Friday, 27 November 2020

337 - M. Jonathan Lee


337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth.

Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems. 


What did I think?

Oh my goodness, this book completely blew me away.  The writing is sublime and the story is so powerful and thought-provoking that you can't help but look back over your own choices in life.  The book title is also a little quirky, I'm not sure whether it means something particular (I was wondering weeks or months) but if you've ever keyed in 5376616 on your calculator and turned it round to spell giggles, you'll see the magic behind the title.

Before I talk about the story, I have to mention the book format.  I'm not usually a fan of hardbacks, simply because they're not the easiest to read in bed, but 337 is just the perfect size and weight to make it easy to handle, wherever your preferred reading location.  It's also worth pointing out that the beautiful hardback edition has a double cover of light on one side and dark on the other.  It doesn't matter which way round you start reading as the book directs you to flip over when required and I loved this quirky touch.  You obviously don't get that on kindle!

I love the way the story starts very visually by zooming in from above onto a family picnic.  The family may appear normal from the outside, but drill down a bit further and they are far from happy.  Family is at the heart of this novel as past and present actions are examined and the various mysteries of the Darte family are revealed.  It wasn't just the questions zooming around my head that kept me rapidly turning pages, it was also the perfect fluidity of M. Jonathan Lee's breathtaking prose.

There are times when nothing much is happening but far from being boring, my eyes were glued to the page by M. Jonathan Lee's ability to wonderfully describe the minutiae of the mundane.  What a talent!  It's so very thought-provoking seeing how our actions impact others, how two people can recall the same memory very differently and how we wait too long to build bridges (when it can never really be too late).  The Darte family aren't just dysfunctional, they are fractured into so many small pieces that they can never be put back together, especially when pieces are missing.

337 is a heartbreaking novel of love, loss and the snowball effect of our actions.  As the final word caused me to gasp out loud I could see the whole story rewinding in my mind and playing an alternative version, rather like the double cover of the book itself.  Absolutely brilliant, 337 is a literary masterpiece and I really want to read it again to appreciate the fine nuances.  Take a bow, Mr Lee; bravo!

Thank you to Hideaway Fall for sending me a beautiful hardback to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:


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Thursday, 26 November 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Diabolical Bones (The Brontë Mysteries) - Bella Ellis

 

It's Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.

When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it's too late.

But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet - one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm . . .


What did I think?

After admiring the absolutely gorgeous cover, I squealed with delight when seeing one of my favourite things printed on the endpapers: a map!  It's not just for decoration either; I found it really useful to refer back to the map as the story progresses to put into perspective how far the Brontës must travel (mainly on foot) to get to their various destinations.  I have to share a photo of the endpapers as they are so fabulous.


Although I have read The Vanished Bride, the first book in The Brontë Mysteries series, you can definitely read The Diabolical Bones as a standalone because other than the continuation of the characters' lives, it's a completely separate mystery.  With a poignant undertone, the story begins in 1852 with Charlotte, the last remaining Brontë sibling, reminiscing about a mysterious case in Christmas 1845 that she and her siblings investigated.

It is a freezing December night when the bones of a young child are discovered hidden in a chimney breast in Top Withens Hall.  Rather fortuitous for our nosy spinsters, their brother Branwell is friends with the owner's son which allows them to gain access to the house.  The owner is reluctant to let the sisters see the bones as he wants to bury them on his land but this doesn't deter the sisters as they are determined to identify the child.  When another child goes missing, it seems like something sinister is afoot in Yorkshire.

What an absolutely brilliant mystery!  I'm not going to say anything about the plot for fear of inadvertently spoiling it for others, other than to say it was very well done indeed.  Neither fast nor slow paced, I found the pacing to be just perfect to allow me to be fully consumed by the life of the Brontës.  

The sisters are just reaching out to publishers with their poetry and Bella Ellis includes two wonderful poems by Emily and Anne at the beginning and end of The Diabolical Bones.  At a time when women were to be seen and not heard, we can see how difficult it was to be a woman in the 19th century, always having to rely on men to gain access to places or giving the illusion that they are working for men.  The sisters do have Branwell for this, but he's pickled in gin most of the time!  As I was reading I could see the germination of ideas for their novels as the locations are described so exquisitely that you can't help but wonder if a certain place was the inspiration for Thornfield Hall, Wuthering Heights or Wildfell Hall.  This is something that Bella Ellis explores further in her Author's Note but it really does come through in the wonderful prose.

I simply adored The Diabolical Bones.  The history of the Brontë family interwoven with a fabulous mystery results in a compelling, exquisite and fascinating novel.  An absolute treasure of a novel, I can't recommend it highly enough and I didn't hesitate for a second before awarding the full five stars.

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a beautiful hardback to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness - Michael Paul Michaud

 

Newly estranged from Donna, The Introvert is selected as one of twelve jurors on a notorious murder trial, forcing him to navigate a litany of uncomfortable social interactions, this time with no avenue of escape. Equal parts harrowing and hilarious, The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness is the third entry in the life of one very anti-social and unexpected anti-hero. 


What did I think?

The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness is the third book in the fantastically quirky introvert series and you could totally read it as a standalone but it'll be better to read it as part of the series to fully understand the main character and his foibles.  Although I think Michael Paul Michaud's introvert series won't be everyone's cup of tea, I absolutely love these books.  An introvert myself, although not to the degree of our unnamed anti-hero, I can really empathise with the main character and his discomfort in social situations. 

Michael Paul Michaud has completely nailed the character of the introvert.  Anyone with any introvert tendencies will recognise the following qualities of our main character: an unwillingness to be around people, a desire to draw as little attention to himself as possible and talking as little as possible, especially to people he doesn't know or care about i.e. most people he meets.  His social awkwardness reminds me a little of Forrest Gump and he seems even more Gumplike when our introvert shares a wonderful little pearl of wisdom about old people being like unopened gifts...  I'll not finish the sentence as I don't want to spoil it for others, but it's so completely charming that I'll never forget it.

In this instalment, the introvert is called up for jury duty and his literal analytical brain makes him perfect for such an important task.  He focuses on parts of the case that others skip over as unimportant and causes no end of conflict with his fellow jurors.  I love a courtroom thriller so I really enjoyed this part of the book as I joined the jurors in sifting through the evidence to find out what really happened.

Putting our introverted anti-hero into such a stressful social occasion seemed to mess with his wiring a bit, especially when he's going through a rocky patch in his relationship.  As he becomes more and more of an unreliable narrator, there are plenty of surprises in store for the reader and I loved this level of unpredictability that really kept me on my toes.

An absolutely brilliant addition to a wonderfully quirky series, my only disappointment was turning the final page of The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness.  I'm completely addicted to this series and I can't wait for the next instalment.

Thank you to Michael Paul Michaud and Book on the Bright Side for providing me with an ebook to read and review for the blog tour; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

I am an American-Canadian citizen, a criminal prosecutor, and author of BILLY TABBS (& THE GLORIOUS DARROW) (bitingduckpress) and THE INTROVERT series (Black Opal Books). I have a B.A. in English from McMaster University, an Honors B.A. in Political Science (summa cum laude) from McMaster University, a J.D. from The University of Western Ontario (with an international exchange completed at Washington & Lee). I have won awards for both my community service and my work as a criminal prosecutor. I am a member of Crime Writers of Canada and International Thriller Writers. I also strive to maintain a strong social media author presence, including at facebook.com/michaelpaulmichaud, and have made regular appearances on SiriusXM’s Canada Talks. I am an unabashed and unapologetic zealot of Twin Peaks. Literary influences are primarily Orwell, Dickens, Vonnegut, Dostoevsky.

I was inspired to write The Introvert after reading Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) and The Stranger (Camus). It has been likened to Dexter and American Psycho meeting Office Space and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I also consider it the most unorthodox of animals rights books. Every dog lover should read them.

The Introvert Book Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TheIntrovertBook/
The Introvert Confounds Innocence Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TheIntrovertBook2
Instagram: @MichaelPMichaud
Goodreads page for The Introvert Confounds Innocence: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44490433-the-introvert-confounds-innocence
Goodreads page for The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55516994-the-introvert-bears-filthy-witness




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Sunday, 22 November 2020

TEA & BOOKS: Duke of Earl Grey - Leafy Bean Company


You can tell from my blog that I'm a book lover, but did you know that I am also a tea lover?  There's nothing better than a lovely cup of tea on a morning and I refuse to leave the house until I've had at least two cups.  I enjoy a range of tea and I've always been partial to an afternoon Earl Grey so I was delighted to receive a box from Leafy Bean Company to try.

I chose to read The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis whilst drinking my cup of Duke of Earl Grey.  This is the first book in the Brontë Mysteries series and you can click HERE to read my review of this fabulous book.

There are 15 silky pyramid tea bags in the box filled with Sri Lankan black tea, exquisite blue cornflowers and natural bergamot flavouring.  Just look at how beautiful they are, it seems a shame to drown them in a cup but needs must.

After brewing for 4-5 minutes, my cup was filled with a stunning dark honey coloured tea with the unmistakeable aroma of bergamot.  I've had some blends that are quite floral and perfumed but this one has a more fruity undertone so it smells absolutely amazing.  I wish we had smell-o-vision so you could experience it too.

The taste is completely out of this world; it's Earl Grey but not as we know it.  It's a smoother version of a regular Earl Grey and it's made so much more palatable with a hint of citrus and a sprinkling of blue cornflowers.  I could drink this anytime of day, although nothing will ever replace my morning cup of builder's tea.

If you've always wanted to try Earl Grey tea, then choose Leafy Bean Company's blend.  It's the best Earl Grey tea I have ever had and I'm delighted to award the full 5 cuppa rating.

My rating:





Click HERE to buy



About Leafy Bean Company:

Caffeine crazy and born to brew, at Leafy Bean Co we to-tea-lly love all things tea and coffee.

Founded in 2016 by a tea aficionado who wanted more fun with her cuppa, Leafy Bean Co, creates quality blends bursting with wholesome joy.

We don't take life too seriously - but we ARE serious about what you drink! To discover more about our products, cafe venues and events, and for our online shop, visit www.leafybeancompany.com



Did you know?

Grey's Monument, Newcastle
(photo taken by me)
Earl Grey tea is named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey who was born in Northumberland in 1764.  

Legend has it that Earl Grey was given a gift of tea from a Chinese mandarin and he loved the blend so much that he asked a London teamaker to replicate it.  I've also heard that it was invented to disguise the bad taste of the water at Howick Hall, Northumberland.

Earl Grey was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1830 and 1834 and his government passed The Reform Act of 1832, which set electoral change in motion,  and The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire.  

A 41m high monument to Earl Grey stands at the top of Grey Street in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Vanished Bride (The Brontë Mysteries) - Bella Ellis

 

Yorkshire, 1845. Dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates that Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home - but nobody can find her body.

As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued. Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .


What did I think?

This is one book where you can be forgiven for judging a book by its cover; it's just so perfect and I have to say that with the gold foiling and the Brontë silhouettes, this has to be one of the most beautiful book jackets I have ever seen.  I bought the hardback that even looks beautiful without the jacket, with gold foiling on a rich purple cloth cover.  The appearance fits the content of the book perfectly and I loved every single thing about The Vanished Bride.

Like many readers, I have read a novel written by each of the Brontë sisters: Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Other than knowing that they lived in Haworth, Yorkshire and their father was the local vicar, I know very little about the Brontës but thanks to Bella Ellis I fell like I know them a lot better now.  Using well researched facts, I love the way that Bella Ellis has brought the sisters to life and created characters that are entirely believable.  It's also rather poignant to read Charlotte's prologue set in 1851 when she is the last remaining Brontë sibling, but Bella Ellis rolls back the clock to 1845 to make The Vanished Bride an absolutely wonderful tribute to the Brontës.

Having the Brontë sisters as main characters takes the book from brilliant to out of this world.  The sisters turn into amateur detectives when a young bride disappears from Chester Grange and Charlotte sees a way to wangle her way into the house via an old friend of hers who is the children's nanny.  It's a fine line between inquisitiveness and nosiness and it wouldn't be the first time that the sisters were referred to as 'nosy spinsters' which I found quite amusing.

I was so charmed and consumed by the Brontë sisters that the mystery of 'The Vanished Bride' herself seemed almost secondary to me.  It's a jolly good mystery and hugely entertaining in its own right and I loved the way that the sisters used their imaginative brains to carry out their detecting.  It's set in mid-19th century so it's very much a man's world but that doesn't stop the Brontës.  

I absolutely loved The Vanished Bride and Bella Ellis's admiration of the Brontë sisters shines through from start to finish.  It's such a delightful, clever, charming and compelling novel filled with Brontë intellect and finesse.  Highly recommended.

My rating:

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A lovely cup of Earl Grey tea is the perfect accompaniment to The Vanished Bride and Leafy Bean Company have created an amazing blend with their Duke of Earl Grey tea.  I received a box of teabags to review and I have to say that it is the best Earl Grey blend I have ever tasted.  You can read my full review of the tea HERE but do visit Leafy Bean Company by clicking HERE to see their fabulous range of black, green, rooibos and herbal teas.

Friday, 20 November 2020

The Bookshop of Second Chances - Jackie Fraser


Set in a charming little Scottish town, The Bookshop of Second Chances is the most uplifting story you'll read this Winter, by a hugely talented debut author.
 
Thea’s having a bad month. Not only has she been made redundant, she’s also discovered her husband of nearly twenty years is sleeping with one of her friends. And he’s not sorry – he’s leaving.
 
Bewildered and lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But, when she learns the great-uncle she barely knew has died and left her his huge collection of second-hand books and a house in the Scottish Lowlands, she seems to have been offered a second chance.
 
Running away to a little town where no one knows her seems like exactly what Thea needs. But when she meets the aristocratic Maltravers brothers – grumpy bookshop owner Edward and his estranged brother Charles, Lord Hollinshaw – her new life quickly becomes just as complicated as the life she was running from...
 
An enchanting story of Scottish lords, second-hand books, new beginnings and second chances perfect for fans of Cressida McLaughlin, Veronica Henry, Rachel Lucas and Jenny Colgan.


What did I think?

Novels set in bookshops are like catnip to booklovers so I just had to read Jackie Fraser's debut: The Bookshop of Second Chances.  I think it's very hard to place The Bookshop of Second Chances into just one genre as it is something so different that it feels like romance for realists and chicklit for older chicks.  

Thea is 44 years old, so she's just a wee bit younger than me, and it's so refreshing to read a novel with a middle aged lead character.  Although we still have our insecurities, I think the older you get, the less you care about what people think of you and I love that Thea is often very forthright.  Thea has nothing left to lose after losing her job, her husband and her home in close succession, so when her Great Uncle dies and she inherits his cottage in Scotland she doesn't think twice about upping sticks to live north of the border.

The little town of Baldochrie is just what Thea needs to lick her wounds and find herself again.  Her neighbour is Lord Charles Mactravers and Charles' brother Edward owns the local bookshop.  I wished I could have visited Edward's bookshop and Jackie Fraser granted that wish by transporting me there through her beautifully descriptive words.  A true booklover, Edward keeps his shop quite dark to protect the books and it reminded me a little of Black Books (from the TV show of the same name), only a lot neater.

As potential suitors for Thea were laid out before the reader, I was reminded of Pride and Prejudice.  As she's not looking for a man, Thea is very Lizzie Bennet when fending off unwelcome advances with her forthrightness and Edward is SO Mr Darcy: brooding, grumpy and unfriendly.  I don't know whether or not it was intended, but I think Jackie Fraser's debut novel is a wonderful retelling of Pride and Prejudice for the 21st century.  I've probably made Jackie Fraser's day by comparing her to Jane Austen!

Wonderfully uplifting, The Bookshop of Second Chances is a booklover's dream and a fabulous debut from Jackie Fraser.  It is so beautifully written with a sprinkling of humour throughout and it will appeal to so many readers, leaving a smile on the face of everyone who reads it.  

Thank you to TeamBATC for sending me an early copy to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:






Wednesday, 18 November 2020

BLOG TOUR: Whispers in the Dark (DI Erika Piper #2) - Chris McDonald

 

Who will heed the call when Death comes whispering? 

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

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

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


What did I think?

Whispers in the Dark is the second book in the DI Erika Piper series and what an absolutely cracking follow up to A Wash of Black, Chris McDonald's outstanding debut.  Chris McDonald has such an extraordinary, albeit dark, imagination to be able to create such exceptional plots for his intensely gripping novels.  Be warned: once you pick up Whispers in the Dark, you will not be able to put it down.

You can of course read Whispers in the Dark as a standalone novel and find it completely brilliant, but it's even better when you already know the characters.  I loved reconnecting with Erika and her team as they investigate a series of murder-suicides.  As the body count rises the team face a race against time to find the link between the deaths and to find the person responsible for orchestrating this macabre theatre.  Chris McDonald sent my amateur sleuthing skills on the roundabout with this one: thinking a particular person was responsible, then thinking they weren't, then they were, then they weren't...

Although suicide is a very difficult subject Chris McDonald handles it sensitively, showing how hard it is for people to find the courage to reach out for help yet they can find the courage to end their life.  Tackling such a huge subject shows the confidence that Chris is gaining in his writing, which is going from strength to strength; I didn't think A Wash of Black could be bettered but he only went and did it with Whispers in the Dark.

I felt quite emotional when reading Whispers in the Dark as several things happen to the characters that had me close to tears; tears of both sadness and joy.  It just shows how well developed the characters are to evoke such emotions in the reader.  I gasped with shock at the 'catastrophic event' mentioned in the blurb and it takes a confident author to do what Chris McDonald did.  It's devastating but brilliant.

With a completely gripping, razor sharp plot, Whispers in the Dark is simply outstanding.  It's impossible to put down once you pick it up and is well-deserving of a full five star rating.  Just brilliant, Whispers in the Dark shows that Chris McDonald is one to watch and I'm eagerly awaiting his new series that will be published next year.

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

My rating:

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About the author:
Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in South Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, The Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime. A Wash of Black is his first attempt at writing a book. He came up with the initial idea whilst feeding his baby in the middle of the night, which may not be the best thing to admit, considering the content. He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs. Whispers in the Dark is the second installment in the DI Erika Piper series, and Chris is currently working on his latest series, The Stonebridge Mysteries, to be published by Red Dog Press in 2021.

Social Media:
Instagram: @cmacwritescrime




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