Book Review: The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

I was provided with a copy of The Queen’s Spy by the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of review, so my thanks to them. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I was a huge fan of Clare Marchant’s debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall, so I was very keen to read her ‘difficult second novel’ which features a character from the first novel, but has moved forward slightly in time historically to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Well, Clare has made the ‘difficult second novel’ look as easy and breezy as the first with this book. Again we are dealing with a dual timeline, in modern day Norfolk, and sixteenth century London, following the lives of two nomadic souls. In the present day, rootless Mathilde has travelled to England to find out more about an unexpected inheritance and family she had no idea existed. However, she has no intention of staying in the ancient house with its hidden secrets any longer than she must. But the ghosts that haunt the place aren’t keen on letting her go until she has uncovered their stories.

Back in the 1500s, Tom also also travelled from France to make a new life. Both deaf and mute, he also finds it difficult to fit in and put down roots, until he finds how useful he can be to England’s powerful Queen in her war against the cousin who would usurp her throne. Tom and Mathilde’s stories run parallel in their quests for a home and a family they never knew they wanted or believed they could ever have.

What I really loved about this book, and what makes it stand out for me in the canon of dual timeline romances, is the featuring of a male protagonist as the vessel for the story in the past timeline. Clare slips as easily into the skin of sixteenth century male servant just as easily as she did the shoes of her female protagonist in the historical part of her previous novel. She has managed to capture life from his perspective – poor, foreign, physically disadvantaged – absolutely perfectly so that he feels fully authentic and really brings the period to life. The peril in which those without power lived day to day, subject to the whims of their capricious overlords and living in a court full of danger and intrigue. You can feel the fear emanating from the pages.

Equally, in the modern day, I loved the prickly character of Mathilde, thrust into an equally strange environment. Fiercely independent but secretly lonely and vulnerable, she has put up a barrier to everyone else that is going to be hard for anyone to break down. However, over the course of the novel we understand, along with the other characters, why she is as she is and how to get at the real person underneath. Despite her awkward character, you can’t help but sympathise with her, and long for her to see what she could have if she lets people in.

The author has woven the two timelines together perfectly again, the transition between past and present not at all jarring to the reader. Bothe timelines are alive with imagery – sights, sounds, scents bringing each setting fully to life. Exploring the flat, open landscape of Norfolk, and the dank, crowded streets of Elizabethan London with equal aplomb, this is a truly transportive novel. Particularly emotionally, I found, as both the plights of Mathilde and Tom moved me, especially the ending.

This is a great read for anyone fond of this historical period, fans of dual timelines, or those who just love a well-written, immersive novel exploring love and relationships and what humans really need to live fulfilling lives.

The Queen’s Spy is out now in all 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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Anise Eden

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Today I am delighted to be joined on the blog for Romancing The Romance Authors by author, Anise Eden, who is chatting all things romance writing.

Welcome, Anise, tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

Julie, thank you so much for having me! It’s an honour to be here.

I write edge-of-your-seat, deeply emotional suspense novels with romantic elements and laugh-out-loud moments. I enjoy writing series that follow one couple throughout, allowing their relationships to grow and develop over several books. Mental health themes often appear in my work, since I have experience as both a psychotherapist and a patient. I consider my job well done when people tell me they stayed up way too late reading my books, and then demand sequels! 

My first foray into writing was a paranormal romance trilogy, The Healing Edge Series, published by Diversion Books. Now, I am writing for Tangled Tree Publishing, with my fourth novel, Dead Sound, releasing on October 12. I’m working on the sequel, Dead Keen, as we speak.

Why romance?

When I wrote my debut novel, I didn’t know I was writing a romance. I’d only read one romance novel before in my life, back in college. I just wrote the book that was begging to come out, and then consulted some knowledgeable friends who told me I’d written a paranormal romance novel. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the romance and suspense/thriller genres, so I have a much better handle on what I’m writing! Everyone’s creative process is different, though, and for me, I can’t write to a “formula,” so to speak. I have to simply write what’s in me to write, and find the appropriate label for it later, tweaking as necessary. I’d say the fact that all of my books so far have included romantic elements is a reflection of the fact that I am myself a hopeless romantic who is heavily focused on matters of the heart. 

What inspires your stories?

That varies wildly. My debut novel, All the Broken Places, started out as a mashup between exploring my own struggles with anxiety and wondering about the origins of paranormal abilities. Once the initial idea appears, the characters take over, and they can lead me anywhere. For example, my upcoming novel, Dead Sound, originated from a question that formed in my mind: how would an Old Testament-style prophet be greeted if they appeared in the 21st century? Before I knew it, I was writing a thriller. The creative process is truly a mystery.

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

I’m a relative newcomer to the genre, having just discovered it after I was told my first book was a romance novel. I thought, “If that’s what I’m writing, I should probably familiarize myself.” Now I’m completely hooked and in a process of discovery! The first romance series I devoured were by Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse) and Kate Elliott (Spiritwalker). Favourite authors I’m currently reading are Rosanna Leo (whose entire back catalogue I’ve now read), Talia Hibbert, and Sariah Wilson. 

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

I’m not sure how the author would categorize her book, but I would recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I love a book that is beautifully written and has a little bit of everything, and Outlander definitely fits that description. An epic love story, history, action, adventure, science fiction, medicine—and that’s just for starters. Plus, Gabaldon is an incredibly gifted artist with a poetic flair. Oh, and bonus: the TV series inspired by her books is pure catnip!

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What if your future lay in the past?

1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to re-establish their loving marriage. But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer – her husband’s six-times great-grandfather.

Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach – an outlander – in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.

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

Continuing on the Outlander theme, while this weekend wouldn’t be romantic (I mean, she’s SO taken!), I’d love to spend a couple of days with heroine Claire Fraser showing me around 18th century Paris. With her quick wit, fierce heart, and dry sense of humour, I think she’d be fabulous company. I also really want to meet Bouton, the dog that works at the hospital. And if her dressmaker could fit me in, all the better!

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

I relocated from the US to Ireland three years ago, and joining the RNA has been a fabulous opportunity to connect with writers and become part of the community in my new home. While in lockdown, I was able to join a video call with the Irish chapter, and it was delightful to meet with fellow area romance writers. I am eager to attend a chapter meeting in person when it becomes possible, and I look forward to the next RNA conference. There is nothing quite as much fun as “geeking out” with people who love to talk writing, publishing, and romance as much as I do!

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

I would share one of my favourite quotes by Rumi, which has been a guiding light for me in creative pursuits: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will never lead you astray.”

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My new thriller, Dead Sound, was so much fun to write! It draws a lot on things I know about personally, such as working in a hospital setting, life in Washington DC, and Irish leading men (my husband is from Cork). It also dives into some of the topics I most love to explore, from the worlds of medicine and mental health to the complex relationships between power and truth. You can pre-order a copy here.

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The tender scars on her abdomen throb as memories of the attack come rushing back, flooding her mind and sending her heart racing…

Psychotherapist Neve Keane knew that returning to work at the hospital after being stabbed by a patient would be difficult. But entering her unit only to be surrounded by a crowd of people claiming they need her help to stop the apocalypse—that’s more than she bargained for.

When the crowd’s leader turns out to be a mutual patient of Neve and her best friend, streetwise Irish doctor Cornelius O’Brien, they are both pulled into a Byzantine plot that transforms Capitol Hill General into a dangerous place where threats and betrayals lurk around every corner.

Then their mutual patient falls into a mysterious coma, and the clues he left behind lead Neve and Cornelius straight into Washington, DC’s ugly underbelly, a world of shadowy political forces with long arms and deadly intentions.

As they race to unravel the threads of a sinister conspiracy that leads from their hospital all the way to the White House, Neve and Cornelius realize they might be fighting to stop the end of the world, after all—provided they can survive the week with targets on their backs.

About the Author

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Author photo © OC Photography

Following the advice to “write what you know,” ANISE EDEN is the author of suspense novels with thriller, romance, and paranormal elements. Her qualifications include growing up in countryside where rattlesnakes and cougars jumped out of nowhere; living with family members who are a little bit psychic; and having her life saved on more than one occasion by her SEAL Team of guardian angels.
After college, Anise soaked up life in NYC, Washington DC, and points in between. She tried her hand at grooming horses, scooping ice cream, and designing billboards before returning to school to become a psychotherapist. Though she left that field after many rewarding years, Anise remains a passionate mental health advocate.
Continuing her real-life adventures, Anise is now exploring life in Ireland with her husband and their small, benevolent canine dictator. While her books have won multiple awards, Anise’s propensity for dropping glass objects while barefoot makes it highly likely that her next win will be a Darwin Award.
Dead Sound was the Winner of the 2019 IRWA Golden Opportunity Contest in Romantic Suspense.
Connect with Anise:
Facebook: Anise Eden
Twitter: @aniseeden
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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Nesting by C. J. Cooke #BookReview

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A house stands alone in the woods.

Deep in the forests of Norway, Lexi finds a fresh start with Tom and his two young daughters, working as their new nanny.

The darkness creeps closer.

But Lexi is telling lies, and she’s not the only one. This family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build this house, and in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

Lexi must protect the children in her care – but protect them from what?

Challenge number 9 was ‘Read a book that is on the TBR of a Fiction Cafe Member.’ As The Nesting by C. J. Cooke was on the TBR of Charlene Mattson, and also on my NetGalley shelf, it seemed like the obvious choice. Two birds, one stone and all that. I actually listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aysha Kala, which is a great option if you are considering it. The narration was excellent.

This book is a really interesting mix of gothic fairytale, environmental parable and exploration of depression. It is dreamy and ethereal and dark and scary, and surreal all at the same time. The threads are so tightly and cleverly woven together by the author that, even by the end, you won’t be quite sure what is real and what has been a dream.

The book is told through the voices of a number of people. Troubled Lexi, running from her demons and her problems, finds herself hiding out in Norway, pretending to be someone she isn’t in an effort to find a life better than the one she has been living. Tom, battling the forces of nature in a remote Norwegian forest to balance building his beloved wife’s dream holiday home with protecting this unspoilt wilderness. And Aurelia, feeling isolated in the aftermath of her second daughter’s birth and haunted by the ghosts of the Norwegian forest. Each of them experiences supernatural events in the dark, Norwegian forest and the remote fjord, but which are real, and which are products of troubled minds.

The dive into Norwegian folklore and stories was the part that most drew me to this book, because anything along those lines fascinates me. I loved the way that the author wove them in to the narrative of the novel, and used them to make commentary on the impact of human beings on the planet and its non-human inhabitants without being preachy. It was also a clever way to explore why we are drawn to stories of darkness to explain things that we are afraid to confront inside ourselves.

Aside from these themes, this is just a cracking good story that is a compelling read. What is actually happening out there in the Norwegian forest? What is Aurelia really experiencing, and what is just a result of the problems that can afflict women after child birth that can go unnoticed and unrecognised by those around her? Is Lexi’s past going to come back to haunt her? Is Tom everything he seems to be? I was eager every time to get back to listening to the book, and it made some mundane chores seem a lot less arduous, I was so engrossed.

The Nesting is a great book for anyone who loves the gothic and the mythic, but also for anyone interested in the human brain and the things it can do for us when we are thrown off balance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will definitely be recommending it to a few friends.

The Nesting is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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C J Cooke (Carolyn Jess-Cooke) lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. C J Cooke’s works have been published in 23 languages and have won many awards. She holds a PhD in Literature from the Queen’s University of Belfast and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. Two of her books are currently optioned for film.

Connect with Carolyn:

Website: https://carolynjesscooke.com/

Facebook: C J Cooke Books

Twitter: @CJessCooke

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Book Review: Whisper of the Lotus by Gabrielle Yetter #BookReview

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Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to come full circle back to discover what was right in front of you..

Charlotte’s mundane, dead-end life lacked excitement. She never imagined that sitting on a plane to Cambodia, struggling with her fear of flying, would lead to her being befriended by Rashid, an old man whose tragic secret would take her on a mystery tour of discovery.

In a land of golden temples, orange-clad monks, and smiling people, Charlotte discovers nothing is as she’d expected. She also never imagined the journey would take her back to the night when her father walked out on the family.

And who was Rashid? Was he just a kindly old man, or was there something deeper sewn into the exquisite fabric of his life?

I received a digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am partial to a book that takes me to another country, especially one that I have never visited in person. Cambodia is a place that is at the top of my bucket list so, until I can get there in reality, I was really looking forward to being transported there between the pages of this book. The author certainly managed to do that in Whisper of the Lotus. The book is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and people of Cambodia and really brought the place to life in a way that only someone who is very familiar with the country really could.

Charlotte is a person who doesn’t really have a life of her own. After her parents split up, she has been left at home looking after her mother – a woman consumed by bitterness and self-pity – by a mixture of guilt and fear. Her best friend Roxy went off travelling and found a new life in Cambodia, so Charlotte decides to take a long-desired holiday to visit her out there. Charlotte is afraid of flying, afraid of travelling alone, afraid of anything different, so this is a big deal for her. She is befriended on the flight by an elderly man who calms her down with words of wisdom, and that encounter sets her the path of a mystery when she lands in Cambodia that will change everything for her.

This is a really unusual book which crosses a number of genres. Part travel novel, part mystery, part supernatural, part exploration of Buddhism, part family saga, there is a lot that will appeal to many different people here, and it will probably be like nothing you have read before. The author explores the relationship between Charlotte and her mother and how that has impacted her life, and between Charlotte and her friend Roxy and how the differences between the two illuminate the changes that Charlotte needs to make to her life to make her happy. The book takes us on an exploration of Cambodia that is enriching and delightful for anyone who is interested in life in other parts of the world, and her writing here is rich and detailed and full of affection and admiration for the country and its people. 

I found the discussion of Buddhist principles through Charlotte’s learning of them particularly fascinating, as it something I have always had a mild interest in but never particularly pursued beyond that, so learning a little more was enlightening and made me think I might look into it a bit further. Charlotte begins down the path of seeing how it could help her move on in her life, although it is clearly not an easy path because she seems to forget what has been taught as soon as she gets into a difficult situation! I think this indicates it is something that takes a lot of time and dedication to explore and cannot turn things around overnight.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, which came mainly from the character of Charlotte. I did find her a hard person to warm to at times. She is quite whiny and addicted to her victimhood (as Roxy points out!) and very quick to fly of the handle if she thinks anyone is telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. I appreciate that her character needs to be like that at the beginning so she can move on from it through the book as she learns and grows, but I didn’t feel like she had got there by the end; she still seemed to be quite self-centred at the conclusion. Normally this might be quite fatal for my enjoyment of a book, but the rest of it was written so beautifully and was so entertaining that I was able to get past it. She is not a character I could ever love though.

The supernatural element of the book created some moments of beauty and interest, and I enjoyed it, although I think some people might find it too unbelievable and coincidental to swallow. It is definitely a book that requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. The book is a languid and leisurely feast for all the senses, that doesn’t rush but takes a slow and circuitous route to its conclusion. It is not without flaw, and won’t appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone looking for something that little bit out of the ordinary.

Whisper of the Lotus is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Gabrielle Yetter has lived in India, Bahrain, South Africa, Cambodia, England and the USA. She worked as a journalist in South Africa, owned a dining guide in San Diego, wrote a cookbook about traditional Cambodian desserts and freelanced for publications and online sites in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.

In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, sold their home in the US, quit their jobs, gave away most of their possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.

In June 2015, she co-authored Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, with Skip. In May 2016, she published her first children’s picture book, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn’t Swim Straight followed by Martha The Blue Sheep in 2017.

She lives in Eastbourne, England and her first novel, Whisper of the Lotus, was released in November 2020.

Connect with Gabrielle:

Website: http://www.gabrielleyetter.com/

Facebook: Gabrielle Yetter

Twitter: @gabster2

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Blog Tour: Abberton House by Debbie Ioanna #BookReview

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Two families. 100 years apart. A sinister haunting…

It was supposed to be the dream house for Adam, Catherine, and their daughter, Bella. But dream houses can hold secrets. Settling in to their new home, the family realise they are not the only inhabitants of Abberton House.

A dark past continues to haunt the idyllic Yorkshire home, and those who remain want Adam and Catherine to know the truth. Frightened, Adam and Catherine begin to piece together what really happened at this once perfect abode.

A missing family, an elderly man searching for the truth, and secrets waiting to be revealed, moving in to Abberton House could be the worst decision the family made.

Today I am taking my turn on the blog tour for Abberton House by Debbie Ioanna. Thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for asking me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a traditional haunted house story, rather than a spine-chilling horror, which is much more to my tastes as I am a bit of a scaredy cat and don’t like anything too terrifying or gory. It might be too tame for the out and out horror fan, but I thought it was a fun read with a pleasantly chilling frisson that will have you on the edge of your seat, but not having to sleep with the light on!

A family move in to an old, remote house in Yorkshire, only to find over time that they are not living alone. As the spooky happenings increase in frequency and ferocity, the family realise that they need to solve a hundred-year-old mystery to settle the spirits. In this regard, the story isn’t particularly original or startling, and I think a lot of readers might guess the outcome, but the way the story is told is entertaining enough to keep the reader interested to the end nonetheless.

The story bobs backwards and forwards between the lives of the family in the present day, and Elizabeth and her children living in the house in 1916 while the man of the house, Henry, is away on the frontline in the First World War. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the way the author portrayed the struggles of Elizabeth at that time and the dynamics of the close knit community, and how they judged people. This is mirrored to a degree in the modern day with Catherine and her family trying to fit into a new community in North Yorkshire and worrying what people will think if they find out they are seeing ghosts.

The manifestations of the ghostly goings on in the house are not too terrifying, partly because the young daughter of the house did not seem especially scared. To be honest, I think I would have reacted much more strongly to supernatural happenings than Catherine, especially left alone at night in a remote house with a young child, but maybe she is just made of sterner stuff than I, and I suppose it made sense in the terms of the plot, making them want to help the spirits settle rather than just running screaming far, far away, but they could perhaps have been a little more terrified. I also felt there were aspects of the story that were a little under-developed (why did Mary take such a dislike to Michael, for example). The writing also felt quite formal in places, which was especially apparent in the speech, which didn’t feel entirely natural. These were all minor niggles though.

All in all, this is a well-constructed, entertaining supernatural thriller that will appeal to people who want to be chilled, but not scared witless.

Abberton House is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

Do make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Debbie Ioanna

Debbie is a multi-genre indie author and blogger who was born in Bradford and lives there with her husband, two-year-old daughter and anti-social cat Cleo. When she isn’t busy being a Mum, working for her local council or studying towards her Open University degree, she is busy focusing on her writing career.

Debbie doesn’t write to just one genre as she likes to write about anything. She is currently working on a romantic-comedy series but who knows what she will be working on in the future. As well as writing novels, short stories and blogs for her website, she is also reviewing other works by indie authors. She is passionate about helping other indie authors as she knows it is a hard world to master and getting reviews is a challenge on its own.

Debbie has been a regular attending author at the UK Indie Lit Fest in Bradford for the last few years and will be returning in 2020, as well as attending events in Shipley and Liverpool for the first time.

Debbie began studying with the Open University in 2015, aiming towards a BA Honours in Humanities, focusing on History and Creative Writing which are her two greatest passions. It is a part-time course, due to end in 2021 which Debbie is hoping means she will have more time to write.

Connect with Debbie:

Website: https://debbie-ioanna-author.blog/

Facebook: Debbie Ioanna Author

Twitter: @Debbie_Cleo

Instagram: @debbieioannaauthor

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Book Review: Almost Damned by Christopher Leibig #BookReview

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Defense attorney Samson Young has an uncanny ability to get even the so-called worst clients off the hook, as he ably demonstrated in Almost Mortal. In Almost Damned, little does Sam know that his most challenging cases are all leading up to one monumental trial, in which he will lay before the Court the visceral complexities of good vs. evil.

As Sam navigates his cases in Bennet County, it becomes increasingly apparent that his clients-old and new-are surprisingly interconnected, especially when old clients rise from the dead. Literally. He and his office are besieged by death threats and mysterious invitations, each one a clue that compels him to dig deeper into his own past. With each new discovery, Sam leads himself and his team deeper into a nether world in an attempt to bring redemption to his toughest clients of all-the descendants of the biblical Fallen Angels who have been walking the earth as humans for centuries, unable to find peace.

Almost Damned is the second book by Christopher Leibig featuring defense attorney Samson Young, following on from Almost Mortal. I am grateful to publicist Sabrina Dax for inviting me to review the book and to the author and publisher for providing me with copies of both books for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Regular readers of the blog will know that legal thrillers are one of my favourite genres and I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur, having read pretty much every author of note over the years. However, I have never read one like this before. Christopher Leibig has combined the legal thriller genre with a paranormal twist to come up with something quite unique and intriguing.

Although Almost Damned can be read as a standalone, I would recommend reading Almost Mortal first, as it sets up events for the second book and will give you a great understanding of Samson and his past and why he finds himself in the position as lawyer for the Fallen Angels. It will also ease you in to Christopher’s style of writing, which is elaborate, complex and detailed and requires a certain level of concentration.

When you pick up the books, they seem quite thin, but they pack a huge punch. The world the author has built is rich and elaborate, mixing historical flashbacks and esoteric ideas with the very modern and immediate world of law. It is a juxtaposition that could be an uncomfortable jumble, but the author sorts through it with confidence and panache. However, it does require attention from the reader to keep up, this is not a quick easy read.

I thought the author’s portrayal of the legal world was very accurate, showing the hurly burly and every day jumble that legal defence practice is. Some books have lawyers focusing on one case at a time, with leisure to pursue every lead to their hearts content. This isn’t the reality. In reality, lawyers juggle dozens of cases all at once, jumping from one to the next in the blink of an eye and having to have recall of all the facts at their fingertips. This really comes across in the writing here, and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

When it comes to the other aspect of the novel, the trial of the Fallen Angels in front of a jury of Archangels, here we are reaching the heights of philosophy and religious dogma, and it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some of the ideas explored here are an intellectual reach, and had me pondering what he was saying for a long while after I had finished the book. It is a bold and brave idea to explore, and he carries it off very well, but I did wonder how he came up with it. It would not be a genre blend I would ever have contemplated attempting but it does make for a very fascinating and individual read.

I don’t think these books will be for everyone, they are a densely-packed mix of ambitious and elaborate ideas with frenetic activity, lavish language and numerous characters, all with more than one name. They require attention while reading, not an idle way to pass a lazy afternoon, but reward the reader with a new and beguiling world to explore. I would recommend them to someone who is always on the hunt for that outlier novel that pushes the boundaries of what has been done before.

Almost Damned will be released in ebook and paperback formats on 1 April and you can pre-order it here. The first book in the series, Almost Mortal, is out now and you can get it here.

About the Author

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Christopher Leibig is a novelist and criminal defense lawyer who lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia. His first two published books, Saving Saddam(a 2008 novel about the trial of Saddam Hussein) and Montanamo (a 2010 novel about Guantanamo Bay detainees being housed in a small Montana town’s prison) were published by Artnik Books in London. Saving Saddam was re-released in 2014 under its original American title, The Black RabbitChris also has several published short stories – Secret Admirer (The Cynic on-line magazine 2004) Coldcocked (Skyline magazine 2004), Fly (The Cynic on-line magazine 2009), Intervention (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014), and Paradise City (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014). The Black Rabbit, MontanamoIntervention, and Paradise City are also available on audiobook by Audible.

Chris’s law firm, the Law Office of Christopher Leibig, represents individuals charged with or being investigated for serious criminal offenses throughout Virginia and in Washington. DC. His firm has received numerous awards and recognitions, including inclusion in Washingtonian Magazine’s Top Lawyers in Criminal Defense every year since 2011. Chris has also published numerous articles on criminal defense and related politics – including in the Huffington Post and The Examiner – and appeared as a legal expert regularly since 2009 in print and television media – including Fox News, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. In recent years Chris has regularly handled high profile criminal cases in the DC area and travelled abroad to speak to law schools. Since 2012, Chris and his colleagues have lectured on criminal defense throughout Virginia, and in Scotland, Ireland, Trinidad, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Denmark.

Connect with Christopher:

Website: https://chrisleibig.com/

Facebook: Chris Leibig

Twitter: @chrisleibig

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Blog Tour: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell #BookReview

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As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…

My second blog tour today is for The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell and I am delighted to have been invited to take part by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours. My thanks also to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Well, Laura Purcell, you owe me a tube of expensive eye cream to try and undo the ravages to my face inflicted by sitting up late into the night finishing your fantastic book. I inhaled the whole thing in a single day. It would have been one sitting if pesky things like having to feed my family hadn’t got in the way. Talk about compulsive reading, I couldn’t tear my eyes or mind away from this immersive story you have woven.

Life in Victorian Bath is alive on the page here, in all its grimy glory. Because this isn’t the world of the gentry, will dances and dinners and pretty dresses. This is the world of the impoverished, who are scratching around for the next pennies that will save them from the arms of the workhouse, walking a fine line that will keep them out of both there and the jail, because neither of those places are anywhere that a person wants to be in Victorian England, and Laura makes this quite clear in her writing. The prose is so evocative, it is alive with sights and sounds and scents, tastes and textures, and it is a pretty dark place she paints on the page. Not here the golden stone and gilded society of Jane Austen’s Bath. This is the perfect setting for a gothic tale that will keep you saucer-eyed into the wee small hours, as I was.

Our protagonist is Agnes, a feeble women of advancing middle-age, trying to scratch a living from her profession of cutting ‘shades’ or silhouette portraits for sitters who are becoming fewer and fewer as the silhouettes fall out of fashion, replaced by advances in technology. To make matter worse, tragedy seems to be striking her few recent clients, making her fear for her reputation and even her safety. This fear makes her seek answers from a spiritualist child, Pearl. But is Pearl’s gift real? And who is really haunting Agnes?

This is such a clever book. From beginning to end, nothing is what it seems. It is impossible to tell what is real and what isn’t, who is honest and who is a charlatan, who is the villain and who we can really trust. My thoughts and conclusions changed from page to page, I had so many wild theories but I never came near to the truth and, oh my god, the ending completely blew me away and left my mind reeling. This is one of those books where everything you think you know gets completely flipped on its head by the end and you end up wondering how the author managed to fool you so completely all the way through. One of the most satisfying books I have read for a long while.

This book has everything you could possibly want in a gothic novel. Darkness, danger, mystery and misdirection. Parts of it are quite vividly disturbing, because the author does not shy away from the real life horrors of this period of history for those who were not wealthy, as well as filling the book with supernatural thrills, but if you are a fan of this type of book, and of Laura’s previous books, you will absolutely love this.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. There aren’t that many books that I can afford to give up my beauty sleep for at my age, but this one was definitely worth it.

The Shape of Darkness is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

There are lots of other great reviews and contents being hosted on the other blogs taking part in the tour so make sure you pay them a visit:

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About the Author

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Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV Book Club pick and was the winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, while her subsequent books – The Corset and Bone China – established Laura as the queen of the sophisticated, and spooky, page-turner.

Connect with Laura:

Website: https://www.laurapurcell.com/

Facebook: Laura Purcell

Twitter: @spookypurcell

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager; Narrated by Cady McClain & Jon Lindstrom #BookReview

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What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.

Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.

But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings. 

As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again….

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book that was a Goodreads top read of 2020.’ I have again vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones. So I chose this book, as I had it already as an audiobook.

I love to listen to Riley Sager novels as audiobooks. There is always so much action and tension in his books that they keep the narration rolling along, despite the fact that the narrators always read a lot slower than I could read them myself if I sat down with the paperback. This one was no exception, and it made me eager to get on with my chores so that I could listen to the next segment. The only drawback was that I could not use this audiobook to send me off to sleep at night as I sometimes do, it was too scary! I was afraid I would have nightmares, or frighten myself to death if I woke up in the night and caught sight of my reflection in the bedroom mirror.

The book is told in the voices of two narrators. The first is Maggie who, in the present day, returns to the ‘haunted house’ that her family fled from when she was five years old. Her family grew rich on the back of a book detailing their experiences in the ‘House of Horrors,’ but the experience has marred Maggie’s life since and, on the death of her father, Maggie returns to the house to find out what really happened back then. The second narrator is the voice of Maggie’s father, Ewan, telling the story of their time in the house as detailed in the book. But it is fact or fiction? Honestly, the reader/listener can’t really know until right at the end of the book, both stories (the one in the book, and the book itself) are very convincing. The audiobook is voiced by two different narrators for Maggie and Ewan who are both excellent and it works really, really well as a listen.

There are lots of twists and turns in the book that keep the reader gripped and guessing, right to the end. Parts of it a really unsettling, I quite often felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and, as I said, I was afraid to listen to it just before sleep. All great signs of this type of ghost story/thriller and things I have come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. If you have enjoyed his books before, you will like this one.

Yes, it’s preposterous. Yes, the ending is absolutely ludicrous. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief so far that it will feel like it is hovering over the Grand Canyon. But these are the things that make this kind of book so much fun and why this book was so popular that it ended up in the Goodreads Top Reads of 2020. It gave me everything I expected in spades and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t wait for his next book.

Home Before Dark is out now as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer. Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller that’s been translated into more than 25 languages. His subsequent novels, THE LAST TIME I LIED, LOCK EVERY DOOR and HOME BEFORE DARK, were instant New York Times bestsellers. His newest thriller, SURVIVE THE NIGHT, will be released in June.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

Connect with Riley:

Website: https://www.rileysagerbooks.com/

Facebook: Riley Sager Books

Twitter: @riley_sager

Instagram: @riley.sager

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

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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.

Present Day

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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Book Review: Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad

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When a vampire seduces you, death is minutes away. When she hires you, you’ll soon wish you were dead.

It’s a truth known to every guardian who worked for Fiona, including Daniel. Aside from managing the day to day chores and keeping her protected, he manages an investment portfolio to buy stolen blood from hospital workers. The 250-year-old Fiona needs 10 pints of human blood every night. As a result of this, Daniel and Fiona are always on the lookout for police, but fail to notice their gradual encirclement by Mors Strigae, an ancient order of monks dedicated to the extermination of vampires. Gone for a century, the monks start a new war when they destroy Fiona’s sire. This time, her vampire family is pushed to the edge of extinction — and the humans who serve them are hunted and executed.

After 35 years, what keeps him loyal? And will he ever be allowed to leave?

It’s publication day for Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad and I am delighted to be reviewing the book in celebration. Happy publication day, Dan, and my thanks for the digital copy of your book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am in no way a connoisseur of vampire novels by any stretch of the imagination. When I was searching my library for examples of the genre to use in my Instagram photo for this book, I had far fewer to choose from than say, legal thrillers or romance novels set in cafes. Therefore, I may not be the best judge of how great an example this is of the oeuvre. I am not a massive reader of horror. In fact, it specifically says in my review policy that I don’t review horror. How, then, did Dan persuade me to read his book? I’m not quite sure, he is obviously a silver-tongued charmer that has a way with words, and this book confirms this is true.

Lover of horror or not, expert on vampire novels or not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fiona’s Guardians. It is a fresh, modern take on the genre where Dan has brought vampires, their feeding techniques and the tools used by their adversaries to hunt them down are all very twenty-first century. The book is fun and smart and pacy and I fairly raced through it at double-quick speed.

The author has created some really interesting characters in this novel, from the vampires and their clan (I especially like the idea of feisty female vampires kicking ass and fighting the ancient vampirical patriarchy), their guardians (humans on the side of blood-sucking vampires, a fascinating dichotomy) and the zealous order of monks chasing them down. The interplay between the different groups makes for an action-packed narrative, provactively imbued with moral questions of who are really the evil characters in this book; it may not be who you think.

All in all, this book is endlessly entertaining, even for people who wouldn’t normally read horror novels of vampire stories. It is not overly-gory or scary, but witty and amusing and diverting. If you are looking for a Halloween read that won’t make you want to sleep with the lights on but will provide you with a few hours entertainment, this is the book for you.

Fiona’s Guardians is out today in paperback and ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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