Friday 30 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: Black Hearts (The Skelfs Book 4) - Doug Johnstone

The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…

What did I think?

I love The Skelfs series so I was very excited to read Black Hearts and I was not disappointed.  This series is just getting better and better and I hope Doug Johnstone has a lot more ideas up his sleeve for the Skelf women as I don't ever want this series to end.

You could read Black Hearts as a standalone as it has a brilliant self-contained plot, however, to fully appreciate the characters it is better to read the previous books in the series.  There is just enough of their backstories included in the book to intrigue and inform new readers without being too repetitive for long-standing fans of the series.

I'm purposefully avoiding talking about any of the various threads of the plot as it would spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but oh my word it's a good 'un.  Each character has something different to deal with and I couldn't read fast enough to see how it would all end; I certainly couldn't have predicted any of it.

I love how Doug Johnstone explores grief in all of The Skelf novels but Black Hearts is particularly poignant as it mentions something from Japanese culture that some readers may have never heard of before.  It allowed us to see a bit more behind Dorothy's character and it shows us that grief never leaves us, it merely becomes less painful as time goes on.

Unpredictable, suspenseful and addictive, Black Hearts is another fantastic installment in The Skelfs series.  I've loved every single one of them; keep 'em coming, Doug!

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

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About the author:

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail. He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice one; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

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Thursday 29 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: I'm Not There - Rob Gittins

Two sisters abandoned

It was a treat, she said. An adventure. A train journey to the mainland. Six-year-old Lara Arden and her older sister Georgia happily fill in their colouring books as their mum pops to the buffet in search of crisps. She never returns. Two little girls abandoned. Alone.

Present day 

Twenty years later, and Lara is now a detective inspector on her native Isle of Wight, still searching for answers to her mother's disappearance.

A call comes in. A small child, a boy, has been left abandoned on a train. Like Lara, he has no relatives to look after him. It feels as if history is being repeated - but surely this is a coincidence?

A series of murders

Before Lara can focus on the boy's plight, she's faced with a series of murders. They feature different victims in very different circumstances, but they all have one thing in common: they all leave children - alone - behind.

So who is targeting Lara? What do these abandoned souls have in common? And how does this connect to the mystery of Lara's missing mother? 

What did I think?

This book is massively intriguing.  It got its hooks into me from the start with the mysterious disappearance of Lara's mother twenty years earlier and now a similar case in the present day.  

Not only are there two intriguing missing persons, but there is also a series of brutal murders that are leaving children orphaned.  It all seems to link back to Lara who is now a police detective and she has a race against time to stop the killer before someone she knows becomes the next victim.

There are some amazing characters in this book and they are so very well developed that they virtually leap out from the page.  I loved Lara but I also really liked Lara's colleague Jordan; his personal life is falling apart but he still manages to keep a close eye on his family.  I'm Not There is the first book in a new series set on the Isle of Wight, so I do hope to catch up with these characters again in the future.

The writing is flawless; it's vivid, descriptive and very easy to imagine the scenes in your head.  I really couldn't tell which direction the story was going in as there are so many different threads weaving through the novel, but they all get tied up perfectly at the end.  

Unpredictable and gripping, I'm Not There is a hugely enjoyable police procedural with an intriguing mystery at its heart.  You can't go wrong with a Hobeck Books novel and I'm Not There is no exception.  Recommended.

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

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Tuesday 27 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: Before I Do - Sophie Cousens

What would you do if the one that got away turned up the night before your wedding?

Audrey is marrying Josh; steady, dependable Josh, the love of her life. They share a flat and a bank account, and it's the only relationship that Audrey's ever had that feels like something she can put her trust in. But romance should be full of fireworks, and as the big day approaches, Audrey's found herself wondering if Josh really is 'the one'.

So, when Josh's sister Miranda arrives at their rehearsal dinner with Fred - Audrey's 'What If?' guy, the man she met six years ago and had one amazing day with but never saw again - Audrey can't help but see it as a sign.

Surely Fred's appearance the night before Audrey is due to get married can't be a coincidence. And when everything that could go wrong with the wedding starts to go wrong, Audrey has to wonder: could fate be trying to stop her from making a huge mistake?

What did I think?

I enjoyed Before I Do so much more than I expected to.  I was expecting something lighthearted and fun, which it sort of is, but it's so incredibly intriguing from the start that I couldn't put it down.  I hadn't read any of Sophie Cousens' books before but I definitely want to read more now.

The first line is a wonderful hook that not only sets the scene but makes the reader want to find out more.  With chapters titled various amounts of time 'Before I Do' the story flips back and forth between Audrey's past and the present day.  Audrey has always wondered about Fred, her one that got away, as fate seemed to bring them together before so cruelly tearing them apart.  Josh didn't make such a good first impression on Audrey but her love for him grew and they are about to get married.  The last person Audrey expected to see the day before her wedding day is Fred.

I really felt for Audrey as she juggled her emotions and tried to keep her wedding on track.  It seems like fate is once again playing a part in Audrey's life when things start going wrong, but Audrey is sure that she loves Josh, isn't she?  A wedding must be one of the most stressful things a couple can go through so it's no wonder that they often have doubts.  I loved the vivid portrayal of Audrey's emotions and I felt like I experienced them all with her.

Before I Do is so entertaining, the writing is vivid and the plot is wonderfully surprising.  I absolutely loved it and it's an easy five stars.

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

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Friday 23 September 2022

The Dead Romantics - Ashley Poston

On 29th September, HQ will be publishing THE DEAD ROMANTICS by Ashley Poston. This book is currently taking TikTok by storm – #TheDeadRomantics currently has over 25.6 million views, and if you haven’t seen some of the fantastic videos, you can watch here and here.

About the book:

Florence Day is a ghost-writer with one big problem. She’s supposed to be penning swoon-worthy novels for a famous romance author but, after a bad break-up, Florence no longer believes in love. And when her strict (but undeniably hot) new editor, Benji Andor, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye.

Although when tragedy strikes and Florence has to head home, the last thing she expects to see is a ghost at her front door. Not just any ghost, however, but the stern form of her still very hot – yet now unquestionably dead – new editor.

As sparks start to fly between them, Florence tells herself she can’t be falling for a ghost – even an infuriatingly sexy one.

But can Benji help Florence to realise love isn’t dead, after all?

Click here to read the first chapter.

BLOG TOUR: The Reason - Catherine Bennetto

How much is the smile from the person you love worth to you?
Brooke’s life has derailed. Her social life and career have evaporated, her daughter is desperately unhappy and being bullied at school, and, for a 43-year-old, she probably spends way too many weekends at her parent’s. But the reason for all this is no mystery. A year and a half ago, Brooke’s husband died.
But Brooke does have one secret. Her husband’s death, the worst thing that has ever happened to her, has made her unbelievably rich.
Despite her despair, Brooke suddenly realises she has the power to make her daughter’s life, and the world a little brighter. 

What did I think?

Oh my goodness, this book is truly gorgeous.  It's an emotional read and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried more than once but I also laughed, smiled and enjoyed every single minute of it.

I adored Brooke, her daughter Hannah and her whole quirky family.  Just thinking of them (and their strange house guests) brings a smile to my face.  It's making me laugh out loud now just thinking of Brooke's mum and her inability to stop interfering in her daughters' lives.  As much as I was sad to leave them all behind when I turned the final page, the ending was simply perfect.

The grief, guilt and despair of losing a loved one is a lot of baggage for one person to carry, but that is what Brooke is trying to do.  As if Brooke doesn't have enough to cope with, Hannah is being bullied at school.  It is heartbreaking to see the effect this has on Hannah but it almost gives Brooke a purpose again: to make Hannah smile.  The way she does it is completely brilliant and just reading about it made me smile.

This is my first Catherine Bennetto book, but it certainly won't be my last.  I loved the warm and colourful writing, the imaginitive plot and the full range of emotions it evoked.  Very highly recommended and one not to be missed, but keep your tissues handy while you're reading.

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

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Thursday 22 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: The Perfect Neighborhood - Liz Alterman

Think you know your neighbors? Think again.

When actress Allison Langley leaves her former rockstar husband in the middle of the night, her sudden departure becomes the talk of upmarket Oak Hill. But the relentless gossip comes to an abrupt halt when five-year-old Billy Barnes disappears on his walk home from kindergarten. Is there a predator lurking in the leafy suburb? Weeks later, three-year-old Amy-Pat Davies vanishes from her backyard. In addition to sharing a zip code, the missing children have another thing in common – their babysitter, Cassidy McLean, who has a secret of her own.

What did I think?

I really enjoyed my visit to the fictional town of Oak Hill in The Perfect Neighborhood.  I love books filled with secrets and I couldn't read it fast enough to discover what the residents of Oak Hill are hiding.

There is a lot of speculation about actress Allison Langley as she is very private so none of her neighbours know her that well.  When she disappears from her perfect marriage in the perfect neighbourhood, the question on everyone's lips is 'where has she gone and why did she leave?'  Then a small child disappears...

The disappearance of five year old Billy is completely heartbreaking to read, especially seeing the devastating effect on his incredibly dysfunctional family.  Billy's mother is inconsolable but there's clearly something amiss in her marriage as her husband and stepson react completely differently.  I think I had pretty much everyone marked down as a suspect in Billy's disappearance over the course of the book.

When another child vanishes, the spotlight is turned on to the babysitter.  Cassidy was looking after both children when they disappeared and she's hiding something too.  I felt really sorry for Cassidy as she becomes an easy target for bullies at school and she wasn't completely to blame for the circumstances of each child's disappearance.  Yes, she did things wrong otherwise the children wouldn't have vanished, but other factors and people were to blame too.

This isn't just a peep through the curtains of your neighbours, it's a full on nose pressed against the glass glance into their lives.  All their thoughts and feelings are laid bare and my feelings towards certain characters changed as more of their story was uncovered.  It's very well written and I could totally imagine watching it on TV as either a mini-series or film.

Incredibly intriguing and completely compelling, The Perfect Neighborhood is filled with so many secrets that I couldn't put it down until every single one had been revealed.  A recommended read.

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

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Friday 16 September 2022

The Ring Breaker (The Midwinter Dragon Book 1) - Jean Gill

Loyalty has a price the children pay

In the twilight of the old gods, when the last Vikings rule the seas, two cursed orphans meet on an Orkney beach and their fates collide.

Stripped of honour, facing bleak loneliness ahead, Skarfr and Hlif forge an unbreakable bond as they come of age in the savage Viking culture of blood debts and vengeance. To be accepted as adults, Skarfr must prove himself a warrior and Hlif must learn to use women's weapons. Can they clear their names and choose their destiny? Or are they doomed by their fathers' acts?

The award-winning author of The Troubadours Quartet returns to the 12th century, with skalds instead of troubadours and Viking warriors instead of crusaders. Get ready for authentic medieval adventures steeped in poetry, politics and passion. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Matthew Harffy and Madeline Miller.

What did I think?

Jean Gill has done it again!  The Ring Breaker is an epic adventure and it's only the beginning!  What an outstanding start to an exciting new historical fiction series.  I love Jean Gill's writing, particularly her historical fiction, so I dived headfirst into The Ring Breaker knowing that I was going to love it and I was not wrong.  

Set on Viking Orkney, the research is impeccable and I learned so much more about the period than I previously knew.  The place and the characters are brought to life so beautifully for the reader that it is like stepping through time and observing events as they are happening.  I love that so much of this story was based on fact and The Ring Breaker has one of the best author's notes I've ever read - it's as fascinating as the novel itself.

The story follows two orphans: Skarfr and Hlif, whose stories are intertwined throughout the novel.  I was absolutely fascinated with the jarl hierarchy and loved the interactions between all of the characters.  The Viking names make it a bit tricky to remember who's who but there is a list of characters (both historical and fictional) at the start of the book.  I probably pronounced their names completely wrong in my head but I was so immersed in the story that I didn't stop to consider the correct pronunciation.

Although I'm already a fan of Jean Gill's writing, her writing in The Ring Breaker is exquisite.  From the rich and vivid descriptions to the lyrical poetry.  I shall never forget one particular dreamlike scene for as long as I live.  It's giving me goosebumps just thinking about it now.

Filled with danger and adventure, The Ring Breaker is immersive, evocative and stunning; this is historical fiction at its finest.  Very highly recommended.

Many thanks to Jean Gill for sending me a digital ARC to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Wednesday 14 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: The Rising Tide (Vera Stanhope Book 10) - Ann Cleeves

Fifty years ago, a group of teenagers spent a weekend on Holy Island, forging a bond that has lasted a lifetime. Now, they still return every five years to celebrate their friendship, and remember the friend they lost to the rising waters of the causeway at the first reunion.

Now, when one of them is found hanged, Vera is called in. Learning that the dead man had recently been fired after misconduct allegations, Vera knows she must discover what the friends are hiding, and whether the events of many years before could have led to murder then, and now . . .

But with the tide rising, secrets long-hidden are finding their way to the surface, and Vera and the team may find themselves in more danger than they could have believed possible . . . 

What did I think?

The Rising Tide is the tenth book in the Vera Stanhope series but it's my first one and I LOVED IT!!!  I don't know how I've never read any of the Vera series before as I love books based in my native North East so I'm glad that I've finally got round to discovering it.  So, The Rising Tide can definitely be read as a standalone novel and it's got me hooked - I want more Vera!

The setting for this instalment is Holy Island (or Lindisfarne for people out of the area as it's pointed out in the book) and the remote Northumbrian island is described beautifully.  I've only been there twice but I could totally picture the causeway, castle and village from Ann Cleeves' vivid descriptions.

I've never watched Vera on TV but I'm aware of the character played by Brenda Blethyn so it was Brenda's Vera that I imagined.  However, even if I hadn't been aware of the show I would still have been able to imagine Vera as she virtually leaps out of the page with her scruffy clothes and battered old Land Rover.  All of the characters are portrayed vividly and I particularly liked the competition in Vera's team between Holly and Vera's clear favourite Joe.

The murder plot is stunning and completely unpredictable as everyone is a suspect.  I loved the reunion story about the group of school friends who visit Holy Island every five years, although their numbers are depleting.  Is there a killer in their midst?  Vera will find out, don't you worry about that.

I don't think I can even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed The Rising Tide.  It's certainly made me want to read all of the Vera books and to encourage a reader to discover an already well-established series is no mean feat.  There's not many books that make me gasp out loud these days, but Ann Cleeves managed to shock me into an audible gasp in The Rising Tide.  

Gripping, entertaining and atmospheric, The Rising Tide is sublimely plotted and flawlessly written.  Eh pet, it's great!  Divvent miss it like!

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

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About the author:

ANN CLEEVES is the author of more than thirty-five critically acclaimed novels, and in 2017 was awarded the highest accolade in crime writing, the CWA Diamond Dagger. She is the creator of popular detectives Vera Stanhope, Jimmy Perez and Matthew Venn, who can be found on television in ITV’s Vera, BBC One’s Shetland and ITV's The Long Call respectively. The TV series and the books they are based on have become international sensations, capturing the minds of millions worldwide. 2022 marks 30 years of publishing with Pan Macmillan.

Ann worked as a probation officer, bird observatory cook and auxiliary coastguard before she started writing. She is a member of ‘Murder Squad’, working with other British northern writers to promote crime fiction. Ann also spends her time advocating for reading to improve health and wellbeing and supporting access to books. In 2021 her Reading for Wellbeing project launched with local authorities across the North East. She lives in Northumberland where the Vera books are set. You can find Ann on Twitter and Facebook @AnnCleeves.

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Friday 9 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: Sometimes People Die - Simon Stephenson

The year is 1999. Returning to practice after a suspension for stealing opioids, a young Scottish doctor takes the only job he can find: a post as a senior house officer in the struggling east London hospital of St Luke’s.

Amid the maelstrom of sick patients, over-worked staff and underfunded wards a darker secret soon declares itself: too many patients are dying.

Which of the medical professionals our protagonist has encountered is behind the murders?

What did I think?

Oh my goodness what a heartbreaking, emotional and completely addictive read this is.   I wasn't sure whether I was reading a memoir or a thriller at first as it feels so true to life, and perhaps some of the stories are true as the author trained as a doctor, but it's a cracking whodunnit thriller.  

The protagonist is unnamed and their story of working in the NHS is mirrored by thousands of trainee medical staff in real life.  It's almost like all NHS hospitals should have a sign on the staffroom: leave your life at the door.  The stress, the long hours, the lack of sleep and the pressure is so difficult for a layperson to imagine but I was definitely aware of it whilst I was reading this brilliant book. 

It does read like a memoir at first but a serial killer in their midst and a police investigation add an extra dimension to the story.  The prose is also interspersed with true stories of medical serial killers (some I had heard of, others I hadn't) which are not only fascinating but also make you feel as if you're reading a true story.

I didn't realise how emotionally invested I was in the book until I found myself crying at a particularly upsetting and shocking scene.  It made me think of a moment in Grey's Anatomy that also brought on the tears (and it has nothing to do with McDreamy).  I can't say any more as it will spoil the story but it is heartbreaking.

Drug addiction is a large part of the story and instead of being shocked and appalled, I could almost understand why people turn to drugs, if only to turn their brain off and seek an escape.  

I haven't even mentioned the serial killer plot, which is absolutely brilliant in its own right.  How everything fits together like the pieces of a jigsaw is simply breathtaking.  Now that's what i call 'plotted to perfection'.  

I really loved Sometimes People Die; it's highly original, completely addictive, perfectly plotted and utterly heartbreaking.  A very highly recommended read.

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

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About the author:

Simon Stephenson originally trained as a doctor and worked in Scotland and London. He previously wrote Let Not the Waves of the Sea, a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, and a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year.

His first novel, Set My Heart to Five was a Bookseller Book of the Month and was described by the Daily Mail as ‘Funny, original and thought-provoking.’ It has been optioned by Working Title Films to be directed by Edgar Wright from Stephenson’s screenplay.

He currently lives in Los Angeles, in a house where a famous murder took place. As a screenwriter, he originated and wrote the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and wrote the story for Pixar’s Luca. He also contributed to everybody’s favourite film, Paddington 2.

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Monday 5 September 2022

Thunderstone - Nancy Campbell

‘It was believed lightning would not strike a house that held a thunderstone. And so these fossils were placed on top of clocks, under floorboards, over stable doors . . . But there are some storms that thunderstones cannot prevent.’

In the wake of a traumatic lockdown, Nancy Campbell buys an old caravan and drives it into a strip of neglected woodland between a canal and railway. It is the first home she has ever owned.

As summer begins, Nancy embraces the challenge of how to live well in a space in which possessions and emotions often threaten to tumble – clearing industrial junk from the soil to help wild beauty flourish. But when illness and uncertainty loom once more, it is this van anchored in the woods, and the unconventional friendships forged off -grid, that will bring her solace and hope.

An intimate journal across the space of a defining summer, Thunderstone is celebration of the people and places that hold us when the storms gather; an invitation to approach life with imagination and to embrace change bravely. 

What did I think?

Having loved Fifty Words for Snow, I was keen to read more of Nancy Campbell's writing and her latest book Thunderstone is her true story.  I don't often read memoirs as I find they take me too long to read, and I have 'so many books, so little time', but I read Thunderstone in two sittings.

Nancy's Campbell's writing is as beautiful as ever and the rhythm of the book is as natural as breathing as it flows from month to month, observing the changing seasons.  I feel completely honoured that Nancy has shared her story with me (and all the other readers of her memoir, of course).  At times it's heartbreaking but Nancy's resilience and fortitude gives her the strength of character to overcome any difficulty.  

There's a strong sense of community in Thunderstone and I loved how the barge folk welcomed Nancy and her little caravan into their fold.  Nancy's friendship with Sven is wonderful to read and some of their entertaining interactions often had me laughing out loud.  Some of the stories really shouldn't have been funny but it really is the way she tells them!

Written with raw honesty and beautifully poetic observations, Thunderstone is an exceptional memoir and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.  It was my absolute pleasure to read it.

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

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Friday 2 September 2022

BLOG TOUR: The Last Girl to Die - Helen Fields

In search of a new life, seventeen-year-old Adriana Clark’s family moves to the ancient, ocean-battered Isle of Mull, far off the coast of Scotland. Then she goes missing. Faced with hostile locals and indifferent police, her desperate parents turn to private investigator Sadie Levesque.

Sadie is the best at what she does. But when she finds Adriana’s body in a cliffside cave, a seaweed crown carefully arranged on her head, she knows she’s dealing with something she’s never encountered before.

The deeper she digs into the island’s secrets, the closer danger creeps – and the more urgent her quest to find the killer grows. Because what if Adriana is not the last girl to die?

What did I think?

WOW!  What a book!  The Last Girl to Die is a book I will be recommending for a very long time.  It is filled with mystery and intrigue that hooked me from the start but it is the razor-sharp plotting that makes it a memorable read.  

When an American teenager goes missing on the Isle of Mull, her parents hire a Canadian private investigator, Sadie Lavesque.  This invasion of foreigners on Mull creates a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere for Sadie as she is faced with the suspicion and mistrust of the islanders.  Sadie can't count on the local police to help her and things only get worse for her when she finds a body...and then another...

I cannot even begin to tell you how good this book is and no review I write will go anywhere near to doing it justice.  It's a book that you just have to read and experience for yourself.  Helen Fields intricately weaves mysteries and folklore of ancient Mull into this gripping and atmospheric thriller making it a completely unforgettable novel.  

Shocking, disturbing and jawdropping, The Last Girl to Die is an impressive and completely haunting thriller.  Helen Fields is my newly crowned Queen of Twists and I felt like my brain had gone 12 rounds in the boxing ring as the twists and shocks pummelled me from all angles.  Very highly recommended - don't miss this one!

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

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