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.  

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. 

Friday, 26 March 2021

Blog Tour: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for 'The Lamplighters' by Emma Stonex. Published by Picador Books, this title is out now and is most definitely a book that you don't want to miss out on!

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

'The Lamplighters' is the debut novel of author Emma Stonex. I read this over one weekend and was absolutely hooked on unravelling the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a Cornish sea tower. I'd heard a lot of pre-publication buzz about this book so I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. Let me tell you now, believe everything you read about this title because it is incredible. 

The story alternates between 1972, focusing on the lighthouse keepers of the Maiden Rock - Arthur, Bill and Vince and 1992, twenty years later, when the mystery of their disappearance is being investigated by novelist Dan Sharp. The present day part of the book incorporates the recollections of the women that were left behind - Helen, Jenny and Michelle. Three women who in many ways, have never been able to put the events of the past behind them. 

I adored the mystery element of the book. I was totally caught up in wondering what really happened to the keepers and how they just disappeared from inside a locked lighthouse in the middle of the sea. As I read along, I did develop my own theory but I could never have guessed at the real events of that fateful day. There's actually a really interesting piece written by the author and available to read here which looks at the real-life mystery that inspired the novel. I found this fascinating and added an extra layer to my enjoyment of the book. 

The setting of the story is wonderful. The sea is almost a character in its own right and I could almost sense its salty tang and wildness/unpredictability. It's incredibly atmospheric and the remote setting serves to highlight the sense of loneliness that envelops the life of a lighthouse keeper. I thought that Emma Stonex did a fabulous job of exploring the inner psychology of the men and each one came alive in my mind as I pictured them going about their day to day routines. 

It's hard to believe that 'The Lamplighters' is a debut novel because the writing style of Stonex is so self-assured and confident. She brilliantly captures the sense of grief felt by the three women left behind and explores what it really means to love someone. I liked the way that she showed how this love can simultaneously lift up and also destroy a person. 

This is definitely one of my stand-out books of the year so far. I was still thinking about it long after having finished reading it and I'm definitely going to be recommending it to everyone.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Review: Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey

Publisher: Swift Press
Published: 4th March 2021

Fifteen years after graduating from Harvard, five close friends on the cusp of middle age are still pursuing an elusive happiness and wondering if they've wasted their youthful opportunities. Mariam and Rowan, who married young, are struggling with the demands of family life and starting to regret prioritising meaning over wealth in their careers. Jules, already a famous actor when she arrived on campus, is changing in mysterious ways but won't share what is haunting her. Eloise, now a professor who studies the psychology of happiness, is troubled by her younger wife's radical politics. And Jomo, founder of a luxury jewellery company, has been carrying an engagement ring around for months, unsure whether his girlfriend is the one. 

The soul-searching begins in earnest at their much-anticipated college reunion weekend on the Harvard campus, when the most infamous member of their class, Frederick - senior advisor and son of the recently elected and loathed US President - turns up dead. Old friends often think they know everything about one another, but time has a way of making us strangers to those we love - and to ourselves...

'Life After Truth' was not the story that I was originally expecting. The book is marketed as being about a group of five friends who meet over one weekend at their Harvard School reunion, fifteen years after they all graduated together. The line from the blurb that caught my eye was the one about the US President's son Frederick, an infamous member of their class, turning up dead on the same weekend. I think I can be forgiven for thinking therefore that this was going to be a murder mystery. A tense whodunnit with the five friends possibly implicated in the death. I was actually way off the mark because the death of Frederick is actually almost a forgotten side note in the book. Insignificant and almost unimportant until the very end. And that's okay because although this might not have been the book I thought it was going to be, I enjoyed it regardless. The story centres around the main characters who reflect on their lives and the journeys that they have all been on, since their days as young students. 

Each chapter is told in the third person and focuses on a different character. Out of the group of friends, I particularly enjoyed the chapters from the perspective of married couple Mariam and Rowan, who fell in love at Harvard, married young and now have two small children in tow. They felt the most relatable to me as they don't have the same wealth and comfort as the others but have a different kind of happiness. I enjoyed the reflection on the events of their past and the insight given into their marriage and how it has been changed by the arrival of their children. 

I felt more detached from some of the other characters, such as Eloise, a 'Happiness' professor, who questions many of her life choices. There was also a lot about AI and the ethics of this in her parts of the book, which I didn't find as interesting. However, the other two members of the group, Jomo and Jules, definitely fascinated me. The line between love and friendship is very much blurred between them as they have left so many things unspoken. The character of Jules seems to be based on Harvard graduate Natalie Portman and she is the only person who doesn't get to share her own thoughts with the reader. That makes her come across as quite elusive which was intriguing. 

'Life After Truth' may not have been the story that I was expecting when I first picked up the book but it was still a thoughtful read about life and friendship. It explores the effect that time can have on a group of people and the way in which relationships can change and evolve. I haven't read anything by Ceridwen Dovey before but I will certainly look out for her future titles, as I really enjoyed her writing style. 

Monday, 15 February 2021

Review: No Experience Required by Janet Quin-Harkin

Publisher: Ellfie Books
Published: 11 January 2021

It s 1989. Life's easy for Deborah Lesley: she's up-market, drives her own flash car to school, and looks pretty good too. She's never had a job, either; but now her parents have split up, and she needs the money. Joe Garbarini is cool. He likes motorbikes, girls, and fun. He doesn't have time for much as he's running the Heartbreak Café when he's not at school. The Heartbreak Café is a noisy hangout on the north Californian coast. Joe's worked there for years, and knows what it takes. He's sure Debbie won't last a month but Debbie's determined to put up with his wisecracks and prove him wrong. 

Set in 1989, this series was originally published in the eighties. Janet Quin-Harkin was a huge favourite of mine when I was a teenager and so I was thrilled at the news that the Heartbreak Café series was being republished for a whole new audience of readers. I thought that the story might feel a little dated considering it's over twenty years old but it didn't at all. It deals with so many universal themes which will resonate with teens today, such as trying to become independent and find your own way in life, juggling the demands of school and friends with a part-time job and facing the trauma of parental divorce, that it still feels as fresh and new as when it was first written.

'No Experience Required' centres around Debbie, whose parents have just split up. Finding it hard to cope with a mother who has decided to go back to school, Debbie decides to get a part-time job. When she stumbles across the Heartbreak Café her mind is made-up that this is where she's going to work, even though she has never flipped a burger in her entire life. She begins to work alongside the gorgeous Joe and they develop a bit of a love/hate relationship. But with sparks flying between them, could their wisecracks mean something more?  

I adored the Heartbreak Café gang. There's cool Joe who all the girls are head over heels in love with, Ashley and her penchant for chocolate, plus geeky Howard and carefree Art. They are such a great gang that I wanted to scoot over on a stool, with a dish of chocolate madness in front of me and join in with all their fun.

If you're looking for hot and sizzling then you won't find it here but what you do get is a sweet, clean teen series where the romance is innocent and you won't catch the characters using any expletives, not even when things get steamy in the kitchen. It's such a refreshing change that I enjoyed kicking back and delighting in a wonderful slice of nostalgia.   

Next up in the series is 'The Main Attraction'.  Will Debbie and Joe ever become a couple?  You'll have to wait and see.      

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Blog Tour: Heartbreak Cafe series by Janet Quin-Harkin

I'm delighted to have been invited by Ellfie Books to take part in the blog tour for Janet Quin-Harkin's Heartbreak Cafe series. It's very exciting that the whole series is being re-published in February which is the first time in over thirty years. I was a huge fan of Janet's books when I was a teenager and I still have some of them among my collection now. 

The Heartbreak Cafe series centres around Deborah Lesley and her life as it’s turned upside down when her parents split up. She finds herself having to move house and find a job in the popular beach hangout Heartbreak Café where life is never dull. In this hit eighties series about teen life in northern California, themes of friendships, work, family, divorce, and love are ever present. From movie makers coming to town and surprising romances, the Heartbreak Café series will transport you to a retro California, full of sun, surf, and heartbreak. 

Janet has very kindly put together her Top 5 Writing tips for the blog tour:

1.Write the book you are dying to read but it’s not on the shelf.

2. Don’t ever write anything because you think it will sell. You have to be passionate about anything you write.

3. Nothing is written in stone! If a scene is serving any useful purpose it has to go, even if it’s the best prose you have ever written.

4. Once you have created characters, it’s their story. Let them go where they want to, do what they want to. If you are experiencing writer’s block it’s often because you are forcing characters to do something they don’t want to.

5. Don’t talk about writing that book someday. If you want to write, you have to sit down and write. Every day. Writing is a craft form, not an art. You only get better at manipulating words when you practice, practice.

Janet Quin-Harkin first found success as a picture book writer, winning several awards. She was then asked to write a teenage series and Heartbreak Café was born! The first in the series No Experience Required was an instant success when it was originally published in the eighties. By the time the third book came out she was selling half a million copies. Since then Janet has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller. Writing under the pen name Rhys Bowen, she is the author of the historical Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mystery series. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and was nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Janet is British and divides her time between California and Arizona.

Visit her website to find out more about Janet aka Rhys Bowen and her books. I've definitely got a hankering to read her Royal Spyness mystery series now!

Monday, 1 February 2021

Review: Lock the Doors by Vincent Ralph

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 4th February 2021

Tom's family have moved into their dream home. But pretty soon he starts to notice that something is very wrong - there are strange messages written on the wall and locks on the bedroom doors. On the OUTSIDE.

The previous owners have moved just across the road and they seem like the perfect family. Their daughter Amy is beautiful and enigmatic but Tom is sure she's got something to hide. And he isn't going to stop until he finds the truth behind those locked doors. . .

Will their dream home become a nightmare?

Before I started reading ‘Lock the Doors’ by Vincent Ralph, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a YA horror or a thriller. After the first few chapters, I knew that I was going to be treated to a twisty, dark story which was full of suspense and which featured some very heavy, emotional issues. As I read on and the plot deepened and gradually began to unwind, it perfectly mirrored the way in which the main character Tom, started to discover the truth about his new home and the family that previously lived there. 

This review is difficult to write because I really do not want to give anything away which would spoil a new reader’s enjoyment of the book. I definitely think that the less you know about it in advance, the better off you will be. This is a story that creeps up on you bit by bit and by not knowing the truth, it makes the revelations, when they come, even more shocking. Tom was a great central protagonist and it was certainly interesting to see a character struggling with OCD. This isn’t something that I’ve come across before in YA books. Although at the start Tom seems pretty quiet and dare I say it, a bit timid, as he reveals more about himself, you realise that he has been through a huge amount of childhood trauma but grows in confidence so much throughout the story. He is dogged and determined as well, which means that when he befriends Amy, the girl that used to live in his new home, he is fascinated by the secret that he believes she is hiding and determined to help her.

I absolutely love YA thrillers and while I wouldn’t call this a typical book in the genre, it has a lot of the elements that I enjoy. Particularly the slow build of suspense and the desire to keep on and on reading, to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. There are some hard-hitting themes in the book which were well handled by the author and which tackle some quite difficult and emotive issues. I didn’t guess anything that happened and was definitely kept on my toes from beginning to end.

Friday, 22 January 2021

Review: The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 21st January 2021

Cinderella married the man of her dreams - the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen-and-a-half years later, things have gone badly wrong.

One night, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn't ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Cinderella married Prince Charming and they lived happily ever after...or did they? In 'The Charmed Wife' Olga Grushin imagines what may have happened to these classic fairy tale characters, 13 years after that well known ending. Now with two children in tow, is Cinderella still living a life of blissful romance with her Prince?

The blurb for this book immediately caught my attention. I love anything to do with classic fairy tales, reworkings and new interpretations, so I knew from the start that this is a title I wanted to read. I was extremely intrigued about the story and excited to delve in. This is most definitely a book for adult readers as it deals with some pretty heavy topics throughout.

The book is split into three distinct sections. I enjoyed the first part immensely which features Cinderella sneaking away to ask a witch for help with her situation. Things haven't quite worked out the way she thought they would and she needs assistance trying to put things right. The second part was quite unusual and I think that's where it lost me a little. I thought it was very clever as it interweaves nods and references to a lot of other fairy tales and while I could appreciate how skilfully this was done, my enjoyment of the story as a whole, definitely dipped. The final part moves the scene to modern day New York which confused me to start with but works to allow the author to link together a lot of the themes and issues touched upon throughout the book.    

On finishing, I have conflicting feelings about this title. On one hand, there were lots of things that I enjoyed about it and it kept me wanting to read on because I literally had no idea what was going to come next. On the other hand, it was extremely dark and subversive and personally, I think I like my fairy tales to be a little more sugar-coated. 

Monday, 18 January 2021

Review: Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 14th January 2021

In this brutal and beautiful world a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice - and still lives.

But it's not safe inside these pages, and once you enter, you may never want to leave . . .

The highly anticipated collection of stories set in the creepy, haunting fairytale world first introduced in Melissa Albert's internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed Hazel Wood series.

As the January evenings are dark and cold, this was the perfect read for the start of the year. Deliciously dark and fiendish, 'Tales from the Hinterland' by Melissa Albert is a collection of short stories set in the fairy tale world, first introduced in the Hazel Wood series. I haven't read the latter but I don't think it mattered at all, as you don't particularly need to have any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always a huge fan of short story collections (although I have read some really good ones lately) so I was a little bit apprehensive when I started reading this. I need not have worried though as the stories are so inventive, original and mesmerising that I was drawn in by the varied range of tales told. There were some that I definitely enjoyed more than others but I think that's always the way with short stories. My favourites were 'Hansa the Traveller', 'Alice -Three-Times' and 'The Skinned Maiden'. These were the ones that really gripped me and which I found especially creepy and devious. 

This is a fairy tale world where happy ever after does not exist and where the characters' fates hang in the balance. Melissa Albert's imagination is allowed to run wild in this spine-chilling collection which I advise not reading when you're in the house alone! 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Blog Tour: Review: I Give It a Year by Helen Whitaker

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for 'I Give It A Year' by Helen Whitaker. Thanks to Alex at Orion for asking me to take part. 

Publisher: Orion 
Published: 7th January 2021

Her husband's moved out - and her dad's moved in...

It's New Year's Eve, and Iris has just found out that her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Furious, she kicks him out, and enlists her Dad to move in and help with the children whilst she tries to mend her broken heart.

But her Dad soon starts to display signs of Alzheimer's, and Iris realises that if she loses her partner, she'll be managing an awful lot on her own. Soon, she realises that Adam wasn't the only one taking their marriage for granted, and for the sake of the children she decides to give him one more chance.

But is it braver to stay than to run? And can anyone fall in love with the same person twice?

This is the first book I've read by Helen Whitaker so I was looking forward to trying a title by an author who is new to me. 'I Give It A Year' begins with Iris discovering that her husband has been having an affair. The story chronicles the year that follows as Iris and her husband Adam explore what went wrong and whether they can save their marriage after his infidelity. 

What I found really interesting about the book is the way in which the author shows that there is more than one side to the story. It is not as clear cut as it might first seem and my sympathies were definitely divided between the two main characters. Iris decides that they will have a year to try to work things out and so they start couples counselling. This isn't something that I've come across very often in stories that I've read so I thought it was a fascinating way of digging beneath the surface of a marriage, to explore some of the reasons why it may have begun to break down. Whitaker writes with honesty and sensitivity and this section of the book was very well handled. 

As well as the focus on the marriage, the author also explores the difficulties and struggles of dealing with a parent with ongoing signs of Alzheimer's. This has an impact on the whole family and at times, I found this quite hard to read about but it's something that affects a huge number of people so I like the fact that the author was brave enough to tackle the topic. 

'I Give It A Year' was an original and honest novel which I very much enjoyed. The characters were brilliantly portrayed and I the story was truthful and emotional. I will definitely be looking out for more books by Helen Whitaker in the future. 

Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the 'I Give It a Year' blog tour. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Published: 12th September 2017

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

'Good Morning, Midnight' is one of those special books that cross your path and which you have no prior knowledge of. You start reading and often the story might be a little slow in the beginning and you wonder if you're going to enjoy it, but then bit by bit, it starts to creep up on you and the characters begin to get under your skin and soon you can't put it down and find yourself thinking about it constantly. This is exactly what happened to me with Lily Brooks-Dalton's captivating debut. Originally published in 2017, it has recently been made into a Netflix film starring and directed by George Clooney. As I'm one of the few people that don't seem to have Netflix, I hadn't heard anything at all about it and so there was a definite sense of intrigue when I started reading. 

The story is set in both the Arctic Circle and the wide expanse of space. The chapters alternate between Augustine, an astronomer who is the last man standing on an Arctic research base and whose only company is a young girl called Iris and Sully, an astronaut on a return space flight from Jupiter. Both characters are cut off from civilisation and facing circumstances that are often beyond their control. After reading the first few chapters, I really wasn't sure how both storylines were going to connect but when they eventually did, it was extremely clever and very poignant. 

The story unravels gradually, giving plenty of opportunity to enjoy and appreciate Brooks-Dalton's exquisitely beautiful writing. I loved the descriptiveness of her prose. Also while reading the chapters set in the Arctic, I could almost imagine that I was feeling the same sense of isolation as Augustine. He is at the end of his life and spends a lot of time reflecting on the life choices he has made along the way. Sully, although seemingly living a life that many may envy, hasn't truly started living yet. Separated from her family after always putting her career first, she begins to reflect on how she may want her life to look in the future, in a world that may no longer be recognisable. The story considers what happens at the end of the world and explores how people come to understand their true selves and what really matters to them.     

If you're not a fan of open-ended novels then you may not like the fact that there is no neat end to the story. Answers are not necessarily given and some things are left open to interpretation. Although this isn't something that I normally like, I actually think it worked well here and suited the novel perfectly. Just as the characters don't know what is coming next, we don't know as readers either. 

'Good Morning, Midnight' is a book that I have kept thinking about, long after having finished reading it. Presenting questions about loneliness, life and death, it conjures up emotions in the reader that are at our very core. I would recommend this novel without hesitation and hope that the Netflix adaptation may deliver the book to a much wider audience than it has already had. 

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