Monday 28 June 2021

The Boy I Am - K. L. Kettle

They say we’re dangerous. But we’re not that different.

Jude is running out of time. Once a year, lucky young men in the House of Boys are auctioned to the female elite. But if Jude fails to be selected before he turns seventeen, a future deep underground in the mines awaits.

Yet ever since the death of his best friend at the hands of the all-powerful Chancellor, Jude has been desperate to escape the path set out for him. Finding himself entangled in a plot to assassinate the Chancellor, he finally has a chance to avenge his friend and win his freedom. But at what price?

A speculative YA thriller, tackling themes of traditional gender roles and power dynamics, for fans of Malorie Blackman, Louise O’Neill and THE POWER.

What did I think?

I don't read a lot of dystopian fiction so I thought I'd take a little look at The Boy I Am and I could always put it down if I didn't get into it...almost 200 pages later, I did put it down but only because it was teatime.  I honestly didn't think it would be my kind of thing, but sometimes books that surprise you are the best books to find.

Jude lives in a world where boys have all choices taken away from them; they must act gentlemanly at all times, never look at a woman's face and only speak when spoken to.  Their only purpose in life is to be selected by rich women as companions and if they're not chosen they are sent to the mines and never seen again.  The Chancellor rules with an iron fist and it appears that everyone bows to her will, however, a resistance is growing with a plan to remove her from power.  The Chancellor has eyes everywhere apart from in the Outside...where the brave must venture in order to bring her down.

Turning gender on its head, K. L. Kettle has written a stunning dystopian debut novel; it's officially YA but it's most definitely suitable and hugely enjoyable for adults too.  It's as thought-provoking and imaginative as The Handmaid's TaleThe Hunger Games and many more books that I haven't read yet but really must read.  It's so provocative and memorable that I wouldn't be surprised to see future novels being compared to The Boy I Am.

I don't think I will ever forget The Boy I Am; it's a book I would like to read again which definitely makes it a 5 star read for me.  K. L. Kettle's imagination is jaw-droppingly brilliant and her writing is so vivid and perfectly crafted that The Boy I Am is nothing short of magnificent.  After seeing through Jude's eyes, I will never look at the world in the same way again.  An unmissable book and very highly recommended.

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Saturday 26 June 2021

Mrs England - Stacey Halls

Mrs England is a gripping feminist mystery where a nanny must travel to Yorkshire to a grand house filled with secrets. For there's no such thing as the perfect family...

'Something's not right here.'
I was aware of Mr Booth's eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. 'What do you mean?'
'In the house. With the family.'

West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there's something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the 'angel of the house' Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there's no such thing as the perfect family - and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls' third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

What did I think?

I've been a fan of Stacey Halls since reading her debut, The Familiars, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of her third novel, Mrs England.  As I've come to expect from Stacey Halls' novels, Mrs England is impeccably well-written and atmospheric although it's quite a slow-burner so it didn't grip me as much as her earlier novels.

Ruby May is a children's nurse and she's very unlucky in that she seems to gain position in households that end up moving overseas.  Ruby refuses to leave England so she finds a new position in West Yorkshire with the England family.  Both Ruby May and Mrs England are incredibly intriguing characters and they both have more layers (and secrets) than an onion.  I love that air of mystery surrounding a character and there's a real build up of suspense as the reader gradually peels back all the layers.

The whole novel feels dark and ominous with the tension gradually increasing as each page is turned.  I was completely transported to West Yorkshire through Stacey Halls' wonderfully vivid words and could easily visualise the factories, countryside and grand homes.  It's so cleverly written it feels as if layers of smoke have been woven into the prose, darkening scenery and distorting images so I was constantly wondering what was hiding beneath.

Beautifully written, incredibly atmospheric and surprisingly tense, Mrs England is an enthralling Edwardian mystery and another fabulous novel from Stacey Halls.

I chose to read a digital ARC received via NetGalley and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Thursday 24 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: Pressure Chamber - Nir Hezroni

Four babies have been kidnapped from four different maternity wards in Tel Aviv. With not a single lead to follow, all investigators can do is wait patiently for the suspect they call ‘the Babysitter’ to make their next move.

Four weeks earlier, on a quiet street, a medical student went out for a run and was killed by a hit and run driver. Then a second student went out and never returned. Daphne Dagan, a young, talented police officer, is first to realise that the hit and run and the kidnappings are related.

But she's also in the middle of her own battle - a recurring nightmare that's been haunting her for years. The strain of dealing with a real-life killer and kidnapper during the day, and the man who murders her in her sleep each night drive her into a place of darkness and despair from which she must escape if she is to catch ‘The Babysitter’.

What did I think?

Pressure Chamber is the first novel translated from Hebrew that I have read and I absolutely loved it.  Absolutely nothing has been lost in the wonderful translation by Steven Cohen as Nir Hezroni's outstanding novel gripped me from the start.

With a hit and run, a missing student and four stolen babies, police officer Daphne Dagan has a very intriguing case on her hands.  Daphne already has a lot on her plate with a recurring nightmare haunting her dreams.  As Daphne explores lucid dreaming to get to the root of her nightmares, an added layer of suspense is added to the story as you're never quite sure what is real and what is imagined.  I loved exploring Daphne's dreams although I do find lucid dreaming very scary.

The plotline surrounding 'The Babysitter' is simply outstanding.  The execution of the crime and the reasoning behind it is highly original and completely breathtaking.  It's incredibly twisted but that's what's so brilliant about it.  I don't want to say anything about the plot itself for fear of inadvertently releasing spoilers as it's definitely one you want to experience first-hand for yourself.

Nir Hezroni's writing is stunningly vivid and I was totally immersed in the novel from beginning to end.  I know that his first two thrillers have been optioned for film and I wouldn't be surprised if Pressure Chamber joins them.  The book had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn't read it fast enough so I can imagine the film being equally gripping, tense and suspenseful.

Pressure Chamber is ingeniously twisted, highly original and completely absorbing.  It's so fast-paced and compelling that I couldn't put it down and read it much quicker than I expected.  I'll certainly be checking out Nir Hezroni's earlier work.  Pressure Chamber is absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.

I received an ARC from the publisher to read and review for the blog tour and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

Nir Hezroni was born in Jerusalem. His first two thrillers, were sold in 2-book deals in six territories and have been optioned for film by Sony Pictures Television Inc. He now lives with his family near Tel-Aviv.

Twitter: @nirhezroni
Instagram: @nirhezroni

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Monday 21 June 2021

Everything is Beautiful - Eleanor Ray

When Amy Ashton's world fell apart eleven years ago, she started a collection.

Just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot . . . Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.

Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves - soon there'll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery, and Amy's carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she'd lost still be hers for the taking?

Perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things, this exquisitely told, uplifting novel shows us that however hopeless things might feel, beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places 

What did I think?

I see a lot of books claiming a comparison to Eleanor Oliphant, which I absolutely loved and found to be completely unique, however, I think the comparison does apply to Everything is Beautiful as Eleanor Ray's debut novel is similarly quirky with a surprisingly dark undertone.  So yes indeed, Eleanor Oliphant fans, you will love this book!  I planned to read it over 3 days but it barely lasted 24 hours as I couldn't put it down.

Amy Ashton reminded me of Bagpuss, collecting treasures that others have cast away and fixing them with super glue just like the marvellous mice on the mouse organ.  Amy hasn't always been a hoarder, it's just since her boyfriend and best friend went the same time.  The police believe that all the evidence points to Tim and Chantel running off together but neither of them have been heard from since.  All Amy wants is closure but in the meantime she has empty wine bottles and lighters, among other things, to remind her of happier times.

This book is so beautifully written it left me surrounded with a lovely warm glow.  There are some devastating moments and I could barely hold back the tears at times as Amy's history is revealed.  You just never know how much pain people are carrying around with them and if collecting things makes Amy's life more bearable then I don't see what harm it is doing to anyone.  I think it's lovely how you can find a seemingly innocuous object and suddenly be transported back in time.  We all carry treasured memories around with us but sometimes they need a little nudge to bring them to the fore.

Utterly charming and completely compelling, Everything is Beautiful is an absolute delight to read and an outstanding debut.  This uplifting, hopeful and quirky book reminded me that there really is beauty in everything if you choose to look for it - I loved it.

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Saturday 19 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: Mirrorland - Carole Johnstone

I read Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone in 2020 but I am delighted to repost my review today as part of The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour.  

Twelve years ago my life began again.
But it was a lie.

With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is the story of twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.

Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

A sharply crafted mystery about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom. Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, and Daphne du Maurier.

What did I think?

I was so very intrigued by the synopsis of Mirrorland that I just had to read it.  What wonderful ingredients Carole Johnstone has chosen: twin girls, a creepy house in Edinburgh, a fantasy land hidden under the house and now a missing twin.  Buckle yourself in for the rollercoaster ride that is Mirrorland.  

It's impossible to work out what is real and what is fantasy in Mirrorland, so you just have to go with the flow.  El and Cat are rare mirror twins who live with their mother and grandfather in a grand old house in Edinburgh.  Almost like going through the wardrobe to Narnia, they have a fantasy world beneath their house where they can sail the high seas or spend time in the wild west.  It sounds like great fun but El and Cat are so firmly ensconced in Mirrorland that even many years later, they no longer know what or who is real.

Cat and El have been estranged for many years (and the story behind this is brilliant) but Cat returns to the creepy old house when El disappears.  The police and El's husband are convinced that she is dead but Cat firmly believes that El is alive and sending her messages.  Messages that force Cat to confront the dark and dirty truth about Mirrorland and the secrets that have been buried deep inside her.

Mirrorland is a highly imaginative, twisty debut from Carole Johnstone.  It takes so many unexpected twists and turns that you really don't know what direction it is heading in.  Even if you work some of it out, there is so much going on that it's impossible to guess every single little thing.  It's a lot darker than I imagined it would be but it's a very compelling read so once it draws you in, it's impossible to put down.  

Creepy, dark and disturbing; Mirrorland is a most unusual and highly inventive debut.

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

My rating:

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About the author:

Carole Johnstone is an award-winning writer from Scotland, whose short stories have been published all over the world. Mirrorland, a psychological suspense with a gothic twist, is her debut novel.

Having grown up in Lanarkshire, she now lives in the beautiful Argyll & Bute, and is currently working on her second novel: a very unusual murder-mystery, set in the equally beautiful Outer Hebrides.

Twitter: @C_L_Johnstone
Instagram: @carole_l_johnstone 

Wednesday 16 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: The Family Tree - Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry

The DNA results are back. And there’s a serial killer in her family tree…

Liz Catalano is shocked when an ancestry kit reveals she’s adopted. But she could never have imagined connecting with her unknown family would plunge her into an FBI investigation of a notorious serial killer…

The Tri-State Killer has been abducting pairs of women for forty years, leaving no clues behind – only bodies.

Can Liz figure out who the killer in her new family is? And can she save his newest victims before it’s too late?

A gripping, original thriller for fans of My Lovely Wife, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, and anyone who’s ever wondered what their family tree might be hiding…

What did I think?

I don't think I have read a dual author crime fiction book before but the way that The Family Tree is written makes it quite easy to forget that it's the work of two authors; the writing is actually seamless considering there are two different writing styles in the book.  The format of the book took me a little while to get used to as I felt like I wanted to know more about the victims but the main focus of the story is the character of Liz Catalano whose DNA result proves very interesting to the FBI. 

The story of 27-year-old Liz's discovery that she is adopted is interspersed with stories of various women who have been abducted and killed by the Tri-State Killer, who mind-blowingly is someone in Liz's biological family.  I don't know how Liz kept her sanity after discovering she's not who she thought she was and then wanting to get to know her ancestors but at the same time possibly having dinner with a serial killer.  You wouldn't have seen me for dust!

Adoption is a tricky process and I can understand the adoptive parents struggling to find the best time to tell their child that they don't share their DNA.  Liz has been completely absorbed into the Catalano family and accepted as one of their own so as much as I thought Liz's parents were crazy to keep her in the dark about her birth, I could see that they loved her so fiercely that it was easy to forget that they didn't bring her into the world.  DNA kits sound like a great gift for that difficult to buy for person but for some people it's like being handed a live hand-grenade, shattering their world.

I really liked Liz, she is filled with such dogged determination but it sometimes results in her being very reckless with her own safety.  I read the whole book quite quickly but I could feel my reading pace pick up further towards the end as Liz took more and more risks without informing the FBI.  It certainly got my heart beating at a rate of knots!

Suspenseful and incredibly tense, The Family Tree is a fast-paced, heart-pounding thriller.  I really enjoyed it, it intrigued me from the start and held my interest throughout.   

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

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Monday 14 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: The Colours of Death - Patricia Marques

In the Gare do Oriente, a body sits, slumped, in a stationary train. A high-profile man appears to have died by throwing himself repeatedly against the glass. But according to witnesses, he may not have done this of his own accord.

Lisbon 2021. A small percentage of the population are diagnosed as Gifted. Along with the power comes stigma and suspicion.

In a prejudiced city, Gifted Inspector Isabel Reis is hiding her own secrets while putting her life on the line to stop an ingenious killer.

A violent and mysterious crime. Suspected Gifted involvement. A city baying for blood. And a killer who has only just begun . . .

What did I think?

It's not often I remark on the cover of a book but the book jacket of The Colours of Death is completely mesmerising.  I was very intrigued by the premise of this book, with a foot in both the crime and fantasy genres it's very different from more traditional crime novels that I'm used to reading.  I have to say that I was drawn to it because of the 'Gifted' element as I love the (early) X-Men movies but The Colours of Death is much more believable than the future depicted in the movies.

The Gifted in Lisbon 2021 are either telepathic or telekinetic so it's no wonder that the regular population view them with suspicion and distrust.  I'm not sure what's worse, the thought of someone being inside my mind or someone being able to move me at will.  For the Gifted, like Inspector Isabel Reis, being able to hear people's thoughts must be worse as there must be constant chatter in your head and you'd hear hurtful things that people think about you.  It's no wonder that Isabel takes a drug to dampen down her abilities. 

Being Gifted certainly has its uses when interviewing witnesses following the strange death of a man on a train.  With their permission, Isabel is able to see people's memories and get a much more reliable account of what they saw.  So that she doesn't misuse her ability, Isabel is partnered with a Regular in the form of Aleks Voronov but she isn't able to fully trust Voronov due to his history.

As much as I enjoyed the crime and the fantasy elements, the evolution of Reis and Voronov's relationship had me completely enthralled.  I liked Isabel immediately and I suspected there was more to Aleks' story than first met the eye, but I can understand why Isabel was wary of him at first.  The creation of such amazing characters really drew me into the story and I do hope that this is the first of many Reis and Voronov novels.

Unusual, intriguing and highly original, The Colours of Death is a wonderful debut from Patricia Marques.  It's an incredibly well-written and intelligent cross-genre novel.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a beautiful hardback ARC to read and review for the blog tour; all opinions are my own.

My rating:

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About the author:

Half-Angolan and half-Portuguese, Patricia was born in Portugal but moved to England when she was eight. As well as an MA in Creative Writing from City University, she holds a BA in Creative Writing from Roehampton. She lives in London and The Colours of Death is her first novel.

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Saturday 12 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: Fresh Water for Flowers - Valérie Perrin, translated by Hildegarde Serle

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Her daily life is lived to the rhythms of the hilarious and touching confidences of random visitors and her colleagues—three gravediggers, three groundskeepers, and a priest. 

Violette’s routine is disrupted one day by the arrival of police chief Julien Seul, wishing to deposit his mother’s ashes on the gravesite of a complete stranger.  Julien is not the only one to guard a painful secret: his mother’s story of clandestine love breaks through Violette’s carefully constructed defences to reveal the tragic loss of her daughter, and her steely determination to find out who is responsible.  

An unforgettable story of love and loss told through the life of a woman who believes obstinately in happiness. Touching on the deepest aspects of human life, Fresh Water for Flowers brings out the exceptional and the poetic in the ordinary and reminds us of the life affirming value of kindness. 

What did I think?

I don't think I would have picked up this book from its title alone and that would have been a terrible tragedy as it's an absolutely stunning novel.  The title may be a bit odd but then so is the setting of the book: a cemetery in a small town in France.  I've certainly never read a book set in a cemetery before!

I loved this book from the very first page as Valérie Perrin transports the reader to the Brancion-en-Chalon cemetery and we are introduced to its cemetery keeper Violette Toussaint.  Of course you naturally wonder how Violette came to be a cemetery keeper and why she seems so content in this strange location.  The unravelling of Violette's personal story is so beautifully done as it interweaves  between daily life in the cemetery and anecdotes of past funerals.  It may sound morbid but it's actually incredibly moving and I love how Violette makes notes of each funeral showing how varied people can be in their grief.

Violette gets a strange visitor one day in the form of Julien Seul who is honouring his mother's wishes of having her ashes placed in a particular tomb.  This may sound like a standard request, however, the tomb's current occupant is a stranger to Julien.  The secret to this mystery lies within his mother's journals which Julien shares with Violette.  It's not so much the content of the journals but the sharing of the story that draws the pair together and Julien's appearance in Violette's life feels like fate.

The chapters are quite short (there are 94 chapters over 474 pages) and Violette's story is so engaging that I found myself racing through the book.  I loved the unusual quotes at the start of each chapter, it's not explained what they are but I made the assumption that they are plaques on the various gravestones in the cemetery.  I think the majority of them are fictional quotes written by the author although I recognised the 'Do not stand at my grave and weep' poem.  It was a lovely touch though and I enjoyed reading the moving and often wise words.

As well as the chapter quotes there are some outstanding nuggets of wisdom in the prose.  I don't often share quotes from books but this one really resonated with me so I had to share it to remind myself of its brilliance.

'As soon as your thoughts are turning dark, take your pruning shears and cut back those troubles.'

So beautifully written, this heartfelt and poignant novel will stay with me long after I turned the final page.  Hildegarde Serle's translation is impeccable and you could be forgiven for forgetting that this novel was originally written in French.  I am so glad that I have discovered this very unusual and poignant hidden gem of a book and I definitely want to read it again.  I loved it and wholeheartedly recommend it.

I can't thank Midas PR enough for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and sending me an ARC to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

Valérie Perrin is a photographer and screenwriter who works with (and is married to) Claude Lelouch.  Her first novel, Les Oubliés du Dimanche, has won numerous prizes, including the 2016 Lire Élire and Poulet-Malassis prizes. Fresh Water for Flowers is her first novel to be translated into English and an international sensation.

About the translator:

Hildegarde Serle graduated in French from Oxford University. After working as a newspaper subeditor in London for many years, she obtained the Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation. She is the translator of A Winter’s Promise and The Missing of Clairdelune, atmospheric, absorbing tale.

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BLOG TOUR: Waiting for the Miracle - Anna McPartlin


Caroline has hit rock bottom. After years of trying, it's clear she can't have children, and the pain has driven her and her husband apart. She isn't pregnant, her husband is gone, and her beloved dog is dead.

The other women at her infertility support group have their own problems, too. Natalie's girlfriend is much less excited about having children than her. Janet's husband might be having an affair. And then there's Ronnie, intriguing, mysterious Ronnie, who won't tell anyone her story.


Catherine is sixteen and pregnant. Her boyfriend wants nothing to do with her, and her parents are ashamed. When she's sent away to a convent for pregnant girls, she is desperate not to be separated from her child. But she knows she might risk losing the baby forever.

What did I think?

I know it might be hard to believe but I hadn't read an Anna McPartlin book before picking up her new book Waiting for the Miracle, but what a wonderful book it is to introduce me to this fabulous author.  Although I love reading paperbacks, for once I was glad to be reading on kindle as my pages would have been well soggy with all the tears I shed.

Caroline's story starts with a bang when she loses everything in one day.  I was absolutely furious with her husband and his terrible timing but I was more upset about the dog.  The author's ability to produce such emotions in the reader at such an early point in the book is astonishing.  I knew I was in for a ride on the emotional rollercoaster from the very start and what a ride it is.

The addition of Catherine's story in a dual timeline that takes the reader back to 1976 Ireland is completely heartrending, it's a disturbing time where young pregnant girls were sent away to give birth in convents.  It's a true story we hear often with babies being separated from mothers and searching for them many years later, only to be hit with a brick wall as the church closes ranks.  Catherine's treatment in the convent is disturbing and shocking, especially when she gives birth.  I don't know how nuns such as these managed to live with themselves, all the while believing they are doing a forgiving God's work.

Caroline is part of an infertility group and I loved all of the women in the group.  Newcomer Ronnie seems to be holding back so my desire to uncover her story was immense.  I was also incredibly intrigued to find out how Catherine's story was going to fit into the storyline and I had an idea but of course I was wrong.  Reading books is one time when I love being wrong; it means that the author has successfully misdirected me and given me a wonderful surprise.

Heart-shatteringly breathtaking, I read Waiting for the Miracle with a lump in my throat and I was left in bits at the end.  I lived and breathed these women's lives with them, fully experiencing every moment of joy and sadness that rendered me powerless to stop the tears from falling.  

A stunning and very highly recommended novel but make sure you have a packet of tissues handy while you're reading.

I received a digital ARC to read and review for the blog tour; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

Anna McPartlin is a novelist and scriptwriter from Dublin, who has written for TV serial dramas featured on BBC UK, RTE Ireland and A&E America. She has been writing adult fiction for over ten years, and also writes for children under the name Bannie McPartlin. She lives with her husband Donal and their four dogs.

To learn more about Waiting for the Miracle follow Anna on Twitter at: @annamcpartlin & Instagram: @mcpartlin.anna

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Thursday 10 June 2021

The Long Way Home - Fanny Blake

A family secret, a mysterious legacy, and a journey that will change everything…
When Isla, a 65-year-old grandmother, is left nothing but an old painting in her mother’s will, while her sisters and aunt inherit the estate, she is devastated. Close to retirement, getting ready to live on her own terms, the last thing she expects at this time of her life is such turmoil. So, to find an explanation for her mother’s rejection, she embarks on a road-trip.
But, right at the last moment, she’s forced to take her sullen – and, in her view, impossible – 14-year-old granddaughter Charlie with her. Cramped together in Isla’s car with her smelly old dog, these ill-assorted travelling companions set off to uncover some shattering and life-changing family truths at the same time as learning to love each other…
The Long Way Home is set in the UK and 1950s Paris where the story really begins, spanning four generations of women and the secrets that get passed down through them.

What did I think?

It's actually really refreshing to read a novel with an older protagonist as it just shows that it doesn't matter what age you are, you are still faced with the same problems and suffer the same insecurities.  In 65-year-old Isla's case, just because you're older doesn't mean you're wiser and it's no surprise that Isla is thrown into a tizz when she is treated differently to her sisters in their mother's will.

Isla has always had a strained relationship with her mother but that doesn't explain why her two sisters and her aunt should inherit her mother's house when all she has been left is a painting.  As you would expect, there are one or two arguments among the siblings so Isla decides to take a trip back home to Scotland to patch up the relationship between her sisters and hopefully get to the bottom of the mystery of her inheritance.  

Unfortunately, Isla has to take an unwilling companion with her in the form of her 14-year-old granddaughter Charlie.  A typical teenager, Charlie is glued to her phone and barely says a positive word, making the trip more of a chore than a pleasure.  As the trip progresses it was lovely to see Isla and Charlie's relationship grow and it felt like Charlie unfurled like a flower with just a little bit of nurturing and some TLC.  That is until Isla's new boyfriend turned up to upset the balance.

I really liked Isla but I cringed at some of the decisions she made, although it's understandable with so much going on in her life.  I also loved May's story set in 1950s Paris and thought I had it all worked out but I was delighted to find that I was completely wrong.  Fanny Blake's wonderfully vivid writing brings her characters to life and I felt like I was drinking coffee in the cafés of Paris and actually sitting in the car with Isla, Charlie and stinky Jock.  

Beautifully heartwarming, captivating and intriguing, The Long Way Home is a fabulous summer read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

My rating:

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Wednesday 9 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: Dead Ground (Washington Poe #4) - M.W. Craven

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused - he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp - but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.

As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions: despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim's background check out? Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene - and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken . . .

What did I think?

Brilliant!  What more can I say?  M.W. Craven has done it again: Dead Ground is another outstanding Poe and Bradshaw page-turner that had me gripped from start to finish.  It feels like Mike Craven has upped the ante with his fourth novel in this brilliant series by adding intricate layers of cleverness and complexity to the plot that really gave my old grey matter a good workout.

You could definitely read Dead Ground as a standalone as it's a mighty fine mystery thriller in its own right, however, it's the development of the characters throughout the series that sets it head and shoulders above other books in the genre.  Opening with a very unusual historical crime that seems to have a link with a present day murder the investigating agency calls upon Poe and Bradshaw to assist them.  Working with another agency has its challenges as information is not as free flowing as Poe would like, so it's just as well that Tilly has her own way of finding things out.

Reading the Washington Poe books in order shows the stunning character development that has taken place over the course of the series.  Poe's fiercely loyal relationship with Tilly Bradshaw is so protective that it's almost fatherly.  Tilly is so honest and naive that she is often the target of jokers and the way that Poe seems to have a sixth sense about such things taking place is awesome.  Tilly is lucky to have Poe on her side and vice versa as Tilly is an invaluable asset in solving crimes.  The pair usually work alongside DI Stephanie Flynn but Flynn is on maternity leave so the terrific trio are a dynamic duo in this instalment.

I loved the personal story involving Poe's home that had me fist pumping the air when he gets his day in court but like real life, it doesn't quite go to plan and he is forced to swap his court case for a murder case.  The murder mystery part of the book is simply outstanding and I had no idea what direction it was going in, surprising me at every twist and turn.  It's another standing ovation from me when I finished the book and realised just how clever it actually was.

Dead Ground is an exceptional novel; it's fast-paced, gripping and unputdownable (especially with little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter ensuring that you read 'just one more' chapter until there are none left).  With twists and turns that left me dizzy, M.W. Craven proves that he is the Master of Misdirection in this impossible to predict and action-packed novel.  So very highly recommended - both this novel and the whole series.

I received an ARC to read and review for the blog tour; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Monday 7 June 2021

The Girl Who Died - Ragnar Jónasson


Una knows she is struggling to deal with her father's sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar - population of ten - on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she's living, she's convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she's losing her mind.

And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left - and Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

What did I think?

In his first standalone thriller, The Girl Who Died, Ragnar Jónasson shows once again why he is considered one of today's greatest crime writers.  After that amazing first line ('Teacher wanted at the edge of the world') the story builds up like layers of snow, at first seeming soft and gentle but getting more dangerous as times goes on.

Skálar is the village on the edge of the world that troubled teacher Una is drawn to.  This really is a village where everybody knows everybody as there is only a population of ten with two children in the school.  When Una arrives in Skálar there is a creepy welcome from a girl at the window dressed in white; she thinks it must be the little girl who lives in the house...but is it?

As Una gets to know people in the village they make their feelings for her quite clear: apart from Salka who requested a teacher for her daughter Edda, none of them want her there.  With creepy singing in her ear at night and such a frosty welcome, it's no wonder that Una turns to alcohol and this throws a shadow of doubt on her reliability.  With a ghost, a death, a missing person and an historic crime thrown into the mix, there are a couple of mysteries to solve and I love how they are woven together so seamlessly to create a hugely intriguing page-turner.  

I actually exclaimed (WTF?!?) out loud at one point as I got such a shock because of the way that Ragnar Jónasson's hypnotic prose seems to lull us into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from under us.  It's absolutely stunning writing from Ragnar Jónasson and fantastic translation by Victoria Cribb.         

Claustrophobic, atmospheric and simply brilliant, The Girl Who Died is a masterclass in crime writing from Ragnar Jónasson.  Very highly recommended and one I will definitely read again.  

I received an ARC from the publisher and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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