Monday, 17 January 2022

Blog Tour: The Secret Keeper's Daughter by Samantha King

I'm thrilled to be today's stop on the blog tour for The Secret Keeper's Daughter by Samantha King. I have a wonderful guest post from Samantha, sharing all about her writing process for the novel. 

Like all my novels, A SECRET KEEPER’S DAUGHTER is deeply personal to me. I always write from the heart, and the plots and themes that intrigue me most are generally ones very close to home: families, relationships, love and loss, hopes and fears. In essence, I enjoy creating fictional scenarios that are rooted in everyday life and will challenge readers to ask themselves what they would do in a similar situation!

    In order to do this authentically, I draw on my own experience as a wife, daughter, friend, sister . . . and especially as a mother. In my first two novels, the central character was a mum whose child was under threat, and the same is true of The Secret Keeper’s Daughter – because my writing process begins with my own fears.

    The initial idea for this story arose from a ‘worry box’ – an old shoe box I decorated with my children, inviting them to post notes in it when they had anything on their minds that they found hard to put into words. Having stumbled across this worry box again one day, I reflected on how hard it is to know what’s really going on in someone else’s mind, especially a child’s, and how that can lead to spiralling fear and paranoia.

    I imagined how I would have felt if my children’s notes had hinted at something truly devastating, and the character of Holly Mayhew started to form in my mind: a young mum who already feels under strain, caring for a new baby and worried about the state of her marriage. When her seven-year-old daughter Marley suddenly changes from being lively and chatty to fearful and withdrawn, Holly’s fears go into overdrive. Through her quest to solve the mystery, I wanted to explore parental paranoia and the corrosive impact of family secrets.

    The worry box was at the heart of my story, and I planned the plot around seven notes, over seven days, with each note providing not only a clue to Marley’s fears in the present, but also triggering memories that expose Holly’s fears about her own childhood. The dual timeline needed careful planning to create a dramatic echo between the build-up of tension in the present day, set against the unravelling of traumatic events in the past.

    In a sense, I drew on a therapeutic model in which a person’s beliefs and behaviour are underpinned by long-buried experiences, the unpicking of which can be deeply emotional – as it is for Holly. My training as a psychotherapist helped me enormously in this regard, and it always underpins my writing process, inspiring me to dig into the darkest corners of my characters’ hearts and minds.

    The story setting was also very important to me. My first two novels were set in west London, where I live, but for The Secret Keeper’s Daughter I was inspired by family visits to the Suffolk coast, in particular the quirky seaside towns of Thorpeness and Aldeburgh. The sea, of course, also provided a handy metaphor for hidden dangers lurking beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic life – and, happily, a couple of extra research trips were required, to soak up the atmosphere and make sure I got details about the setting correct!

    Writing is the perfect chance to give my imagination free rein, but my stories are always firmly grounded in real, everyday domestic life, and the hopes and fears for our loved ones that we all share. Both writing and reading are solitary activities, but they are also about shared experiences and human connection. I never feel alone with a book for company, and I’m never happier than when I’m writing!

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The Secret Keeper's Daughter is published by HQ Digital and is out now. Thank you to Amber and Midas PR for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. 

Monday, 6 December 2021

Blog Tour: A Will to Kill by RV Raman

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for 'A Will to Kill' by RV Raman. This is the first book featuring seasoned investigator, Harith Athreya. 

Ageing millionaire Bhaskar Fernandez has invited his relatives to the remote, and possibly haunted, Greybrooke Manor, high up in the misty Nilgiris.

He knows his guests expect to gain from his death, so he writes two conflicting wills. Which one of them comes into force will depend on how he dies.

Fernandez also invites Harith Athreya, a seasoned investigator, to watch what unfolds.

When a landslide leaves the estate temporarily isolated, and a body is discovered, Athreya finds that death is not the only thing that the mist conceals. . .

The blurb of 'A Will to Kill' instantly hooked my attention as I absolutely love locked room mysteries and I'm always on the hunt for books inspired by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. I also really enjoy cosy crime novels and this was exactly what I was in the mood to read. 

The story is set in India and features investigator Harith Athreya, who is invited to stay at Greybrooke Manor by ageing millionaire Bhaskar Fernandez. The setting was perfect for a mystery as the remote Manor is difficult to reach, even more so when it's cut off by a landslide. It is also veiled in stories of tragedies that have befallen previous owners. I actually don't think I've read a book that has been predominantly set in India before so I enjoyed the change of location and the sense of isolation that was created at the beginning. 

The plot revolves around Bhaskar Fernandez, who owns the Manor and wants to put an end to the acrimony between his family - the root cause of which has been battles over money. He has written two wills which will divide his fortune between his relatives in the event of his death. However, which will is used is wholly dependent on the way in which he dies. If by unnatural causes, then he has tasked Athreya with investigating on his behalf.  

I thought that the story started brilliantly with a foreboding sense of atmosphere and drama. I had the feeling that something bad was going to happen at any moment and this kept me on the edge of my seat. I was suspicious of everyone and was instantly thinking about motives in my head. There are lots of clues sprinkled throughout; just enough to help you start to put things together but not enough to truly give anything away. I liked the addition of a floor plan and map of the Manor too as these were reminiscent of many Agatha Christie novels. I thought that Raman did a great job of keeping the suspense going until the very end. Although I had a few guesses at who the murderer could be, I was completely wrong, so the conclusion was also extremely surprising. 

And those are the best whodunnits! The ones where you really get blindsided at the last moment and can't believe you never saw it coming. 

I definitely would have liked to have seen more character development and occasionally I found some of the conversations between people a little stilted. However, I thought that the central figure of Harith Athreya was instantly likeable and I would love to see him in further mysteries in the future.          
A Will to Kill is out now, published by Pushkin Vertigo. Many thanks to the team for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. 

Monday, 12 July 2021

Blog Tour: That Night by Gillian McAllister

I'm hosting today's stop on the blog tour for 'That Night' by Gillian McAllister. Many thanks to Penguin Random House for inviting me to take part. 

What would you do to protect your family?


During a family holiday in Italy, you get an urgent call from your sister.

There’s been an accident: she hit a man with her car and he’s dead.

She’s overcome with terror – fearing years in a foreign jail away from her child.

She asks for your help. It wasn’t her fault, not really. She’d cover for you, so will you do the same for her?

But when the police come calling, the lies start. And you each begin to doubt your trust in one another.

What really happened that night?

Who is lying to who?

Who will be the first to crack?

'That Night' is the first book that I've read by Gillian McAllister but it definitely won't be the last because I really enjoyed it and will now be seeking out some of her other titles. The novel was gripping and tense and explores the unusually close relationship between the three Plant siblings - Joe, Cathy and Frannie. 

Set initially in Verona, Italy, where the siblings are on holiday, it starts with a phone call in the middle of the night. Frannie has hit a man with her car and he's now dead. Instead of calling the emergency services and reporting the incident, she calls her brother and sister. From that point onward, events start to spiral out of control. They make the decision to cover up the crime and protect Frannie from a lengthy jail sentence but each step they take in doing so, leads to more and more lies. 

I have to admit that while I was reading this book, I was shocked that Cathy and Joe would involve themselves in making a choice of such magnitude. But that's exactly what the story sets out to explore and expose. Why would they feel that they had to protect Frannie? What might have happened in the past to strengthen the bonds between them? How far will they go to conceal the crime? All these questions and more were rumbling around in my head as I read on. McAllister skillfully peels back the layers of their relationship to poke and prod at the real truth behind it. She doesn't always present the protagonists in a positive light but shows them as flawed individuals who are capable of making mistakes. Although I wasn't a huge fan of any of the siblings, I think this helped me to at least try to put myself in their shoes and understand their motivations. 

There are a lot of ethical and moral dilemmas in the book which the reader has to think deeply about. Nothing is as straight-forward as it first might seem and everything should be looked at from more than one angle. McAllister cleverly weaves a story which I found so taught and suspenseful. Just when I perhaps thought that I had everything figured out, she threw in another twist which completely unsettled me and made me rethink my assumptions about some of the characters. 

More than a standard psychological thriller, 'That Night' is a riveting expose of family relationships and the point that people can be pushed to before they crack. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a fast-paced and page-turning read.     

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Blog Tour: You Need to Know by Nicola Moriarty

I'm very pleased to be today's stop on the blog tour for Nicola Moriarty's new book 'You Need to Know'. Thank you to Penguin Random House for inviting me to take part.     

Jill's three grown-up sons mean everything to her. She would do anything for her boys - protect them, lie for them, even die for them. Then one day she receives an email with the subject line: 'You Need To Know'. Jill doesn't want to know. She leaves the warning unread.

But some truths you can't hide from.

Soon Jill will start to wonder if she knows her sons at all . . .How long will these secrets stay hidden?
And when they are revealed . . . can Jill's family survive?

'You Need to Know' is the latest novel by the Australian author Nicola Moriarty. It's actually the first book that I've read by her but I enjoyed it so much that I'll be definitely be checking out some of her other titles. 

Described as a dark domestic drama, I was very intrigued when I read the synopsis and couldn't wait to pick it up and get started. The story delves into the secrets that families keep and what they will do to protect themselves and each other. Moriarty does a fantastic job of getting beneath the skin of each of the characters and exposing the good and bad sides of their personalities. The book uses a multiple narrative perspective which works really well. It did take me a couple of chapters to establish all the characters in my head but once I had, I found that the different points of view, allowed me to develop a much closer understanding of each of the main figures in the story. There is Jill, the matriarch of the family, her daughters in law Mimi and Andrea and her youngest son Darren. Each of these is given a distinct voice as the plot begins to unravel.

The story takes place in the run up to Christmas. Interspersed throughout the narrative are scenes from a traffic accident on Christmas Eve. What is particularly intriguing for the reader, is that we don't know at the start what caused the accident and who is involved. This leads to a sense of suspense and impending doom hanging over the characters. Will they all make it until the end of the book? I don't want to reveal anything more but needless to say that I had a lot of questions in my head surrounding this which kept me turning the pages. 

I found 'You Need to Know' an interesting exploration of a family that on the surface may look fairly perfect but as the layers are peeled back, have a lot of dark secrets that they are keeping from one another. There are some hard-hitting revelations and a shocking outcome that completely took me by surprise. Although this isn't necessarily a book that ordinarily would have caught my attention, I'm so glad that I had an opportunity to read it because it was extremely gripping, fast paced and kept me hooked until the very end.

'You Need to Know' is published by Penguin Random House and is out now.   

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Publisher: Del Rey
Published: 8th June 2021

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

I am in love with 'The Wolf and the Woodsman'. This incredible fantasy debut absolutely swept me away. I couldn't put it down and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Unique, original and innovative, I was captivated by the story and the characters. Each chapter left me wanting more and I ended up reading long into the night because this was a world that I didn't want to leave. 

The book combines a lot of different elements. There is a fantasy world with a magic system based on body horror, entwined with Hungarian history and Jewish mythology. It also explores the notion of nation-building through the use of fairy tales as propaganda. Each singular aspect is blended together to create a story that is all-consuming. 

The author is extremely clever in her use of short stories about folklore and magic which are woven in throughout the book. These were fascinating and added another rich, dark layer to the story, often mirroring the personal struggles of the characters. The world building itself was also wonderful and truly atmospheric. I found that I had to concentrate quite hard at the start but I was soon enveloped in the world presented so skillfully on the page.  

The heart and soul of the book for me are Evike and Gaspar. Their journey is one that I loved following, along with their evolving relationship. There is definitely a love/hate vibe between them and as the sparks grew, I could feel the tension and longing that oozed off the page every time they were together. I enjoyed seeing how they gradually began to open up to one another and to learn about each other's past. Both together and apart, they were what really brought the story alive for me. 

Evike is a tremendous heroine. She is on a journey of self-discovery and learns a lot about herself and her inner strength as she faces being handed over as a sacrifice to the king. She never backs down from any situation and she always tries to help others, even when it places her in great danger. She was a character that I admired tremendously. Gaspar is the perfect foil for her because they share so many similarities and both have a tumultuous family history that has shaped the person they have become. A wolf girl and a woodsman together - believe me it just works! 

I am blown away by this book and I really hope that it gets all of the praise and acclaim it deserves. It was powerful and enchanting and has made me into an Ava Reid fan for life. 

Monday, 17 May 2021

Blog Tour: The Anointed by Michael Arditti

I was very pleased to be invited to take part in the blog tour for 'The Anointed' by Michael Arditti. Thank you to Arcadia Books for providing me with a copy of the book for review. 

Michal is a princess, Abigail a wealthy widow, and Bathsheba a soldier's bride, but as women in Ancient Israel their destiny is the same: to obey their fathers, serve their husbands and raise their children.

Marriage to King David seems to offer them an escape, but behind the trappings of power they discover a deeply conflicted man. The legendary hero who slew Goliath, founded Jerusalem and saved Israel is also a vicious despot who murders his rivals, massacres his captives and menaces his harem.

'The Anointed' is definitely not my usual kind of read but it sounded really interesting and I always like branching out with different genres and authors. It's a new interpretation of the biblical story of King David, following the sequence of events told in the Books of Samuel. It challenges and questions and confronts the traditional view of David that the Bible presents.   

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was that although it explores the character of David, depicting his rise from shepherd to King, the story itself is told through the first person narratives of three significant women in his life. His first wife Princess Michal, Abigail, the older widow who is captivated by him and Bathsheba, a soldier's bride. 

Each woman has her own story to tell and as time goes on, they become inextricably linked by their relationships with David. The book skillfully depicts how the women are, in the words of Michal, "...the instruments of ambitious men". They have no rights of their own and are subject to the decisions made by the men that control and rule them. They are often confined to David's harem, living under his oppressive control with no thought for their own wants and needs. I really enjoyed the distinct voices of the three women and felt great sympathy towards them. Although they are initially lured by their desire for David, they do gradually come to understand the truth about his cruelty and true nature.    

The novel exposes David as a hugely conflicted man. He is shown to have carried out great acts, such as slewing Goliath, founding Jerusalem and saving Israel, but in his personal life, he is someone capable of great violence. As I was reading, I found myself wanting to know more about the biblical tales of David, so I spent some time researching him and I think this helped to enrich my reading of the novel. 

Arditti does a masterful job of shining a light on the women in the book and also challenging the traditional view of David as a great hero. Although not normally a book that might have come to my attention, I found it absolutely fascinating and a really enjoyable read.  

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