Sunday, 25 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Fourth Monkey - JD Barker

I am delighted to be today's stop on The Fourth Monkey blog tour.  The Fourth Monkey is set to be one of the top books of 2017 and I fully expect to see it on the big screen in the not too distant future.

For my stop on the tour, I am re-releasing my review and I have a fabulous giveaway that's open to both UK and US entrants so do make sure to enter at the end of the post.

Usually I would give buy links at the end of my review but you really need to read this book so BUY IT NOW!!!  Click one of the links below, depending on wherever you are in the world.

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil…Do No Evil

Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs in this dark and twisting novel from the author Jeffery Deaver called, “A talented writer with a delightfully devious mind.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorised the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realise he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

What did I think?

This is seriously going to be the most talked about books of the year!  We've all heard of the 3 wise monkeys: see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, but how many people know about The Fourth Monkey: do no evil?  I think my love of the TV show Dexter set me up nicely for The Fourth Monkey.  If you have watched Dexter, imagine reading his diaries in glorious technicolor and you will be close to my experience of The Fourth Monkey.  Even one of the detectives, Clair, reminds me of Dexter's foul-mouthed sister, Deb.

The Fourth Monkey is one of those books that is hard to review without giving anything away, so the least said, the better.  Suffice to say it positively glues your eyes to the page as you clamour for every detail.  Nothing is quite what it seems, so welcome to the Brain-bender Olympics!  I loved the flashbacks to the past which flowed effortlessly within the story, again I go back to the Dexter element as seeing the killer as a young boy, you can't help but feel empathetic towards him.  

It's probably the police's best dream and worst nightmare when the body of such a high profile serial killer is found but he takes with him the secret of the whereabouts of his last victim who is possibly still alive.  Cue the ticking timer as the police race against time to find out who the killer was and where he could have kept his latest victim before she runs out of food and water.  This sets the fast pace of the book and I was torn between wanting to find the latest 4MK victim and finding out the 4MK killer's story.  Where there is a past and present element to a book I always tend to favour one above the other but in this case I couldn't get back to each one fast enough.

Superbly written, The Fourth Monkey is one hell of a ride.  I read it so fast I think I need to read it again to fully appreciate the brilliance of the story.  If this isn't made into a film, Hollywood needs its head examined.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon UK
Buy it from Amazon USA

Giveaway time!  Do you want to win this amazing The Fourth Monkey #4MK Killer Swag Bag that includes a hardback copy of The Fourth Monkey along with other surprise goodies?  Enter on the Rafflecopter below - GOOD LUCK!

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: Wolves in the Dark - Gunnar Staalesen

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum's life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he's accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material ... and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest - and most personal - case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world's foremost thriller writers.

What did I think?

It felt a little bit daunting when I picked up Wolves in the Dark, as I hadn't realised how many earlier Varg Veum books there were - this is number 21, in case you are wondering.  I was worried that joining a series so late would lessen the enjoyment of reading the book, but I am delighted to report that it works so well as a standalone that it left me wanting to find out more about Varg's back story.

The drama begins on the very first page when Varg is awoken by the police as they turn up at the crack of dawn to arrest him for having shocking images of children on his computer.  Varg has never seen the images before but with such compelling evidence stacked against him, he struggles to prove his innocence.  Whilst being investigated he tries to remember anybody who might bear him a grudge.  It took me a little while to get used to the writing style at this point, as it wasn't clear to me that we were reading about Varg's past so I was wondering how he got out of custody.  Once the penny dropped, I got used to it and although I didn't need a 'then' and 'now' chapter heading, something like a '3 years ago' hint would have alleviated my confusion.

The storyline is quite serious and shocking at times, but I loved the little bits of Gunnar Staalesen's dry humour sprinkled throughout - Varg's rapid-fire quips and humorous anecdotes did make me laugh on more than one occasion.  The thing that intrigued me the most about Varg is that he's a private investigator who's not very good at following people.  He doesn't really care about his work either, since he lost his lover Karin, all he cares about is picking up his next bottle of Aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit).  He reminded me of Dr House and his addiction to Vicodin - both struggling to block out the pain by any means necessary.

Wolves in the Dark is one of those fast-paced sweaty palm sort of books; you could feel the net closing in and the clock ticking down whilst the hunted man is still struggling to prove his innocence.  It's a book that makes me simultaneously want to reach for the back-catalogue as well as seeing when the next instalment is coming out - now that I've been introduced to Varg mid-series I definitely want to know more.  A brilliant introduction to the Varg Veum series; giving us a glimpse of such a well established character certainly left me thirsty for more.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.  I am releasing my review as part of the blog tour.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Follow the tour:

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Detriment (DI Jake Flannagan Book 2) - David Videcette

“The truth costs nothing, but a lie can cost you everything…”

June 2007: a barbaric nail bomb is planted outside a London nightclub, a spy is found dead in his garden, and a blazing Jeep is driven into Glasgow airport. Three events bound by an earth-shattering connection that should have remained buried forever.

From the author of ‘The Theseus Paradox’, the smash-hit 7/7 thriller based on true events, comes the sequel about a real-life mystery that threatens to destroy a nation. Detective Inspector Jake Flannagan must uncover how a series of astonishing events are inextricably linked, before the past closes in on him.

We all have secrets we say we’ll never tell…

What did I think?

With each passing day, and so many shocking news bulletins, there appear to be more and more incidents that David Videcette could write about.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about reading a book about terrorism in the current climate, but wild horses couldn't have kept me away from the next thrilling instalment of the DI Jake Flannagan series.  Perhaps one of the most anticipated follow-up novels EVER, David Videcette certainly had a lot to live up to after his debut, The Theseus Paradox, lit kindles on fire and caused so much excitement in the reading community.  I had absolutely no doubt that David Videcette would deliver a cracking follow up and boy, did he deliver!

The Detriment is set to be one of THE most talked about novels of the year; as it is based on true events it actually took me quite a while for the effect of the book to sink in.  It's amazing how certain decisions can have massive repercussions many years later and there's a detailed chronological series of real events in the back of the book to really get the point across that this, or something very like it, really happened.  Putting the actual events to one side, I really enjoyed delving deeper into Jake's psyche and finding out a little more about why he acts the way that he does as his emotional scars are laid bare.  We also find out some answers to questions left hanging in the last book; questions that were left hanging in The Theseus Paradox as much as my mouth was left hanging open in shock in The Detriment.  David Videcette managed to make my jaw drop yet again - he also managed to make me jump and I was reading my kindle, not listening to an audiobook!  

It is so fast-paced and gripping that many people will easily read The Detriment in one sitting - I was gutted that I had work the next day so had to put the book down!  After setting our kindles alight with The Theseus Paradox, David Videcette is keeping our kindles burning with another amazing unputdownable instalment in the DI Jake Flannagan series.  The Americans lose their monopoly of the term 'shock and awe' as the Brits show what it really means - I can't think of a better way to describe The Detriment.  Do not miss this!

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Monday, 19 June 2017

At First Light - Vanessa Lafaye

1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.

1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what's right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town...

Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.

What did I think?

I have fond memories of Vanessa Lafaye's debut, Summertime, that I reviewed quite some time ago, so I positively jumped at the chance to read an early copy of her new novel, At First Light.  As with Summertime, this is another novel based on real events that has you screaming in anger, clapping in delight and sobbing with devastation.  Vanessa Lafaye is such a wonderfully talented author who creates such depth in her writing that ensures the characters bore into your very soul and remain there until the end of your days.

Alicia arrives in Key West on the boat from Cuba, somewhat under a cloud, although we need to invest a bit of time in the story before we learn the reason for her exile.  She has come to live with her cousin, Beatriz, and work in her tea rooms but Alicia is shocked to find that her cousin answers to the name of Pearl and isn't known for serving tea in her establishment.

Also arriving in Key West is John Morales, returning from war in Europe.  He finds much has changed in Key West as he returns to his rightful place behind the bar of The Last Resort, the establishment he owns right next door to Pearl's Tea Rooms.  With such a close proximity to Alicia it isn't long before the pair fall in love and their story is as tragic as it is poignant because Alicia is brown and John is white.  In an era when the Ku Klux Klan were sweeping America there are many who will strive to tear John and Alicia apart, using any means necessary, but theirs is a love that is destined never to die.

At First Light is another masterpiece from the pen of Vanessa Lafaye.  It is shocking and heartbreaking to learn that this is based on a true story which makes it all the more poignant.  I had goosebumps reading certain passages and applaud Vanessa Lafaye for bringing this period of history to light.  In the current day and age of so much uncertainty and innumerable prejudices, it's a story that will resonate with so many people.  An absolutely breathtaking masterpiece that will be going on my read again pile.  Very highly recommended - I want to give it more than 5 stars!

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

My rating:

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Art of Hiding - Amanda Prowse

Nina McCarrick has it all: a loving husband, two beautiful boys, a well-appointed home and more time than she knows what to do with. Life is perfect. Until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

What did I think?

Amanda Prowse is fast becoming my go-to author when I'm wondering what to read next as her books are always situated at the top of my reading pile; they really are the crème de la crème and never fail to deliver a real life story that tugs on your heartstrings.

The Art of Hiding was a bit different from Amanda's other books as the sadness hits right at the beginning when Nina's husband dies.  I didn't even have a chance to get to know the characters so, although it was heartbreaking when Nina has to break the news to her sons, I was left dry eyed.  I felt triumphant - I had beaten Amanda Prowse; finally, a book that wouldn't make me cry!  I relaxed and drew myself into Nina's story: the turmoil of losing her house and moving to a pokey flat in Southampton, her boys having to leave their prestigious school, all the while having to cope with their recent bereavement.

Both Nina and the boys struggle to adapt to their new meagre surroundings, none more so than Nina's eldest son, Connor.  Connor was set to be a shining star on his school rugby team and now he must start from scratch at a new school.  It was Connor's love of rugby that ultimately made me cry at the after match party; my earlier triumph at not crying was deflated like a burst balloon, but I didn't care - my heart was bursting at the amazing scene painted by Amanda Prowse's beautiful words.   

The Art of Hiding really makes you think about what makes you happy.  It's not necessarily the treasured possessions that we surround ourselves with, it's the people with whom we share our life and experiences.  Nina was just another of her husband's treasured possessions and she was so busy being a wife and mother that she ended up being a ghost of herself.  It took the tragedy of losing her husband and going back to basics for her to really start living.

Yet again, Amanda Prowse made me cry but most definitely in a good way!  Only Amanda Prowse could turn such a tragic situation into a heartwarming story of survival and reawakening.  It's no surprise that I have awarded 5 stars and I'm sure that there will be many more 5 star ratings to come from other readers.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday, 17 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Lighterman - Simon Michael

I was completely honoured and thrilled to be asked to organise a blog tour for the brilliant third book in the Charles Holborne series, The Lighterman.  I couldn't have done it without such amazing bloggers on board and my heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every one of you.  You're all amazing, and work tirelessly behind the scenes to help get the word out about books that should not be missed. The Lighterman and the entire Charles Holborne series certainly fits that bill; I really can't stress how absolutely brilliant this series is - my review (that you can read here) urges you to 'read it or regret it'.

Special thanks go to Matthew of Urbane Publications for supporting the tour and for providing prizes for the giveaways and of course many thanks to Simon Michael for not only writing the books in the first place but for providing such riveting content and answering all of our questions.  Simon, it's been a pleasure and I'm already feeling bereft at the thought of missing our almost daily emails!

So without further ado, I'm delighted to share my question and answer session with Simon Michael for this final stop on the blog tour.

Welcome to my blog, Simon, as we celebrate the release of The Lighterman, the third book in the Charles Holborne series. As you know I've become quite a fan of your books but for any readers who haven't yet discovered the series, can you tell us a little bit about it?

They are crime and legal thrillers with a different point of departure to any others being written at the present. They’re set in London in the 1960s and instead of being told from the perspective of a policeman or a detective, they’re told from the point of view of a hardened criminal barrister. Those of us who’ve worked in the justice system as I have for the last 39 years know that the formula so often trotted out by crime writers – grizzled maverick copper with a drink problem, a poor relationship with his boss and a broken marriage, piecing together the clues and catching the “baddie” before he or she does the bad thing again - isn’t how it really is. “You’re under arrest” is not the end of the search for the truth; it’s often the beginning. Working out who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, who’s trying to tell the truth but is mistaken – in other words the way in which our jury system operates – involves more than putting together a jigsaw of clues. It involves peeling back the layers of human nature, people’s motivations and personalities. So I write about real people, real cases, real violence and corruption and how ordinary people react in those circumstances. I show the events and people in the lead up to a crime, the crime itself, the investigation and part at least of the trial. 

The Kray twins, particularly Ronnie, feature throughout the Charles Holborne series. What made you include Ronnie Kray in your books rather than a fictional gangster?

My plots ideas are based on real cases where I was instructed for the Defence or the Crown. I often include real court documents (with identities and circumstances changed) which the public generally doesn’t see. I want these books to be as true to the gritty violence and corruption of the period in which they are set as possible. 1960s London wasn’t all Carnaby Street and flower power – for most people and for most of the decade it was grey, poor and post-War. So it follows that I use real people too. Of course, the anti-hero barrister, Charles Holborne, is fictional – although loosely based on me – and other characters have been made up too. But there is a strong thread of true historical fact in all of the books. So, for example, Book 4 in the series, which is now over half-written, takes us back to the dealings between the Krays and Lord Bob Boothby and the establishment cover-up of the truth. And they all feature in the plot.

Why did you choose the 60s era as your period setting?

The 1960s is such an interesting period. The pre-War deference to authority was breaking down. We discovered sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. There was a huge wave of immigration from the West Indies. Organised crime had London by the throat. There was no DNA, no police computer, no mobile phones. Detectives had to detect – to use their wits and understanding of human nature. The decade is a gift to a writer exploring themes of alienation, exclusion and corruption like myself.

Like Charles Holborne, you are also a barrister. How much of yourself is in Charles Holborne's character?

Probably a bit too much (according to my OH, especially the sex scenes). But, to be a bit more considered in my response, when I went to the Bar I was an outsider. I was from a Jewish family; we were poor (to get through University I had to work as a council labourer every vacation, and I worked behind bars, washed cars, cut hedges – anything to pay for the next term’s expenses); I was the first state-educated pupil in my Chambers; I hadn’t been to Oxford or Cambridge; I even had to buy a second-hand wig. I was something they hadn’t seen before, and I felt excluded. I have taken that feeling of alienation and prejudice and inserted it into Charles Holborne, but I’ve made it worse for him: I’ve made him a real East End lad, with a bit of a criminal past, a man with a penchant for violence and a strong connection to the very criminals he now prosecutes. I make him an outsider trying to be honourable and honest, surround him with corruption and greed, and test him.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the British legal system - what do you think are the best and the worst things about the law?

The best: the system relies on twelve men and women, good and true. Each brings his or her life experience into the jury room and, usually, they somehow reach the right result. The worst: decades of cuts in criminal legal aid have decimated what was, in many people’s opinion, the best legal system in the world. It’s almost impossible to make a living now as a junior criminal barrister, and the best minds are turning to other areas of law or doing something different altogether. Result: we shall have a third-world criminal justice system, with criminals being acquitted and the innocent wrongly convicted. You’ve been warned!

When you aren't writing, what do you enjoy doing?

In no particular order, skiing, theatre, films, reading and eating chocolate. And being with my adult children, who are the most interesting, funny, infuriating and expensive bunch of young people you could hope to meet. 

Not that I ever want to it finish, but do you have a set number of books planned in the Charles Holborne series and when can we expect to read our next instalment?

Book 4, provisionally entitled The Death of Teddy Behr, will be finished before the end of this summer, and I hope will be published next spring/early summer. Book 5 is also mostly completed, but needs work. Books 6 and 7 are in the planning stages. Not sure if there will be more than that, but we shall see. I haven’t quite made up my mind whether Charles is essentially the honest man he would like to think he is, or he is at heart corrupt. I always think of Michael Corleone – the one son of Vito who starts pure – a war hero, deliberately kept at arm’s length from the Mafia by his family, being drawn inevitably, ineluctably into crime and becoming completely evil.

Thank you for answering my questions and for visiting my blog. You'll not be surprised to hear that I am already looking forward to your next book – no pressure of course!

So fancy winning a copy for yourself?  Check out my giveaway below.  UK entries only and winners will be notified by email within 24 hours.

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There have been some AMAZING stops along the way during this blog tour; my favourite guest post, possibly of all time, has to be the tour of London on The Booktrail.  I urge you to check out all of the stops on the tour, especially this one.  

Tour stops can be visited by clicking on the blog name below:

By The Letter Book Reviews

Reflections of a Reader

The Book Review Cafe

Jo's Book Blog

Never Imitate

A Lover of Books

The Booktrail  <----- SERIOUSLY, DON'T MISS THIS!

The Last Word Review

Book Literati

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Lost for Words - Stephanie Butland


Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never show you.

Into her refuge - the York book emporium where she works - come a poet, a lover, a friend, and three mysterious deliveries, each of which stirs unsettling memories.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past and she can't hide any longer. She must decide who around her she can trust. Can she find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong? And will she ever find the words to tell her own story?

It's time to turn the pages of her past . . .

What did I think?

Lost for Words is a book lover's dream as it is a novel set in a bookshop.  I expected a bit of lighthearted chicklit but couldn't have been more wrong as it goes so much deeper than I expected.  Loveday with her unusual name is such a unique character that you can't help but take her straight to your heart, and of course envy her book-filled surroundings!

My attention was captured right from the start as Loveday finds a book on the pavement - surely someone hasn't thrown a book away so it must have been dropped inadvertently. She puts up a notice in the window of the bookshop where she works, hoping that the owner will come in to claim it.  This is how she meets Nathan, who opens up a new world of poetry, friendship and possibly something a little more.  Loveday just has to realise that not all men are like creepy stalker Rob who keeps pushing flowers through her letterbox. Thankfully Nathan perseveres, and I was cheering him on from the sidelines as Loveday fell under his spell.

Loveday is such a spiky character but I absolutely adored her; she doesn't mix well with people and she doesn't know how manipulative and mean they can be.  Along with Loveday and Nathan, bookshop owner Archie and Loveday's scatty colleague Melody all found a place in my heart, leaving me in floods of tears at the end of this outstanding book.

Beautifully written, with completely 3-dimensional and well developed characters, Lost for words is a book that I will remember fondly for many years to come.  A highly recommended read.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday, 9 June 2017

Harlot Queen - Hilda Lewis

Isabella of France was proud to be wed to the handsome Edward II of England, but her joy soon turned to rancour, for Piers Gaveston, an egotistical and mercenary courtier, usurped her husband's bed. No woman could compete with her beauty, but another man? What could she do at the age of fourteen? Wait, only wait. And so she waited, nursing her anger, rejection, and disgust. She grew in beauty and wiles; the king, in weakness, as other men, worse men, took Gaveston's place. Weary of waiting, Isabella turned to Mortimer of Wigmore. In his bed, she found comfort and love and cared little that people called her a harlot. But even the presence of Mortimer could not quench her thirst for vengeance, once she had tasted blood. Like an unleashed fury, she pursued the king's paramours. She would tear England in half to quench her rage; if she failed, her son would avenge her honour. The contest that ensued decided the fate of England. 

In this historically accurate and thrilling story of power and passion, Hilda Lewis has created an unforgettable account of how the fate of nations has often been forged in royal bedrooms.

What did I think?

I love historical fiction but I really struggled with Harlot Queen and was only able to read one chapter at a time.  Disappointingly, I found it slower than the slowest snail in a slow snail competition; I positively crawled through it and felt like I deserved a medal for getting to the end.

The story revolves around Isabella of France who at 9 years old was betrothed to Edward II of England.  She crosses the channel with dreams of love and finds a man who has no interest in her.  It sadly reminded me of Charles and Diana as Edward had already fallen in love, with Piers Gaveston.  After so many rejections from her husband, Isabella realises that she has something she can exploit: power as the Queen of England.  We follow her journey as she gathers her allies and sees off her enemies, and finally finds love.

Drier than a cracker with no cheese, only read this if you have a keen interest in Edward II otherwise you will lose the will to live.  I did find the second half of the book more interesting as Isabella's son, Edward III, comes to the throne in suspicious circumstances, but unfortunately this isn't a book I would recommend.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Friend Request - Laura Marshall

When Louise Williams receives a message from someone left long in the past she feels sick.
Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.
Because Maria Weston has been missing for over twenty-five years. She was last seen the night of a school leavers' party, and the world believes her to be dead. Particularly Louise, who has lived her adult life knowing herself responsible for Maria's disappearance. But now Maria is back. Or is she?
As Maria's messages start to escalate, Louise forces herself to reconnect with the old friends she once tried so hard to impress, to try to piece together exactly what happened that fateful night. But when another friend's body turns up in the woods outside their old school, Louise realises she can't trust anyone and that she must confront her own awful secret to discover the whole truth of what happened to Maria . . .

What did I think?

Ooooh this was a proper page turner that uses the tried and tested 'then' and 'now' formula that kept my eyes firmly glued to the page. I'm not a big fan of Facebook but found the idea of getting a friend request from someone you thought was dead was an absolutely brilliant storyline.  You immediately know that there are buried secrets to uncover and become suspicious of everyone, thinking that nobody is what they seem.

The last time this group of old schoolfriends got together was the school leaving party when one of them didn't make it home, although her body was never found.  Trying desperately to fit in with a crowd of 'mean girls' at school, Louise feels that she is to blame for Maria's death and Maria comes back to haunt her big style by requesting her friendship on Facebook.  Surely it must be a cruel joke, but with the school reunion looming Louise wouldn't be surprised to see Maria turn up...and then she starts to wonder who organised the reunion in the first place.

I loved the past and present storyline and it was almost like the rewind button was pressed at the school reunion as people lapsed into their school characters: the popular bitchy one, the boy everyone fancies, the one trying desperately to fit in and the swot who now has the flashy job and perfect life.  I found myself questioning everyone and I'm not going to tell you whether Maria is alive or dead as Laura Marshall kept me guessing right up to the very end.

Friend Request is a twisty fast-paced psychological thriller, choc-ful of secrets with a generous helping of mind-bending smoke and mirrors style deception.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: Widdershins - Helen Steadman

I have a real treat for you today.  A fabulous guest post from Helen Steadman along with my review of Helen's truly exceptional novel Widdershins.

How a 'personable and good-like' woman escaped the hangman's noose in the Newcastle witch trials

While carrying out research for my novel, Widdershins, I became intrigued why one woman was first found guilty of witchcraft at the 17th century Newcastle witch trials, but after the witch-finder was revealed as a fraud she was then set free. The woman was not named, but she was described by John Wheeler as a 'personable and good-like' woman, from which we might infer that her good looks saved her.

In his deposition, John Wheeler states that thirty women were brought into the town- hall. The witch-finder stripped them and then thrust pins into their bodies. Using this technique, he found twenty-seven of the thirty guilty.

In discussion with Lt. Col. Hobson, who was present, the witch-finder claimed that he knew whether women were witches or not based purely on their looks. When he began testing the aforementioned 'personable and good-like woman', Lt. Col. Hobson intervened and said 'surely this woman is none, and need not be tryed'. However, the Scottish witch-finder said she was a witch because the town had said she was a witch and that she must be tried.

According to Wheeler, the witch-finder then, 'in sight of all the people, laid her body naked to the waste, with her cloaths over her head'. He then drove a pin into her thigh, but she did not bleed. According to Wheeler, fright and shame had caused all her blood to contract into one part of her body. Of course, bending double would make the blood rush to her head. The woman was declared to be guilty and a child of the devil.

Wheeler says that Lt. Col. Hobson had 'perceived the alteration of the foresaid woman, by her blood settling in her right parts' and he insisted that the woman be tested again. This time, her clothes were pulled up to her thigh, and he required that the witch-finder push the needle into the same place. This time, under the close supervision of Lt. Col. Hobson, 'it gushed out of blood' and the witch-finder cleared her and said she was not a child of the devil.

Shockingly, despite the fact that the Scottish witch-finder was clearly a fraud, and one prepared to send innocent women to a terrible death, he was still allowed to collect his wages and move on to further, even more lucrative work in Berwick. Even more shocking, fifteen(or sixteen) of the people he'd found guilty were still executed for witchcraft.


John Wheeler's deposition in Ralph Gardiner (1849 [1655]) England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade. North Shields: Philipson and Hare. Ch. 53.

So, after that enlightening guest post, shockingly based on actual events, let's see what I thought of Widdershins.

'Did all women have something of the witch about them?' 

Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world. From his father's beatings to his uncle's raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft. Inspired by true events, 'Widdershins' tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.

What did I think?

Widdershins is an absolutely exceptional book, based on real events that took place in the North East of England, where I live.  The story is told from the perspective of two outstanding main characters: John Sharpe and Jane Chandler.  As we watch these two youngsters grow up several miles apart, we see them evolve into adults whose stories are destined to fatefully intertwine in Newcastle upon Tyne.

John Sharpe who was brought into the world in Scotland by local midwife, Dora, who unfortunately couldn't save his mother.  John was born with a set of teeth which gave his father the perfect excuse to blame John for his mother's death, when he wasn't blaming Dora of course.  Dora took John for safekeeping and brought him up until his father died and John was sent to live with his Uncle James.  Uncle James plants poisonous seeds in John's young mind that grow into deadly vines dripping with hatred against innocent women who use herbs to help people's ailments.

Jane Chandler lives in a small village near Shotley Bridge on the banks of the River Derwent, 15 miles outside of Newcastle upon Tyne. Both Jane's mother, Annie, and local woman Meg, are well-known healers who prepare remedies for the sick.  Some of the children call Meg a witch, but Jane and her friend Tom hold Meg in high regard and it's not only Meg who knows that Jane and Tom are destined to be together.  For Jane, however, the course of true love doesn't run smooth.  Jane's future has her destined to cross paths with John Sharpe and his deadly witch pricker in a breathtaking showdown where only one of them will survive.

Reading Widdershins is like having a time machine into the past as Helen Steadman completely immerses us in the 17th Century.  I could almost smell the herbs in Jane's village and the foul stench of the Tyne as Jane and her mother queued to get through the town wall.  I absolutely adored the authenticity of the regional dialect as words that are part of our Northern heritage are used and I realised that sadly so many of them have been lost over time.  There really isn't a word out of place in this exceptional book.

Widdershins is an immersive and compelling debut, I was completely transfixed from start to finish.  It's a mark of a good book when I am so absorbed that I almost forget to drink my morning cup of tea!  Top marks for an exceptional debut that was written for Helen Steadman's master's degree.  A recommended read and one I will most definitely read again.

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

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