Book Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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Two women, five centuries apart.

One life-changing secret about to be unearthed.

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

It is publication day for The Secrets of Saffron Hall by my fellow RNA member, Clare Marchant. Very happy publication day, Clare! My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a dual timeline story, following the lives of two women living a quincentenary apart, but with a thread of shared experience that somehow binds them across the centuries. In the early sixteenth century, Eleanor is a young girl, reluctantly married but making a go of her new life at her husband’s grand house in Norfolk, growing saffron to increase his fortunes. It is a time of great upheaval in the country, as Henry VIII enacts the Act of Supremacy and begins to dissolve the monasteries. In current times, Amber has suffered an earth-shattering upheaval of her own, and goes off to hide at her family’s long-time home, Saffron Hall, where her future becomes inextricably linked with Eleanor’s past.

The author handles the dual timeline brilliantly, expertly weaving the two stories together, so it is easy to follow whose story we are in, and how the one is feeding in to the other. She gives both women a strong, defined character and an equally important and well-developed storyline, so the novel feels well balanced and satisfying in both timelines. I was equally invested in the fates of both women, and completely sold on the idea that Amber’s future happiness, in her head at least, depended on her resolving the puzzle of Eleanor’s past.

This novel deals with a very difficult subject matter and, as someone who has been through this experience herself, I found the author dealt with it sensitively and with great understanding and tenderness and honesty. Whilst it did bring back some difficult memories, it left me moved and comforted, rather than distraught, and I would not have wanted to be put off reading it, although I suppose some who have been through the experience more recently and for whom the issue is more raw, may want to proceed with caution.

The author brings the life of the sixteenth century vividly to life in this book, and I became completely lost in the daily existence of Eleanor’s household and her duties and cares. It is a historical period that is rich in happenings and excitement and Clare mines them expertly and cleverly to provide the tension in the book. If you know any of the history of this period, the introduction of one character to the narrative will set alarm bells ringing, and you will be waiting for the fallout to ripple through the narrative. Clare has been very clever with the way she has woven real historical figures with fiction in the text, and I was almost reading the last part of the book from behind a metaphorical cushion, waiting for the inevitable. It is hard to get someone on tenterhooks when they almost feel like they know what is coming, so I take my hat off to this author that she managed it.

This is a vivid, moving, evocative story with a hint of the supernatural, and I absolutely loved it. It is a must-read for fans of the time period, and for a great, dual timeline story. Excellent work.

The Secrets of Saffron Hall is out today in paperback, audio and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

 

 

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning #BookReview

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Beautiful, brilliant, ruthless – nothing can stop Becky Sharp.

Becky Sharp has big dreams and no connections. Determined to swap the gutters of Soho for the glamorous, exclusive world behind the velvet rope, Becky will do anything to achieve fame, riches and status.

Whether it’s seducing society’s most eligible bachelors, or befriending silly debutantes and rich old ladies, Becky Sharp is destined for great things. Because it might be tough at the top but it’s worse at the bottom.

From London to Paris and beyond, Becky Sharp is going places – so get the hell out of her way…

My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I finally got round to reading this modern retelling of Vanity Fair. I have to admit, I have not read the original. It is one of those classics that has been sat on my TBR and I have just not got round to picking up, so I went in to this book with no preconceptions and no comparisons to Thackeray’s novel and my review will be of this novel in its own right, not as a retelling.

I absolutely loved the opening chapter of the book, which sets Becky up immediately as a modern woman seeking fame in a way that has become most popular in the twenty-first century. I don’t want to say too much more and spoil the beginning of the book for anyone who has not read it but, as a member of Generation X, the events that open this book played an important part in my life. In fact, I was at school with the very first person to emerge from this experience – one of my claims to fame – and I’ll say no more than that! As soon as I started reading it, i knew this book was something different, smart and relevant.

The main character of the book, Becky Sharp, is determined and ruthless in her pursuit of a better life for herself and, as we hear the beginnings of the story, we have a lot of sympathy for her, because she has not had it easy. However, as the book carries on and she becomes more and more careless with other people in her eagerness for advancement, that sympathy begins to evaporate and, by the end, she is fairly detestable. It is a fascinating story arc, the opposite of the way most books and characters develop and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book has many interesting and fun supporting characters as well, and the strong streak of humour running through the novel was really well done. I alternating between willing Becky on, and praying for her downfall, largely depending on how I felt about the supporting character she was taking advantage of at the time. This is the genius behind the plot, the constant conflict between the self-serving behaviour of Becky and the nature of the supporting characters leading to the reader sometimes having to choose to support the lesser of two evils.

The book in pacy and entertaining and provided a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I really ended up caring about the characters and wanting to know if they got what they deserved by the end. It has made me want to pick up that copy of Vanity Fair that has been languishing on my shelf for far too long and see how well this author has interpreted the book into its modern setting. I know this is an odd way round to read them, but it is a great plaudit for the efficacy of this novel.

The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sarra Manning is an author and journalist. She started her writing career on Melody Maker, than spent five years on legendary UK teen mag, J17, first as a writer, then as Entertainment Editor. Subsequently she edited teen fashion bible Ellegirl UK and the BBC’s What To Wear magazine.

Sarra has written for ELLE, Grazia, Red, InStyle, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Mail On Sunday’s You, Harper’s Bazaar, Stylisr, Time Out and The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella. Her best-selling YA novels, which include Guitar Girl, Let’s Get Lost, Pretty Things, The Diary Of A Crush trilogy and Nobody’s Girl have been translated into numerous languages. Her latest YA novel, Adorkable, was published by Atom.

She has also written a number of grown-up novels.

Sarra lives in North London with her Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Miss Betsy, and prides herself on her unique ability to accessorise.

Connect with Sarra:

Twitter: @sarramanning

Instagram: @sarra_manning

Blog Tour: The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin #BookReview

The Little Teashop in Tokyo

I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the latest book in one of my favourite series by one of my favourite authors. It is The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin. Huge thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, that I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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For travel blogger Fiona, Japan has always been top of her bucket list so when she wins an all-expenses paid trip, it looks like her dreams are coming true.

Until she arrives in vibrant, bustling Tokyo and comes face-to-face with the man who broke her heart ten years ago, gorgeous photographer Gabe.

Fiona can’t help but remember the heartache of their last meeting but amidst the temples and clouds of soft pink cherry blossoms, can Fiona and Gabe start to see life – and each other – differently?

My reading of late has taken me far from the confines of my armchair and travelling on adventures on distant shores, and today’s book is no different, except this time we are heading east instead of west. To Japan, in fact, a place I have never visited but now feel like I have, and at the same time cannot wait to go.

I don’t know if you have read any of Julie’s Romantic Escapes series, but she I an absolute genius at taking her readers on a journey, both geographically and emotionally, and this one is no exception. In fact, I think it may be my favourite one yet. It has left me feeling enriched in mind and spirit and emotionally uplifted by the love story. I have to confess to having a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I closed the book.

It is really obvious from the beginning that the author has spent a lot of time in the country she is writing about, has made close observation of the people, traditions and energy of the place and has fallen in love with it. You can feel the admiration and affection oozing from every delicious description of the sights, the tastes and the rituals of Japan. She writes with such warmth and appreciation and joy, that it has made me so eager to visit a country that I had never, even as a keen traveller, had any great yearning to visit before. This is a book that has brought Japan alive for me, and I am sure anyone picking up this book will have the same reaction.

As for the characters, I loved every single one. She has created a very sympathetic, but not at all patheti,c heroine and a flawed but redeemable love interest. But it is the Japanese host family that really stood out in this book for me. I wished I could sit around their kotatsu table to share some tea with them, especially at this time of great worry and stress for us all. Julie has woven so many Japanese words in to the book, it feels like a real education while you are reading, and made me keen to learn more. So much research and time and care has gone in to this book to form a rich, immersive tapestry of Japanese life, it makes an exceedingly rewarding read for the internationally curious.

Julie’s books are a cut above a lot of the romance novels that are out there (and I mean that in no degrading way to romance novels, I am a huge fan of the genre and extremely admiring of romantic novels and novelists). Her writing has such care and depth and such…heart… that it cannot help but elicit an equally heartfelt response. An absolutely beautiful and moving read.

The Little Teashop in Tokyo is out now in ebook and paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you follow the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

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Jules Wake announced at the age of ten that she planned to be a writer. Along the way she was diverted by the glamorous world of PR and worked on many luxury brands, taking journalists on press trips to awful places like Turin, Milan, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and occasionally losing the odd member of the press in an airport. This proved fabulous training for writing novels as it provided her with the opportunity to eat amazing food, drink free alcohol, hone her writing skills on press releases and to research European cities for her books. 

She writes best-selling warm-hearted contemporary fiction for HarperImpulse.

Under her pen name, Julie Caplin, her thirteenth novel, The Little Teashop in Tokyo will be published in ebook and paperback this June.

Connect with Julie:

Website: http://www.juleswake.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Caplin Author

Twitter: @JulieCaplin

Instagram: @juleswakeauthor

Blog Tour: Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs #BookReview

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Nora elbowed her way up to the railing and looked down. The paddle wheel was making its last turn, dredging up a mass of turquoise chiffon made almost transparent by the water. A hand, its red lacquered fingernails a contrast to the pale white skin, stuck up from a bejeweled cuff… 

A relaxing cruise down the Mississippi on the Miss Delta Belle steamboat turns to tragedy when celebrity Delilah Dove falls from the deck and is swallowed by the river faster than you can say ‘man overboard!’

It’s touted as a tragic accident, but guests Miss Nora Marsh and her wily great-aunt Julia know a murder when they see one. Can they get justice for Delilah and crack the case without alerting the murderer to their suspicions?

As Nora and Julia hunt for clues it emerges that nearly everyone had a reason to want Delilah dead. And that’s bad news for the two sleuths—who want to solve the case pronto, before Mississippi police chief and Aunt Julia’s nemesis Artemis Leonard comes on board at the next port to launch the official investigation. She’s not letting him get the credit if she can help it.

With multiple suspects and a series of mysterious thefts onboard—not to mention the distractingly handsome Max Lawton turning Nora’s head—this is shaping up to be one tough case to crack. What started as a gentle river voyage is far from plain sailing.

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books on the Bright Side Publicity for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love a cosy mystery as a little light relief and this one was great fun.

The setting on the steamboat travelling down the Mississippi was a great feature of the book. It had the advantage of trapping all the suspects in one place while Aunt Julia, a crime writer, and her niece carried out their investigation, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, but lighter and more tongue-in-cheek. Who doesn’t love the romance of a river journey? Paddle wheels, steamer trunks, fancy dinners and live bands – it will make anyone wish they could travel back in time and take a glamorous trip down the Mississippi.

I loved the placing of the story in the 1920s and the author does a great job of bringing the period to life, with little historical details and quirks. Fantastic descriptions of the clothes and the music, as well as the place of women in society at the time, things which were only just becoming popular and little nods to the future (the fact that we would indeed find out that smoking is addictive in the future, for example.) I particularly enjoyed the nods to prohibition and Aunt Julia’s sneaky hip flask, it was a great character quirk that really brought her to life, and the book is full of little details like this that firmly establish the characters as real personalities.

The mystery itself is very gentle. The author seems to plant lots of clues and direct suspicions on practically everyone on the boat one way or another. I can’t honestly say that the whole thing made much sense to me and I had no idea who hd actually done it until the big reveal at the end, and even then the clues seemed a bit flimsy. It reminded me of a lightweight episode of Midsomer Murders or Death in Paradise, where the reader has little chance of guessing whodunnit or why, but it doesn’t really matter because the story is a lot of fun to follow anyway. By the end, I wasn’t overly concerned who has killed Delilah, I was just enjoying the journey.

This was a quick, easy, pleasant read that whiled away a couple of hours without being taxing. Fans of cosy mysteries and books set in the 1920s will find it very entertaining I am sure. Perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon in the sun.

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you visit the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

Leighann Dobbs author photo

USA Today bestselling author, Leighann Dobbs, discovered her passion for writing after a twenty year career as a software engineer. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband Bruce, their trusty Chihuahua mix Mojo and beautiful rescue cat, Kitty.

Her book “Dead Wrong” won the “Best Mystery Romance” award at the 2014 Indie Romance Convention.

Her book “Ghostly Paws” was the 2015 Chanticleer Mystery & Mayhem First Place category winner in the Animal Mystery category.

Connect with Leighann:
Facebook: Leighann Dobbs
Twitter: @leighanndobbs

Blog Tour: Strangers by C. L. Taylor #BookReview

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Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.
Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.
And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.

Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Strangers by C. L. Taylor. Huge thanks to Sanjana Cunniah of Avon Books for inviting me to take part and for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This thriller has a fantastic construction, as it opens with the three main characters standing over a dead body, so we know immediately they are involved in a death, but not who is dead, which one killed them or why . The plot then scoots back a week and follows the separate stories of the three individuals who we quickly realise don’t know each other at this point, so we spend the rest of the book trying to find out how three strangers come together in a week to be involved in a death.

I found this story really compelling in so far as the three protagonists are very ordinary people leading fairly dull lives, who all get dragged into something extraordinary through a series of unremarkable occurrences. It makes you wonder how far any of us are from becoming embroiled in something way out of our control through a tiny twist of fate. From the beginning it is hard to see how any of these simple people could become involved in a violent death, but the plot slowly and cleverly draws the disparate threads together that bring them all to one place. It is very skilfully done, and fascinating to follow. I loved the series of false trails that were laid to trick us into following them and coming up only with red herrings. I didn’t guess where the story was going to end up until quite close to the conclusion.

As well as being a gripping thriller, the story builds three very believable ordinary characters that it is easy for the reader to relate to. Although not individually remarkable, they all dealing with a series of every day problems that any one of us may face at any time – grief, loneliness, infidelity, divorce, money worries, internet dating, sexual assault, unemployment, family illness, troubled teenagers, domestic abuse, psychological distress, workplace stress – which of these triggers, small or large, are the ones that push these people to the place where they find themselves in a terrifying situation.

This is a book that propels you through the story and holds you tightly in its grip until you get to the end. I read it in two sittings (it would have been one if I’d not started it late one evening and fallen asleep before I could finish.) It is a domestic drama, than a thriller filled with whizz bangs and explosions, but it actually all the more gripping for it. This could happen to you or me. Maybe we should be afraid.

Another fantastic and gripping thriller from Cally Taylor, fans of her books will not be disappointed.

Strangers is out now in hardback, audio and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

This book is taking a mammoth blog tour, so make sure you check out some of the other stops as detailed below:

 

About the Author

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C.L. Taylor is an award winning Sunday Times bestselling author of seven gripping psychological thrillers including SLEEP, a Richard and Judy Book Club pick for autumn 2019.

She has also written two Young Adult thrillers, THE TREATMENT, which was published by HarperCollins HQ and THE ISLAND, which will be published in January 2021.

C.L. Taylor’s books have sold in excess of a million copies, been number one on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks and Google Play and have been translated into over 25 languages and optioned for TV.

SLEEP won the ‘best ebook’ award in the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards. THE ESCAPE won the Dead Good Books ‘Hidden Depths’ award for the Most Unreliable Narrator. THE FEAR was shortlisted in the Hearst Big Book Awards in the ‘Pageturner’ category.

Cally Taylor was born in Worcester and spent her early years living in various army camps in the UK and Germany. She studied Psychology at the University of Northumbria and went on forge a career in instructional design and e-Learning before leaving to write full time in 2014. She lives in Bristol with her partner and son.

Connect with Cally:

Twitter: @callytaylor

Instagram: @cltaylorauthor

 

Blog Tour: A Cornish Summer Holiday: Little Duck Pond Cafe by Rosie Green #BookReview

A Cornish Summer Holiday at the Little Duck Pond Cafe

I am delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for the latest book in one of my favourite romance series, The Little Duck Pond Cafe. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part once again and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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The Little Duck Pond Cafe girls are looking forward to a well-earned break in the Cornish seaside town of Pengully Sands, where Sylvia’s sister, Aggie, owns a holiday home. With the glorious golden sands, sparkling azure sea and an ice-cream parlour only yards away, it seems like the perfect location to relax and watch the surfers riding the waves (and maybe even have a go themselves). But when they arrive, the girls find it’s not quite the seaside idyll they were expecting.

The house is less ‘holiday home’ and more ‘creepy, dilapidated haunted house.’ Gracie, who runs the ice-cream parlour, has problems of her own and the last thing she needs is a bunch of high-spirited girls arriving to disturb the peace and isolation she craves. And when a handsome stranger looks set to destroy her livelihood, it seems like the last straw.

Will Gracie get her happy ending – and maybe even make friends with the girls next-door? This wasn’t the relaxing break the Little Duck Pond Cafe girls were expecting, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be the holiday of a lifetime!

Regular readers of the blog will know that I have been a big fan of this series from the start. I loved the setting of the novels in Sunnybrook, centred around the little Duck Pond Cafe, so it was with some trepidation that I approached this new instalment set away from the familiar location and in the seaside town of Pengully Sands.

I need not have worried, Rosie handled the transition smoothly by having all our favourite familiar characters from the books travel en masse to, what was supposed to be, an idyllic holiday cottage on the Cornish coast. As one would expect, however, nothing is ever straight forward and the cottage is less, coastal idyll, more ghost-infested nightmare. Still, the Duck Pond Cafe girls are nothing if not inventive and they soon get stuck in to solving the problems, including the ones of their new friend in Pengully Sands, Gracie.

Gracie is a great new character in the series. Her story was so melancholic, I felt so sorry for her from the beginning which made me invest in the story and root for her from beginning to end. My concern for her soon overrode my misgivings about leaving my beloved Sunnybrook behind and made sure a little piece of my reading heart will always be in Pengully Sands, which bodes well for Rosie’s first, full length novel.

Part romance, part ghost story, all entertainment, this was a lovely, moving and engaging read from start to finish. I highly recommend it for anyone craving a virtual breath of sea air and a sweet diversion from reality for an hour or so. Previous fans of the series will love it, new readers will want to go back and catch up with the previous books. Thanks for another great story, Rosie, looking forward to seeing what you can do with more words!

A Cornish Summer Holiday: Little Duck Pond Cafe is out now and you can buy a copy here.

For more fantastic reviews, do please visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Rosie Green Author Pic

Rosie has been scribbling stories ever since she was little.

Back then, they were rip-roaring adventure tales with a young heroine in perilous danger of falling off a cliff or being tied up by ‘the baddies’.

Thankfully, Rosie has moved on somewhat, and now much prefers to write romantic comedies that melt your heart and make you smile, with really not much perilous danger involved at all – unless you count the heroine losing her heart in love.

Her series of novellas is centred around life in a village cafe. The latest, ‘Lemon Drizzle Mondays at the Little Duck Pond Cafe’, is out now.

Rosie is currently writing a full-length book, ‘Lucy’s Great Cornish Escape’, which – in a fun twist – will feature favourite characters from the Little Duck Pond Café series.

Connect with Rosie:

Twitter: @Rosie_Green1988

Blog Tour: Dead Wrong by Noelle Holten #BookReview

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Three missing women running out of time…

They were abducted years ago. Notorious serial killer Bill Raven admitted to killing them and was sentenced to life.

The case was closed – at least DC Maggie Jamieson thought it was…

But now one of them has been found, dismembered and dumped in a bin bag in town.

Forensics reveal that she died just two days ago, when Raven was behind bars, so Maggie has a second killer to find.

Because even if the other missing women are still alive, one thing’s for certain: they don’t have long left to live…

I really loved Noelle’s debut novel, Dead Inside, last year so I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the second book in the Maggie Jamieson series, Dead Wrong. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Which part of the intriguing blurb for this book would not make you want to pick this book up? A series of murders that has been solved by a confession from the killer, but then body parts of the alleged victims start turning up years later, revealing they’ve only just been killed, AFTER the killer is behind bars? Sign me up!

Maggie is now back with her original squad, after her secondment to the Domestic Violence unit in book one, and she is immediately thrust under the spotlight because she was responsible for putting the original killer away in what now looks like a miscarriage of justice. What an amazing preface for ramping up the tension for the protagonist and making the investigation personal for Maggie from the off. It also raises all kinds of queries as to whether she is being suitably dispassionate about the new investigation or is making bad decisions based on saving her own reputation. It is a clever idea and really well executed.

The accused serial killer, Bill Raven, is a great nemesis for Maggie in this novel. Aside from being an alleged murderer, he is just s deeply unpleasant man, smug and antagonistic, and we, the reader, loathe him from the beginning, regardless of whether he actually committed the crimes or not, which puts us firmly in Maggie’s corner even when she is making unwise decisions. The pace of the book is frenetic, we race through it to find out what is going on in this baffling case and can’t wait to get to the conclusion but when we go OMG! What is happening? You can’t leave it like that! I need Book 3 now, I tell you!

One of the main strengths of Noelle’s books, which is clearly present here, is the way she shows the involvement in an investigation of many different people from different specialisations within criminal justice to bring a case to a conclusion. Too many crime novels have murders being solved start to finish by one or two individuals, with everybody else a faceless sidetone. This is obviously not the way things work and, the fact Noelle has worked in this world and understands the importance of everyone in the process, not just the lead officers, shines through and gives the story a real ring of authenticity, even though it is clearly a piece of entertaining fiction.

A great, pacy and gripping crime thriller that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Can’t wait for the next one.

Dead Wrong is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the fantastic blogs taking part in the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk. She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and was a regular reviewer on the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. Noelle worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of cases including those involving serious domestic abuse. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog.
Dead Inside is her debut novel with One More Chapter/Harper Collins UK and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

Connect with Noelle:

Website: https://crimebookjunkie.co.uk

Facebook: Noelle Holten Author

Twitter: @nholten40

Instagram: @crimebookjunkie

Book Review: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood Narrated by Katherine Manners #AudiobookReview

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It’s never too late to bloom.

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs. At 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other more intimate benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing this book, I listening to it ages ago. I think maybe I have been afraid that I wouldn’t do the book justice, I loved it so much.

This book is the story of a very unusual woman, and her character is so perfectly formed and then tested by the author that I defy anyone not to be entranced by the story. Susan is a woman whose life is perfectly ordered. She knows exactly who she is, what she is doing, how she wants things to be, and she has it all arranged perfectly, from her flat, to her job, to her relationship of convenience with Richard, who seems to think exactly as she does. Which is a miracle, because nobody sees the world exactly as Susan does. The best thing about her, for me, is her absolute belief that she is always right, her way of approaching things is obviously correct and pretty much everyone else in the world is an idiot that needs to be tolerated at best. Her disdain for most of humanity as irredeemably stupid drips off the page and it is delightful.

You might think a woman like this would be hard to relate to as a character, but it isn’t so. I think because the author sets her up so early on with problems that we, the reader, can see are going to force her to adjust her view, because when we meet her family we can possibly understand that a great deal of her spiky ways have developed as armour against the tribulations of her early life and her dysfunctional family, and because other characters who are more likeable in the book see her as a redeemable character, so we do too. The writing is so clever in this regard, I have to tip my hat to the author.

This book is incredibly warm and funny. The situation that Sarah puts Susan in, finding herself pregnant in her forties, would be ripe for comedy in any situation but, given how ordered and uptight Susan is, the chaos of pregnancy and childbirth is magnified tenfold. There were parts of the book that had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part where she and Richard meet to discuss how they are going to handle the parenting of this unexpected child was delightful in its naivety for anyone who has children. Then the incident with the Bananagrams towards the end of the book made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. I read someone else’s review of this book that claimed it was not as funny as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I would beg to differ, I found this much funnier.

As I have now brought up Eleanor Oliphant, I want to say that anyone who loved that book will really enjoy this one. It is a similar social misfit tale, but a completely different story. Sarah obviously has so much love for the character of Susan, it shines from the page and makes the reader fall in love with her too. I listened to this book as an audiobook in the end, even though I originally got the book via NetGalley, but when I had finished it, I immediately went and bought a hardback copy for my shelves because I know I will want to return to it again and again.

I just wanted to say a word about the audio version of this book. I think listening to it via audio gave Susan a really strong voice for me. She is from the West Midlands, and the narrator has the accent down perfectly throughout. I am not sure about you but, when I read text, even if the author places the cast in a particular location, I never read with an accent in my head. Listening to someone read with the accent really cemented Susan as alive and kicking for me, and her tone and pacing was also perfect for the character. I think this is one of those stories where the audio really enhances the story and I would highly recommend it (although it did take me several days to get the Birmingham accent out of my head after finishing the book!). The narrator was perfect and I don’t have high enough praise for her performance, as the narration makes or breaks an audiobook.

The Cactus is already on the shortlist for being one of my Top Ten books of the year. I cannot express how much I adored it. It is no surprise to me that it was chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and everyone who hasn’t read it should get a copy now. It is the perfect antidote to the dark days we are currently living through and you could do a lot worse that share your isolation with Susan Green.

The Cactus is out now in all formats and you can get yourself a copy here.

About the Author

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Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahhaywoodauthor.com

Facebook: Sarah Haywood Author

Twitter: @SarahxHaywood

Instagram: @sarahjhaywood

Blog Tour: When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson #BookReview

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Sometimes life can be bittersweet . . .

Between tending to the whims of her seven-year-old and the demands of her boss, Viv barely gets a moment to herself. It’s not quite the life she wanted, but she hasn’t run screaming for the hills yet.

But then Viv’s husband Andy makes his mid-life crisis her problem. He’s having an affair with his (infuriatingly age-appropriate) colleague, a woman who – unlike Viv – doesn’t put on weight when she so much as glances at a cream cake.

Viv suddenly finds herself single, with zero desire to mingle. Should she be mourning the end of life as she knows it, or could this be the perfect chance to put herself first?

When life gives you lemons, lemonade just won’t cut it. Bring on the gin!

It is my turn on the blog tour today for When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson. My thanks to Sanjana Cunniah at Avon Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by Fiona Gibson, and I’m now wondering why I haven’t read anything by her before because this novel was right up my street, definitely what I needed to cheer me up and take my mind off my enforced isolation.

It probably helped that the main character of Viv could, in many ways, be me. I haven’t related this closely to the main protagonist of a novel in a long while. It is so refreshing to see a menopausal woman of a certain age as the main character of a mainstream book, and one who is so unassuming but kickass as Viv. Although I have to say, the thought of having a seven-year-old at the age of 52 (which would be the equivalent of me currently being in charge of a toddler) filled me with abject horror! Those days are far behind me, thankfully (although dealing with teens can be just as bad) and I admired Viv’s fortitude in this regard.

The writing in this novel is light and upbeat and easy to read throughout and I fairly flew  through the pages. The plot and tone and characters are all very engaging, and it was very easy to immerse myself in their world and care about what was going on. I really loved the fact that Fiona did not make any of the characters canonised saints or absolute sinners, which sometimes can happen when an author wants us to sympathise with a protagonist and her decisions. Here, although Viv’s husband behaves like a cad, he is not a pantomime villain with no redeeming features, just an ordinary, if slightly weak, man, and this makes it much easier for the reader to believe in him and Viv’s reaction to him. All in all, I felt like all of the characters and their behaviour were realistically portrayed.

What made this book a real winner for me, though, was the painfully and brutally honest portrayals of peri-menopause and what it does to a woman, both physically and emotionally. As someone who is going through this stage of life at the moment and has, at times over the past three years felt like her body has been hijacked by an alien who keeps doing very undignified things to it, it was refreshing to see someone talking about this out loud and taking the sting out of it. At times this book had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part when Viv’s boss takes her out to lunch to discuss a potential new role for her in the company was a particular highlight. A good chuckle at women in my current situation was the tonic I never knew I was missing.

On the downside, I may never eat another Wotsit.

This book was funny and pacy and all-round delightful. If you looking for an easy, upbeat read to get you through quarantine, I highly recommend it.

When Life Gives You Lemons is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the blog tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Fiona Gibson is the author of 15 romantic comedy novels, including the best-selling The Mum Who Got Her Life Back (Avon), which celebrates the empty nester years. Under the name of Ellen Berry, she also writes the heartwarming Rosemary Lane series (Snowdrops on Rosemary Lane is out in January 2020).

Fiona grew up in West Yorkshire, before working on Jackie and Just Seventeen magazines – in those heady pre-internet days when it was thrilling to get a free plastic mirror taped to the front of your magazine. She went on to edit More! magazine, where she introduced the infamous Position of the Fortnight. After having twin sons and a daughter, Fiona started to write novels, usually at night with the house full of toddlers and builders. She was sleep deprived anyway so it really didn’t make any difference.

She also loves to draw, paint and run – by some miracle she managed to finish the London Marathon 2019. With the kids all grown up now, she and her husband Jimmy live in Glasgow with their collie cross, Jack.

Connect with Fiona:
Twitter: @FionaGibson
Instagram: @fiona_gib

 

FCBC Reading Challenge 2020: Neon Empire by Drew Minh #BookReview

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In a state-of-the-art city where social media drives every aspect of the economy, a has-been Hollywood director and an investigative journalist race to uncover the relationship between a rising tide of violence and corporate corruption.

Bold, colorful, and dangerously seductive, Eutopia is a new breed of hi-tech city. Rising out of the American desert, it’s a real-world manifestation of a social media network where fame-hungry desperados compete for likes and followers. But in Eutopia, the bloodier and more daring posts pay off the most. As crime rises, no one stands to gain more than Eutopia’s architects—and, of course, the shareholders who make the place possible.

This multiple-POV novel follows three characters as they navigate the city’s underworld. Cedric Travers, a has-been Hollywood director, comes to Eutopia looking for clues into his estranged wife’s disappearance. What he finds instead is a new career directing—not movies, but experiences. The star of the show: A’rore, the city’s icon and lead social media influencer. She’s panicking as her popularity wanes, and she’ll do anything do avoid obscurity. Sacha Villanova, a tech and culture reporter, is on assignment to profile A’rore—but as she digs into Eutopia’s inner workings, she unearths a tangle of corporate corruption that threatens to sacrifice Cedric, A’rore, and even the city itself on the altar of stockholder greed.

This is Book 6 for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The category was ‘A book which is a dystopian novel.’ The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that I have not reviewed book five in the challenge, ‘A book from my favourite genre.’ Unfortunately, the book I chose for this category was not to my tastes so, in line with my policy of not including negative reviews on the blog, I have decided I will not be reviewing it.

Neon Empire is a dystopian novel set in a not-too-distant future where the world’s increasing obsession with social media status has developed to the next level and a whole city has been constructed where popularity and social media influence are the sole currency and where flocks of people gather to pursue fame and fortune and hedonism. But the maintenance of status becomes all-consuming, and people’s desire to achieve or maintain their position drives them to further and further extremes and the corporations in control go to ever more desperate lengths to monetise experience to the last degree, regardless of the danger to human life. This all leads to a tautly-wound society that is only ever seconds away from violence and civil disobedience and it is only going to take one wrong move for the tinder-box to erupt.

The pace of the book is frenetic, and the story arc is spliced and jumbled and told by different voices and all angles, to reflect the fast, constantly-changing, crazy world of utopia, where things move and change from second to second and everyone is constantly reacting to changing stimuli and running to catch up. The world-building is detailed and evocative, in my mind Eutopia is a cross between Las Vegas on acid and Minority Report and, for some reason, a place where it is permanently night. Sometimes the text provides too much information to take in, and your brain is chasing the detail, unable to keep up, but again this is deliberate, to reflect the reality that the book presents, which makes for an exciting read, but it is not remotely relaxing!

This is an interesting exploration of where our society could go, given the trajectory we are on at the moment. Bearing in mind the scandals there have been with regard to data-mining and social media influencing of our decision-making in recent years, of how susceptible we all are to online marketing and rumour, how we know that the internet seems to predict our every move by monitoring our online interactions, the world portrayed here is no so far-fetched as to be unimaginable. It is not, however, a pretty or comfortable picture and should give us all pause for thought.

A future of online manipulation, superficiality and artifice is not a place I want to live, or for my children to grow up in. This book made me want to get out in the fresh air and touch something real.

Neon Empire is out now and you can buy a copy here.