Friday 30 October 2020

The Appeal - Janice Hallett



Dear Reader - enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death.

Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What's more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players' staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick's life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered.

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

What did I think?

Wow, just wow!  The Appeal is written in the most original format I have ever read and it's such an addictive read that I was loathe to put it down even for a moment.  Janice Hallett's exceptional debut novel doesn't just immerse the reader in the story but consumes them.  I didn't feel like I was reading a book; I actually believed I was part of the legal team reading through the evidence - what an amazing experience!

Written in the format of emails from various sources, it may take a little while to get used to, especially as you try to remember who is who.  Thankfully, most of the characters are part of a theatre group and the cast list for their latest production is an invaluable reference, especially with little post it notes attached showing the links between people.  Although there are a lot of characters, I was surprised how quickly I got to know them through the individual characteristics and tone of their emails.

I think there's something so very personal about reading emails, especially when you see things from all sides.  People just can't help bitching about other people and I felt really sorry for Issy who is desperately trying to fit in.  Reading what people thought about her and comparing this to how Issy related the same occasion to her friend was simultaneously sobering and shocking.  The characters in The Appeal aren't just two faced, they are diamond geezers; they are so multi-faceted that it's impossible to work out who you can trust.  

At the heart of The Appeal is the story of Poppy Reswick who has been diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer.  As Poppy's grandparents are the alpha family who run the theatre group, the group all pitch in to raise funds so that Poppy can receive treatment that the hospital can't provide.  Issy taking the minutes for the fundraising meeting is absolute genius; it made me laugh out loud and I'm still laughing now just thinking about it.  

The Appeal is absolutely brilliant; it's an inventive and unique format that makes the reader feel like they're part of the story as they sift through the emails searching for clues.  It is SO addictive; once you start reading the emails you simply can't stop, so make sure your chores are done before you start The Appeal as there'll be no housework getting done until the final page is turned.

I really can't thank Viper enough for sending me a gifted proof of what is sure to be one of the hottest debuts of 2021; this is my honest review and all opinions are my own.

My rating:

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Wednesday 28 October 2020

A Long Cool Glass of Murder (The Terry Bell Mysteries Book 2) - Colin Garrow


A dead client lands Terry in hot water – and not just with the police.

When taxi driver and amateur sleuth Terry takes on a new client, he doesn’t expect her to turn up dead. With echoes of his recent past coming back to haunt him, can he work out what’s going on before someone else gets killed?

‘Charis Brown's elfin-like smile was, like the footsteps on the stairs, noticeably absent. She looked at me, looked at the dead woman and let out the sort of sigh I knew from experience meant it was going to be a long night.’

‘A Long Cool Glass of Murder’ is book #2 in the Terry Bell Mystery series.

What did I think?

The Terry Bell Mysteries are turning into an amazing series and I'm so glad that I have discovered these hidden gems.  A Long Cool Glass of Murder is book two and although I'm reading the books in order (at the time of writing there are four books in the series) Colin Garrow has included an excellent recap of book one, Death on a Dirty Afternoon, for any readers new to the series.  So you can definitely read this as an excellent standalone but I heartily recommend that you read the whole brilliant series.

The story is set in a taxi firm in my native North East, just over the Tyne in Whitley Bay and there is brilliant banter between all of the colourful characters.  Taxi driver Terry Bell always seems to turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time and turns to amateur sleuthing to clear his name.  It helps that he went to school with the local detective otherwise he would have a lot more explaining to do; Charis just rolls her eyes and accepts that it's Terry getting himself in hot water again.

The writing is accomplished, the story is entertaining, the characters are well developed and the clever plot is completely riveting - A Long Cool Glass of Murder has it all and ticks all of the boxes of a five star read.  At the heart of A Long Cool Glass of Murder is an outstanding murder mystery; its a whodunnit that Agatha Christie would be proud of as Colin Garrow managed to tie my brain into knots wondering how, why, when, what the...

A Long Cool Glass of Murder is an awesome novella, it's great fun to read and an absolutely brilliant whodunnit.  There's so much going on in its 230 pages and it's so perfectly paced that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a full length novel; Colin Garrow yet again proves that it's quality over quantity that counts.  Highly recommended - I loved it.

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

My rating:

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Monday 26 October 2020

Black Summer (Washington Poe #2) - M.W. Craven

After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He's currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again - and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

What did I think?

Having absolutely loved The Puppet Show, the first book in the Washington Poe series, I wondered how M.W. Craven could possibly write a book good enough to follow it.  Well he's only gone and done it with Black Summer; a book that is as unputdownable as it is unforgettable, but more about that unforgettable part later.

I have to admit to being slightly disappointed that my favourite analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, didn't feature from the start but it's more realistic and in-keeping with Poe's solitary characteristics not to have them joined at the hip.  The compelling plot more than made up for Tilly's initial absence and what a plot it is.  It had me on the edge of my seat, scratching my head and admittedly holding back a bit of vomit at times.  It's so very clever and highly original that it keeps the reader on their toes and I decided to enjoy the ride and save the inevitable headache from trying to second guess the unguessable.

I don't want to give away any spoilers but I just have to mention the unforgettable part of the book for me.  It's all down to M.W. Craven's brilliantly vivid and descriptive writing and I now have my own proof that 'the book was better'.  The story in Black Summer revolves around a famous chef and there's a particular dish that is served to Poe which had my stomach heaving.  I paused to google it and found that the same dish had been featured in the TV show Billions.  Now I've seen and enjoyed every episode of Billions but could only vaguely remember the dish in question when I saw images from the episode.  M.W. Craven's writing is so exquisitely evocative that reading about something made so much more of an impression than seeing it on the screen.  Bravo Mr. Craven!

Black Summer is an outstanding follow up to The Puppet Show and it would read very well as a standalone too.  With a breathtakingly brilliant plot and characters that are second to none, Black Summer is an unmissable book.  Scooping a full house of stars, this is a very highly recommended book.

I chose to read an ARC in ebook format and then bought a paperback for my M.W. Craven collection; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Saturday 24 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: Dead Perfect (Maggie Jamieson thriller, Book 3) - Noelle Holten


A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer.  The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else.  Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger.  Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls? 

Can Maggie find the depraved killer?  Or will Kate become his next living doll?

What did I think?

After leaving us with the mother of all cliffhangers in Dead Wrong (book 2 of the Maggie Jamieson series), I couldn't wait to get my hands on book 3, Dead Perfect.  I found it really hard to stop my eyes from jumping forward as I was desperate to claw my way back from the precipice Noelle Holten had left us on, but at the same time I didn't want to miss anything either.  Although Dead Perfect picks up where Dead Wrong ended, you could most definitely read Dead Perfect as a standalone thriller.

Things get personal for DC Maggie Jamieson when the latest wave of killings seem to have a link to her friend, Dr Kate Moloney.  The murdered women have all been made to look like Kate so Maggie knows that it's only a matter of time before the killer gets their hands on Kate herself.  Trying to find the killer and keep Kate safe at the same time, Maggie finds herself busier than ever and tempers start to fray as the danger towards Kate increases.

Maggie is quite a complex, guarded character and even though I've read all three books I don't think I'm any closer to getting to know her.  Maggie plays her cards close to her chest with regards to her personal life but she can be very brusque in her work environment, even more so when the case is personal to her.  It doesn't help when an annoying journalist starts sticking her nose in and printing details that the police haven't disclosed.  

Dead Perfect is filled with so much tension that I could almost hear the tick tock as the clock counted down to finding the killer.  It's an excellent plot, as you would expect from Noelle Holten, although I did ruin some of the surprise for myself by inadvertently spotting 'whodunnit' but the 'why' more than made up for that.  Ending with not so much a cliffhanger as a hill-hanger, it leads nicely in to book 4 and I can't wait for more.  

Dead Perfect is a great addition to the Maggie Jamieson series and if you've not discovered Noelle Holten yet then you're missing out on some cracking crime fiction.  

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

My rating:

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Thursday 22 October 2020

Death on a Dirty Afternoon (The Terry Bell Mysteries Book 1) - Colin Garrow

Two deaths. A suspicious cop. A taxi driver in the firing line.

When taxi driver Frank is found dead on his dining room table, ex-cabbie Terry Bell assumes his old friend died of a heart attack. But when Terry's former boss also turns up with his face bashed in, it starts to look like there's a connection.

Faced with a Detective Inspector who doesn't like coincidences, and a series of threatening letters, Terry does a bit of investigating of his own, but when another body is discovered, the temperature starts to rise - in more ways than one.

Death on a Dirty Afternoon is book #1 in the Terry Bell Mystery series. 

What did I think?

Death on a Dirty Afternoon is the first book in the Terry Bell Mystery series and what an amazing start to the series it is.  It's an absolute delight to read; witty, intriguing and fraught with danger as Terry gets himself into some entertaining scrapes.  You would be forgiven for thinking that Terry is a member of law enforcement but no, he's a taxi driver in Whitley Bay, a seaside town on the North East coast.

Terry returns to work as a taxi driver when the firm he used to work for find themselves two men down; Frank and Ronnie aren't off sick though, they're both dead and Terry finds his fingerprints at both crime scenes.  Luckily for Terry, he used to go to school with Charis, the local DI, otherwise he might have found himself behind bars.  At least that would have been a safe place for him as it looks like Terry could be the next victim.  Terry just can't keep his nose out of trouble and can't help doing his own investigating, which sees him and his colleague, Carol, ending up in serious danger.

Death on a Dirty Afternoon is such a refreshing read; yes, there's murder, mystery and a cracking plot but Colin Garrow's sense of humour really sets it apart.  I found myself giggling, chortling and full-on belly laughing at some parts, whilst still being completely intrigued by the fantastic storyline.  

Filled with colourful characters and with an outstanding eventful plot, my only disappointment was that I finished the 257 page story so quickly, but thankfully there are more books in the series so I can continue reading about Terry's escapades.  I absolutely loved this superb little book where it's definitely a case of quality over quantity.  A very highly recommended read and I can't wait to read more.

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

My rating:

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Wednesday 21 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: Say Goodbye When I'm Gone - Stephen J. Golds


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

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

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

Say Goodbye When I'm Gone is a gritty noir thriller with echoes of classic James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy.

What did I think?

Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to Say Goodbye When I'm Gone by the absolutely stunning cover.  I know we are told that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover but you certainly can in this instance as Stephen J. Golds has written a stunning novel.

There are two strands to the story, that of Rudy and Hinako, which become intertwined in 1967 Hawaii.  The story does jump around a bit so you need your wits about you to keep up as we read about Rudy and Hinako's past and present.  Japanese girl Hinako dreams of a life in America but her dream turns into a nightmare when she is enslaved by a ruthless gang.  Hinako only gets a short period of freedom and she chooses to visit an antiques store which is owned by Rudy.  Rudy has his own demons to contend with but after losing everything and everyone he now has nothing more to lose.  Rudy is drawn to Hinako and is determined to help her, at any cost.

If you like watching The Sopranos, you will love Say Goodbye When I'm Gone; it's a dark, brutal and raw retro thriller.  Stephen J. Golds' writing is so vivid and lively but what really stands out are the bold voices and the keen sense of place which bring the story to life.  A very enjoyable read and I'll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

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

Twitter: @stevegone58

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Tuesday 20 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: Poisoned - Jennifer Donnelly


Beautiful Sophie, with lips as red as blood, skin as pale as snow, and hair as dark as night, is about to come of age and inherit her father's throne. But Sophie's stepmother wants rid of her - beautiful she may be, but too weak and foolish to reign. And Sophie believes her, as she believes all the things that have been said about her - all the poisonous words people use to keep girls like her from becoming too powerful, too strong.

When the huntsman carries out his orders of killing Sophie, she finds a fire burning inside her that will not be extinguished, and sets off to reclaim what was taken from her.

Jennifer Donnelly turns her feminist eye to this most delicious of fairy tales and shows Snow White as she's never been seen before.

What did I think?

In my opinion, you're never too old for fairy tales and I love reading retellings of my favourite stories from childhood.  Before I say anything about the content of the book, I have to mention the amazing cover of Poisoned - the shattered red apple is so striking and of course links in to the story beautifully.

Poisoned is the story of Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia of the Greenlands, whose name is thankfully shortened to Sophie.  Sophie has always been told that she's too weak and too soft to be queen, which suits her stepmother just fine as it means that she can keep ruling with her iron fist.  Taking advice from her magic mirror, the Queen decides to get rid of Sophie once and for all and after being left for dead in the Darkwood, seven brothers take Sophie into their home.

Anyone familiar with the story of Snow White will recognise many elements of the story that keep it true to the original tale published by The Brothers Grimm in 1812.  Jennifer Donnelly puts her own slant on the story by adding a hefty helping of feminism that allows us to see Sophie evolving from a young naive girl to a strong confident woman.  It's actually rather thought-provoking as I'm sure I'm not alone in listening to that nasty inner voice that tells me I'm not smart, pretty, thin or good enough.  It's about time we took a leaf out of Sophie's book and tell our inner voice to shut the **** up!

I really enjoyed Poisoned; it's an absolutely fabulous version of Snow White for the 21st century.  It may officially be YA but it's definitely a book that can be read and enjoyed by adults, especially those who don't consider themselves too old for fairy tales.  Jennifer Donnelly has taken the magical ingredients originally gathered by The Brothers Grimm and whipped up an absolute feast for the eyes; I greedily devoured every single word and will definitely be back for more.

Wonderfully written and perfectly plotted, Poisoned is a magical and courageous tale with a feminist slant that upgrades a familiar story and brings it into the 21st century.   It leaves the reader with a strong message to believe in yourself and to listen to your heart rather than to other people.  A simply wonderful novel that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

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

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Jennifer Donnelly is the author of seven novels and a picture book for children. She grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester where she majored in English Literature and European History.

Jennifer's first novel, THE TEA ROSE, an epic historical novel set in London and New York in the late 19th century, was called 'exquisite' by Booklist, 'so much fun' by the Washington Post, a 'guilty pleasure' by People and was named a Top Pick by the Romantic Times.

Her second novel, A GATHERING LIGHT, won the Carnegie Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Borders Original Voices Award, and was named a Printz Honor book. Described as 'rich and true' by The New York Times, the book was named on the Best Book lists of The Times (London), The Irish Times, The Financial Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and the School Library Journal.

REVOLUTION was named a Best Book by Amazon, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and the Chicago Public Library, and was nominated for a Carnegie Medal. The audio edition was awarded an Odyssey Honor for Excellence.

In 2014, Jennifer teamed up with Disney to launch the bestselling WATERFIRE saga, an epic series about six mermaids on a quest to rid the world of an ancient evil. The first book in the series, DEEP BLUE, was released in May, 2014; the second book, ROGUE WAVE, launched in January 2015.

Jennifer Donnelly lives in New York's Hudson Valley with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs.

Follow Jennifer at or on Twitter: @JenWritesBooks

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Sunday 18 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: Soldier Boy - Cassandra Parkin


Under the shadow of trauma, Liam has been discharged from the army. As night terrors torment him and he struggles to keep his anger intact, he finds himself in his car, his daughter Alannah asleep in the back, while his wife Emma has gone AWOL. With no idea where to go for shelter, his only goal is to hold onto his daughter at all costs. But Alannah is on a journey of her own.

As the consequences of Alannah’s choices unfold, nothing will ever be the same again.

Soldier Boy is gripping story about secrets, fear, longing, lies and the power of being true to yourself, even when the price is higher than you could have imagined.

What did I think?

I thought there was a bit of my book missing when I turned to the first page of Soldier Boy and the first line appeared to have started mid-sentence.  Sure enough, the same happened with the next chapter but what Cassandra Parkin has so cleverly done is used the final word of each chapter as the first word of the following chapter.  It's not only a very clever format, it really makes you think about how all of the threads of the story weave in and out of one another.

Soldier Boy is such a breathtaking book that I really don't know where to begin as any review I write will not do it justice.  Cassandra Parkin is not just an amazing wordsmith, she's a word thief as she stole all my words and left me completely speechless at the end of the book.  My emotions were put through the wringer as I read Liam, Emma and particularly Alannah's story. 

I'm not going to mention the story at all as I don't want to give away any spoilers of the wonderful (but rather dark) plot; this is a book that each individual reader should experience first-hand.  It's horrific at times but so heart-achingly poignant that I feel as though I left a piece of my heart behind when I turned the final page.

A highly emotional story written in an ingeniously unique format, Soldier Boy is an exceptional novel that will make your heart ache.  It's a sobering reminder to listen to what we're being told rather than only hearing what we want to hear.  So very highly recommended but be warned that there are some shocking moments that will be a bit stomach lurching for the squeamish.

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

My rating:

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Saturday 17 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: Because of You - Dawn French



Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock . . . midnight.

The old millennium turns into the new.

In the same hospital, two very different women give birth to two very similar daughters.

Hope leaves with a beautiful baby girl.

Anna leaves with empty arms.

Seventeen years later, the gods who keep watch over broken-hearted mothers wreak mighty revenge, and the truth starts rolling, terrible and deep, toward them all.

The power of mother-love will be tested to its limits.

Perhaps beyond . . .

Because Of You is Dawn French's stunning new novel, told with her signature humour, warmth and so much love.

What did I think?

Because of You is my first Dawn French book and oh my word it has left me completely broken.  It is such a beautiful, heart-rending story that I struggled to contain my tears from start to finish.  I'm just grateful that my heart isn't made of glass as it would have been completely shattered after listening to chapter 1 and there is still more heartbreak to come.

Read solely by Dawn French, there is something so very special about an author reading their own story; the reading is filled with emotion and the relevant emphasis is placed in all of the correct places.  Dawn French's voice is so familiar but so soothing that I could listen to her for hours, which meant that I was completely enthralled and listened to Because of You at every available opportunity.

I don't want to give away any of the plot other than what is mentioned in the blurb so the story starts as the clock ticks over into the new millennium and two couples are eager to meet their newborn child.  Hope's pregnancy came as a surprise but Hope and her partner, quiet Isaac, are already in love with their baby.  Further along the corridor, politician Julius is already planning the press release for when his wife Anna gives birth.  Neither new mother had planned for what happened next.

As heartbreaking as the story is, there are a lot of laugh out loud moments as you would expect from Dawn French.  Most of my laughs were at the expense of Julius and I'm trying to think of a non-swear word to describe him but 'politician' pretty much covers it!  He's such a self-centred show-off but the way that Dawn French brings him to life meant that rather surprisingly I found him funny rather than annoying.

A heartbreakingly beautiful story, Because of You is a stunning novel that left me so filled with emotion that I struggled to contain it.  Don't be surprised to reach for your tissues when listening to this exquisitely emotional book.

I chose to listen to a gifted audiobook from the publisher and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Thursday 15 October 2020

Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord - The Secret Landlord

Get ready to learn what really happens behind closed doors.

Landlords have become one of the most hated groups in society. Parasites, they’re often called. And there’s a lot of them. The Treasury estimates there are almost 2.6 million landlords in the UK with around 5.45 million rental properties.

But the real life of a professional landlord is very different to what most people think. From burglaries and break-ins to drug raids, police warrants, crazy tenant antics, bailiffs, squatters, lawsuits, wrecked properties, interfering council officers, game-playing freeholders to moments of heartfelt joy and happiness, the life of a landlord is never dull. Especially when the government keeps moving the goalposts.

This explosive front line exposé blows the lid off what it’s really like to be a landlord and the shocking reality of renting out a property. Hovering close to a nervous breakdown and likely suffering PTSD, The Secret Landlord exposes truths rarely shared. Stories that will grip you, move you and smack you in the face.

This is the truth, the other side of the door.

What did I think?

What a complete eye-opener!  I really enjoyed reading Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord.  It's written in diary format, which I often feel guilty about reading, but the voice of the Secret Landlord really stands out and I felt like I had her approval to read her honest account of some very busy and tiring days.

My heart really went out to the Secret Landlord, being on call 24/7/365 and I could have cried when reading about the wrecked properties.  I felt the frustration with the council housing department and the inability to take even a single day off without hassle.  It's not all doom and gloom though as there are plenty of funny moments; I laughed out loud when the Secret Landlord cleared up after a hoarder and went for a bone crunching Thai massage.  

I did briefly consider renting my property when house prices fell during the 2008 recession but, after seeing how tenants treated the rental property next door with total disregard, I thought it would be more hassle than it was worth.  Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord certainly proves me right and makes me so glad that I'm not a landlord.  

Honest, humourous and horrifying, Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord is a superb read whether you're a landlord, a tenant or a nosy neighbour.  I sometimes forgot it was actually non-fiction as it's a highly addictive book and I couldn't put it down; I'm sure there are many more stories that the Secret Landlord can share with us and I do hope that there are more books to follow.

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

My rating:

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About the author:

The Secret Landlord has been renting, refurbishing and selling properties across the UK for almost two decades. An award winning landlord, as judged by the National Landlords Association, The Secret Landlord has provided accommodation for hundreds of tenants from all walks of life. 

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Tuesday 13 October 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Winter Garden - Heidi Swain

***The sparkling new Christmas novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author Heidi Swain!***

Will love bloom this winter?
Freya Fuller is living her dream, working as a live-in gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the owner dies, Freya finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go. However, with luck on her side, she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.
There’s a warm welcome from all in Nightingale Square, except from local artist Finn. No matter how hard the pair try, they just can’t get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both.
Will Freya and Finn be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas? Or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send them all spiralling?

The Winter Garden is the perfect read this Christmas, promising snowfall, warm fires and breath-taking seasonal romance. Perfect for fans of Carole Matthews, Cathy Bramley and Sarah Morgan.

What did I think?

The Winter Garden may be book 3 in the Nightingale Square series, but you definitely don't need to have read the earlier books to enjoy it.  I haven't read the first two books and I had absolutely no idea that it was part of a series until I was reading the final few chapters; Heidi Swain focuses on a particular character to make each book read so well as a standalone that you can't tell they are part of a series.  

Freya is such a wonderful character that I wish I had some of her amazing qualities; she is a strong independent woman with a heart of gold.  Freya's manages the grounds of a country estate and her story starts at a very sad time when the owner of the estate dies.  Eloise was as much of a friend as a boss so her death hits Freya very hard and it's made even worse when Eloise's nephew inherits the estate and decides to sell, leaving Freya out of work.  On a chance trip to Norfolk, Freya gets offered a new job complete with a new home in Nightingale Square and the next chapter of her life is about to begin.

There are some amazing characters to get to know in The Winter Garden, or to revisit if you have read the earlier books.  I loved Harold, whose house Freya takes over after Harold moves into assisted accommodation and the way that Freya handles the move so sensitively and respectfully gave me a warm glow.  I also have to mention Freya's dog Nell, who is quite a character, and seeing how she evolved from being jittery and scared to relaxed and happy really did warm my heart.

Of course, to really get the reader's pulse racing and temperature rising we need a love interest and Heidi Swain has created a Norse god in dark, brooding Finn.  After a rocky start and several misunderstandings, I had high hopes that Freya would manage to thaw Finn's heart.

I could write so much more about this book: the sparkly Christmas market, the cosy local pub, the wonderful winter garden that Freya is tasked to create and the fabulously festive Winterfest but these magical things should be left for every reader to experience for themselves.

The Winter Garden is a snuggly warm hug of a book.  As the temperature drops outside, let the fabulous community of Nightingale Square warm your heart so grab a hot chocolate and snuggle up on your favourite chair with The Winter Garden.

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

My rating:

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Sunday 11 October 2020

Hysteria (The Alexander Gregory Thrillers Book 2) - LJ Ross


In a beautiful world, murder is always ugly…

Recently returned from his last case in Ireland, elite forensic psychologist and criminal profiler Dr Alexander Gregory receives a call from the French police that he can’t ignore. It’s Paris fashion week and some of the world’s most beautiful women are turning up dead, their faces slashed in a series of frenzied attacks while the world’s press looks on.

Amidst the carnage, one victim has survived but she’s too traumatised to talk. Without her help, the police are powerless to stop the killer before he strikes again – can Gregory unlock the secrets of her mind, before it’s too late?

Murder and mystery are peppered with dark humour in this fast-paced thriller set amidst the spectacular Parisian landscape.

What did I think?

Whenever I recommend books, one author springs to mind time and time again: LJ Ross.  As much as I love the DCI Ryan series, I'm really enjoying the Alexander Gregory books and Hysteria is the second instalment of that series.  Don't worry if you haven't read Imposter though; Hysteria works very well as a standalone.

Alexander Gregory is a forensic psychologist and criminal profiler, delving into the dark and murky depths of some twisted human minds.  His latest case sees him helping the Parisian police when a model is attacked in her hotel room.  The victim has been unable to speak since her attack and nobody else saw the perpetrator so the police are completely baffled.  Only the skill of Dr Gregory will reveal what truly happened behind that locked door.

Hysteria is well named as it felt like my brain was being put through the wringer whilst I was reading.  I was struggling to see how some parts of the story fit and couldn't for the life of me work out where the story was heading.  It's not my first LJ Ross book though, so I knew that everything was there for a reason.  All I'll say is well played, LJ Ross.  Very well played indeed.

The setting of Paris fit well with the modelling story but I've never been to Paris so I'm not familiar with the various arrondissements.  It is clear that the author knows the area well, but maybe too well as I couldn't really conjure a vivid picture of the setting in my mind.  Not that it bothered me too much, as I was more interested in the storyline than the Parisian sights.  Something else to note in relation to the setting, there are a couple of phrases in French that some people might have difficulty with.  I grasped most of it but anyone who hasn't studied French will struggle.  Don't let it put you off though; just remember, that's what Google Translate is for.

Hysteria is a real mind-bender; it's a slick and clever mystery filled with shocks, surprises and Parisian style.  Although it hasn't knocked Imposter off my Alexander Gregory number one spot, I really enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

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

My rating:

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Saturday 10 October 2020

The Big Chill (The Skelfs Book 2) - Doug Johnstone


Running private investigator and funeral home businesses means trouble is never far away, and the Skelf women take on their most perplexing, chilling cases yet in book two of the darkly funny, devastatingly tense and addictive new Skelfs series!

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors' and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can't help looking into the dead driver's shadowy life.

While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny's ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women's lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.

But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy's disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness but could the real threat be to themselves?

Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.

What did I think?

Since meeting the wonderfully quirky Skelf family in A Dark Matter, I have been looking forward to The Big Chill, the second book in the series.  As with all series, it's always best to read them in order, however, Doug Johnstone provides enough of a recap in The Big Chill to ensure that anyone who hasn't read A Dark Matter will not feel at a disadvantage.

Doug Johnstone has such an amazing sense of humour that you never know what's going to happen in his books.  The Big Chill has such an outstanding first chapter; it's so blackly comic that I struggled to contain my laughter at what certainly wouldn't have been a funny situation if it had happened in real life but is written in such a way that it wouldn't have looked out of place in a comedy sketch.  That's the beauty of Doug Johnstone's writing; if you have a good sense of humour you can pick up a lot of the witty little gems he has sprinkled through his prose.

The Skelf women (mother Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah) are such strong female characters that they effortlessly carry the hugely entertaining storyline along with them.  The Skelfs run a funeral home and a private investigation business which keeps them busy and when a homeless man turns up on the slab, the PI side of the business comes in useful as Dorothy tries to find out who the man is.  I absolutely loved this part of the story and felt like I was travelling the streets of Edinburgh with Dorothy as she attempted to identify the man she had named Jimmy X.

What I love about The Big Chill is that there are so many little strands of storylines running through the book that I could have knitted a multi-coloured scarf with them all.  It never gets confusing though as everything is perfectly timed and new minor characters are introduced at just the right time.  I think it's a female characteristic to personalise things and things certainly feel quite personal in The Big Chill as the Skelfs don't go looking for cases, cases definitely find them!

I absolutely loved The Big Chill; Doug Johnstone couldn't have written a better sequel to A Dark Matter.  Fast paced and deeply, darkly compelling my only disappointment was when I reached the end far too quickly.  I certainly can't recommend it highly enough, so pick up a copy for yourself; you won't be disappointed.

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

My rating: