Posted in Book Review, Contemporary Revenge Fiction

5*#Review – Jane Fallon – Tell Me A Secret -@JaneFallon @MichaelJBooks

Best friends Holly and Roz tell each other everything.

So when Holly gets a shot at her dream job after putting everything on hold to raise her daughter, she assumes Roz will be waiting to pop the champagne.

But is she just imagining things or is Roz not quite as happy as she should be?

And now she thinks about it, a few things don’t quite add up…

Perhaps it was a mistake to tell Roz all her secrets.

Because it takes two to tango.

But only one to start a war…

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

A contemporary revenge novel, that has a multi-layered plot, an authentic setting and complex characters. There is an underlying undercurrent of menace in this story as Holly’s career and life are threatened, but will anyone believe her?

It’s easy for the reader to believe in this storyline, most people who have worked in an office setting have witnessed office politics at some point in their career, and it’s not hard to imagine what Holly experiences. Betrayal is an important theme of this story, and it adds impact to the injustices she suffers because Holly is betrayed by someone she should be able to trust.

Although the action is focused on a few characters, the vibrant setting, and the fast pace make this page-turning, as you want to see what happens next and who will come out the victor. In addition to the main plot, there are parallel friendships, which showcase what good friends really are. Holly’s relationship with her daughter is nicely written and emphasises why her career is so important to her.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK-Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

5* Review: Karen Swan – The Christmas Lights – @KarenSwan1 @panmacmillan

December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans.

Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth.

Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year-old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

Amazon UK 

Waterstones

My Thoughts…

An atmospheric story, that is deeper than it first appears, following Bo and Zac, two Instagram social influencers to the beautiful but forbidding Norwegian fjords in wintertime. There they meet Anders their mysterious guide and his fiercely independent grandmother, Signy.

The story is told from Bo’s point of view as she faces up to her demons, and questions whether she really is living the dream with Zac, or just running away. Signy’s story told in flashbacks to 1936 is simple, but devastating, and helps understand her fighting spirit and her willingness to face physical hardship to achieve the solitude she needs.

The contrast between the virtual world Bo lives in and the grounded world Signy inhabits is the lynchpin of this story, which explores relationships, the power of social media and the many secrets the story’s characters’ are keeping.

There is an underlying menace in both timelines, reinforced by the danger ever present in the mountainous region. There is poignant romance brought to life by believable characters and situations.

Out of tragedy comes hope and an understanding of love and the true meaning of sacrifice.

An unusual festive story with many layers to engage the reader and a hopeful ending.

I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan – Pan via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review

The Hunting Party – 4* #Review – Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets @HarperCollinsUK

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.

The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

Amazon UK

My Thoughts…

Escaping to the wild and wonderful Scottish Highlands seems like the ideal venue for a New Year’s celebration, but what if everyone has a secret? Their university days are long gone, but the pecking order and rivalries are intensified. The cracks in the party atmosphere begin on the train journey north.

This story begins with the tragedy and uses a series of chronological multi-point of view chapters to illuminate the current situation. The characters are complex and realistic, and in most cases not likeable. Everyone has something to hide but how far will they go to keep it under wraps? The setting and inclement weather makes this an atmospheric read that compels you to turn the pages to see what happens next.

This is more of a murder mystery than a psychological thriller because the story is told through the eyes of several characters, both in the group of friends and the two people who work at the venue where they are staying, rather than an individual unreliable protagonist.

The plot is convoluted and sinister, there are multiple suspects and the identity of the victim remains hidden until the final chapters.

The remote party setting and the toxicity of the relationships has parallels with Sue Fortin’s The Birthday Girl, which I also enjoyed. Perfect holiday reading.

I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review

And So It Begins – 5* Review – Rachel Abbott

WHO WILL BELIEVE YOUR STORY IF THE ONLY WITNESS IS DEAD?

Cleo knows she should be happy for her brother Mark. He’s managed to find someone new after the sudden death of his first wife – but something about Evie just doesn’t feel right…

When Evie starts having accidents at home, her friends grow concerned. Could Mark be causing her injuries? Called out to their cliff-top house one night, Sergeant Stephanie King finds two bodies entangled on blood-drenched sheets.

Where does murder begin? When the knife is raised to strike, or before, at the first thought of violence? As the accused stands trial, the jury is forced to consider – is there ever a proper defence for murder?

Amazon

My Thoughts…

An engaging psychological thriller with a detailed courtroom section and a host of absorbing female antagonists and protagonists. The plot is twisty, and although I worked out Evie’s secret in the last third of the book, I think this is the author’ intention, so that the final dramatic chapters have maximum impact.

Evie, Cleo and Mark all have issues, the question for the reader to solve is who is the most twisted and manipulating the facts for their ends. This story has a menacing quality but also an inherent sadness due to the waste of life and the opportunity to be happy.

The female detective protagonist’s role in the story is pivotal, and although Stephanie has her emotional heartache, her detective skills are notable.

Packed with detail and characters who are not what they first seem, this is a standout read in the crowded genre of psychological thrillers.

I received a copy of this book from Headline- Wildfire via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Shari Low – Another Day in Winter 5* Review – Extract

On a chilly morning in December… Forever friends Shauna and Lulu touch down at Glasgow Airport on a quest to find answers from the past.

George knows his time is nearing the end but is it too late to come to terms with his two greatest regrets?

His Grandson Tom uncovers a betrayal that rocks his world as he finally tracks down the one that got away.

And single mum Chrissie is ready to force her love-life out of hibernation, but can anyone compare to the man who broke her heart?

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Extract

George

I’m dying. I just want to say that straight out. Or as the young ones would say, “put it out there”. Bloody nonsense, some of the phrases that folk use nowadays. What’s wrong with just plain speaking?

The boy thinks I don’t know he’s here, but I can hear and feel him fine. Tom. The boy. That’s still how I think of him even though he’s gone thirty now. Fine lad he’s turned out to be. I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a bloody miracle when you consider his feckless father.

I can hear that lassie, the nurse, too. Liv, that’s her name. Cheery thing. She’s got one of those voices that reassures everyone who listens to her. Not that there’s much reassurance to be had for me now. A painless exit is about as much as I can hope for, and these drugs that they’re pumping into me are taking care of that. Don’t half take the wind out of my sails though. Between the medicine and this damned disease, it’s getting harder and harder to open my eyes.

That said, I’m not in any rush to leave this world. I’ve never been one for impatience. I’ve lost track of the days, and I hate to keep asking the nurse, but I’m fairly sure it’s close to Christmas. The sound of festive songs has been drifting in from the corridor – Blue Christmas by Elvis was always my favourite – and on the few occasions I’ve managed to open my eyes, I’ve noticed people walking by the window with gift-wrapped presents. It’s always been my favourite time of the year, especially when our Tom was a boy. We would have Christmas morning at our house and my son Norry and his first wife, Catriona, would bring the boy round first thing. Catriona was a fine woman and so much more than that sour-faced one Norry replaced her with. She was a smashing mother to Tom, too. It shames me to say it, but every bit of compassion and kindness in that boy came directly from her, not from that son of mine.

Anyway, where was I? Christmas. My darling Betty would cook and organise games and make it the perfect day for everyone. It was at times like that Betty, and I wished there’d been more of us, a bigger family for the boy to share the day with, but Norry had been our only son, and then he’d repeated the pattern by only having Tom. Of course, there was more kin out there – I had two sisters, Annie and Flora, that I lost touch with long ago. Those memories pained me, and our Betty knew that, so we left them in the past and we never spoke of them, not to Norry, not to Tom, not to anyone. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them though. In fact, now I think of them more than ever.

Tom is shaving me now, and I’m glad about that. No excuses for a shabby appearance, that’s what my father drilled into us, and I’ve always lived by it. I hope it’s the only thing of that man’s that I’ve taken to heart. By God, there was a father that ruled with an iron rod and wasn’t one for sparing feelings. There were no tears shed when Billy Butler went to his maker, although it saddened me when my mother went only a few weeks after. Influenza afflicted the both of them. I wish she’d had a chance to live without him, even for a short while, to breathe without walking on eggshells, waiting for the next rage or rant. All of us kids – Annie, Flora and me – knew the feeling of fear and I vowed that I would never be that kind of father with Norry.

Instead, I tried to be the man who led by example and instilled decency and compassion in his offspring, but I’m sorry to say I failed. It’s always been a great sadness that Norry was more of his grandad’s ilk than of mine. A selfish boy, self-centred and prone to nastiness, who grew into an arrogant bugger of a man. It gives me no pleasure to say that of my own son, but one of the gifts of these last days is honesty. If I can’t be truthful with myself, then what’s the point? These are days of reckoning, of reminiscing, of looking back on eighty years that were well lived but not without mistakes.

The boy is mid-shave when the question the nurse asks him sinks in to my fuddled brain. ‘Are your parents on the way?’ she says.

I try to focus on the answer, so I get it right. I hear him say, ‘Yeah, my dad and stepmother. They’re halfway here. They touched down in Dubai a couple of hours ago, and their connecting flight took off on time. They should be here about three o’clock.’

Bloody hell. So Norry and that wife of his are coming. I must be close to dead if they’re making the effort because they didn’t bloody come when I was alive and kicking, or when my darling Betty was sick and passed away.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Tom’s mother, Catriona, that would be with Norry. That poor lass was treated terribly by my son, and he forced her out of their lives when Tom was sixteen. To be honest, for her sake I was glad she got out of that marriage. She had a lucky escape. I was only too glad to give her as much help as I could to start her new life down south. She kept in touch with me right up until she passed, a few years ago. Cancer. This bastard of a disease. I was only grateful that the lass found happiness with a man who treated her well. I never met him, but Tom would visit them, and he told me he was a decent chap. That made me sleep a bit easier at night. I felt it was the least she deserved after being married to my son.

Norry had barely batted an eyelid when she left. He’d never admitted it to me, but I had a fair idea that he was already up to no good with the next one. Rosemary. She wasn’t like Catriona. This time he’d met his match and someone who was as contemptible as he was. They’d tied the knot as soon as his divorce was final – went off to Bali or someplace like that. Didn’t even invite us. Not that I’d have gone. Not after their antics. Next thing we knew, Norry sold up his business and off they went to Australia, taking our Tom with them. Norry said it was about work-life balance and enjoying the fruits of his labour, or some nonsense like that. The truth was, he’d made a killing and reckoned he could live like a king down under, and he had so much in the bank that he got a visa to live there without a problem. That Rosemary one encouraged him every step of the way. Fancied herself living in a big house in the sunshine, with no ties or commitments, so off they went, and damn everyone else. Losing Tom near broke my Betty’s heart. It was one of the happiest days of her life when the boy came back to live with us a year later. He’d never settled out there, and we were glad of it.

Through the haze of the buggering pills, I can hear the beeping from the monitor beside me getting faster. That’s what I get for thinking about those two. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bloody thing exploded when they walk through the door. I can only hope their plane gets delayed and I get to spend another day without them here.

Days.

Hours maybe.

My Thoughts…

I haven’t read the first book in the Winter’s Day series, so I read this as a standalone and it is a lovely, poignant read, with a festive flavour, complex characters and a web of secrets to explore.

There are many characters whose lives are intertwined; each character has a story to tell which adds to the main storyline and illustrates their reason for being there on this particular Winter’s day. The beauty of this story is its unashamed emotion, the characters’ experience many feelings and because of their inherent honesty, it’s impossible not to empathise.

Something to warm you on a cold Winter’s day, a lovely, heartwarming yet realistic festive read.

I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Shari has written seventeen novels under her own name and pseudonyms Ronni Cooper, Millie Conway and Shari King, of which many have been published globally. She writes a weekly opinion column and Book Club page for the Daily Record. Shari lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in Glasgow. Twitter Facebook Website

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Guest Post -Moonlight on the Thames – Lauren Westwood – 5* Review

Christmas is a joyous time, but not everyone is merry and bright. Nicola is a star at the top of the corporate ladder, but her personal life is a disaster. Her office affair has run its course, and the last thing she wants to think about is Christmas. A night of cancelled trains and festive Christmas carols at Waterloo Station is the last straw… Dmitri loves conducting his pop–up choir during the festive season, meeting people, and spreading joy and cheer around London. But he carries deep secrets from his past that robbed him of his dream to become a concert pianist. Can two lonely hearts and souls be unlocked by music and moonlight and will they discover the healing power of love?

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 Guest Post – Music, Moonlight and Inspiration – Lauren Westwood

As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my inspirations from. The simple answer is that inspirations come from everywhere! For me, usually, a book will start out with just a simple idea or image, or some kind of trigger event from real life. For Moonlight on the Thames, the opening scene was inspired by a real choir who were performing last year at Waterloo Station during the Christmas season, and a real delayed train. I’m happy to say that unlike my main character, Nicola, I did not create a scene (nor, unfortunately, did I meet the love of my life as a result). But thanks to that night and that choir, my book was born.

To create the two main characters, I also drew on my past. Nicola is a high-powered investment banker, and over the years I’ve dealt with a lot of those in my day-job as an in-house lawyer. I thought it would be interesting for the heroine to be the ‘alpha’ character in the book, though this was somewhat risky. She’s not instantly likeable, but I’m hoping that she’s interesting and different enough for people to stick with her, find out why she is like she is, and see her story unfold.

In contrast, Dmitri is more likeable upfront, but he too has secrets from his past that adversely affect his whole life and forced him to give up his career as a concert pianist. Many years ago, I studied music at university, and though I was not suited for a life as a performer, I did encounter some brilliant musicians who inspired me to want to write about music. There is truly an agony and ecstasy about being a musician, and it takes a very particular personality type to be able to achieve the focus and sacrifice that is required.

The piano music that Dmitri plays in the book was also an inspiration for the tone of the book and also some of the scenes. It was great fun trying to search out the perfect pieces that evoked the mood and emotion that I was going for. And while it is hard to ‘describe’ the effect of music in words, I have put together a playlist to accompany the book that hopefully allows the music to speak for itself. The link is here: http://www.laurenwestwoodwriter.com/playlist.

Finally, I also drew inspiration from a trip I took twenty years ago to Russia. There is something incredibly poetic about the country, its past, its people, its music and literature, that resonates with me. Growing up in America in the 70s and 80s, we were brainwashed into thinking of Russia as ‘the evil empire’ governed by dictators whose fingers were on the red button (hmm, who does that sound like nowadays?) So, it was interesting to travel there myself, form my own opinions, and meet some of the people. I also really like Russian literature, and I have a lovely illustrated book of Russian fairytales with lacquer box designs that inspired the retelling of the Firebird that is in the book.

So, all in all, Moonlight on the Thames was a fun book to imagine and write, and I really hope that readers will enjoy it. I am grateful to Aria for the lovely cover, and also for believing in my somewhat dubious interpretation of an ‘escapist Christmas romance’ that also covers many darker, more serious issues.

If you do read Moonlight on the Thames, please do leave a review or a rating where you purchased it. This helps so much to spread the word to people who might not otherwise find the book.

Most of all, best wishes for the rest of the year and the holiday season.

My Thoughts…

‘Moonlight on the Thames’ is not the lighthearted festive read the title suggests but it does have romance, a fairytale quality and a Christmas message.

Nicola’s successful career masks an empty life and deep, damaging secrets that seem worse at Christmas time. Dimitri’s giving nature is especially evident at Christmas, but he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide the despair and guilt he feels. The couple’s meeting is festive, and Nicola is more ‘Scrooge’than ‘Santa Claus’, but their serendipitous meeting makes them both look at their empty lives.

Poignant and romantic this festive tale focuses on those less fortunate at this time of the year. Dimitri and Nicola’s life are both blighted despite their outward success, and this story explores their inner turmoil and seemingly unlikely romance. Both protagonists are authentic and flawed and carry a damaging amount of emotional trauma but their courage and need to find more in their lives lets both characters develop in a believable and heartwarming way.

Music in all its forms underscores this story and gives it a uniqueness not usually found in festive reads. There are no sugar-coated platitudes in this story, just two people trying to make the best of shattered lives but the outcome makes all the angst worthwhile and leaves an important message in the readers’ minds.

I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

Lauren Westwood writes romantic women’s fiction and is also an award-winning children’s writer. Originally from California, she now lives in England in a pernickety old house built in 1602, with her partner and three daughters.  

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Posted in Book Review

A Little Bird Told Me – Marianne Holmes – 4*Review

Besides, if you were one-half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?

In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.

As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…

Twelve years later, Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.

And atone for the part she played in it.

Amazon UK

Amazon

 My Thoughts…

Told from Robyn’s point of view as a child and a young woman this mystery of family secrets, relationships, friendships and violence plays out in the historic heatwave of 1976 and reprises twelve years later when Robyn and her brother Kit return to the town where that life-changing Summer took place.

The characters and setting are realistic and vivid if you lived through the 70s and 80s the ethos and events will be recognisable. The childhood characters make this story memorable. Significant events are glossed over, and smaller ones assume prominence through Robyn’s eyes, adding to the mystery and suspense of this family drama.

Parts of the story is slow and confusing, but this is intentional, to reflect the child who is living through and observing adult behaviour that she doesn’t fully understand. The mystery once revealed is tragic if not entirely unexpected, and there is a good resolution of most of the questions this story raises.

Perfect for those who appreciate literary fiction and enjoy authentic characters and settings.

I received a copy of this book from Agora books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

Posted in Book Review

Trust No One- 4* Review – Anthony Mosawi

My name is Sara Eden.

My name is Sara Eden.

My name is Sara Eden.

This is all Sara Eden knows about herself. She was found at the age of ten, abandoned in a vat of water – a homemade sensory-deprivation chamber. Someone had placed her there – trapped for days in the dark, with only a cassette player taped to her head repeating again and again – ‘My Name is Sara Eden’. There were a handful clues: a battered cassette player, a cheap necklace, a few scraps of paper. And a Polaroid of a stranger with a handwritten note: ‘Don’t trust this man’. 

Amazon UK

Amazon

My Thoughts…

Political thriller meets the ‘X’ Files is the best description of this novel.

Exploring themes prevalent in the eighties when the main protagonist of this story was born. Government’s misuse of people with psychic ability, regardless of the human cost, while not new is absorbing and allows the writer latitude. Not everything has to be believable in a story of this type only possible.

If you are looking for a fast-paced political, spy thriller, you will find this here, with significant twists, Not for the purists but adrenalin-fuelled, intelligent and often poignant, 

I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK – Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review

Secrets in Sicily- Penny Feeny-Blog Tour 4* Review

Sicily, 1977 Ten-year-old Lily and family arrive for their annual summer holiday in Sicily. Adopted as a toddler, Lily’s childhood has been idyllic.

But a chance encounter with a local woman on the beach changes everything…. 10 years later… Ever since that fateful summer Lily’s picture-perfect life, and that of her family has been in turmoil.

The secrets of the baking hot shores of Sicily are calling her back, and Lily knows that the answers she has been so desperately seeking can only be found if she returns to her beloved island once more…

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My Thoughts…

A family drama set in iconic Sicily initially in 1977. Lily’ lives a privileged life, including an annual holiday to the same villa in Sicily. She knows she was a survivor of an earthquake in Sicily in 1968, but nothing of her birth family and that isn’t problematic until she meets a stranger on the beach, who upsets the family dynamics and changes Lily’s life forever. Lily returns to island ten years later, to find out who she is.

Family secrets are at the centre of this story, brought to life with the vivid description of its setting in Sicily. Character driven, it examines how one chance encounter can change relationships and threaten the core values of a previously happy family.  Lily’s character development is the greatest as she moves from childhood to adulthood and finally discovers her roots. It highlights that well-meant actions and decisions sometimes have unforeseen consequences.

 If you are looking for a poignant, deep holiday, read then try this perfect escape to Sicily and all its secrets.

I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Penny Feeny has lived and worked in Cambridge, London and Rome. Since settling in Liverpool many years ago, she has been an arts administrator, editor, radio presenter and advice worker. Her short fiction has been widely published and broadcast and won several awards. Her first novel, That Summer in Ischia, was one of the summer of 2011’s best selling titles.     

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review

All the Hidden Truths – Claire Askew – 5* Review

This is a fact: Ryan Summers walked into Three Rivers College and killed thirteen women, then himself.

But no one can say why.

The question is one that cries out to be answered – by Ryan’s mother, Moira; by Ishbel, the mother of Abigail, the first victim; and by DI Helen Birch, put in charge of the case on her first day at her new job. But as the tabloids and the media swarm, as the families’ secrets come out, as the world searches for someone to blame… the truth seems to vanish.

Amazon UK

Amazon

My Thoughts…

A behind the headlines story that explores what happens after the tragic mass shooting until all ‘The Hidden Truths’ are revealed. Told from an exclusively female point of view, the stories of the teenage killer’s mother, the first victim’s mother and the newly promoted detective inspector tell a harrowing tale, that is unerringly authentic and disturbing. 

The story highlights the police and the press roles and relationship; the ruthless journalist is contemptible, furthering his career through the misery and misfortune of others. The ‘true life’ crime approach to this thriller is original, realistic and contemporary. The emotions of the three protagonists as they come to terms with the tragedy and find the answers make this story remarkable and memorable.

A new perspective on the psychological crime thriller that embraces the contemporary fascination with family dynamics and secrets in an empathic, thought-provoking way.

I received a copy of this book from Hodder& Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.