family’s villa. This is when an affair begins, more secrets are revealed and the children start to turn even more feral and get up to all sorts that their parents are unaware of; geeing each other on, teasing the younger ones, elements of bullying, playing unpleasant games and challenging each other to do things. There was so much going on and events were rather chaotic at times, with children running amok!

The story is told from the points of view of Eve, Grace and Melissa, with short chapters in italics that give us an idea of what the children are getting up to while the adults are socialising. The couples are all rather unpleasant and dysfunctional and hiding secrets from each other. Their marriages are in trouble, they’re out of control and so are the kids and it all builds up to be an extremely toxic environment all round!

Things take a sinister turn one night after a midweek party at Eve and Eric’s house following a homework session for the children and from then on everything escalates and the revelations come thick and fast! The tension was great and I could just tell that it was all building up to a climax with tragic events but I didn’t see half of that coming.

Little Friends was a dark, engaging, intense read and extremely chilling and unsettling at times. Covering some difficult topics, it was well-written, with great pacing to the story that kept me intrigued, and I was quickly turning the pages to see what would be revealed next.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cleverly plotted domestic thriller, which had numerous twists and turns, red herrings and instances of misdirection throughout! I was never really sure what was going to happen next – it was certainly an action-packed read with lots of shocks and revelations, and made tense, uncomfortable reading at times. I’m looking forward to checking out some more of the author’s books that I already have in my collection: Daughter, The Drowning Lesson and How Far We Fall.

Buy the book

Little Friends by Jane Shemilt can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Philippa Gedge Photography

While working as a GP, Jane Shemilt completed a postgraduate diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol University and went on to study for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, gaining both with distinction. Her first novel, Daughter, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, shortlisted for the Edgar Award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and went on to become the bestselling debut novel of 2014.

Jane and her husband, a professor of neurosurgery, have five children and live in Bristol.

Twitter: @Janeshemilt
Facebook: @Jane-Shemilt
Instagram: @jane.shemilt
Website: https://janeshemilt.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Sriya Varadharajan at Michael Joseph Books for my copy of Little Friends and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Blog tour: 2 to 8 March 2020

Synopsis

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.

That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.

It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real … Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream …

In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.

My review

The main protagonist of In Five Years is Dannie Kohan, a 28-year-old corporate lawyer who lives in New York. She seems to have everything sussed in her life – she has a lovely boyfriend, David Rosen, also 28, who works in finance as an investment banker and they have an apartment in Murray Hill that overlooks Third Avenue.

Dannie does everything by numbers and has a plan: she’s very ambitious, likes to be in control and knows exactly what she wants and when. She knows how long it takes her to get ready in the morning, how long it takes to walk to work and she believes that 20 months is the ideal time to date before you move in with someone, 28 is the best age to get engaged and 30 is the right age to be married.

Dannie and David even have a five-year plan themselves, which they devised after six months of dating when they realised things were serious between them. Their ultimate aim is to live in Gramercy and for Dannie to be a senior associate and aspiring junior partner and David will be working at a hedge fund for more money and less corporate bureaucracy.

It’s 15 December 2020 when we first meet Dannie, on the day of her interview at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, the top law firm in the city, the place she’s always wanted to work since she was 10 years old and what she’s been aiming for ever since then. She’s focused, organised and determined, she’s prepared well and, as expected, aces the interview. To celebrate, David has made a reservation at the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which has amazing views of the city skyline, and Dannie knows that this is the night he’s going to propose. It sounds incredible!

The couple have a dance, eat their salad and lobster, drink champagne and wine and finish their desserts but David still doesn’t propose. Eventually, he gets down on one knee, says some lovely things and pops the question and it’s perfect. Two hours later, the couple are back home and ordering Thai food online and then Dannie falls asleep on the couch.

She wakes up and doesn’t recognise where she is. She’s in a loft apartment in Dumbo, Brooklyn, that overlooks the Manhattan Bridge and there’s a different engagement ring on her finger and a strange man starts talking to her! On the TV, the news is on and she sees a graphic showing the date, which is 15 December 2025! While the man makes them some food, she looks in his wallet for his driving licence and discovers he’s called Aaron Gregory and is 33. All rather confusing – what’s going on? Dannie is drawn to him and she falls asleep in his arms and when she wakes up, she’s back in her apartment with David and all seems back to normal.

Dannie gets the job and life carries on and she tries to put the dream to the back of her mind, even going for therapy to try and forget it. They follow the plan and move to Gramercy but, for various reasons, the couple don’t get married. Their lives seem perfect but are they really happy? What’s stopping them from taking the plunge?

Four and a half years after she first dreams of Aaron, she meets her best friend, Bella’s new boyfriend, an architect, who is nicknamed Greg but turns out to be Aaron! Dannie is shocked by this revelation and can’t understand how he can be the man from her dream. Her friend, Bella, is smitten by Aaron and their relationship quickly develops and become serious.

After this point, the focus of the book changes and we learn more about Dannie’s friendship with Bella and Aaron. They’ve been friends since they were seven years old but Bella is rather different to Dannie and she’s a great contrast but, at times, they rather clash and aren’t on the same wavelength. Bella falls in and out of love easily, she’s impulsive, dramatic and intense, is rarely awake before noon, always chronically late, enjoys travelling and partying but is rather fragile and emotional.

When the worst happens and life tests them both, we see how strong their friendship is and that they’re loyal, supportive and really care about each other. The story is so poignant and moving but engaging and an easy read, which I really enjoyed.

By the end of the book, Dannie realises that life is unpredictable and throws curveballs and you can’t always plan how things will work out. Things happen, emotions alter, life changes and you’re not always in control of your own destiny. It was certainly a thought-provoking chain of events and made me think there’s more to life than having a plan and following it so rigidly.

In Five Years is cleverly written, a bit different from the norm, and it definitely didn’t pan out how I expected when I began reading the story. It was touching and emotional and really made me think about relationships and friendships. I also enjoyed the descriptions of everyday life in Manhattan and the various bars, delis, buildings and sights. This was my first book by the author but I’m keen to read some of her other books now, especially The Dinner List.

Buy the book

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback on 10 March, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives between New York and Los Angeles. Serle most recently co-developed the hit TV adaptation of her young adult series, Famous in Love, for Freeform. She loves Nancy Meyers films, bathrobes and giving unsolicited relationship advice.

Twitter: @RebeccaASerle
Facebook: @RebeccaSerle
Website: https://www.rebeccaserle.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Milly Reid at Quercus Books for my proof copy of In Five Years and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Other Mrs by Mary Kubica

Blog tour: 5 to 10 March 2020

Synopsis

Can you ever truly know those closest to you?

When Sadie moves with her husband Will and their two children to a tiny coastal town, it’s a fresh start. Will swears the affair he was having back in the city is over and Sadie believes him. But their new beginning is tainted when a local woman is murdered, leaving Sadie convinced there’s a killer in their midst.

Hot-headed, beautiful Camille is obsessively in love with Will. She’s even prepared to follow him thousands of miles to stake out his new home in secret – and in doing so, becomes the only witness to a brutal crime.

But who is Camille really, and what is her connection to the dead woman? And as the murder investigation deepens, whose secret will be revealed as the darkest of them all?

My review

The Other Mrs tells the story of Sadie and Will Foust and their sons, Otto, aged 14, and seven-year-old Tate, who have recently moved from Chicago to a small island off the coast of Maine after the sudden death of Will’s sister, Alice, who suffered from fibromyalgia. Will has been given guardianship of her 16-year-old daughter, Imogen, as well as possession of Alice’s estate, a large foursquare farmhouse.

The move comes at a good time for the family: Will has been having an affair, which he assures his wife has ended, Sadie is a doctor and was forced to resign after an incident at work, and Otto was being bullied at school and, after he brought a weapon onto the premises and was facing expulsion, his parents removed from the school. They’re hoping that this fresh start will enable them to put things behind them, difficult though it will be looking after the grieving Imogen. She dresses all in black, has piercings and black hair and whitens her face with talcum powder, and is described as brooding and melancholic.

The rocky and rugged island with tall pines that they live on is small – a mile by a mile and a half wide – and isolated – only accessible by ferry – and three miles from the mainland. The settings added to the creepiness and eerieness of the story and the sense of fear and uncertainty. As Sadie comments: ‘There’s something unsettling in knowing that when the last ferry leaves for the night, we’re quite literally trapped.’

Will is a part-time adjunct professor, teaching human ecology on the mainland, while Sadie, who was an emergency room doctor in Chicago, is now working as a physician on the island.

Seven weeks after they move there, their neighbour Morgan Baines is murdered late one evening. She was found dead by her six-year-old stepdaughter. The murder does nothing to ease Sadie’s feeling of uneasiness and fear as the murderer must have remained on the island overnight, and suspicion falls on everyone, including Sadie, who was supposedly witnessed arguing with Morgan by another neighbour, George Nilsson. There’s lots of small town gossip and they aren’t very welcoming to Sadie, especially.

The story is told from the viewpoints of three characters: mainly Sadie, with insights from Camille and a six-year-old girl called Mouse, who is being abused by her stepmother. As events unfold, we learn more about the beautiful, ‘vivacious, untamable’ Camille and how she first met Will in Chicago. They didn’t get together but she remained obsessed with him and, eventually, 15 years later, she looked Will up and seduced him and they began an affair. She continued to stalk him around the city and has even followed him over a thousand miles to Maine so she can keep an eye on him.

The story is tense and creepy and there are several twists and turns and red herrings, as well as disturbing incidents. I was never really sure who to believe as most of the characters seemed rather untrustworthy and they all seemed to be unreliable narrators and hiding secrets from each other. For Morgan’s murder, I had suspicions about everyone from the local policeman, Officer Berg, to the elderly couple next door, George and Poppy Nilsson, and Morgan’s husband, Jeffrey, was obviously on the list too, despite being away on business at the time!

Even the children of the story, Imogen and Otto, were hiding things from Will and Sadie. I really felt for Imogen: she’d just lost her mum, she feels angry, abandoned and rejected, her uncle, aunt and cousins have moved into her family home and she feels that Sadie is trying to replace Alice. Will and Sadie don’t really know how to handle Imogen as they don’t know her and Sadie even admits to being scared of her, which is really sad.

As the story progresses, we learn revelations about several of the characters and all is definitely not what it seemed! The plot line was unpredictable and chilling and I didn’t guess how it was all going to unfold till very close to the end! I definitely didn’t see a lot of that coming! I thought I knew who Mouse was and how she fitted into the story but I was completely wrong.

Overall, The Other Mrs was an intriguing, atmospheric read and I enjoyed getting to know all the rather unlikeable characters. The setting of the island in Maine was really unsettling and well described and I could imagine what it was like to live there. Cleverly plotted, with numerous twists and turns and misdirection, this was a chilling, disturbing read. I’ve got another of the author’s books, The Good Girl, on my Kindle so will be checking that out soon.

Buy the book

The Other Mrs by Mary Kubica can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Mary Kubica is The New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including The Good Girl. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children.

Twitter: @MaryKubica
Facebook: @MaryKubicaAuthor
Instagram: @marykubica
Website: http://www.marykubica.com/

Blog tour

Thanks to Sian Baldwin at HQ Stories for my proof copy of The Other Mrs and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

One Moment by Linda Green

Blog tour: 2 to 8 March 2020

Synopsis

Finn and Kaz are about to meet for the first time …

Ten-year-old Finn, a quirky, sensitive boy who talks a lot and only eats at cafés with a 5-star hygiene rating, is having a tough time at school and home.

Outspoken Kaz, 59, who has an acerbic sense of humour and a heart of gold, is working at the café when Finn and his mum come in.

They don’t know it yet, but the second time they meet will be a moment which changes both of their lives forever

My review

One Moment tells the heartbreaking story of 10-year-old Finn Rook-Carter and Kaz Allen, 59, who meet in the café where Kaz works and are then brought together a second time by an awful event, the details of which aren’t revealed till the end of the book, that has far-reaching repercussions for both.

Finn is a rather unusual child: he’s sensitive, emotional and different from others at school and would much rather do gardening (his idol is Alan Titchmarsh) or play his ukulele than play football or computer games. He doesn’t really connect with the other children, who bully him for being different and having curly ginger hair, and his only friend is a girl called Lottie, who seems to be the only one who understands him and they have a lovely friendship.

His parents, Hannah and Martin, are going through a divorce and they can’t decide on the best way to bring up Finn and argue over whether he should sit his SATs or not. Finn is feeling rather lost and confused, and torn between both parents. His dad prefers the tough approach and is more traditional than his mum, who is vegetarian and doesn’t act or dress like other mums, and wishes she could homeschool Finn to protect him from the world.

Kaz has had a tough life. Her dad was abusive to her mum, who was an alcoholic and suffered from depression, and she has looked after her younger brother, Terry, 51, since he was 10, when their mum died. He has mental health problems and hears voices, mainly Matthew Kelly from Stars in Their Eyes, and was finally diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was 18. Kaz works hard in a café to support them both and they struggle to make ends meet as Terry can’t work because he has psychotic episodes when he’s stressed. They live together and she cares for him all by herself, with no respite care, which must be so tough and draining, especially when he’s having a bad spell.

Kaz is lovely; she’s down to earth, sympathetic but matter of fact and a great support and friend to Finn when he’s struggling with his school and home life and, in turn, Finn helps Kaz when she is at a low ebb after problems with her job, her brother and their flat. The two have a lovely friendship and Finn’s dad also warms to Kaz and asks for her help to look after Finn during the holidays. Both characters are described so well and I could hear their voices and emotions and really empathise with them.

One Moment covers issues like bullying, being different, relationship/parenting problems, mental illness and a lack of help from the state when a person needs it most. It’s shocking how poor Kaz and Terry were treated when they needed help and frustrating how a misunderstanding of Terry’s illness caused massive problems for them both and nearly resulted in even more tragic events. Kaz has to fight so hard for Terry and it’s heartbreaking that she has been forced to sacrifice her own dreams and happiness to look after him, and she never complains or takes it out on her brother.

This moving, emotional book is cleverly written from the points of view of Kaz and Finn, before and after a devastating event that links them and affects both their lives. We learn more about both characters and their relationships with others and there’s a great build up to the story’s awful climax, which I hadn’t seen coming.

Overall, I really enjoyed One Moment; it was a touching, poignant read and stirred up a range of emotions. Definitely one that made me think and reflect upon it afterwards. It was absorbing and really tense at times and I was keenly turning the pages to see how things worked out for everyone. I’ve got a couple of the author’s other books on my Kindle so will definitely be checking those out soon.

Buy the book

One Moment by Linda Green can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Linda Green is the bestselling author of 10 novels, which have sold more than one million copies and been translated into 12 languages.

After a 10-year career in regional journalism, she left in 1998 to write her first novel and work as a freelance journalist. Her first novel, I Did a Bad Thing, was published in paperback in October 2007 and made the top 30 official fiction bestsellers list.

Linda was born in North London in 1970 and brought up in Hertfordshire. She lives in West Yorkshire with her husband and son.

Twitter: @LindaGreenisms
Facebook: @LindaGreenAuthor
Website: http://www.linda-green.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Milly Reid at Quercus Books for my digital copy of One Moment and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

Blog tour: 20 February to 3 March 2020

Synopsis

On a stormy summer day in the 1970s, the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party in their villa on the Sea of Japan. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks.

The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only family member spared death.

The youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.

Inspector Teru is convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident.

The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbours, police investigators and, of course, the mesmerizing Hisako herself.

My review

The Aosawa Murders recounts the story of the 17 murders that occurred at a birthday party for three generations of the affluent and well-respected Aosawa family in the 1970s at their residence in K— city. Six of the deaths were members of the immediate family, four were relatives, and the others were neighbours who attended the party, and a tradesman. They were all killed after ingesting a cyanide-based substance in sake and soft drinks, which had been delivered to the house at 1pm that day by a mysterious man on a motorbike. There were two survivors: the housekeeper who only took a sip of her drink and was seriously ill but recovered, and the family’s blind daughter, Hisako Aosawa, aged 12, who didn’t have anything to drink but had to listen to all the others dying, writhing around in agony, unable to do anything to help.

The main suspect, the man who delivered the drinks to the house, was later found dead in his rented apartment with a suicide note confessing to the murders and all the evidence seemed to point to him, despite the fact he had no real connection to the family and no apparent motive.

In the form of interviews with an unknown narrator, we hear from and learn more about various people connected with the murders: Makiko Saiga, who, 10 years later, wrote a fictional account of the events of that day; her assistant, who helped to carry equipment and transcribe tape recordings of interviews; the housekeeper’s daughter; the detective, Inspector Teru, who was involved with the case; Saiga’s older brother, Sei-ichi; the Young Master from the stationery shop and the tobacconist’s grandson who knew the man who delivered the cyanide-laced drinks to the house; the editor of the book; and we also get to read an excerpt of Saiga’s book, The Forgotten Festival.

The Aosawa Murders is beautifully written, atmospheric and very well translated and I found it intriguing and captivating. So cleverly put together and layered and it definitely made me think carefully while reading. I had to concentrate as the story switched between the different narrators and characters and we learnt more about events and what had happened in the 30 or so years since the awful tragedy and how it had continued to deeply affect all those involved over the decades.

There were some lovely descriptions of Japanese buildings and the weather – the oppressive heat and continuous humidity, the rain that creeps up on you with large raindrops – as well as the mentions of various trees and flowers, like the unusual crepe myrtle flower.

This was a fascinating and absorbing read and I really enjoyed the way all the pieces of the puzzle came together, even if it was slightly confusing at times and I wasn’t alway sure whether I’d interpreted things correctly or not. I’m still not completely sure who was responsible for the dreadful murders and I feel like I need to reread the book to get things straight in my mind as some elements of this dark and mysterious story were rather subtle and implied. Looking back, there were various hints and mentions throughout the book and some features popped up multiple times, discussed by different characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed this compelling book and it was great to read some Japanese crime fiction as a change from my usual crime and psychological thrillers. It’s definitely a genre that I’ll be reading again in the future.

Buy the book

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author and translator

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated into English.

Alison Watts is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long time resident of Japan. She has translated Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run in Outlaw China (Portobello, 2007) and Durian Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste (Oneworld Publications, 2017), and her translations of The Aosawa Murders and Spark (Pushkin Press, 2020) by Naoki Matayaoshi are forthcoming.

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my copy of The Aosawa Murders and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd

Blog tour: 17 to 28 February 2020

Synopsis

Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known.

Elissa has only just arrived. And she’ll do everything she can to escape.

When Elijah stumbles across 13-year-old Elissa, in the woods where her abductor is hiding her, he refuses to alert the police. Because in his 12 years, Elijah has never had a proper friend. And he doesn’t want Elissa to leave.

Not only that, Elijah knows how this can end. After all, Elissa isn’t the first girl he’s found inside the Memory Wood.

As her abductor’s behaviour grows more erratic, Elissa realises that outwitting strange, lonely Elijah is her only hope of survival. Their cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal will determine both their fates, and whether either of them will ever leave the Memory Wood …

My review

The Memory Woods tells the story of 12-year-old Elijah North who lives in a stone-built gamekeeper’s cottage near to Rufus Hall in Meunierfields with his mama, papa and older brother, Kyle, 14. While in the woods near his home, he discovers Elissa Mirzoyan, 13, in the cellar of the former head gardener’s cottage on the estate. She was abducted while taking part in a junior chess tournament at the Marshall Court Hotel in Bournemouth with her mum, Lena, and is being held captive. They’d driven down from Salisbury that morning for the tournament.

Elijah is obviously a very confused and deeply disturbed child and he visits Elissa in her underground prison and befriends her but is too afraid to help her, especially as this has happened before, with other girls, and he knows what the consequences are. He seems younger than his years and there are mentions of fairy tales – he calls Elissa by the name of Gretel to his Hansel, almost to lighten the mood of Elissa’s harrowing ordeal. He is friendly with her but untrustworthy and Elissa is very wary.

Detective Superintendent Mairéad MacCullagh from Bournemouth Central police station, who is experiencing her own personal traumas, is in charge of the investigation into Elissa’s disappearance. The teenager was seen being bundled into a white van by an eyewitness, a guest at the hotel.

Elissa is very intelligent and uses her clever mind to work out how to handle things and to try and survive. The basement in which she’s held is dark so, in her mind, she plots out the floor like a chessboard to try and remember where things like her candles, rucksack and bucket are, in relation to the door and the manacle, which is fastened round her wrist. When her abductor visits, she tries to remain calm despite the terror she’s feeling and the physical harm he inflicts on her. She also thinks back to the beginning of the day for any clues, to try and work out if there was a reason why she was targeted and by whom.

The dark and disturbing story is told in alternating viewpoints from Elijah, Elissa and DS MacCullagh and I was quickly drawn into the horrific events in the Memory Wood. The prose is so amazingly descriptive and immersive and I felt like I was there, experiencing the awful traumas that Elissa was enduring, feeling her pain, smelling the awful, disgusting aromas in the basement, and I could also visualise the other characters and places in the book, all so vividly described.

The characterisation is great – Elissa was amazing; so courageous, brave and determined and she really fought to try and survive as she was so desperate to see her mum again. Elijah was such a fascinating and intriguing character, and his past experiences had shaped his life in awful ways. Elissa’s abductor was evil and behaved in shocking, unimaginable ways.

The graphic descriptions of wounds, bodily functions and action certainly aren’t for the fainted hearted and I’d recommend not reading this book in the dark before bedtime!

With twists and turns galore, and instances of double and treble bluffing, this was a cleverly plotted and well-layered story and I wasn’t sure what to believe and who was telling the truth. It was certainly a gripping rollercoaster ride!

Overall, I really enjoyed this twisted, sinister, chilling tale! It was unpredictable, intriguing and mind baffling at times. It was also absorbing, suspenseful and poignant too – I was never sure how it was going to be resolved and was frantically turning the pages to see what happened. I’m really looking forward to the author’s next book and wondering how he’s going to top this one!

Note from the author: origins of The Memory Wood

It started just after our first child was born. I’d catch my wife staring into the middle distance, looking faintly troubled. When I asked her what was up, her answer was always the same. She’d imagined some nightmare scenario involving our son – and was busily planning how to save him. My wife’s anxiety lasted a matter of months. But the episode stuck in my mind.

Two years ago, my son reached the finals of a national chess tournament. One Saturday morning, I drove him to the secondary school that was hosting it. The scene that greeted us was lively and chaotic: hundreds of parents, hundreds of kids. And, because I’d forgotten my book – and perhaps because of the seed planted years earlier by my wife – I began to consider how easily a determined stranger might abduct a child from the venue. As the tournament progressed, I pondered more questions. What if a child were abducted? And what if, far from helpless victim, that child possessed an intellect greatly surpassing its abductor’s? What if this life-or-death struggle became one not of physical strength but of ruthless psychological cunning?

I already had my crime scene. Pretty soon, I had my protagonist: 13-year-old chess prodigy Elissa Mirzoyan, a quietly precocious girl who wakes underground after being snatched on the most important day of her life. Her determination to survive the coming ordeal wouldn’t be driven by mere instinct. It would come from a flat-out refusal to leave her mum alone in the world, and would be tempered by a ferocious hunger for vengeance.

Plotting a novel, for me, always feels more like a process of investigation than invention – the slow reveal of a dirt-covered mosaic. And as I teased out more of this story’s individual tiles, I learned something even more compelling about Elissa’s plight.

While engaging her abductor in increasingly dangerous mind games, she’ll face a separate threat even harder to navigate. It’ll come in the form of a frail young boy, Elijah North, who discovers her subterranean prison while playing in his local woods. Steadily, Elissa will gain Elijah’s trust. But when she persuades him to raise the alarm, he’ll return with a tale too outlandish to be credible.

More of the mosaic revealed itself, at which point I learned something about the story that knocked me flat. And then I had to write the book, just to find out how it ended …

Buy the book

The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, making up stories and building secret hideaways in his local woods. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. He enjoys craft beer, strong coffee and (rarely) a little silence. The Memory Wood is his debut thriller.

Twitter: @samlloydwrites

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my copy of The Memory Wood and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Blog tour: 17 February to 4 March 2020

Synopsis

Another murder. Another mystery.

Guests are called to a remote island off the Irish coast to celebrate the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules and Will. Everything has been meticulously planned, the scene is set, old friends are back together.

It should be the perfect day.

Until the discovery of a body signals the perfect murder.

A groom with a secret.
A bridesmaid with a grudge.
A plus one with motive.
A best man with a past.

It could be any, it could be all … But one guest won’t make it out alive.

My review

On the remote Cormorant Island on the stormy, windswept Irish coast, guests are gathering for the no expense spared wedding of the year between Survive the Night TV star, Will Slater, and Julia (Jules) Keegan, who runs a popular online magazine called The Download, after a whirlwind romance.

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of the bride, Jules; the wedding planner, Aoife; Hannah, the plus one, who is the wife of Jules’ best man, Charlie; the best man, Jonathan (Johnno); and Olivia, the bridesmaid and Jules’ sister.

The wedding planner, Aoife, and her husband Freddy, a chef, moved to the island from Dublin a year or so ago and bought the crumbling, derelict Folly and restored it to an elegant 10 bedroom property and the Slater–Keegan wedding will be their first event. The island is atmospheric but sounds an undesirable place to hold a wedding: it’s isolated and guests have to get to it via a rather rough boat crossing, it has changeable weather conditions and there are numerous bogs and cliffs for the guests to fall into/off! It sounds rather haunted and a place where bad things happen – there are several superstitious signs and bad omens from folklore.

The groom, Will, was a pupil at Trevellyan boarding school and his father was the headmaster. Several of his former schoolfriends, Angus, Duncan, Johnno, Oluwafemi (Femi) and Peter, are attending the wedding and they all seem to be hiding things, especially from their shared time at the school. The tribal nature of their school environment is in evidence during the stag do and at various points during the wedding. The men are all rather unpleasant and mean and all their joking around and mocking of others has nasty undertones.

The bride, Jules, isn’t the nicest woman either and she has rather difficult relationships with her half-sister, Olivia and her mother, Araminta, and father, who are no longer together. Her dad, Ronan, has a young French wife called Séverine and they have twins. There is definitely a sense that Jules has a past that deeply affects her.

All of the wedding guests seemed to have secrets and I wasn’t sure who to believe half the time. They all had issues and were rather horrible, flawed and toxic characters, many bearing grudges and resentments, and several of them seemingly waiting to get revenge on each other.

From the beginning of the novel, we’re aware that something awful is going to happen on the bleak island during the wedding. Weather conditions are terrible – a storm is raging across the island, the wind is howling, the power keeps cutting out and the lights failing. There’s a sense of foreboding, fear and tension and this ramps up as the story progresses and the chapters get shorter, snappier and more intense. The book is cleverly written and well plotted and layered and I was frantically turning the pages to discover what happened and to whom!

It’s very intriguing and compelling and there were several big reveals and revelations, red herrings, twists and turns. There were hints and clues throughout the book but there were enough suspects to flummox me and I didn’t guess who the killer or the victim were! A very entertaining read!

I really enjoyed the author’s previous murder mystery thriller, The Hunting Party, and will definitely be looking out for her next book and trying some of her others: The Book of Lost and Found, The Invitation and Last Letter from Istanbul.

Buy the book

The Guest List by Lucy Foley can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

© Philippa Gedge

Lucy Foley studied English literature at Durham University and University College London (UCL) and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry, before leaving to write full-time.

The Hunting Party, an instant The Sunday Times and The Irish Times number one bestseller, was Lucy’s debut crime novel, inspired by a particularly remote spot in Scotland that fired her imagination.

Lucy is also the author of three historical novels, which have been translated into 16 languages. Her journalism has appeared in ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style, Grazia and more.

Twitter: @lucyfoleytweets
Facebook: @LucyFoleyAuthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Jen Harlow at HarperCollins UK and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my lovely hardback copy of The Guest List and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks

Blog tour: 6 February to 12 March 2020

Synopsis

Emily just wants to keep the world away.

After getting into trouble yet again, she’s agreed to attend anger management classes. But she refuses to share her deepest secrets with a room full of strangers.

Jake just wants to keep his family together.

He’ll do anything to save his marriage and bond with his six-year-old son, Alfie. But when he’s paired with spiky Emily, he wonders whether opening up will do more harm than good.

The two of them couldn’t be more different. Yet when Alfie, who never likes strangers, meets Emily, something extraordinary happens.

Could one small boy change everything?

My review

Stay-at-home dad, Jake, is struggling with his six-year-old son, Alfie, who has an undiagnosed form of autism. His wife and Alfie’s mum, Jemma, works full time as a marketing executive and the pair are constantly arguing about Alfie and with each other so Jake decides to attend anger management classes on Saturdays at noon to try and save his marriage. While there, he meets the rather prickly Emily, who is in denial that she should even be going to the classes and won’t reveal why she is there. She has a traumatic past, recently had an affair with a married man and has a difficult relationship with her mum.

Emily’s first impression of Jake isn’t great as he’s flustered and upset because his son has gone missing but she has a surprising immediate connection with Alfie, who was hiding under a table at the class with her!

It’s obvious that Jake deeply loves his son but he is struggling with Alfie’s mood swings and behaviour and how best to handle them and he is quick tempered with him and Jemma. She is also struggling and keeps busy with her work to avoid facing up to the problems in her marriage and the tense relationships with her husband and son.

For Alfie’s sake, Emily and Jake meet up and Emily seems to instinctively know how to handle Alfie’s moods and emotions. She can see something of herself in the little boy and can empathise with how he’s feeling. She is very vulnerable and defensive and a rather self-destructive character and responds to difficult times by drinking heavily, shaving her hair and sleeping with random men.

When Jemma reaches breaking point and leaves home and heads to Paris, Jake needs to return to work full time as a teacher and he asks Emily to give up her work in a café and look after Alfie before and after school. She agrees, rather reluctantly at first, but she soon thrives as Alfie’s nanny and her great rapport with him has surprising results and the two get on very well, much to Jake’s chagrin and he feels a bit put out and left out!

The story is told from the points of view of Emily and Jake but there are also odd chapters from Alfie’s perspective, which help to show how he’s feeling. These are really insightful and show his emotions and how he’s struggling and worrying about various things and how his parents don’t realise why he’s acting the way he is. Alfie struggles when he can’t control a situation and he likes to know exactly what is happening and when. He likes to get things straight in his own mind and he worries about and questions everything in the world. And he doesn’t understand other people, especially confusing adults and his schoolfriends. Alfie is challenging but very sweet and intelligent and I loved his little quirks and thought patterns and Lego fixation.

Lots is left unsaid between Emily and Jake because they’re not sure what the other is thinking and they have several awkward moments where I just wanted them to talk to each other! They also have lots of laughs and fun times with Alfie too and they make some lovely memories together. Emily and Jake slowly grow to care about each other and open up a bit more.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and liked getting to know Alfie, plus the rather defensive Jake and prickly Emily! They rather clashed initially but, with their shared love of Alfie, things started to improve. I really felt for Jake and Emily; they’d both had a tough time of it for various reasons and, until they met and became friends, were struggling to see how their lives could change for the better.

This was an emotional, insightful and thought-provoking read and especially poignant when you learn that the author herself has a son with pathological demand avoidance, a form of autism spectrum disorder, and he was the inspiration for the character of Alfie. I found the story very absorbing and touching and I grew to really like all the main protagonists, and empathise with them, despite their rather shaky start and difficult first impressions!

A lovely debut novel and I’ll definitely be looking out for the author’s next book!

Buy the book

Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks. It’s also available as an audiobook and the character of Alfie is narrated by Rachel Marks’ oldest son, Jacob.

About the author

Rachel Marks studied English at Exeter University before becoming a primary school teacher. Despite always loving to write, it wasn’t until she gained a place on the 2016 Curtis Brown Creative online novel writing course that she started to believe it could be anything more than a much-loved hobby.

Her inspiration for her first book came from the challenges she faced with her eldest son – testing and fascinating in equal measure – and the research she did to try to understand him better.

She lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and two young sons. When not writing, she loves travelling, snowboarding and photography.

Twitter: @Rache1Marks
Instagram: @rachelmarksauthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Sriya Varadharajan at Michael Joseph Books for my proof copy of Saturdays at Noon and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Holdout by Graham Moore

Blog tour: 17 February to 7 March 2020

Synopsis

One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

‘Ten years ago we made a decision together …’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

My review

Set in Los Angeles, The Holdout tells the story of Maya Seale who was on the jury of a murder trial in 2009. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, whose father Lou owned a large percentage of real estate in the county, went missing on her way home from school and the prime suspect was her part-time English teacher, Bobby Nock, aged 24. The jurors all found him not guilty after Maya persuaded them that there wasn’t enough evidence – Jessica’s body was never found.

Ten years later, Maya is an attorney after her experience on the jury encouraged her to follow a career in criminal defence. All of the jurors were affected by the case, especially when their names were revealed to the public, and one man, Rick Leonard, has spent his life regretting his decision and trying to find out the truth. He approaches Maya and the other 10 surviving jurors and asks them to take part in the Murder Town podcast, a docuseries for Netflix, which aims to reveal the truth once and for all.

Maya had been romantically linked to Rick during the trial but, afterwards, he wrote a book about their experiences, apologising for the jury’s decision and blaming Maya, so she initially refuses when he asks her to take part. She then reluctantly agrees when her boss, Craig Rogers, senior partner at Cantwell & Myers, persuades her to be involved, and when she discovers that Rick has vital information – new evidence that will definitively incriminate Bobby Nock – that he’ll share during his segment of the podcast, the final one.

For this 10-year reunion, the jurors all meet at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles, which was where they were sequestered during the trial, when their names were revealed to the press three weeks in and they were forced to move into suites at the hotel. Before the podcast interviews can start, one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room and she is thrust headlong into another murder case and must investigate to save herself.

In two timelines, we learn more about Jessica Silver’s murder and Bobby Nock’s trial in 2009 from the points of view of all the jurors and follow Maya’s progress in 2019 as she investigates the juror’s murder while on bail, much to her boss’s dismay as she’s hired him to be her defence attorney. As the various stories unfold, we discover more about all the jurors and both cases and things start to get rather intriguing!

I found it awful how much the original murder trial had seriously affected all the jurors’ lives – each and every one of them was changed by it and most were unable to continue with their lives in the same way and couldn’t leave it behind. They didn’t complete their education, were forced to leave their jobs or changed their careers, all because they were unfortunate enough to be chosen to be on the jury and made the decision, rightly or wrongly, of finding Bobby Nock not guilty.

I liked the main protagonist, Maya Seale, as she was a strong woman who had taken something positive from the difficulty and traumas of the original trial by becoming a defence lawyer. She’d taken part in the system and wanted to use her insider knowledge of how a jury makes its decisions to help others. She is successful and determined: she finished high in her class at UC Berkley Law, was partner in three years at Cantwell & Myers and has done well in her career with many plea bargains negotiated, plus acquittals in all her cases that have gone to trial.

It was intriguing and disturbing to discover, though, that it seems most defence lawyers/attorneys don’t really care whether someone has actually committed an offence or not; they just want to get them off by constructing the best defence and dismantling any evidence that has been put forward. It all sounds rather a complicated game and the team that plays it best is the one that wins, irrelevant of the truth and whether someone is innocent or not!

Overall, I really enjoyed The Holdout – it was a complex, well-layered, entertaining legal thriller and I liked how the story unravelled. It would definitely make a great film with its Agatha Christie style (she is even mentioned in the book!). The well-written, enthralling plot was cleverly split between the two time periods and it was twisty and full of suspense and tense moments.

It’s a fascinating read and I enjoyed getting to know all the jurors – such an interesting mix of people – and learning their secrets. They all had something to hide. Half the time I didn’t know which way things were going to go as new information was revealed and things took yet another unexpected turn. Will definitely be looking out for more from this author and checking out his screenplay, The Imitation Game!

Buy the book

The Holdout by Graham Moore can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and in hardback on 20 February, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Graham Moore is a The New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for The Imitation Game won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

His novels, The Last Days of Night (2016) and The Sherlockian (2010), were published in 24 countries and translated into 19 languages. The Last Days of Night was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Graham lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Caitlin, and their dog, Janet.

Twitter: @MrGrahamMoore
Facebook: @GrahamMooreWriter
Website: https://mrgrahammoore.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my digital copy of The Holdout and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The House on the Lake by Nuala Ellwood

Blog tour: 31 January to 20 February 2020

Synopsis

No matter how far you run … He’s never far behind.

Lisa needs to disappear. And her friend’s rambling old home in the wilds of Yorkshire seems like the perfect place. It’s miles away from the closest town, and no one there knows her or her little boy, Joe.

But when a woman from the local village comes to visit them, Lisa realizes that she and Joe aren’t as safe as she thought.

What secret has Rowan Isle House – and her friend – kept hidden all these years?

And what will Lisa have to do to survive, when her past finally catches up with her?

My review

The House on the Lake is set in two timelines and we meet Lisa Ward and her three-year-old son, Joe, in December 2018 and an unnamed girl and her ex-soldier father in 2002–2004.

Lisa is escaping her abusive and controlling husband, Mark, and, after a long drive, her and Joe arrive at Rowan Isle House, near the village of Harrowby in the Yorkshire Dales and next to a lake. The house is isolated, desolate and dilapidated – it obviously hasn’t been lived in for many years and is filthy, smelly and in a state of neglect, with no running water, electricity, gas or heating. It was Lisa’s friend’s old home and she told her that she could stay there if she ever needed to escape but it’s primitive and not fit for human habitation and Lisa feels awful bringing her son into this environment. Also, Joe is only three and can’t understand why his daddy isn’t with them.

Lisa makes a friend in a local woman called Isobel and she helps by bringing supplies, making the house a bit more hospitable by lighting the ancient stove and looking after Joe. Lisa lives in fear that Mark will discover their whereabouts or someone will work out her past and, although the house is in an isolated location, she finds it claustrophobic and she’s constantly on edge and seeing danger in the shadows.

When we first meet the young girl and her father, Sarge, she has just turned 11 and is celebrating her birthday by attempting to make her first kill with a gun. They live in the house and Sarge trains her like a soldier and they survive off the land and woods. He is a veteran of the Gulf War and is obviously suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and has episodes where he relives his awful past experiences and believes he’s still in the army.

The pair live an isolated life, rarely venturing into the nearby village, as Sarge has a strong mistrust and dislike of the other villagers. He is scared and controls his daughter by training her and she is very naive and young and doesn’t know any different, at first, so is unaware that this isn’t normal.

I felt so sorry for the young girl – it’s no way to live and her father is battling with the demons in his head and is quite frightening and menacing most of the time and even physically hurts her to try and toughen her up and make her a good soldier.

In different ways, both Lisa and the young girl were controlled, dominated and abused by the men in their lives and were too afraid, initially, to stand up to the men and reject this behaviour.

At times, Rowan Isle House appears almost haunted and there’s a strong sense of evil and malevolence and that bad things have happened there. The place sounds horrible in both time periods – so crude and basic, with no mod cons – and I’d hate to have to stay there with a child!

Overall, I really enjoyed this engaging and absorbing book, which is dark and disturbing at times. It was an easy read and I flew through it in a few hours, desperate to learn more about both sets of protagonists and how their two stories were linked. By the end, there certainly had been some shocking revelations and I was surprised by how it was all resolved.

It was a well-written, tense read but quite slow paced. I was waiting for something awful to happen to both characters – there was a great sense of uneasiness, tension and foreboding and the descriptions of the house and both main protagonists were great. I felt like I could smell the house and see the horrors lurking within!

This was the first of the author’s books that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be checking out My Sister’s Bones and Day of the Accident, which I’ve already got on my shelf!

Buy the book

The House on the Lake by Nuala Ellwood can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and in paperback on 20 February, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Nuala Ellwood is the author of two bestselling novels: My Sister’s Bones, for which she was selected as one of The Observer’s ‘New Faces of Fiction 2017’, and Day of the Accident.  The House on the Lake is her latest novel.

Nuala teaches Creative Writing at York St John University, and lives in the city with her young son.

Twitter: @NualaWrites
Facebook: @NualaEllwoodAuthor
Instagram: @nualawrites

Blog tour

Thanks to Ellie Hudson at Penguin and Viking Books for my proof copy and finished copy of The House on the Lake and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

A Wash of Black by Chris McDonald

Blog tour: 28 January to 11 February 2020

Synopsis

It’s not life that imitates art. It’s death.

Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.

The body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago.

DI Erika Piper, having only recently returned to work after suffering a near-fatal attack herself, finds she must once again prove her worth as the hunt for the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer’ intensifies.

But when another body is found and, this time, the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must do more than put aside her demons to crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.

My review

After a year off after being injured in the line of duty, Detective Inspector Erika Piper’s first day back begins with a visit to the ice rink, The Ice Bowl, in Altrincham with her colleague, Detective Sergeant Liam Sutton, to investigate the horrific murder of famous actress, Anna Symons, who has been found laying dead on the ice with awful injuries.

We discover that her death recreates the scene of a violent murder from a film she starred in about five years ago, which was called Blood Ice. The film was based on a book called The Threat and there are two further books in the series: The Violent Threat and The Final Threat. The film of the second book, renamed as Hell Hammer, is due to be released soon.

As the story unfolds, we’re introduced to Anna’s fiancé, Rory Knox, who works in advertising and was in nearby Bradford at the time of her murder. The couple live in London but Anna was visiting her mother in Altrincham for a few days and we discover who she spent the evening with on the night she was killed. We also meet the director of the films, Reuben Amado, the executive producer, Jason (Jay) Krist, and the writer of The Threat trilogy, Ed Bennett, as well as a rather obsessive film student, Ben McCall.

When a second body is discovered, a similarly horrific murder, the police realise they’ve got a sadistic serial killer on their hands and DI Erika Piper’s boss, Detective Chief Inspector Bob Lovatt, who she blames for the incident that saw her injured and out of action for a year, puts pressure on the team to slot the pieces of the jigsaw together and find the killer.

Erika has a good rapport with her colleague, Liam, and they work well together as the tension builds and the action happens thick and fast. She also gets close with Detective Thomas Calder, after splitting up with her rather unsupportive boyfriend, Darren.

Things escalate and the pace steadily increases as the Blood Ice Killer personally targets Erika and time appears to be running out as the finale approaches. Will the police find the murderer before he completes his killing spree?!

A Wash of Black is a superb read and I flew through it in a matter of hours, frantically turning the pages to see how everything was going to be resolved! There were several twists and turns and red herrings. The clues were well littered throughout the book but there were enough suspects to flummox me and I didn’t guess who the killer was!

I really enjoyed this well-written and cleverly plotted police procedural. It was compelling and engaging and well put together, with great details and descriptions. The main protagonist, DI Erika Piper, is a great character – well drawn, strong, caring, relatable and normal – and I look forward to reading more about her in the next book in the series.

Buy the book

A Wash of Black by Chris McDonald 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

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.

He’s a fan of 5-a-side football, has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Damien Rice to Slayer and loves dogs.

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

Rafflecopter giveaway

Details: The prize is a signed hardback edition of A Wash of Black, along with a ‘Go away I’m reading’ tote bag and a luxury bookmark.

The giveaway runs from 28 January to 11 February, and we (Red Dog Press) will announce the randomly chosen winner on the evening of 11 February 2020 (GMT).

Routes to entry are all on the giveaway link, but basically, sign up to Red Dog Press Reader’s Club (which also gets you discounts in our store, a free eBook, and latest news from us), following us on Twitter. Entrants who tweet our promo tweet get two bonus entries.

Enter here: Rafflecopter giveaway link

Blog tour

Thanks to Dylan at Red Dog Press for my paperback and digital copies of A Wash of Black and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Beast by Matt Wesolowski

Blog tour: 1 to 29 February 2020

Synopsis

Continuing the unique, explosive Six Stories series, based around six podcasts comes a compulsive, taut and terrifying thriller, and a bleak and distressing look at modern society’s desperation for attention. Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never return …

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East ’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged cult, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, and the tragic and chilling legend of the Ergarth Vampire …

My review

In March 2018, the body of a young woman, Elizabeth Barton, was discovered in Tankerville Tower, a 13th century ruin, in the north-eastern town of Ergarth, on the Northumbrian coast. She was found frozen to death, as the area was in the grip of freezing Siberian winds (the ‘Beast from the East’), but had terrible injuries and three young local men (Martin Flynn, Solomon Meer and George Meldby, all in their early twenties) were convicted of her murder. Two years later, after the discovery of graffiti on the Barton family home, which seems to suggest the murder needs to be looked into, online journalist, Scott King, decides to investigate and speak to six people who were connected with the victim.

Scott King has become known for his online Six Stories podcasts, in which he examines complicated cases and carries out six interviews with key witnesses to try and determine the truth of what has happened.

Elizabeth Barton was also an online sensation: a video blogger (vlogger) and influencer, who had a large following on Instagram and YouTube for her shopping and ‘unboxing’ videos and charity work and was taking part in the Dead in Six Days challenge at the time of her death. This was a current internet craze that had been doing the rounds and Elizabeth was the first in the town to take part. It involved carrying out a challenge that has been set by a ‘vampire’ via WhatsApp and then uploading a video of the prank on YouTube. Once they’ve complete their challenge, the person is supposed to pass the vampire’s number on to someone else or they will have to carry out another challenge. This carries on for six days, which is when the vampire comes to kill the person! Elizabeth refused to pass the tasks on as she wanted to meet the vampire called Vladlena and face ‘death’ in her quest for more likes online.

As Scott King interviews the six people in his podcasts, we learn more about everyone connected with the murder, and about Elizabeth herself, and some shocking facts and truths are revealed! It was interesting to see how the parts of the jigsaw fitted together, or didn’t, as Scott got deeper into his investigations. All is not what it seems for most of the people involved! We also learn more about the town, with its smelly abattoir and rather dark, depressing and disturbing history, and about the Ergarth Vampire who is supposed to haunt the Tankerville Tower and surrounding area.

Beast was really thought provoking and a rather dark and creepy read. It’s spookily written and atmospheric and there’s a real sense of darkness and evil. It was rather spine chilling at times and very disconcerting and unsettling. There’s also a sense of foreboding and dread running throughout the book, of the horrors that lurk in this town and in its young people and the pressures they face in this modern internet world. Their need for attention and validation; to be acknowledged, accepted and liked on social media, above all else. It doesn’t seem a healthy way to live and things felt rather depressing and hopeless at times, especially as the people involved were actually young adults rather than children.

Overall, I really enjoyed this well-written and cleverly plotted book. Such an unusual concept and really well done. I wasn’t too sure how it would work at first but each podcast brought a different angle to the proceedings, a different thread, and cleverly stripped back the layers of intrigue, mystery and deception that had been covering this story and indeed the town and its people for the last few years. Compelling stuff and it was interesting to hear a different voice and a different angle to the story in each podcast. Intermingled with the story were supernatural elements and I was never quite sure what to believe and whether there was truth to the whole vampire legend or not!

I imagine this series would be perfect for listening on audio so I’ll have to try one in this format. I’m embarrassed to admit this was my first book from the Six Stories series, and it works fine as a standalone, but I’ll definitely be checking out the other three episodes now: Six Stories, Hydra and Changeling.

Buy the book

Beast by Matt Wesolowski can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care.

Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- and US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013.

Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller. Changeling, book three in the series, was published in 2019.

Twitter: @ConcreteKraken
Facebook: @Matt-Wesolowski
Instagram: @MattJWesolowski
Website: https://mjwesolowskiauthor.wordpress.com

Blog tour

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

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

Featured

Death Deserved by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst

Blog tour: 1 to 29 February 2020

Synopsis

Police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm join forces to track down a serial killer with a thirst for attention and high-profile murders, in the first episode of a gripping new Nordic Noir series …

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Forever Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing …

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention. Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it …

Extract

I’m delighted to share an extract of Chapter 5 of Death Deserved with you today.

Emma got off at the stop near Jomfrubråten. She’d made good use of her tram ride, making a few phone calls to people she knew in the TV 2 building. She’d learned that a taxi had been ordered to collect Sonja Nordstrøm at 7.20 a.m. With a little determined digging, she’d even managed to find out the driver’s name and phone number. Daniel Kvam. She’d called him straight away, but had only reached his voicemail.

For the last ten minutes of the tram journey, she’d thumbed through the first few chapters of Forever Number One, which had left her in no doubt that it would be explosive. Athletes, coaches and family members were told a few home truths, and Nordstrøm more or less accused one of her coaches of having sexually abused her.

Her phone rang just as she crossed Kongsveien.

‘Hi, it’s Daniel Kvam. You just phoned me?’

‘Yes,’ she said, and explained who she was. ‘Thanks for returning my call. It’s about a trip you had arranged for earlier today. You were to pick up Sonja Nordstrøm in Ekeberg at 7.20 a.m., is that right?’

‘That’s right enough,’ Kvam said. ‘But nothing came of it.’

Emma frowned.

‘I waited outside her house for fifteen minutes, at least, but she never came out.’

‘Didn’t you phone her?’

‘Yes, but it went straight to voicemail. I got out and rang her doorbell, but she still didn’t appear, so in the end I drove off.’

Emma said thanks and hung up.

She was now standing outside Nordstrøm’s magnificent villa, a house situated close to Kongsveien. It had to be at least 400 square metres of real estate, she reckoned, with a massive garage, painted white, adjacent. Building materials wrapped in plastic and remnants of packaging from renovation work were piled up in front of one garage door. Brown, compacted cardboard boxes.

The gate was open, which made Emma think Nordstrøm might have driven off somewhere earlier that day or the previous evening – that basically she’d done a bunk. A media circus such as Amund Zimmer had described would take the wind out of most people’s sails, even if you were totally used to it.

Emma stepped on to the tarmac driveway leading down to the house. Stopping at the front door, she rang the doorbell and heard it chime inside.

No answer.

She tried one more time with the same result: no one came to open the door. Taking a few paces back, she peered at the windows on the upper storey, but there was no face peeking back at her from behind the curtains. She couldn’t hear anything either.

She tried the doorbell once again. Still no sound from anyone inside. A flash of inspiration made her try the door handle, and she was taken aback to find the door unlocked. Emma let go of the handle but the door continued to glide slowly open. She took a step forwards. Poked her head ever so slightly into a spacious hallway with dark tiles on the floor.

Something on the floor further inside caused her to knit her brows. A coat stand lying on its side. She saw some shards of glass as well, scattered in front of a frame that must once have held a full-length mirror.

Emma stood still and called out: ‘Sonja Nordstrøm?’

She listened, but there was no response.

The sound of her shoes on the tiled floor in the outer hallway resonated through the house. ‘Hello!’ she shouted again, noticing how shaky her voice had become. Her trepidation did not prevent her from venturing further inside, though, into a huge hall with floor tiles in a checkerboard pattern. She made sure not to trample on the fragments of glass from the full-length mirror.

A high ceiling, with the lights switched on, and a glittering chandelier. A staircase led to the upper storey.

Emma continued to call out to Nordstrøm, but still received no answer.

She looked into the kitchen, where everything was elegant – bright surfaces, cooker and fridge in brushed stainless steel. The dark tiles also covered the floor in here. A cupboard full of wine bottles. Fresh flowers on a colossal table. Two wine glasses on the worktop, just beside a copy of Forever Number One. Emma shouted Nordstrøm’s name again, but heard nothing.

Or …

Yes, she did hear something.

She followed the sound out of the kitchen and into what appeared to be a living room. The TV was on, tuned into some sports channel or other. In the centre of the TV screen, a starting number was attached with a piece of tape. Number one.

Emma stood looking at it for a few seconds. That’s odd, she thought, as she picked up the remote control to switch off the TV. Then, in a split second, felt how deathly still everything had become.

‘Nordstrøm?’

Her voice hardly carried.

She made one more attempt, louder this time. Still no answer.

All of a sudden she did not want to be there. She had to get out. Fast.

She moved quickly. Her foot slid on the loose carpet in the hallway, but she managed to stay on her feet. She had to fight the urge to look back to see if anyone was watching or chasing her.

Once outside, she was able to breathe normally again. Closing the door behind her, she stood puzzling what to do next. A cat emerged from under a bush and disappeared around the corner of the house. Emma took out her phone and called Kasper.

Kasper Bjerringbo was a Danish journalist she had met at a seminar on digital journalism in Gothenburg a few months earlier. He had worked on Ritzau’s crime reporting unit for years. ‘Well, wonders will never cease,’ Kasper said in a thick Danish accent.

‘Hi, Kasper,’ Emma said. ‘Are you tied up?’

‘Yes, at least I am now.’

Emma smiled, and felt her cheeks grow warm.

‘Nice to hear from you,’ Kasper said. ‘It’s been a while.’

‘Yes, it has.’

‘It … we had fun, didn’t we?’

She pictured his black curls, his captivating smile. His very fit, naked body.

‘Yes we did,’ she said.

Until early in the morning, when tiredness had overcome her and she felt the urge to sneak back to her own bed.

‘I need some help,’ she said. ‘Some advice.’

‘What about?’

‘Do you have any experience of … disappearances?’

‘Well, we have a pretty big case going in Denmark right now, in fact.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes, a footballer who’s been missing for just over a week – maybe you’ve read about him?’ Emma hadn’t. She didn’t pay much attention to football.

‘Why were you wondering?’ Kasper added.

Emma wasn’t sure how much detail she should give him, so, without mentioning Nordstrøm by name, she told him about the missed appointment at TV 2 and about the house being empty, with the front door open.

‘I think something might have happened to her,’ she concluded.

Kasper was quiet for a few seconds. Emma pictured him sitting in his office, playing with his curls.

‘Then you really have no choice. You have to contact the police,’ he said. ‘And you have to tell them you’ve been inside. If you withhold that kind of information, it might cause problems for you later.’

Emma looked up at the house, hoping she would see Nordstrøm’s face in one of the windows. Kasper was right, of course.

‘The police will almost certainly take it seriously, especially if we’re talking about a famous person,’ Kasper added.

‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘I knew I could count on you.’

‘You’re welcome,’ he replied, then paused for a moment. ‘How are things with you otherwise?’ he asked.

‘Fine,’ Emma said.

‘You’re not thinking of coming to Copenhagen anytime soon?’ he added.

Emma smiled. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘That’s a pity,’ Kasper said.

Yes, Emma said to herself. Maybe it was.

‘I have to go now,’ she said, thanking him again for his help.

For a brief moment, after the call ended, she closed her eyes and shook her head. My God. Stupid, crazy behaviour. Copenhagen and Kasper could actually be really enjoyable. At least until the question of where she should sleep arose.

The steady rumble of traffic from Kongsveien made her brush those thoughts away.

‘OK,’ she told herself, taking a deep breath.

Then she dialled the number for the police.

Buy the book

Death Deserved by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and in paperback on 20 February, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the authors

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively.

Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense.

Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer.

Death Deserved is Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger’s first co-written thriller.

Twitter: @LierHorst and @EngerThomas
Facebook: @JornLierHorst and @ThomasEnger
Websites:
http://www.jlhorst.com
https://thomasenger.com

Blog tour

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

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

Featured

She Said, Three Said by David B. Lyons

Blog tour: 31 January to 11 February 2020

Synopsis

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a juror in a high-profile celebrity trial?
Well … now you don’t have to.

Step inside the jury room to deliberate one of the most talked-about court cases of the decade.

SHE SAID
… all three men got her drunk, led her to a hotel room and took advantage of her.

THREE SAID
… she was a willing participant and consented to sex with each of them.

After five weeks of listening to all of the evidence and all of the arguments in a celebrity rape trial that has gripped an entire nation, the jury sit down to begin their deliberations.

But they don’t know who to believe …
… will you?

My review

Set in Dublin, She Said, Three Said tells the story of three men, one of whom is a famous footballer, who are accused of raping a woman they meet on a night out, and the jury, who are tasked with deciding whether they are guilty or not.

The three men are childhood friends, red-haired footballer Jason Kenny (who has played for Everton and Sunderland and internationally for Ireland), Zach Brophy and Li Xiang, all aged 35, and the woman, a former model, is called Sabrina Doyle, aged 25. While on a night out, the men happen to meet up with Sabrina, who is actually working that evening, and a chain of events occurs that ends up with the four of them together in the penthouse suite of a nearby hotel, and the men are accused of rape.

After five long weeks, the trial has just ended and the story begins at the point where the jury are deliberating and considering their verdict in the jury rooms in Dublin’s Criminal Courts. Over the course of a few hours, we learn a bit more about the 12 jurors and their thought processes as they consider all the evidence and testimonies they’ve heard. Li didn’t take to the stand during the trial, similar to most defendants when faced with a rape charge, but both Jason and Zach opted to give evidence.

In flashbacks, from the viewpoints of the three men and Sabrina, we find out about the events leading up to the incident on the evening in question, from 7pm (when they first met) till gone midnight (when the alleged rape occurred).

It’s really interesting to see the thought processes of the jury and how they deliberate the evidence, witness statements and testimonies from experts. They need to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that the three men raped Sabrina, and it’s so difficult for them all to remain objective and consider what has happened without letting their own emotions get in the way.

It’s also fascinating to read about events from the viewpoints of the main protagonists, especially as they’re all hiding secrets and not being honest with each other. It’s frustrating to hear their inner thoughts and wonder what might have happened if they had actually voiced them to each other rather than just assuming things and misinterpreting each others’ actions!

I really enjoyed this well-plotted, compelling and engaging story. It felt frighteningly real and I could imagine events actually happening the way they did. The four main protagonists were well written and I liked the way we slowly learnt more about their characters over the course of the novel. They all had an interesting back story, which went someone to explaining their actions. I liked learning more about the jurors too, who were initially described as ‘Number One’ to ‘Number Twelve’, but we gradually discovered the people behind the number. As expected, the jurors were from all walks of life and a range of different ages, and made up of seven women and five men.

Overall, this was a really thought-provoking book, which really made me think about a lot of things – the pressures juries are under, the dangers women face while on a night out, how complicated people are, and the fact that events can conspire to create an awful situation, which couldn’t have been predicted at the start of a normal night out involving three men who have been friends since primary school. Shocking and disturbing stuff, and a rather tense and uncomfortable read at times! I definitely wouldn’t have liked to have been on that jury deciding the fate of the men.

I’m looking forward to reading more from the author and will be checking out his other books, Midday, which I already have on my Kindle, and Whatever Happened to Betsy Blake? and The Suicide Pact.

Buy the book

She Said, Three Said by David B. Lyons can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback now.

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, 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
Website: http://theopenauthor.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Emma Welton at damppebbles blog tours for my digital copy of She Said, Three Said and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli

Blog tour: 27 January to 8 February 2020

Synopsis

A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm. The gathered survivors realize a tenuous connection among them means it may not be a coincidence that they all ended up on this highway …

An attempt to seek help leads a few of the travelers to a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell bent on playing deadly games with a group of people just trying to get home for the holidays.

Extract

I’m delighted to share an extract of Chapter 1 of Snowball with you today.

[…] Toby knew approximately which mile marker he was at on the turnpike, which meant it was a few miles between exits, one of the more desolate stretches on the highway, with nothing but woods lining both sides. No easy way to get off. Nobody should even be on it on a night like this.

He unlatched the shovel attached to the side of the truck.

With the wind howling like a freight train, he could barely hear himself think. But another sound joined the night.

Someone calling for help.

He turned toward the front of the truck, the direction the sound was coming from.

It had to be his imagination. The wind screeched too loud to hear anything else. But it came again, a low moan. Someone hurt? Out here?

No. It was a trick of the wind. It just sounded like a person’s cry.

But it compelled him enough to walk toward the front of his truck and around the wide plow blades. Ignoring the snow pelting his now-numbed cheeks, he stared out to where the headlight beams ended, cut off by the swirling snow and dark night.

A figure stood in the road.

Motionless.

Wet snow stuck to his eyelashes and he wiped it away with one gloved hand, the other still gripping the shovel. It was still there. A tall, stout figure.

“Hello?” Toby called, his voice sucked away so that he couldn’t be sure the person had heard him.

He climbed into the snow on the road in front of him, sinking up to his thighs. He struggled to lift each leg and plant it in front of him. When he got a few feet closer, he realized what he was looking at.

A snowman.

What the hell? he thought. Is this some kind of joke? Who the hell would build a snowman in the middle of the turnpike?

There was no mistaking it. Three round balls of snow piled on top of each other. Branches for arms stuck out of the sides of the middle section. A black top hat perched on the head, tilted forward so Toby couldn’t see the face. A red-and-white scarf wrapped around the neck, its ends flapping in the wind.

With everything he’d been through this miserable night, this senseless act irked Toby the most, and he felt like smashing the damn thing with his shovel.

He gripped the handle and took a step forward.

Then the snowman’s head rose, tilting back as its face came into view. Beneath the coal-black eyes and long crooked carrot nose was a black mouth grinning with two rows of sharp teeth.

Toby froze in his tracks, bringing the shovel up against his body defensively, his heart thudding in his chest.

He turned to run, but his feet were stuck. He pulled at his legs until the snow finally released its grip. Toby stumbled through the snow, like wading through wet cement. He didn’t dare look behind him, because he knew if he did, he’d see that deranged snowman lurching after him.

What the hell?!

The snowplow was only a few feet away, but the snow made his efforts so slow, he didn’t think he’d be able to reach it. He tossed the shovel aside, as if losing the excess weight would help. His arms swung wildly, trying to propel him forward through the thick snow. Cold air sucked deep into his lungs, preventing him from screaming. He could hear a swooshing sound from behind.

He slipped and fell into the road beside his front tire. Scrambling, he got up and grabbed the handle of the driver’s side door. It was at that moment when he finally glanced behind him.

Toby saw nothing but the swirling snow.

He opened the door and climbed up into his seat. He slumped back, releasing an exhausted breath, only to continue panting. He removed his gloves and saw his hands were shaking.

A mirage? he wondered. Toby knew tired drivers sometimes hallucinated. Highway hypnosis they called it. Was that what had happened to him? He had been plowing for nearly twenty hours straight, and at his age—

Crack!

A branch smacked against the driver’s side window, causing him to jump. The long branch split into three thinner ones, like fingers on a misshapen hand. It scraped down the glass, etching narrow cracks, as if trying to claw its way in.

No, Toby thought. This can’t be.

He punched down on the door lock and moved to the middle of the bench seat. He shut the headlights off. Maybe it won’t see me, he hoped.

Crack!

The branch came down again, this time on the windshield before him. The three twiglike fingers bent, digging at the glass.

It can’t get in, Toby told himself. The glass is too strong. It won’t break.

The branch pulled away from the windshield. Toby peered out the glass, looking around all three sides of his cab. He didn’t see anything.

A strange sound came, faintly.

Toby turned off the truck’s engine and listened. It sounded like it was coming from under the truck’s hood. A scraping sound. It was getting closer.

Then he realized it was coming from the vents in the dashboard.

Buy the book

Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Gregory Bastianelli is the author of the novels Loonies and Jokers Club. His stories have appeared in the magazines Black Ink Horror, Sinister Tales and Beyond Centauri; the anthologies Night Terrors II, Cover of Darkness and Encounters; and the online magazines Absent Willow Review and Down in the Cellar. His novella, The Lair of the Mole People, appeared in the pulp anthology, Men & Women of Mystery Vol. II.

He graduated from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied writing under instructors Mark Smith, Thomas Williams and Theodore Weesner. He worked for nearly two decades at a small daily newspaper where the highlights of his career were interviewing shock rocker Alice Cooper and B-movie icon Bruce Campbell.

He became enchanted with the stories of Ray Bradbury as a young child, and his love of horror grew with the likes of Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell.

He lives in Dover, New Hampshire, in a Colonial home built in the 1700s. He enjoys kayaking, hiking and bicycling in the summer and snowshoeing and racquetball in the winter. Along with spending time with family, he enjoys travelling, especially to Italy where he has visited his ancestral home and relatives residing there and hiked the Path of the Gods on the Amalfi Coast and to the top of Mt. Vesuvius.

Twitter: @gregorybastiane
Website: https://www.gregorybastianelli.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Flame Tree Press and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my copy of Snowball and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

Apartment Six by Stuart James

Book review

Synopsis

Would you have the courage to escape?

Be careful what you wish for …

When Meagan was five years old her mother was viciously attacked and murdered.

Now an adult, she herself is the victim of an abusive relationship. Meagan is desperate to escape but doesn’t have the courage to leave.

So, when Meagan meets Oliver, a decent guy who is on the rebound after a failed relationship, the two strike up a connection. But when Meagan confesses that her husband is abusive, it leads Oliver down a dark and dangerous path.

Just how far would you go to protect someone?

Oliver is about to find out and be pushed to his very limits …

My review

In the tense opening chapter of the book, we are introduced to five-year-old Meagan who calls 999 after witnessing her parents arguing. She tells the lady on the other end of the phone that her mummy is lying at the bottom of the stairs and isn’t moving and says her daddy did it. She hides in the cupboard when asked to do so and, luckily, the emergency services arrive just in time.

Twenty years later, Meagan repeats the cycle and is in an abusive relationship with controlling husband Rob, who has ‘taken every drop of confidence away … draining her of self-belief with his constant cruel jibes, sarcasm, his sneers and continuous insults.’ She is constantly anxious and on edge, worrying about trivial things like creaking floorboards and the state of the shower, and petrified about what Rob is going to say or do to her if she’s done something that he disapproves of.

Oliver Simmonds, a PA for a high-class law firm in Mayfair, has recently split up from his long-term girlfriend, Claire, with whom he shared an apartment in Chelsea. He meets Meagan on the underground train to work one morning – she’s heading to her job as a nanny – and they slowly get closer and begin an affair. Meagan is covered in cuts and bruises and she confesses to Oliver about how Rob treats her and he witnesses it himself when he follows her home one evening.

Oliver is falling for Meagan and when she asks him to help her escape from Rob, he is so smitten that he fairly readily agrees, even though she keeps hounding him and despite what Meagan is asking him to do. I don’t want to spoil the plot and all the action that follows but I will say that things take an even more sinister turn at this point and there are dire consequences for all concerned.

With flashbacks to the past, we learnt more about Meagan’s difficult toxic childhood with her parents, Tricia and Sean, and we read about the shocking abuse, both physical and mental, that her father carried out on her mother. We’re also introduced to her oldest friend, Sarah, who used to live across the road when they were children and they’re still friends in the present day.

Despite the subject matter, this was an enjoyable but rather terrifying read with lots of misdirection, twists and turns! I had an inkling how things would turn out but I was actually completely wrong! The book was cleverly written and plotted and the characters were well drawn too. None of them could be trusted and I didn’t really like anyone apart from the old lady in Meagan’s building, Mrs Sheehan!

Overall, I really enjoyed this gripping and exciting psychological thriller. There were some really tense, frightening moments and I was holding my breath to see how things turned out. The ending was slightly far fetched but the book was fast paced and very entertaining and I could definitely see this being turned into a film!

I’m looking forward to reading the author’s previous books: I already have Turn the Other Way on my Kindle and I hear The House on Rectory Lane is going to be re-released later this year too.

Buy the book

Apartment Six by Stuart James can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the author

Stuart James has always been a fan of scary stories, since a very early age, and loves nothing more than to put pen to paper and develop his terrifying ideas. He is a keen singer/songwriter and sang in a band for 20 years.

He’s an amateur magician, is married with two teenage children and his other hobbies are reading and keeping fit. Stuart currently he lives in Hertfordshire with his family, French Bulldog called Hugo and tabby cat named Amber.

He will always interact with his readers and loves nothing more than receiving messages on social media from people who enjoy his books. He is keen to write for years to come, and his dream is to see one of his thrillers on the small screen. That really would be his dream come true.

Twitter: @StuartJames73
Facebook: @stuartjamesauthor
Website: https://www.stuartjamesthrillers.com

Featured

The Orphan Thief by Glynis Peters

Promotional blog tour: 20 to 23 January 2020

Synopsis

When all seems lost …

As Hitler’s bombs rain down on a battered and beleaguered Britain, Ruby Shadwell is dealt the most devastating blow – her entire family lost during the Coventry Blitz.

Hope still survives …

Alone and with the city in chaos, Ruby is determined to survive this war and rebuild her life. And a chance encounter with street urchin Tommy gives Ruby just the chance she needs …

And love will overcome.

Because Tommy brings with him Canadian Sergeant Jean-Paul Clayton. Jean-Paul is drawn to Ruby and wants to help her, but Ruby cannot bear another loss.

Can love bloom amidst the ruins? Or will the war take Ruby’s last chance at happiness too?

Buy the book

The Orphan Thief by Glynis Peters can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback now, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Glynis Peters lives in Dovercourt, Essex, England.

She married her school sweetheart in 1979, and they have three children. They also have three grandchildren, with another due in the spring of 2019, the year of their ruby wedding anniversary.

In 2014, Glynis was short-listed for the Festival of Romantic Fiction New Talent Award.

In 2018, HarperCollins/HarperImpulse published her novel, The Secret Orphan. The novel rose to several bestseller positions within a few months of release.

When Glynis is not writing, she enjoys fishing with her husband, making greetings cards, cross stitch and the company of her granddaughters.

Her grandson lives in Canada, and it is for that reason she introduced a Canadian pilot into The Secret Orphan.

Twitter: @_Glynis_Peters
Facebook: @glynispetersauthor
Website: http://www.glynispetersauthor.co.uk
Instagram: @glynispetersauthor

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the promotional material for The Orphan Thief and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

SHE by H.C. Warner

Blog tour: 21 to 25 January 2020

Synopsis

She’s everything he dreamed of. Isn’t she?

Ben can’t believe his luck when Bella walks into his life, just when he needs her most. Sexy, impulsive and intelligent, Bella is everything he ever wanted. And Bella wants him. All to herself.

In fact, Bella decides that everything is better when it is just the two of them, making it harder for Ben’s friends and family to stay in touch. And then a sudden tragedy triggers a chain of events which throws Ben headlong into a nightmare.

Secrets, lies, vengeance and betrayal are at the heart of this utterly twisted story about a family that is destroyed when SHE becomes part of it …

My review

SHE tells the story of 30-year-old advertising executive, Ben, who is still devastated by the fairly recent split from his girlfriend of 12 years, Charlotte. While having a drink after work one evening with his oldest and closest friend, Matt, he meets the gorgeous, stunning and perfect Bella and though he doesn’t realise it, it’s the start of a nightmare for Ben, his family and friends!

Ben finds Bella irresistible – she is beautiful, head turning, intelligent and he is completely mesmerised by her. He is immediately smitten and he is surprised and pleased that she seems to feel the same way. Bella moves in with him straightaway and their relationship progresses at a whirlwind pace.

Told in several parts, we first learn about events of the past few months from Ben’s point of view, then we get Bella’s take on things and it’s intriguing – and chilling in Bella’s case – to see how they both interpret events and what they’re each thinking. It’s a little bit repetitive but helps us to understand Bella’s behaviour.

Bella is an amazing character – she’s awful, horrible and nasty but strangely compelling! She treats Ben so badly but he can’t resist her despite her controlling and manipulative behaviour. She regularly lies to Ben, is possessive and domineering and punishes him in all sorts of ways whenever she considers he’s done something wrong. She’s so selfish and passive aggressive and everything is about her and she can be quite woe as me and hard done by too. Bella wants Ben all to herself and alienates him from everyone else. This is such a chilling story of the worst relationship you can imagine!

I don’t want to say too much about the plot but the consequences of their relationship and Bella’s actions have far-reaching consequences for all connected with Ben and she has a devastating affect on his whole family and closest friends.

I was completely enthralled and horrified by this twisted and twisty book and found it really engaging and gripping. I thought it was well written and cleverly plotted and the characters are well drawn. It was terrible how beaten Ben became – a shadow of his former self – as he was unable or unwilling to stand up to Bella’s abuse for various reasons.

I really enjoyed this dark, tense, suspenseful psychological thriller and raced through it in a few hours! I couldn’t put it down and was frantically turning the pages to see if Bella got her comeuppance or if she was going to destroy everyone! I definitely recommend SHE, the author’s first psychological thriller, and look forward to reading more of her books.

Buy the book

SHE by H.C. Warner can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and in paperback on 23 January, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

H.C. Warner is a former Head of Daytime at both ITV and Channel 4, where she was responsible for a variety of TV shows including Come Dine With Me, Loose Women, Good Morning Britain and Judge Rinder.

Helen writes her novels on the train to work in London from her home in Essex, which she shares with her husband and their two children.

Twitter: @HCWarnerauthor
Facebook: @HelenWarnerOfficial
Website: https://www.helenwarner.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Jessica Lee at HQ Stories for my copy of SHE and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell

Blog tour: 12 to 16 January 2020

Synopsis

It meant nothing to her and everything to him

Caroline had everything – the gorgeous beach house built for holidays and parties, a seemingly happy marriage

But when she discover her husband has been lying to her, she turns to a handsome stranger for comfort and revenge, a brief, reckless affair that was meant to be fun but soon becomes something much more sinister.

As Caroline’s marriage and wealthy lifestyle begin to crumble, so her lover’s obsession grows. He’s in her life, in her house and among her family, and his infatuation is growing more destructive.

And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, Caroline finds herself accused of murder. But what is she hiding ?

My review

In A Stranger on the Beach, 42-year-old Caroline Stark, an interior designer, has a lovely life with her husband of 20 years, handsome investment banker, Jason, and daughter, Hannah, who has just headed off to college. They’ve got an apartment in New York and have recently bought a new beach house, which they’ve done up, and Caroline invites all their friends and work colleagues round to celebrate. Jason phones to say he won’t be able to make the party as he’s stuck in a meeting out of town and, suspicious when his lies don’t match, Caroline checks on her iPad to see where he is and discovers he’s hundreds of miles away in a Manhattan hotel.

On the night of the party, Jason arrives really late and is followed in by a woman called Galina, who he claims is just a work colleague, and says they’re in the middle of a crisis situation that needs sorting. Rather hard to believe! Caroline is embarrassed as all her guests look on, enjoying the scene.

Caroline first meets Aidan Callahan when she spots him on the beach outside her home then, by coincidence, he’s serving drinks at her housewarming party and working as a bartender at the Red Anchor. At first, he seems lovely – handsome, attentive, complimentary – just what she needs to cheer her up after learning about Jason’s affair. Then there are hints that he’s not who he seems and multiple red flags over his behaviour and actions.

In alternating chapters, Caroline and Aidan share their version of events but, intriguingly, their accounts don’t seem to match and the reader is left wondering which of them (both, perhaps?) is the unreliable narrator! They both sound as unpleasant and obsessive as each other and I wasn’t sure that either protagonist could be trusted to tell the truth.

In the final third of the book, ‘After the storm’, things take a different turn and an investigation takes place and I was left speedily turning the pages to see how it was all resolved!

With twist and turns galore, I really wasn’t sure how this intriguing, tense story was going to pan out and what the truth actually was! It was a complex, well-layered, fast-paced tale and I enjoyed how the story unravelled. This is a terrifying story about how quickly your life can fall apart when things go wrong and you make some bad choices!

Overall, I really enjoyed this cleverly written, suspense-filled story and will be checking out Michele Campbell’s other two books, It’s Always the Husband and She Was the Quiet One.

Buy the book

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Michele Campbell is a graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York City who specialized in international narcotics and gang cases.

A while back, she said goodbye to her big-city legal career and moved with her husband and two children to an idyllic New England college town a lot like Belle River in It’s Always the Husband. Since then, she has spent her time teaching criminal and constitutional law and writing novels. She has had many close female friends, a few frenemies, and only one husband, who – to the best of her knowledge – has never tried to kill her.

Twitter: @MCampbellBooks
Facebook: @MicheleCampbellBooks
Website: https://www.michelecampbellbooks.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Jessica Lee at HQ Stories for my copy of A Stranger on the Beach and for my place on the blog tour.

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

Featured

The Guesthouse by Abbie Frost

Blog tour: 9 to 24 January 2020

Synopsis

Seven guests. One killer. A holiday to remember …

Not all the guests will survive their stay …

You use an app, called Cloud BNB, to book a room online. And on a cold and windy afternoon you arrive at The Guesthouse, a dramatic old building on a remote stretch of hillside in Ireland.

You are expecting a relaxing break, but you find something very different. Something unimaginable. Because a killer has lured you and six other guests here and now you can’t escape.

One thing’s for certain: not all of you will come back from this holiday alive

Q&A with Abbie Frost

Today on my blog, I’m bringing you a Q&A with Abbie Frost. It’s a really informative read and gives an interesting insight into the book and Abbie herself!

1. Can you tell us a bit about The Guesthouse and what inspired it?
When a mansion in an isolated area of Ireland is turned into a guest house, with a tempting opening offer, the first rooms are booked by a random mix of people. There’s Hannah, who needs to be alone to come to terms with her boyfriend’s death. Mo, treating his elderly father to a short break. A family of three using the place as temporary accommodation until they move house. And Lucy, a musician hoping for peace and quiet to write some new songs. When the weather closes in, however, their relaxing visit turns terrifying.

The novel was inspired by the closed circle mysteries, which were so popular during the golden age of crime fiction. Last year, I was incredibly lucky to be asked to lecture on the history of English whodunnits aboard the Queen Mary 2. To prepare, I had to reread many of my favourite authors: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Francis Isles, etc. When I was talking (make that boasting!) about the trip to my editor, he suggested I try writing a contemporary take on the classic format – the country house mystery – but set firmly in the 21st century.

So, The Guesthouse may be a remote mansion, but the characters are not the privileged folk at the centre of most golden age mysteries. Instead, they are a mix of ordinary people who have used an online site to book a short holiday. However, as the hours and days pass, all the guests are revealed to have dark secrets as well as some surprising links to The Guesthouse itself. It turns out that neither they, nor the house, are quite what they seem.

2. Which writers and books have most influenced your writing and why?
Like most authors, I have always been a voracious reader and I’m sure the writers I loved when I was very young, like C.S. Lewis, Phillipa Pearce and Alan Garner, who all created atmospheric worlds with mysterious elements, continue to have an influence. As an adult, it’s probably been Wilkie Collins, Daphne Du Maurier, Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith – creators of complex and conflicted characters caught up in crime almost by accident. But I’m sure I gain something from every book that makes an impact on me.

3. What triggered your desire to start writing thriller fiction and what do you enjoy the most and the least about it?
I write the kind of fiction that I most enjoy reading.

The best moment is when the essence of a compelling story seems to have become fully formed. In my mind, at least!

The worst times usually come about halfway through the writing, when I have to accept that some of my brilliant ideas won’t actually work and I must force myself to give up on them.

4. Why did you choose to set The Guesthouse in Ireland?
Ireland is a beautiful place with a history that is fascinating, mystical and also tragic. There are still areas that feel incredibly isolated and the unpredictable weather adds to the sense that mysterious things could happen at any moment.

I have Irish ancestry on both sides and have always felt a great affinity for the place. Like so many others, my ancestors left because of the terrible potato famine and the memory of that nightmare time remains potent.

5. The Guesthouse is quite the dramatic holiday experience. What is the most memorable holiday you’ve been on?
It has to be last year, when I crossed the North Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. Although it was a working holiday, I loved every minute. The ship was even more glamorous than I had imagined – very art deco with a definite Poirot vibe. Dressing for dinner every night, breakfast in bed each morning, sitting on my stateroom balcony with a glass of bubbly as I watched the Statue of Liberty vanish from view: totally magical.

6. What are you reading at the moment?
Over Christmas, I read books by lots of my favourite writers, including Philip Pullman’s latest, The Secret Commonwealth. Masterful writing and a huge imagination at work. I’ve recently finished Jill Dawson’s The Language of Birds, which is a fictionalisation of the Lord Lucan mystery. Dawson puts the murdered nanny – Sandra Rivett, re-imagined as Mandy – at the centre of the story, where she should be, and brings her to vibrant life. Before that, it was S.K. Tremayne’s The Assistant, a tense and terrifying combination of psychological suspense and science fiction. And I was lucky enough to obtain an advanced copy of Sheila Bugler’s new one, I Could Be You, an enthralling mystery set on the south coast of England, close to where I live. I’m just starting Emma Donoghue’s Akin and am interested to see how she will manage the point of view of an old man after her brilliant take on that of a little boy in Room.

7. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote and what was it about?
I was always writing stories, so I’m not sure what would qualify as the first, but it was likely to be a very bad knock-off of one of Enid Blyton’s tales of a group of daring youngsters foiling the schemes of some dastardly criminals.

8. Is there a particular place you like to write?
I usually stand to write – as apparently did Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. Straight onto a laptop, which sits on a shelf just above waist height in our dining room. When my legs get tired, or I want to read back what I’ve written, I curl up in a rocking chair beside a gas fire that looks and feels like a real one. So it’s quite cosy.

9. You’ve worked as a teacher, actor and scriptwriter and now author of fiction. Can you give us four top lines of advice for anyone wanting to get into these professions?
Teacher – treat children with the same respect you would give to adults.
Actor – have another job to fall back on. You will need it.
Scriptwriter – act everything out yourself before you submit a script.
Author – read, read, read, write, write, write and never give up.

10. If you had to go on holiday with six characters from fiction, who would you go with?
Du Maurier’s Rebecca, she’d organise some brilliant parties and I could quiz her about what really happened with the deplorable/adorable Maxim.
Elizabeth Bennet, to put down Rebecca if she gets too much.
Mrs Ariadne Oliver, my favourite Christie detective, who I’m sure is Agatha in disguise.
Beatrice Stubbs, J.J. Marsh’s retired police inspector: wherever the holiday takes place she would source the best food and drink.
C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake – I just love him.
And the late and lamented Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther: witty, conflicted and devilishly attractive.

Buy the book

The Guesthouse by Abbie Frost can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback now, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Abbie Frost (the pen name of author Chris Curran) was born in London but now lives in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, on the south coast of England, in a house groaning with books.

She left school at 16 to work in the local library – her dream job then and now – and spent an idyllic few months reading her way around the shelves. Reluctantly returning to full-time education, she gained her degree from Sussex University.

Since then, she has worked as an actress, script writer, copy editor and teacher, all the time looking forward to the day when she would see her own books gracing those library shelves.

Twitter: @FrostyAbbie
Facebook: @ChrisCurran
Website: https://chriscurranauthor.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Rebecca Bryant at HarperFiction for my copy of The Guesthouse and for my place on the blog tour and thanks to Abbie Frost for answering questions for this blog post.

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

Featured

All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding

Blog tour: 9 to 22 December 2019

Synopsis

You always know who you’re meeting online … don’t you?

Four women decide to explore online dating, downloading an app that promises they will swipe their way to love and happiness.

But not everyone is who they seem online. Hidden behind a perfect smile and charming humour, one man appears to be the perfect date. But the night he has planned is unlike any other.

The clock is ticking, and for one woman, this date might just be her last …

My review

All the Wrong Places tells the story of Paige Hamilton, her mother, Joan, her cousin, Heather, and best friend, Chloe.

Paige lives with her mother in a two-bedroom condo in Boston after the break up of her relationship a couple of months before, when she discovered her live-in boyfriend, Noah, in bed with her cousin, Heather.

Paige has had a bad run of luck in recent years: six months ago, she lost her job as a director of strategic planning in an advertising agency when the firm was taken over by a larger New York company. Her father, Robert, died from cancer two years ago and her uncle, Ted, his twin, is now celebrating his 80th birthday with a big party. Paige is still grieving his loss and the injustice that his inferior twin (‘this living, breathing replica’) is alive and her father isn’t.

Her cousin, Heather, has always been incredibly jealous of Paige and copies her in all areas of life – clothes, hairstyles, career, men – and regularly puts Paige down and mocks her. She’s not a very nice person and I was willing her to get her comeuppance!

Chloe discovers that her husband of eight years, Matt, is on lots of dating sites and this is the final straw after years of emotional and physical abuse and affairs and she kicks him out and files for divorce. They have two young children together, Josh (aged 6) and Sasha (aged 4), who struggle to understand what is happening.

In contrast to Paige, Chloe’s mother, Jennifer, is rather unsupportive and selfish and dancing is her passion; she regularly leaves town to take part in competitions across the country. She also drinks heavily and can’t be trusted to look after Josh and Sasha.

Paige’s mother, Joan, is 70 and at an age where she’s worried that every twinge is a brain tumour, stroke or heart attack. She regularly phones Paige complaining of various ailments. She decides to start online dating after Paige encourages her to have a go and helps set up her profile.

The story follows the ups and downs of the women’s lives as they struggle to overcome all the adversities thrown at them, and it was an engaging read as we learnt more about them all and got to know their characters. Interspersed with this are sections where we discover more about the rather menacing and disturbing Mr Right Now as he woos women then works his way through them, quite literally!

I was really intrigued by the premise behind this book – so many people do online dating these days and it’s moved on a lot from when I took part several years ago now! What’s all this swiping business?! It’s rather frightening that you never really know who you’re meeting online and it’s important to take precautions and always meet somewhere public, even if the person you’re meeting seems really charming like Mr Right Now!

I really liked Paige and her mum, Joan, they both seemed lovely and had a great relationship. They both encouraged each other in their dating exploits and Joan was very supportive, even if she rather overshared at times! There were some amusing interchanges between them, with good humour.

The book contained some lovely friendships between women and the undercurrent of evil running throughout the book in the form of serial killer, Mr Right Now, worked really well as he kept popping up and texting women from time to time, just when you’d hoped he’d gone away!

This was an entertaining read and a good mix of genres with the contrast of psychological thriller and women’s fiction. The book was well written and I liked the way the strands and layers of story were put together. The women were all closely linked, even if they weren’t all friendly with each other. The story contained a variety of themes and they were all well handled.

Mr Right Now was a really creepy and menacing character and the thought of someone like that preying on women on dating sites was rather horrific! He was charming and attractive and knew exactly what to say to lure women in.

The ending was great: I enjoyed the way the story was tied up but there was still some ambiguity and you weren’t quite sure what had happened.

This was my first book by Joy Fielding but I’ll definitely be checking out her other books now. Looks like she’s written quite a few!

Buy the book

All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Joy Fielding is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Still Life, Charley’s Web, Heartstopper, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida.

Twitter: @joyfielding
Facebook: @Joy Fielding
Website: http://www.joyfielding.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my copy of All the Wrong Places and for my place on the blog tour.

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