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.  

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Blog Tour: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for 'Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder' by T.A Willberg. Thank you to Trapeze Books for inviting me to take part.

Elaborately disguised and hidden deep beneath the city's streets lies the world of Miss Brickett's, a secret detective agency, training and housing the mysterious Inquirers. From traversing deceptive escape rooms full of baited traps and hidden dangers, to engineering almost magical mechanical gadgets, apprentice detectives at Miss Brickett's undergo rigorous training to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need to solve the mysteries that confound London's police force.

But nothing can prepare 23-year-old apprentice Marion Lane for what happens after the arrest of her friend and mentor Frank on suspicion of murder: he has tasks Marion with clearing his name and saving his life. Her investigation will place Marion and her friends in great peril as they venture into the forbidden maze of uncharted tunnels that surround Miss Brickett's.

Being discovered out of bounds means immediate dismissal, but that is the least of Marion's problems when she discovered that the tunnels contain more than just secrets...

A historical mystery set in the secret underground headquarters of a detective agency, featuring hidden tunnels and steampunk gadgets - I think I fell in love with 'Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder' before I even started reading it. 

I loved the plot concept, the beautiful shiny blue and gold cover, the intriguing map inside and the setting for the book. The story takes place deep beneath the streets of London, concealed from the prying eyes of the public. Set in the 1950's there is a wonderful contrast between this period and the incredible, futuristic gadgets that the agency uses in their cases.   

This was a hugely fun and enjoyable read which took me a on a real adventure. Part of the strength of the book lies with its main character, Marion Lane. She's endearing, intrepid, clever and dogged in her pursuit of the truth. She wants to clear the name of her friend and mentor after he is accused of a terrible crime and she won't allow anything to get in her way of investigating on her own. I'm a big fan of locked room mysteries and this had elements of that, with the realisation that the culprit could only only be one of the other agency staff. Marion has a knack for fixing anything mechanical and has learnt to stand on her own two feet due to her difficult family circumstances. I adored her friendship with Bill, a fellow apprentice, and I thought they made a great double act.  

I was intrigued and drawn in by the case that the story is centered around and found that the plot unraveled at a fast pace that kept me engaged throughout. There were plenty of surprises along the way and I think the author did a fantastic job of keeping the reader on their toes. I kept getting to the end of a chapter and then needed to read just one more and then one more after that!

This is the first in a new series that I will definitely be continuing with. It was quirky, original and fun and I can't wait to follow Marion on her next adventure. It's great news that she will be returning in 2022, to appear in 'Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose'. 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Blog Tour: The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for 'The Deception of Harriet Fleet' by Helen Scarlett which is published today. Many thanks to Katya Ellis and Quercus Books for sending me a copy of the book to review. 

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour - to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor's unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor's obsession - the Wainwright's dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet's own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

'The Deception of Harriet Fleet' is the debut novel of author Helen Scarlett. Set in 1871, during the Victorian era, it has a wonderfully Gothic feel and the story is cloaked in intrigue and mystery. 

'Jane Eyre' is my favourite nineteenth century novel, so when I first saw this book described as a 'spine-tingling homage to great Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre', I was sold. I instantly wanted to read it. There were definitely shades of Bronte's classic in the story but it was also hugely original and brilliant in its own right.   

The heroine of the title, Harriet Fleet, takes a job as a governess at the remote Teesbank Hall in County Durham. The local residents tell of a family marred by tragedy and there is an air of mystery shrouding them. When Harriet arrives, she thinks she is there to teach 18 year old Eleanor, daughter of the Wainwrights but instead she discovers that she has been employed to watch over her and spy on her. The true reason for this is not revealed until much further on in the novel. What does become clear though, is that the Wainwright family have a deep, dark secret which Harriet soon becomes embroiled in as she investigates the family's tragic past. 

In any good book, you need a strong central character and Harriet Fleet is certainly that. I admired her determination to make a new life for herself as she tries to escape the bonds which have been placed upon her. What I really loved about the novel as well, is that it's historical fiction but with a feminist twist. Helen Scarlett highlights the oppression of women during the Victorian period and shows how they do not have the same rights and freedoms that were accorded to men. This is seen not only through the character of Harriet but also her charge Eleanor, who is very much controlled by her father. Society has put constraints on both women but they rally against these as they both seek to build a better future for themselves. 

I loved the sense of suspense that is woven throughout the story. Teesbank Hall itself is quite spooky and this led to an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. The secret of the tragic event that has marred the family is gradually untangled as Harriet delves deeper and deeper into the mystery and I was eager to keep reading to find out the truth. I was kept guessing right up to the end which was a chilling and tragic exposition of one terrible moment in the past. 

This was a stunning debut which I enjoyed tremendously. I am really looking forward to reading more by Helen Scarlett in the future. 

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