Saturday, 19 September 2020

In The Dying Minutes - J.A. Baker

Everyone has their secrets, some are more deadly than others.

What is she running away from?

When Leah is involved in a train crash, she goes to a therapist, Will. He attempts to help her through the trauma but whenever Leah is in his presence, strange things occur. She suffers from hallucinations that include visions of her dead brother, Ellis. 

As Leah reveals to Will that her friends Jacob and Chloe wronged her, further flashbacks of her childhood and parts of her life she would sooner forget begin to surface, troubling Leah even more.

But what is actually bothering her and what led Leah to be on that train? 

Nothing is as it seems, and soon she will learn the heart-breaking truth… 

What did I think?

Well this was a psychological thriller with a capital P.  I love J.A. Baker books and In The Dying Minutes feels much darker than her previous books; it's tense, creepy and disturbing which makes it a goosebumpy page turner.

Leah is such a complex character that you can't tell what is real and what is in her head.  Losing her boyfriend, her job and her home in quick succession has sent her on a downward spiral with devastating consequences.  It's not a spoiler to say that Leah is involved in a train crash and I just have to mention that J.A. Baker's writing of this scene was absolutely sublime.  It's not something I ever want to experience but I felt and heard unimaginable things through J.A. Baker's powerful writing.  I don't want to go into any details but there's one thing that stuck in my mind just before the crash and it's one of those sliding doors, what if moments.  I love this sort of thing, like the twist of fate and the possibility that everyone ended up where they were supposed to be.

Although I've focused on the train crash, the story is so much more than that.  It's a deep delve into the psyche of Leah, not just through her therapist but through her own actions.  Leah is so obsessed with her ex-boyfriend, Jacob, that she stalks him and his new girlfriend, Chloe.  I really enjoyed seeing inside the mind of a stalker: the delusions, the obsession and the disturbing mental health.

What really stands out for me is the way that the format of the book seems to mirror Leah's mind.  It jumps around a bit but rather than feel confusing, it just added to the authenticity of Leah's state of mind.  There are quite a few layers of the story as we unearth Leah's past and you can't help but feel sorry for her and think how things could have been different if she'd had counselling at an early age.  The story of Leah's brother, Ellis, really got to me and I loved the final thing that linked him and Leah - I just can't say what it is!!!

Shocking, disturbing and outstanding, In The Dying Minutes is so full of surprises that I feel like I need to read it again to pick up all the nuances that J.A. Baker has woven into her exceptional story.  An intelligent and imaginative story that is highly recommended.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Thursday, 17 September 2020

The Power of Conviction (The Prime Series Book 1) - Catrin Russell


The Darkness was closing in over the Midlands, with the Priesthood being the only one daring to stand up against its terrifying presence.

Trained in the arts of the Light, the priests walked a bloodied path through the scores of demons, seeking to rid the world of their unholy presence. But the fight against demonkind was becoming increasingly perilous, and danger rose to threaten the Priesthood’s very survival.

The priestess Anaya stands resolute in her conviction. Despite the dangers she must endure along her dedicated path, her unwavering faith in the Goddess and Her divine supremacy doesn’t falter. She’s set on following the orders of her High Priest, no matter how gruesome.

Until one day, when all her beliefs are challenged…

A fateful meeting with the elusive demon Samael opens the doors to doubt and Anaya begins to question the very path of the Priesthood and of all those steadfast in the preachings of the Goddess.

Were they wrong about demonkind? Was her purpose in life truly for naught?

The Prime Series contains subjects and scenes that depict violence, torture, consequences of prolonged sexual abuse, emotional scars and suffering, as well as mature language and steamy scenes. It is therefore intended for a mature audience.

The Prime Series is perfect for readers who enjoy High and Epic Fantasy with dark undertones and a touch of romance.

What did I think?

Fantasy is a new genre for me but The Prime Series was recommended to me by an author whose opinion I respect, Karen Crawford.  I do like to escape into books and The Power of Conviction is the perfect escape from the real world; I couldn't help but be drawn into the dark, powerful and magical world that Catrin Russell has created.

I loved Anaya's story; how she came to be a respected member of the Priesthood and her interactions with Samael, a demon that she has been taught to destroy.  Anaya is confused by her feelings for Samael and the more she gets to know him, the more she questions everything she has been taught.  The development of their friendship into love was beautiful to behold as dark met light and sparks almost shot out of my kindle.  There are some steamy scenes but I wouldn't describe them as graphic or erotic so they shouldn't offend more sensitive readers; it's definitely a book for adults though.

Aside from the burgeoning romance between Anaya and Samael, there are many battles with demons and I found these scenes so very vivid and exciting.  With so much death and destruction around, it's very well described without being too gory or bloodthirsty.  I was also very intrigued by the High Priest who sends his priests out to hunt demons; it becomes evident where his motivation to destroy demons has come from but I wondered how much of his instructions were fuelled by revenge.  

The Power of Conviction is an excellent start to a series; it has built up enough mystery and intrigue to fuel my interest to read further books and I have to say that I was quite disappointed to reach the end of the book.  Catrin Russell is a very talented writer and she has certainly left this reader thirsty for more!  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth - Matson Taylor

July, 1962
Sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?
The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine.
If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.  
Moving, inventive and richly comic, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is the most joyful debut novel of the year and the best thing to have come out of Yorkshire since Wensleydale cheese.  

What did I think?

What a fantastic debut!  Oh I have my fingers crossed that this is the start of a new series starring 16 year old, tall as a tree Yorkshire lass, Evie Epworth.  I just knew that I was going to love Evie from the very first page when she is flying (literally) on her milk delivery round.  What caused her to fly nearly made me choke on my tea, it is SO funny.

The wit just keeps on coming as we find out more about Evie's life.  Her quiet dad, Arthur, who is a widower has been caught in the net of the creature from the pink lagoon, aka Christine.  Christine and Evie don't get on at all so Evie spends a lot of time with her neighbour, Mrs Scott-Pym who was friends with Evie's mother, Diana.

It must've been so hard for Evie growing up without her mother and Arthur doesn't talk about her very often.  Any time Diana is mentioned by someone, Evie's whole world lights up and the way Matson Taylor depicts this really made my heart sing.  In between each chapter there are little interludes of Arthur and Diana's life and I absolutely loved the way this 'past' storyline was set out.

The characters in The Miseducation of Evie Epworth are more colourful than a rainbow.  I loved straight talking Mrs Swithenbank and fabulous Mrs Scott-Pym as much as I detested gold-digger Christine and her long-suffering mother, Vera.  Of course, it is Evie who is the star of the show and you can't help but love her.  I loved the 1960's setting, I loved the characters, I loved the whole book!  It is just the tonic I needed to be able to leave 2020 behind for a few hours and be transported to 1960's Yorkshire.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is tea-splutteringly hilarious; obviously a strong cup of tea is the best accompaniment for a book set in Yorkshire but don't read and drink at the same time as your tea is liable to come whooshing out of your nose at Evie's exploits.  I may or may not have learnt this the hard way...

Laugh out loud hilarious, charming and heartwarming, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is a superb debut from Matson Taylor.  It's hugely entertaining from beginning to end; I can't imagine anyone not loving this book.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

Between life and death there is a library.

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?

What did I think?

I think Matt Haig has written one of my favourite books of all time.  I am struggling to find the words to review The Midnight Library as it is so completely beyond exceptional that any words I use seem to fall short.  This is a book that everyone needs to read at least once; I know I will be reading it many more times.

Although I have read his Christmas books, I am ashamed to admit that this is my first adult Matt Haig book (so many books, so little time and all that) but what a book to start with.  The Midnight Library is about Nora Seed who is so unsatisfied with her life that she decides to die, nobody will miss her after all.  Caught between life and death, Nora finds herself in a magical library that contains her Book of Regrets along with every volume of her life and all those sliding door moments: the possibilities of lives she didn't choose to live.

Like a cross between Mr. Benn and It's a Wonderful Life, Nora tries out the other lives she could have lived and sees the snowball effect of decisions she made in her root life.  You can't help but think about your own life while you're reading The Midnight Library; what if I'd done this or what if I hadn't done that but unfortunately we can't rewind time and we're stuck with the life we're leading, for better or worse.

There is a veritable banquet of food for thought in The Midnight Library and every reader will take something different away with them after they finish reading.  One thing is for sure, The Midnight Library will remain in my mind forever.  I read an ebook version but now that I've seen the library card in the front of the hardback, I have to get a physical copy too.

Beautifully written, extraordinarily inventive and completely unique, every bookshelf should have a copy of The Midnight Library.  Believe the hype; this is one bandwagon you most definitely want to jump on.  5 stars just aren't enough for The Midnight Library, it deserves every single star in the universe to show how truly magnificent it is.  Extremely highly recommended.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday, 11 September 2020

Anatomy of a Crime - Sibel Hodge

Gripping, unpredictable, and chilling, Anatomy of a Crime takes readers on a dark journey that's perfect for fans of Serial.

On the summer solstice in 2017, two girls walk into Blackleaf Forest.
Only one comes out alive.
Dubbed as the Sleeping Beauty Killer, and surrounded by rumours of witchcraft, Caris Kelly is sentenced to life in prison for murdering her best friend during a ritualistic thrill kill.
Although Caris insists she is innocent, no one believes her.

Then three years later, investigative journalist Lauren Taylor looks into the murder for her true crime podcast. She becomes convinced there's more to the flimsy witness testimony, sinister coincidences, and sensational press coverage and probes into the case. As prejudices are revealed, lies are uncovered, and secrets are blown wide open, a single question remains... is there really one truth about what happened that night? Or are there only different versions of the same story? 

What did I think?

Sibel Hodge has written some amazing books but she has completely outdone herself with Anatomy of a Crime.  Written in the form of a podcast, it is fresh, current and totally gripping.  I read it in one sitting as I just couldn't put it down.  Yes, it's THAT good.

I did listen to a few episodes of the Serial podcast many years ago and although I found it intriguing I was never hooked, unlike reading Anatomy of a Crime where I was hooked so much that I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page.  I love the way it is written as if you're listening to a podcast and there are even comments from listeners that make it feel so realistic.

Lauren Taylor leaves no stone unturned in her true crime podcast as she investigates the death of 18 year old Flora Morgan, believed to have been killed by her best friend Caris Kelly in a ritualistic witchcraft murder.  With unreliable witnesses who saw someone else in the forest that night being disregarded, all of the evidence points towards Caris who maintains her innocence.  Lauren asks the questions that weren't asked at the trial and digs even further into the case to find out the shocking truth.

Anatomy of a Crime is absolutely brilliant; it's gripping, intriguing and completely addictive.  I didn't even have to convince myself to read 'just one more chapter' as nothing could stop me from reading the whole book in one go!  I do hope that Sibel Hodge decides to make this into a series as I love the podcast format; it really seems to add another dimension to the story.  

Anatomy of a Crime is a book I'm going to be raving about for a long time; it's an absolute must read and so very highly recommended. 

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Wednesday, 9 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: A Ruined Girl - Kate Simants



On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob's younger brother and Paige's confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children's homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her.

Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren's obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart...

What did I think?

Part way through I thought I had A Ruined Girl all worked out; a few minutes from the end, I was just doing a celebratory dance around the ring when Kate Simants landed a right hook and a knockout blow that wiped the smug look off my face.  A Ruined Girl is an absolute cracker of a novel; it's fast-paced and gripping with a dark and gritty storyline that grabbed me from the start and didn't let go until I had turned the final page.

The story opens with a girl being buried in the woods by a boy and a man.  The boy is so tender with the body that it is clear that he has deep feelings for the girl.  Of course you then wonder why he killed her, or helped to kill her.  Why else would he be burying her in the woods?

Rob is a prisoner eligible for the Community Atonement Programme, whereby he meets and apologises to those affected by the crime that saw him sent to prison.  Rob and Paige, a young girl from a care home who later disappeared, were seen on CCTV after breaking into a house and stealing a valuable bracelet.  Rob went to prison and Paige has never been found.  Wren Reynolds is Rob's probation officer and she has the unenviable job of taking Rob to meet his victims.  With what happened to Paige being the big question on everyone's lips, Wren can't help digging into the past even when it puts a strain on her family life.

Switching between 'Before' and 'Now' we get glimpses into the past where Rob's brother, Luke, is in the same care home as Paige.  Luke is obsessed with Paige, watching her movements and buying her gifts, and it's much more than a harmless teenage crush.  It tells you in the blurb that two boys loved her and one of them killed her, but I couldn't decide between Rob and Luke.  A burglary gone wrong or hormones gone crazy?

Both the before and now storylines had me absolutely gripped.  I wanted to find out about events leading up to Paige's disappearance but I also wanted to put together the pieces of the puzzle with Wren.  I loved Wren's character; she makes so many mistakes that I felt like slapping my forehead every time she did something stupid, I even hissed through my teeth and said 'noooooo' on one occasion.  Her emotions are running high with taking on such a high profile case while her partner is about to give birth.  She does seem to have bitten off more than she can chew and if she's not careful she might end up losing her job as well as her family.

Perfectly plotted, A Ruined Girl is dark, disturbing and completely compelling.  Kate Simants is definitely one to watch and I can't wait to read more of her books.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Monday, 7 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: Only Human - Diane Chandler


Every betrayal has a consequence... One family... one summer... one woman...

Anna Bond is floundering. Tiger mum to tricky teen Sophie, now slipping through her fingers, and loyal wife to big sociable Ollie, whom she no longer trusts, what does she do next with her life? Once a confident career woman, after so many years at home and the school gate, Anna now finds her mind is chattering and her soul is searching - for what matters. Then Jack walks into their lives. Sophie’s first boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for the whole family, and Anna gradually discovers new purpose for herself. But when deceit creeps in, tensions surface, and she finds herself propelled through a tangled web of secrets and lies towards a devastating climax.

What did I think?

Now and again a book comes along that is so special you want to shout about it from the rooftops; Only Human is that book for me.  So here I am up on the roof trying to find the words to review this utterly breathtaking novel.  I absolutely adored Diane Chandler's novel, Moondance, so I couldn't wait to read what she wrote next.  Only Human is a sublime read from beginning to end and I have never been so engrossed in a book outside of the crime genre.

From the first page the reader is launched into the midst of a Bond family drama: Anna has just discovered that her husband, Ollie, is having an affair.  Wanting to keep Ollie's indiscretion hidden from their daughter, Sophie, they attempt to maintain a united front.  Beneath the surface though, Anna is in turmoil and she searches for a way to find herself again.  I feared that the sticking plaster they put over their marriage would come unstuck at some point as once the trust is gone, it's so difficult to get it back.

The focus shifts from their marital problems when Sophie gets her first boyfriend.  Jack is welcomed into the Bond's home and becomes one of the family, but teenage love doesn't last forever.  It is often said that women are attracted to men who are like their father, and Jack may be more like Ollie than Sophie realises.  You really feel the mother daughter bond being stretched to the limit when Anna tries to speak to Sophie about Jack.

As if Anna doesn't have enough going on, she volunteers at Old Friends where she meets the most wonderful octogenarian, Fred.  Oh Fred is such a marvelous character, he's like everyone's favourite Grandad and it's so heartbreaking to see his health decline.  Diane Chandler's beautiful words paint such a poignant picture of Fred and shows how we try to turn a blind eye and pretend everything is fine rather than admit that our loved ones are failing.

Only Human is an outstanding novel of a family in turmoil filled with so much betrayal, revenge and drama that I could hear the dramatic EastEnders drum beats in my head as pivotal moments played out on the page.  Diane Chandler writes from the heart and tells such a marvellous story of human nature that I experienced a wealth of emotions whilst reading.  

From humour (I'll never be able to look at an M&S carrier bag without laughing) to heartbreak, Only Human is an exceptional book and one I will never forget.  I could read it again right now, I enjoyed it so much.  Only Human is a book that deserves so much more than 5 stars to really show how awesome it is; I can't recommend it highly enough.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Diane Chandler worked first as a political lobbyist in Brussels. Then at the European Commission, where she managed overseas aid programmes in Ukraine just after the fall of communism. Ukraine became the subject for her prize-winning first novel. Diane lives in west London and is available for interviews, events and feature-writing commissions. She is the presenter of the Chiswick Buzz TV Book Club – Words With Wine in W4.

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