Book Review: 337 by M. Jonathan Lee

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337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

I’m delighted to be one of the bloggers chosen to review the new book by M. Jonathan Lee in advance of its publication on 30 November. 337 is a tightly wound family drama, and I want to thank the publisher, Hideaway Falls, for providing me with an advance copy of the hardback for review.

Curiously, this book has a unique, double-ended, upside down format, so you can choose to begin reading from the front or the back. How and why this works, well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out. But, be warned, the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only!

337 follows the story of, and is narrated by, Samuel Darte. Samuel is a lonely man who lives by himself in his old family home, works a job from home with minimal interaction with the outside world and doesn’t seem to have any friends. Why he ended up in this place is revealed as the book goes on, but it all stems back to the day his mother disappeared when he was a teenager. This is a story of how a single event can cause the lives of a family to completely unravel, and what can bring them back together again.

In some ways this is a small book. The action takes place in only two locations, inside Samuel’s childhood home, and the nursing home half a mile away where his estranged grandmother is dying. However, despite its limited location, this book ranges far and wide in its exploration of human emotion and the finite setting only serves to throw into relief the vast scope of feeling that Samuel experiences over the course of the novel, accentuating how he has chosen to limit his external environment in an effort to control his unbounded inner turmoil.

In addition to having a limited setting, the book also features very little actual action, as you would expect in a book that moves between only two locations and has a very small number of characters. However, rather than restricting the scope of the novel, this again serves to allow the reader to become deeply involved in the lives and psychological development of the characters, Samuel in particular. The author delves deep into the effect that the loss of his mother, and the events that followed on from her disappearance have had on Samuel, so that the reader feels that they are living this experience with him. I went through every emotion whilst reading this book, there is sorrow, humour, anger, love, pain, it is quite the rollercoaster. The author has really poured his heart onto the page, and you can feel every beat through his flowing, easy prose.

This is a book where perception is all, and it changes throughout the book. Perception of Samuel and his brother as to what is happening in their family, of their father and grandmother and their reactions to their mother’s disappearance, and of their grandmother as she lays dying. The perception of outsiders of their family in the aftermath of their mother’s vanishing, including friends, neighbours, police and society at large. The perception of the reader as we travel through the book and more and more facts are revealed – a perception that continues to change until the very last line of the novel. It is a lesson in how things are not always what they seem, how judgements based on limited facts are unwise and often wrong, and how we can never really know what goes on inside the hearts and minds of other people, even those who are closest to us. It is a book that will make the reader think about how we jump to conclusions about people, and how hard it is to change those once we have settled on them, unfair as that may be. But there are circumstances in which our minds can be changed, as Samuel finds out when confronted with his grandmother on her deathbed.

This is a very clever and unique book. It will not fit easily into any genre or niche you may be looking for, but it is a book that is definitely worth picking up and giving some time to. It really explores what it means to be a human, and the complex feelings and emotions we are confronted by day to day, simply by virtue of living in this world amongst other people, and how impossible it is to cut ourselves off from those emotions and connections, however hard we might try. And why, regardless of how hard it is, we shouldn’t want to.

I thought this book was really beautiful and surprising, although perhaps not in the way I expected. Vey different to anything else I have read this year. An intelligent novel.

337 is out on Monday and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with his two children.

His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.

His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.

His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.

In 2016, he signed for boutique publishers, Hideaway Fall and his fourth novel Broken Branches was released in July 2017, winning book of the month in Candis magazine for September.

He is a tireless campaigner for mental health awareness and writes his own column regularly for the Huffington Post. He has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe. His fifth book, the critically acclaimed Drift Stumble Fall was released in Spring 2018.

Connect with Jonathan:

Website: https://www.mjonathanlee.com/

Facebook: M Jonathan Lee Author

Twitter: @MJonathanLee

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Blog Tour: The Chalet by Catherine Cooper #BookReview

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French Alps, 1998

Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.

20 years later

Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.

Someone knows what really happened that day.

And somebody will pay.

Delighted to be joining the blog tour for The Chalet by Catherine Cooper today. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Often in publishing you find books with a similar theme being published around the same time. Having recently reviewed One by One by Ruth Ware on the blog, also set in a ski chalet, one might wonder whether it is also worth reading The Chalet. However, the two books are quite different in plot and style and, as a reader, I took something quite different from each.

This is a story with multiple timelines, split in to three different parts. Firstly are the events of 1998, in the ski resort of La Madiere, France, where a young man goes missing on a ski run in a blizzard. We then return to La Madiere in the present day when four people find themselves caught up in events from the past that they thought were long buried. In the middle of the book is a section of unconnected happenings that might eventually connect the two timelines. The author does a skilful job of weaving the two timelines together, revealing little pieces of information throughout the plot, and keeping us straight as to who is narrating, as the book switched between characters – this is no mean feat.

It has to be said that there are a lot of very unlikeable characters in this book. Some so much so, that you are actually willing awful things to happen to them. The author was very clever at throwing the reader off the scent very early on, so that for at least half of the book I had no idea how the people in the two separate timelines were related to one another or the mystery of the skier’s disappearance at the beginning. In the final third, I had my suspicions about who was behind the mystery, but there were still other revelations that came as a shock, and one further red herring that made sure I was not one hundred per cent sure who had done what until towards the end. Overall, the book kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

The wintery setting of the ski resort and the luxury chalet was well set up, it really transported me to the Alps and the whole skiing experience. I thought the way the author threw one of the characters into a ‘fish out of water’ scenario was interesting and very believable, she was one of only two characters I had much sympathy for by the end. The fact that I remained interested in a book where so many of the characters were deeply unpleasant is testament to the author’s writing and skill in plotting. This is a very strong debut and I greatly look forward to reading more by this exciting new author.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who loves a book set in an exotic locale, with tales of violence, loss and revenge and a twisty, turny mystery at its heart.

The Chalet is out now and you can buy your copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews:

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About the Author

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Catherine Cooper is a journalist specialising in travel, hotels, and skiing who writes regularly for the Telegraph and the Guardian among others. She lives near the Pyrenees in the South of France with her husband and two teenage children, and is a keen skier. The Chalet is her debut novel.

Connect with Catherine:

Website: http://www.catherinecooperauthor.com/

Facebook: Catherine Cooper Author

Twitter: @catherinecooper

Instagram: @catherinecooperjournalist

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Emma Jackson

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today, I am delighted to welcome to the blog to discuss all things romance writing, one of my very good friends and fabulous author, Emma Jackson.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write romantic comedies with (I hope) a touch of honesty and the bittersweet mixed in along the way to my characters’ happy-ever-after. My fourth book, One Kiss Before Christmas, has just released and I’m coming up to the one year anniversary of my debut novel, A Mistletoe Miracle, being published with Orion Dash! I’m not quite sure what the future holds at the moment, as I’m out of contract now – and it’s been one hell of a year! – but I do know I have many more romances to write and stories I want to share with readers.

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Why romance?

I became an official romance fan when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was tired and I didn’t want anything that might unexpectedly upset me after having a bad experience with a Karin Slaughter book I’d been recommended. Great book but it gave me nightmares! So, I sought out stories with lots of emotion and guaranteed happy endings; where I could enjoy the thrill of falling in love again and again. All the different sub-genres of romance from historical to fantasy to contemporary, also mean there’s always something to suit my mood. I’ve always written stories, so it made sense for me to write what I enjoyed reading.

What inspires your stories?

It’s usually from one little ‘what if’ thought that comes to me. It could be from a place I’ve been or listening to a song or visiting a shop or reading a newspaper story. It then grows as more ideas come to me or characters become a little more solid. I’ve just started planning out and tentatively drafting another Christmas story, which weirdly came to me because of a comment another author (Isabella May) made about my debut in a review.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

I love Tessa Dare and Mhairi McFarlane. They are auto-buys for me. They both write laugh out loud books but also cover some heavy themes with such skill.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

This is so hard, but I think one of my favourite reads this year, Beach Read by Emily Henry, was fantastic. The hero and heroine are both writers of very different genres who challenge each other to try and write the other’s way. It’s very funny – extremely meta for romance readers and writers – but even if you aren’t a fan of romance already, I think it would do an amazing job of helping you understand why people love romance so much, and why it isn’t something fluffy or frivolous to try to have a bit of hope. It’s also very sexy and heartfelt. It works on so many levels!

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He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie.
Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

The result? A bet to swap genres see who gets published first.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

Is it really terrible if I say one of my own heroes? I think I’d love to spend a weekend with Olivier from One Kiss Before Christmas because he’s so easy-going and fun, and also because he could take me to Paris to give me a tour around the museums and galleries, cook gorgeous food for me, and then we could snuggle up and watch old movies. Bliss.

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

The sense of community. I have found so many amazing friends since I joined and been given so much support. It’s transformed my knowledge of the industry because there is always someone willing to offer advice and it’s turned what can be a very lonely profession into one where I feel genuinely connected.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

Keep going. Perseverance is as much one of the tools you need to keep in your arsenal as an ability to think up great hooks. From getting from ‘chapter one’ to ‘the end’, to sending out queries, it’s so important to find a way to keep yourself going that works for you.

Tell us about your latest book.

One Kiss Before Christmas is a gorgeously romantic festive read guaranteed to warm your heart this Christmas and you can buy it here! (I reviewed One Kiss Before Christmas on the blog a few weeks ago, and you can read my review here.)

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

Ashleigh could use a little Christmas magic. She’s still living in Brighton with her Nan – who could give the Grinch lessons in how to be miserable – her acting career has been reduced to playing one of Santa’s elves, and not even the prospect of a friend’s winter wedding can cheer her up…

That is until Olivier, the gorgeous French chef, reappears in her life. Or more accurately, next door.

When they were teenagers, Olivier would spend every Christmas with his mother, who just happens to be Ash’s neighbour and owner of the best chocolate shop in England.

If anyone can bring a little sparkle back to Ash’s life, it’s Olivier. All she needs is one kiss before Christmas…

About Emma Jackson

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. SUMMER IN THE CITY, was released in June, and her latest festive romance, ONE KISS BEFORE CHRISTMAS is now available.

Emma also writes historical and fantasy fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE was published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Blog Tour: Problems With Girls by Kelly Creighton #BookReview

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Where are the young women here? Can you even see them?

After taking some leave, DI Harriet Sloane comes back to work at Strandtown PSNI station, East Belfast, to be faced with a murder case. A young political activist has been stabbed to death in the office of a progressive political party where she works as an intern.

The killer seems to have a problem with girls, and is about to strike again.

I am delighted to be posting my review today of Problems With Girls by Kelly Creighton as part of the book’s blog tour. My thanks to the author for inviting me to take part and for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author, although it is the second book featuring DI Sloane. Not having read the first book featuring this character did not detract from my understanding or enjoyment of this novel. In fact, there were a couple of shocking moments in this book which probably would not have stopped me in my tracks the way they did if I had been privy to more of Sloane’s back story. It did make me want to go back and read the first book though.

The story involves a lot of seemingly disparate goings on in East Belfast that may or may not be connected to the murder of a young political activist which is the crime central to the book. There is a whole parade of suspects, with a variety of motives and no clear path to a solution. To be honest, at times, the whole plot was really confusing because it was impossible to see how the crime could be solved without any obvious clues to the perpetrator. It did mean the book was totally gripping, because I was desperate to see how the author was going to untangle all the strands and tie it up. It looked for a large part of the book like a hopelessly knotted ball of wool that would never get sorted out within the confines of the pages.

Of course, it does get resolved in the end, and I was glad that my suspicions about one of the characters turned out to be true, it made me feel a bit like Miss Marple, a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to any crime novel. I did have one complaint about the book, which was that the final showdown between Sloane and the antagonist was wound up far too quickly, and deflated the tension for me a little. I’d have liked more of a life-or-death, prolonged tussle please!

One of the great strengths of this book is the exploration of Sloane’s family life outside of the investigation. It really portrayed the struggle that working mothers have, balancing job and career in the modern world, accurately and with sympathy. This is particularly difficult in careers where the hours are erratic, and in traditional communities where women can be looked down upon for neglecting their motherly ‘duties.’

In fact, the exploration of modern feminism, and how it is still a constant struggle in certain communities and sectors, is the main theme running through this book. Here, women who are seen to be pushing back against patriarchal restraints and doing things that are traditionally unfeminine, and then end up as victims are blamed, subject to male rage or disbelieved by many. The protagonist and her colleagues are seen to be taking a stand against these attitudes, in the wake of protests in Northern Ireland and the Repeal the Eighth vote in the Republic. It is a topical plot line well handled and a timely wake up call for those in society who insist that women now have equality and there is nothing further to be done.

This is a fast-moving and intricately plotted crime novel that will please any fans of the genre. The author is skilled at creating character and place, and imbuing the novel with a real sympathy for the players. I came away from the book feeling quite sad. Sad for the victims of the crimes, sad for Sloane and the position she finds herself in, and just for women in general who are still having to struggle for basic human rights and respect in certain parts of the world. I’m not sure I’ve read a crime novel that has left me feeling this way before.

Problems with Girls is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Kelly Creighton is a creative writing teacher and the author of the DI Sloane novels, as well as the psychological thriller ‘The Bones of It’. She also writes short stories, having edited short story journal The Incubator for years.
Creighton published her first short story collection ‘Bank Holiday Hurricane’ to critical acclaim. She lives in Co Down, Northern Ireland.
Connect with Kelly:
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Friday Night Drinks with… Natalie Normann

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

So, another Friday has rolled around and I have has a helluva week so I am very much looking forward to sharing a Friday Night Drink with tonight’s guest, author….. Natalie Normann

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 Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening, Natalie. First things first, what are you drinking?

I really don’t drink much alcohol, and my favourite drink is Ice Lattes, or if I’m celebrating, I’ll have an Ice Mocha.

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It being Friday is as good a reason for celebration as any! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Since my latest book is set at Christmas, I think you have to taste some proper Norwegian Christmas food. I’m from the west part of Norway, and we usually eat ‘stick meat’, smoked mutton ribs, on Christmas Eve. In Oslo they traditionally serve pork ribs, with crackling and all the trimmings – not brussel sprouts, though. Most restaurants will serve both. This is rich food, so we’d have Christmas beer, a bit darker and sweeter than regular beer, and also ‘akkevitt’, or aquavit, if you want to taste. We are very traditional about our Christmas food, and most people would protest if the restaurant got fancy with the recipes. Me included.

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I once interviewed Martina Cole, and I think she would be fun to talk to again. And then there’s Keanu Reeves. I have a suspicion he can be funny.

I love Keanu Reeves! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I have been a historical writer for almost 12 years now, and now I’m also writing contemporary romance in English. I would like keep doing that and see what happens. I  have so much fun writing in English. I expected it to be so difficult, but mostly it has been interesting and challenging, and I like that. Writers need to challenge themselves, I think. It’s not a profession where you ever stop learning, and I love that. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

There’s been more than one proud moment, to be honest. The first book I published 25 years ago was a fantastic moment. Then again when I could finally be a full-time writer, writing a historical romance series in Norway – it was scary as hell. I signed a contract to write six books a year and I was completely overwhelmed, until I realised I had to take it one book at the time and just get on with it. And recently when I had the opportunity to write contemporary romance with One More Chapter. In English. I still have to pinch my arm about that. I recently found Summer Island in a bookshop in Oslo, and actually squealed.

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What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

My one big thing was to be published in English. Now that it has  happened, I would like to keep doing that. The next steps would be have one of my books made into a movie, have translations and a few bestseller flags wouldn’t be amiss. I’d enjoy that.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Well, I have several ideas that I’m working on, and that I’m thrilled with. I love the idea stage, when it’s all fresh and I keep getting scenes in my head. Right now, I have a deadline, and I can’t really write anything else, but I make notes and explore characters and settings, and have a great time doing that.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love London. My dad was a sea captain, and he used to sail between London and Jamaica, and ever so often, we would go with him during the summer holidays. Back then, it would take two days to come from my hometown to London, and I loved every minute of it. London was vibrant and exciting, and I never wanted to go home. Still don’t.

On the top of my bucket list is New York. I have never been there, and I always wanted to go. Maybe next year, right?

I love New York. I’ve been four times now, it was the last place I managed to visit back in early February before the world changed. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m Norwegian and I can’t ski. I’m great at falling, but that’s about it. 

Wow! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The one book that really surprised me this year, was Dead in Venice by Fiona Leitch. It’s a serial killer story, set in Venice, and it’s well written, pretty dark and also hilarious. Not many writers can pull that off. 

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Award-winning crime novelist Bella Tyson has it all: a successful career, devoted fans – and a bad case of writer’s block. So when a fan sends her a book of Venetian ghost stories and offers her the use of an apartment near Piazza San Marco, Bella jumps at the chance to get her Eat Pray Love on, consume her bodyweight in gelato and explore the atmospheric canals of Venice.

She meets Will, a mild-mannered, middle class Interpol agent working in the city, and is swept away by him. And when a series of gruesome murders occur he’s on the case – with Bella in tow.

Her writer’s block is well and truly cured, her new novel is under way, and she’s madly in love. But Bella realises that not everything in Venice is as it seems…

I’ve not read this one, I will add it to the list. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink lots of water and go to bed to sleep it off. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I have written two books set on an island on the west-coast of Norway, so not surprisingly I love islands. I now live in Oslo, and if this weekend is in the summer, we’d take a trip on the Oslo fjord. I don’t have a boat, but there are places in the fjord that you can travel to without your own boat. There are some lovely islands with great beaches only a short ferry trip away. Buy some shrimps on the harbour, find someone who sells strawberries, and bring some coffee or white wine. And also pastry. They have some amazing pastry in this city. The water is usually really, really cold, so swimming is up to you.

In the winter, the best thing to do, is to take a drive up the mountains, to Frognerseteren, an old ski lodge, now a restaurant. If we take the underground, we have to walk down a forest path to get there. Usually there’s snow up there, and you get a feel of the fairy tales we have. Trolls are a plenty up there.

The restaurant have a huge fireplace where the fire will be roaring, making everything smell of smoke,  and warm an cosy, and they serve delicious Norwegian comfort food. Their speciality is hot chocolate with whipped cream, made with real chocolate, and their famous apple cake. If you’re adventurous I recommend trying the buns with brown cheese.

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Summer Island and Christmas Island are set on a fictitious island, but heavily inspired by the islands I have been on when I grew up. It’s filled with memories of summers swimming in cold water – it was always cold –  eating ice cream, drinking soda and eating hot dogs. The smell of the sea and the weather always changing. It’s wild out there, and that’s why I love it. I’d rather be outside in a storm or walking the beach when it rains, than most other places. Mostly I like to stay with my laptop, of course.

Natalie’s new book, Christmas Island, is out on 30 November and you can buy a copy here.

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In the bleak midwinter…
A really frosty wind is making Holly’s life absolutely miserable

After all the years of hard work it took Londoner Holly Greene to become a doctor, now it could all be taken away and she only has herself to blame. She’s retreating to her brother’s rustic home on an island off the coast of Norway to lick her wounds. Only, it’s the middle of winter and icy slush plus endless darkness isn’t exactly the cheery, festive getaway she had imagined.

Nearly stumbling off the edge of a cliff in the dark, Holly is saved by Frøy, a yellow-eyed cat of fearsome but fluffy proportions, and his owner – grouchy, bearded recluse, Tor. Tor has his own problems to face but the inexplicable desire to leave a bag of freshly baked gingerbread men on Holly’s doorstep is seriously getting in the way of his hermit routine.

Call it kindness, call it Christmas, but Holly’s arrival means midwinter has never looked less bleak.

Here is the fabulous trailer for the book

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast town in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English.

You can find out more about Natalie and her books via Facebook and Twitter.

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Blog Tour: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright #BookReview

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1928

The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the “Watchman,” she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa’s search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

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The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk’s shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot’s history, she’s also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright. Huge thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am an absolute sucker for any book set around a circus. They have always fascinated me, and something that encapsulates childhood magic and fantasy, a feeling we all love to revisit when jaded adulthood and life stress gets us down. I barely even read the blurb for this, I just saw the title and the cover and said ‘sign me up.’

It’s my own fault then that the book wasn’t at all what I was expected! For some reason, I had got into my head that this was some kind of middle-grade, circus-set murder mystery. How wrong I was ! It was something much darker and more complex, a deeply nuanced novel exploring love, family, stigma, and finding oneself through independence. I absolutely blooming loved it.

This is a dual timeline novel, set in the small town of Bluff River, Wisconsin. The narrators are Pippa Riley, a young woman living in the town in 1928. She is an abandoned child of the circus, taken in by the rich owners and brought up as their daughter. Pippa finds herself irresistibly drawn back to the circus and the mystery of her parentage. But the circus can be a dangerous place to be for young women these days…

The second narrator is Chandler, a single mother struggling with parenthood, holding down a job and the ravages of an autoimmune disease. A troubled relationship with her own family leads to a sense of isolation, and she is wary of the friendly approaches of locals in Bluff River, where she has been sent to formulate development plans for the old railway terminus and other buildings connected to the long-defunct circus. But mysterious discoveries and strange goings on mean she has to team up with a handsome stranger to solve a decades-old mystery.

The lives of the two women have so many parallels across the years. Pippa is living at a time of new opportunities for women, but conservative societies are resisting their emancipation, and Pippa is struggling to balance her strict upbringing against her desire to embrace this newly-minted era of female liberation. Chandler is determined that her own independence will not be undermined by her illness or her single-parenthood, and she hides her struggles from everyone in fear of having restrictions placed on her by those who care about her. The book explores the complex dynamics of family and the struggles of women to balance the expectations and judgements of society with their own needs and desires. These dilemmas have not changed much for women over the centuries, and it is something we can all relate to.

The book also explores they way society views and treats people it views as different or abnormal, and how the circus became a refuge for misfits and loners. Often ridiculed as exploitative and voyeuristic, this book explores the idea that it actually provided a place of understanding and companionship for those on the fringes of society. It is a fascinating dichotomy that the author explores with interest and sympathy.

On top of this, there is a fascinating and quite terrifying murder mystery to be solved. A serial killer known as The Watchman seems to be stalking the circus, but years later, the community is questioning whether the real culprit was identified at the time and whether the stigma his descendants have carried through the years has been placed on the correct shoulders. The idea of disparate relations of a serial killer carrying the tarnish of their ancestor’s actions through the years is sad, but used to great effect for the plot of this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns of the story. The author weaves the two timelines together with great skill, slowly uncovering the truth across the years, and I was on the edge of my seat by the end, in both the 1920s and the present day!

The prose is richly textured, evocative and an absolute joy to read. It is one of those books that you can get totally lost in, so effective is the author in constructing the time and place in which she has set the novel. I was drawn through the book effortlessly, not wanting to break off and destroy the fictional bubble in which I has been ensnared by her skill. As soon as I had finished the book, I wanted to go and pick up her other novels and see if I could get that feeling back again. This was my first book by Jaime Jo Wright, but it definitely will not be the last. Oh, the joy of discovering a great new author with a back catalogue on which you can binge, is there any greater pleasure for an avid reader?

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus is out now and you must absolutely get you copy here.

About the Author

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Jaime Jo Wright is the author of five novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo, her husband Cap’n Hook, and their littles, Peter Pan, and CoCo. 

Connect with Jaime:

Website: https://www.jaimewrightbooks.com/

Facebook: Jaime Jo Wright

Twitter: @jaimejowright

Instagram: @jaimejowright

Pinterest: Jaime Jo Wright

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Blog Tour: Crime and Justice by Martin Bodenham #BookReview

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What if we could no longer trust DNA profiling, the silver bullet of our criminal justice system? For years, we’ve relied on it to solve decades-old crimes, convict the guilty, and liberate the innocent from death row. But what happens to that trust when a crime lab scientist is leaned on to manipulate the evidence or, worse still, lose it altogether?

Ruthless Seattle mayor, Patti Rainsford, announces her candidacy for state governor. She’ll do anything to succeed. When her son is arrested for the rape and assault of a seventeen-year-old girl, Rainsford’s political career is in jeopardy.

Detective Linda Farrell is assigned to investigate. After twelve years working in SPD’s sexual assault unit, her career is drifting, not helped by the single-minded detective’s contempt for police protocol and the pressure of her failing marriage. The high-profile rape case is a rare chance to shine and maybe even get her life back on track. Nothing will stop her seeking justice for the young victim.

With a mountain of personal debt and his wife’s business on a knife-edge, Clark Stanton is facing financial meltdown. Then a stranger offers him a lifeline in return for a favor. As the manager of Seattle’s crime lab, all Clark has to do is make the rape kit evidence against the mayor’s son go away.

I am delighted to be one of the blogs kicking off the tour today for Crime and Justice by Martin Bodenham. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

The action in this book kicks off from the very first page when Clark Stanton, manager of the Seattle crime lab, is approached by someone with unwelcome demands, and the reader is forced to ask themselves from the beginning, what would you do in this situation. Clark is put in a seemingly impossible position, with no good choices open to him.

I have to say, to begin with, I wasn’t one hundred per cent convinced by the path that Clark decides to take. I could see what the author was trying to do to convince the reader that what he did was reasonable under the circumstances, but I’m not sure he was totally successful in my case. However, if you can put this aside and try and suspend your disbelief as I did, what follows is a rollercoaster ride of action as Clark tries to dig himself out of the hole he has got himself into, while other people fight for justice, or to avoid being brought to justice, depending on their perspectives.

There are a lot of morally dubious characters in this book, in fact they outweigh the ones who are obviously likeable, which makes for an interesting dynamic in the novel. The most sympathetic characters in this novel are the minor ones, the ones who actually have very little voice and are the ones who end up suffering the most as a result of the protagonist’s actions. They were the ones, by the end, who had my thoughts, and I was left feeling saddened for them and the justice they never received.

And this is the main theme of the book. What is justice, and what is it reasonable to do in order to seek it? What lengths can a moral person go to in order to seek justice, and is doing morally dubious, or even downright illegal, things justified if it sees wrong-doers punished in the end? Do the ends justify the means? Would it be better for criminals to go free to spare innocent people pain and suffering, or is the sacrifice of innocents an acceptable side effect in the pursuit of justice? These are dilemmas that have taxed humans for centuries, and I’m not sure everyone will come up with the same answer after reading this book, but it gives the reader food for thought.

The other idea explored here, how far we should trust the conviction of people based purely on DNA evidence when it can easily be manipulated by unscrupulous humans, is also interesting, and I don’t think there is a good answer. It will make you ponder, if you are like me, how we do insure that the criminal justice system is as infallible as it can be, when it has to rely so heavily on the actions of humans who can make mistakes, or who are blinded by bias, prejudice, or open to outside manipulation. If you think about it for too long, it could give you sleepless nights, but I’m not sure that anyone has come up with a better alternative yet.

This book is a gripping thriller, with plenty of moral dilemmas for the reader to chew on, and lots of action to keep the plot rolling along. If the author has to perform some contortions in justifying the motivations of his main character to set up the premise for the book, most readers will probably find this a minor price to pay for a cracking read.

Crime and Justice is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour for other reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

Martin Bodenham - Author

Martin Bodenham is the author of the crime thrillers The Geneva Connection, Once a Killer, and Shakedown. Crime And Justice is his latest novel.

After a thirty-year career in private equity and corporate finance in London, Martin moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at several private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed first-hand while working in international finance.

Connect with Martin:

Website: https://www.martinbodenham.com/

Twitter: @MartinBodenham

Instagram: @martinbodenham

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

Today, on my remote islet, I have abandoned author Julie Stock, with only five excellent books and one luxury item to aid her survival. That’s all a person needs, right? Let’s see what she has with her shall we? Welcome to my island, Julie.

Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Desert Island Books feature, Julie. I think I would be useless on a desert island with no-one else to talk to, but having plenty of good books would certainly help to keep me sane! As I write romance myself, I have chosen some classic romances to take with me of course, but I’ve also chosen some other classics from different genres because I just love a great story.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read this book, I always find a new detail every time. I just love the romance and the humour in the story, and all the characters so much. It’s the book I regularly read again, and I think that says it all. It’s also incredible that, for a book published at the beginning of the 19th century, it still resonates as much today.

Book Two – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I can still remember when I first read this book, and the moment when I understood what was coming. It is the only book I remember reading through buckets of tears, but despite that, I still pressed on. The love story in it is one of the most uplifting, yet also one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I do really like a good cry when I’m reading a book – I find it very cathartic – and this book achieved its aim so very well.

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

I can still remember the sense of outrage I felt when I first read this book in my teens. I’d never read anything like it before that, and I felt so naïve as I read it, and began to understand that injustice like that does exist. I love Atticus of course, and above all, I love the sense of hope that threads through the story, even in the worst of times.

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

My daughter bought me this book a few years ago, and I struggled to read it for a while, but then gave up without finishing it, which is very unusual for me. So, if I’m going to be on a desert island, it would be good to have a very long book to read to pass the endless days while I wait to be rescued! I know the story of course, so I’m sure I would be able to finish it eventually…

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past-lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John, before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself…

I had had this book on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally got round to reading it last year. I’d had a major operation and so I was devouring books even more than usual, and once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It combines my love of history with a great thriller, and would bear re-reading for sure.

My luxury item

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I don’t think I could manage without an endless supply of hand cream, especially if I was going to have to be in and out of water to catch my food every day! I’m hoping this is going to be allowed…

About Julie Stock

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Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her latest book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.

Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.

Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Julie’s latest book is Starting Over in the Vineyard in Alsace and you can buy a copy here.

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

She’s proud, independent and about to be a single mum. Since his wife died, he’s become fiercely protective. Can they take another chance on love?

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace determined to raise her child and to provide for them both without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier. He needs to move on from the tragedy of his past and to accept the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together and their attraction deepens, they both find it hard to compromise – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry move on from their pasts, find a new beginning together and start over?

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Book Review: Love in Lockdown by Chloe James

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Do you believe in love before first sight?

Lockdown is putting Sophia’s life on pause – just as she planned to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest. He’s going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until the night he hears a woman crying from the balcony under his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

Can they fall in love during a lockdown?

This book was reviewed at the request of the author. I received a digital copy via NetGalley, so my thanks go to Avon Books for supplying the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am sure there are going to be a proliferation of romance novels set during these strange lockdown times we have been suffering over the last nine months and, I have to say, it was with some trepidation that I approached this book. I am not a fan of gimmicky books that are written just to take advantage of a current trend, they often lack in any passion or conviction. Having just finished Love in Lockdown by Chloe James, wiping tears from the corner of my eyes, I am delighted to say that this is definitely not one of those books and I absolutely loved it.

The book follows the stories of Sophia and Jack who live above one another in a block of flats. They have never met but, as the UK goes into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, they introduce themselves during the Thursday night ‘Clap For Carers,’ and things move on from there. The question is, is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you’ve never seen.

The author has done an absolutely fantastic job of capturing a lot of the tiny things that became symbolic of the pandemic and the unique times we are currently living in. The sense of isolation, but also the new community spirit and idea of caring for others that has grown up out of necessity in recent months. All of the familiar goings on are here – the difficulty of getting supermarket delivery slots, lack of flour, trying to explain Zoom to the elderly generation, NHS rainbows, the importance of pets, antibaccing your shopping, bad haircuts, socially-distanced weddings, furlough, and everything else that is the new normal. Does anyone even remember what the world used to be like?

Despite the fact that she has shoehorned all of this into the book, it never feels contrived or unnecessary. The writing is done in such a sympathetic and understanding way that it is very difficult to believe this book was written while lockdown was going on, and not with the benefit of some distance from the experience. I am amazed that she has managed to achieve such balance and beauty in the writing in these circumstances; there is no doubt that the author is very talented.

There were so many really touching moments in the book that moved me to tears, and other moments of real humour. It is a very uplifting book, which I wasn’t expected, mired as we in this as an ongoing problem and something that is causing so much anguish still. I know that for many people it is going to be too soon to be reading about the situation in a piece of fiction, it is still too close and raw a pain, but if you do want to read a novel set in this time, you won’t do much better. If you are a fan of books such at Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, this has a similar feel and I am sure you would enjoy this.

Love in Lockdown was an unexpected, positive pleasure and I would not hesitate to recommend it to romance fans everywhere.

Love in Lockdown is out as an ebook on 23 November, and in paperback in March 2021, and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Chloe James is a pseudonym for Fiona Woodifield whose debut novel, ‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency‘ was published in February 2020.

Fiona writes uplifting romantic comedies. When not to be found with her head in a book, she is usually out in the countryside enjoying the changeable British weather with her family and three dogs.

Connect with Chloe:

Website: https://fionawoodifield.co.uk/

Facebook: Fiona Woodifield

Twitter: @FionaWoodifield

Instagram: @f.woodifield

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Book Review: Silent Night by Nell Pattison

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What happened while they were sleeping?

A school for the deaf takes an overnight trip to the snowy woods. Five teenagers go to sleep, but only four wake up. Leon is missing, and a teacher’s body is found in the forest…

Sign language interpreter Paige Northwood is brought in to help with interrogations. Everyone at the school has a motive for murder – but they all have an alibi.

As Paige becomes increasingly involved, she suspects there’s something sinister going on. With the clock ticking to find Leon, only one thing is certain: the killer is among them, and ready to strike again…

My thanks to the publisher for my advance digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author. I did see a lot of posts about the first Paige Northwood book, Silent Housewhen it came out earlier in the year but I never got round to reading it. However, the fact I hadn’t read the first book did not detract at all from my enjoyment of this one, although it did make me want to go back and read it to plump out the back story that is reprised briefly in this book.

From the title and cover, you might expect this to be a Christmas book, but it isn’t at all. It is a thriller set in the enclosed world of a school for the deaf. A child goes missing on a school residential trip, and a body of a teacher is found. The protagonist, Paige, is an interpreter brought in to assist the police in solving the crime within the close knit deaf community.

I have never read a book set within this world before and I thought it was absolutely fascinating and illuminating, shedding light on issues that many of us probably give very little thought to in our day to day lives if it is not something we are affected by directly. This is where novels come into their own, educating us without seeming to, which hopefully might give us all some additional insight and compassion into daily struggles we might otherwise unaware of.

I thought the author created a raft of really interesting characters in the novel and an intriguing dynamic. Watching the inter-play between the adult and teenage characters was gripping. You would assume that the children would prove to be the less reliable narrators, but this is not necessarily the case. There are also some interesting issues explored in the book, including recovering from abusive relationships and online child safety. Plenty of meat to get your teeth into here.

The plot was extremely twisty, I had absolutely no idea who was behind the crimes until the very end. If I had any criticisms, it might be that the novel was a little unevenly paced, with a flurry of frenetic action right at the end. There were also some decisions made by Paige in the story that frustrated me, because there didn’t seem to be any consistent logic behind them, other than to serve the plot. One minute she was revealing stuff to someone that she shouldn’t, the next failing to tell someone something that she should. However, this is really me nit-picking. On the whole, I enjoyed the book and the positives far out-weighed any minor niggles I may have. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a gripping thriller and is looking for something with a little more depth than the norm.

Silent Night is out now as ebook, paperback and audiobook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nell Pattison is the author of a crime thriller series featuring British Sign Language interpreter Paige Northwood. Her debut novel, The Silent House, was a USA Today bestseller.

After studying English at university, Nell Pattison became a teacher and specialised in Deaf education. She has been teaching in the Deaf community for 13 years in both England and Scotland, working with students who use BSL. Nell began losing her hearing in her twenties, and now wears hearing aids. She lives in North Lincolnshire with her husband and son.

Connect with Nell:

Facebook: Nell Pattison Author

Twitter: @Writer_Nell

Instagram: @writernell

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