Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Top 20 of 2016


It's been bumper year of reading for me with 212 books read compared with 147 last year, and with so many fantastic books it is quite difficult to choose my top 20 reads of the year.  I did try to make it a top 10 but there were too many books that I thought deserved to be recognised.

After many hours of deliberation, you can see my top 20 of 2016 below in no particular order.  I wish I could have included many more books, so for those books not quite making my top 20 this year, and in the words of the tragically late great George Michael:

💗 You Have Been Loved 💗

Click on any image to go to my review with Amazon links for you to purchase any copies for yourself - I heartily recommend that you don't miss a single one of these books!

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Heavenfield and Angel by LJ Ross – set in my native North East, the DCI Ryan series just keeps on getting better and better. Angel left us with a huge cliffhanger making High Force my most eagerly awaited book of 2017.
The Brief and An Honest Man by Simon Michael – The Charles Holborne series is simply brilliant. Set in the 1960s with genuine court documents this is BritCrime at its very best.

A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone – devastatingly brilliant, I don't think I have ever read anything like it. It completely blew me away and it is so emotional and raw.

Moondance by Diane Chandler – if ever a heart and soul has been poured into a book it's in Moondance. A beautiful and poignant novel about IVF and its effect on a relationship.

The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech – this book is as close to perfection as you'll ever get. It is breathtaking, tear-jerking, heart-breaking and heart-warming.

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris – a fraught relationship story balanced on a knife edge as the main character thinks she has early onset dementia, but nothing is as it seems.

A Life Without You by Katie Marsh – an emotional and compassionate story about a family dealing with dementia, so emotively written as to result in both laughter and tears.

The Last Night by Cesca Major – breathtakingly vivid and based on true events, this book broke my heart. It is an unforgettable fabulous book that should not be missed.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – a splendid piece of imaginative fiction with a supernatural edge and well deserving of the social media marketing with #WTFthatending

Almost half of my top 20 is made up of debut novels, highlighting the superb talent introduced to me in 2016:
My Sister's Bones by Nualla Ellwood – a book read in one sitting will always get top marks and this book kept pulling surprises out of the hat. Definitely one to watch out for in 2017.

Valentina by S.E. Lynes – a twisty gripping psychological thriller that had me questioning everything I was reading and kept me on my toes.

Sweet Breath of Memory by Ariella Cohen – an absolute literary masterpiece that had me completely entralled. An awe-inspiring and inspirational piece of heart-warming fiction.

Wanderlust by Simon Foster – a hidden gem based around an Aussie bar owner in New York and the murder of one of his patrons. Oodles of humour and the laid back Aussie style made this a bonzer read for me.

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon – an absolutely unputdownable emotional story that had me hooked from first page to last.

As If I Were a River by Amanda Saint – beautifully written and compulsively addictive this is a book so completely out of the ordinary that it deserves every accolade.

Between You and Me by Lisa Hall – reviewer turned author, Lisa Hall, packed a punch in her page-turning debut which had me flicking back through the pages at her killer twist.
Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard – full of twists and turns, clues and red herrings it's an all round gripping read.

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker – a thought-provoking, gripping and compulsive psychological thriller that gave my brain quite a workout.

With very best wishes for a happy, healthy and book-filled 2017


Friday, 30 December 2016

Charm (Tales from the Kingdoms #2) - Sarah Pinborough


CHARM is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Cinderella story which takes all the much-loved elements of the classic fairytale (the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the enchanted mouse, the beautiful girl and, of course, the iconic balls) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires.
This is fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

What did I think?

Sarah Pinborough has flipped fairytales on their head with this modern adult retelling of Cinderella.  The whole book feels like a fairytale with the opening chapter entitled, Once Upon a Time, but don't be misled as this is Cinderella but not as you know her.

There are many familiar figures such as Buttons and the handsome prince but Cinderella herself is spoilt and selfish, her step-sisters aren't ugly and the fairy godmother isn't very friendly.  There is a huge sprinkling of magic with the enchanted glass slippers and their effect on the prince - if Cinderella wants to live happily ever after she'll never be able to take these slippers off.

Cinderella's relationship with the prince isn't all that it seems.  Cinderella was infatuated with him and kept a photo of him beside her bed, but in reality he is flat and boring.  His heart doesn't belong to Cinderella and when Cinderella follows him through the castle one night she gets quite a shock at what he is hiding.  I had guessed the prince's secret, having read Poison, the first book in the series, but guessing early didn't spoil my enjoyment in any way.

The only thing that spoiled it for me was the reappearance of the wicked queen at the end; you can change the fairytales around to your heart's content but I'm sorry the wicked queen does not have a heart and she'd better not be the one to live happily ever after!

Beautifully illustrated throughout, Charm is the second book in the Tales from the Kingdoms series, and is an imaginative, fun and mischievous adult fairytale.  I bought the full set in hardback and I'm sure you will agree they are quite a stunning set.



My rating:




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What Alice Knew - T. A. Cotterell



How far would you go to keep a secret?

Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up. 

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.


What did I think?

A book with a title of 'What Alice Knew' is just begging to be read and I for one was desperate to find out exactly what it was that Alice knew.  On finishing the book, I'm not really sure if we ever found out the depth of what Alice knew.  For me, I felt as if I had more questions than answers at the end (and that's not always a bad thing) but on the whole I did enjoy the book and I think that it is an excellent debut by T.A. Cotterell.

Alice is a talented and much in demand portrait painter.  She has a wonderful, reliable husband until he goes missing one night.  As Alice retraces Ed's movements following a party that he went to, she realises that Ed has made some uncharacteristic decisions.  Not only does Ed not usually drink alcohol but he seems to have gone back to a strange woman's place.  When this same woman ends up dead, I wondered if Alice really knew her husband at all.

Alice is an unusual but very complex character; she has events in her past that she is ashamed of and as an artist she sees beyond the mask that many people wear to the real person underneath.  Which is why I think she was so calm when her husband first went missing.  Many people would be combing the streets and ringing hospitals but not Alice, she walks into the village for a cuppa when Ed finally calls her.  When Ed gradually opens up about what happened, again Alice seems quite in control.  Perhaps nothing can shock her as she can see Ed for who he really is.  Who is he?  An adulterer and a murderer?

What Alice Knew is an extraordinary page turner as you find out what Alice knew quite early on but the pages keep on turning as she attempts to deal with the repercussions.  It's a marriage under the magnifying glass as Alice paints over the cracks but the cracks keep appearing and Alice is running out of paint.  My brain was tied in knots as there were so many versions of Ed's story that I wasn't sure which one to believe.  What I am pretty sure of is that Alice knew a lot more than she's letting on.

This really is a great debut and I'm sure that we will be hearing a lot more about T.A. Cotterell.  I wasn't surprised to learn that T.A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge as his love of art shines out from every page.  I will certainly be keeping an eye out for his next book.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




Buy it from Amazon

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Suitable Lie - Michael J Malone



Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she's his perfect match... And she loves his son, too. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. He ignores it; a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything. A brave, deeply moving psychological thriller which marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland's top crime writers.

What did I think?

After seeing lots of bloggers discussing it on social media, I purchased A Suitable Lie for my book to read on Christmas Eve.  Although it's probably not the best storyline to read at Christmas, it's such an outstanding book that I couldn't have waited a minute longer to read it.  I feel slightly guilty saying that I absolutely loved this book as it has such a devastatingly emotional storyline, but it is so unbelievably brilliant that I want to tell everyone about it.  It's like a car-crash, as much as you don't want to see it you can't help but look and, once you do, it's impossible to tear your eyes away.

Andy Boyd had to suffer the terrible tragic event of his wife dying in childbirth.  He is left on his own to bring up his beautiful son, Pat, and he can't believe his luck when he meets Anna.  Anna is everything he could hope for in a wife and mother so Andy asks her to marry him.  Andy's mother isn't so sure and worries that Andy is marrying Anna out of gratitude because she is willing to be a mother to Pat. I was reminded of the phrase 'mother knows best' when Andy ended up with a broken nose on his wedding night after Anna 'accidentally' lashed out in her sleep.  It only gets worse after that and Andy tries everything to keep the peace with Anna, including distancing himself from his mother and brother.  Anna always seems to find some reason to pick a fight and Andy knows that if he ever fights back he could lose his son.  You just know that this is all going to end in tears...

Wow!  A Suitable Lie is such an emotional and raw novel.  I felt Andy's pain, despair and anger on every page and wondered why we are so quick to assume which party is at fault in such cases.  We talk about girl power and equal rights, but some women are happy to play the weaker sex card when it suits them.  I also found it interesting, and sadly know that this happens, that Anna didn't show her true colours until the ring was firmly on her finger.  

Devastatingly brilliant, A Suitable Lie deserves a spot on every reader's bookshelf and is certainly worthy of more than 5 stars to clearly exhibit its brilliance.  If you only plan on reading one book this year, make it A Suitable Lie.  I don't think I have ever read anything like it and I know for sure that this book will stay with me for a long time to come.  Absolutely exceptional, it completely blew me away and it's definitely going in the To Read Again pile.

My rating:





Buy it from Amazon

The Year of Saying Yes Part 1: It Started with a Dare - Hannah Doyle



Join Izzy on her journey from January blues to joy. THE YEAR OF SAYING YES by Hannah Doyle will make you dirty-laugh, feel warm and fuzzy, and rediscover life's magic - all thanks to one little word: yes. Fans of Lindsey Kelk, Mhairi McFarlane and Lucy-Anne Holmes, you're in for a real treat.
The first of four exclusive part-serialisations of THE YEAR OF SAYING YES by Hannah Doyle.
Dear Readers
It's drizzling outside, which totally matches my #currentmood. Pigs in blankets, all the mince pies and a festive Baileys or five are distant memories. You know the drill - it's January. Everyone's banning booze (terrible idea) or cutting carbs (impossible). To add to the misery pile, my plans to seduce the man of my dreams at the stroke of midnight flopped spectacularly.
I'm Izzy. I don't just need a New Year resolution, I need a whole new life. And I need YOU. My dreary life is about to get a total makeover - it's my 'Year of Saying Yes'. And this is where you come in. It's up to you to #DareIzzy. I'm saying yes to your challenges, no matter how nuts, adventurous or wild they are. The sky's the limit - I'm at your mercy, readers!
Wish me luck. I have a feeling I'm going to need it.
Love
Izzy x 

What did I think?

With a bundle of laughs from the very first page, I knew that I was going to love The Year of Saying Yes Part 1.  In a similar vein to Bridget Jones, Izzy's unique voice shouts from every page as we get to know this funny, quirky singleton.  Not only is Izzy hilarious, she is also very real and I'm sure that many readers will identify with her.  I do a similar thing with names as she does and I am struggling to contain my laughter just thinking about Fittie McNoShirt.

This is a great idea for a series of books.  Part 1 being January to March, starts with New Year's Eve and Izzy getting ready to see the object of her affection, Gorgeous George.  The only problem is, Gorgeous George doesn't know how much Izzy likes him and for the past 3 years Izzy has been hoping that they will finally get together.  As she holds out hope that tonight will be the night, George announces that he has a new girlfriend and Izzy's balloon of hope is burst.  So instead of making resolutions of things to do in the new year, Izzy decides to make a list of things to say no to - an aptly named to don't list.

The To Don't list is flipped on its head when Izzy's editor decides to run a feature on Izzy saying yes to everything with readers suggesting challenges that Izzy has no option but to say yes to.  What could possibly go wrong?  A fun makeover and a complete switch off mini break sees a remarkable change in Izzy starting to take shape.  Perhaps Gorgeous George won't be able to say no to Izzy but maybe it is too late now that Alex, aka Fittie McNoShirt, is in the picture.

Hannah Doyle has such a way with words that even someone with no sense of humour wouldn't be able to stop themselves from laughing out loud at Izzy's shenanigans.  It's so lighthearted, refreshing and fun; I absolutely loved The Year of Saying Yes Part 1, the only thing wrong with it is that it is too short...roll on Part 2.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Breakdown - B.A. Paris



If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?

It all started that night in the woods.

Cass Anderson didn’t stop to help the woman in the car, and now she’s dead.

Ever since, silent calls have been plaguing Cass and she’s sure someone is watching her.

Consumed by guilt, she’s also starting to forget things. Whether she took her pills, what her house alarm code is – and if the knife in the kitchen really had blood on it.

What did I think?
I was very excited to see another BA Paris book hot on the heels of the fabulous Behind Closed Doors, so no sooner had The Breakdown hit my kindle than I started reading it.  I did wonder if the bar had been set too high with Behind Closed Doors being such an outstanding debut, but I'm delighted to say that I am not disappointed and think that The Breakdown is as good as, if not better than, Behind Closed Doors.

At the beginning, Cass seems like a normal happily married woman with her head screwed on.  Driving home one evening in torrential rain, she takes a short cut home and sees a car pulled into a layby.  Her first reaction is to stop and see if the driver needs some help so she pulls in front of the car, seeing a woman looking at her as she does so.  Sensibly, Cass has second thoughts and considers that this could be a carjacking trick, so when the woman doesn't show any signs of needing help Cass continues her drive home.  The next day the news headlines report that a woman has been murdered.  The same woman that Cass saw the previous night.  As if her guilt wasn't bad enough, she realises that she knew the woman.

Cass then seems to unravel, thinking that the murderer is out to get her when she starts to get sinister but silent phone calls.  She worries that, like her mother, she has early onset dementia and certainly everything that is happening seems to point in that direction. My heart really went out to her when she started to forget things and then when she turns to medication which all but knock her out she became even more vulnerable.  The confusion was oozing out of the pages and I've read enough books to know that nothing is ever quite what it seems, but I would never have imagined the book turning out like it did.

With a conclusion that certainly kicks ass, The Breakdown is a story balanced on a knife edge and one false move could result in an early bath for any of the main characters.  I had to hold myself back from pumping the air and shouting 'Girl Power' as I turned the final pages.  Definitely one I'd recommend reading, The Breakdown is an easy 5 out of 5 rating from me.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




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Winter: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons - Melissa Harrison


Winter is a withdrawal: quiet and dark and cold. But in the dim light frost shimmers, stars twinkle and hearths blaze as we come together to keep out the chill. In spite of the season, life persists: visiting birds fill our skies, familiar creatures find clever ways to survive, and the world reveals winter riches to those willing to venture outdoors.

In prose and poetry spanning seven hundred years, Winter delights in the brisk pleasures and enduring beauty of the year's turning. Featuring new writing from Patrick Barkham, Satish Kumar and Anita Sethi, extracts from the work of Robert Macfarlane, James Joyce and Kathleen Jamie, and a range of exciting new voices from across the UK, this invigorating collection evokes the joys and the consolations of this magical time of year.


What did I think?

I feel fortunate to have read the full series of seasonal anthologies edited by Melissa Harrison.  I felt the hope and rebirth of Spring, basked in the lazy heat of Summer, revelled in the glorious colours of Autumn and now it is the cold and harshness of Winter.

Perhaps as it is my least favourite season, I didn't feel winter through the writing as much as I did with the other anthologies.  Winter does, however, have the most apt opening line that epitomises winter as written by Roger Deakin in Notes from Walnut Tree Farm:

A sharp, sugaring frost.  The mulberry is at its best in November when at last it undresses itself.

For does not the ground look sprinkled with icing sugar on a cold frosty morning?  And do the trees not shed their leaves like the last remnants of clothing as they put themselves to bed for the cold harsh winter to come?

Published in conjunction with The Wildlife Trusts, Winter completes the year of seasons and, although it is my least favourite of the anthologies, as a whole it is a stunning collection.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:





Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Everything You Want Me To Be - Mindy Mejia



Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town's darkest secrets come to the forefront...and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she is found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie's acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death. 

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery or destruction?

What did I think?

Now renamed The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, Everything You Want Me to Be was a recommendation from Chelsea, a fellow book blogger, and I can see why she recommended it.  I felt as if Hattie was actually speaking to me through the book, the real Hattie and not one of the personas she adopts to please those around her.

Hattie is dead.  There is no happy ending, but the reader is taken on a journey as Hattie is unmasked and we find out what actually happened on the night she died.  Hattie is a budding actress and dreams of leaving school and moving to New York.  Dreams that will never be fulfilled.

Hattie joins an online forum to share her love of literature and acting and meets someone who shares the same interests as her. Unbeknown to her, this person is her English teacher, unhappily married Peter.  When they finally realise the real identity of each other, the conflicting emotions are palpable, but ultimately the attraction they have for each other cannot be ignored.

Hattie's life unfurls before us like the petals of a delicate flower, but we are constantly brought back to the present day like a herd of elephants stamping over the flowerbed with Del, the local sheriff and close family friend, investigating her murder.

Told from Hattie, Peter and Del's point of view, in such clear and distinct voices, it is a story that had my eyes glued to the page and I pointed my virtual finger at several of the characters before finding out what actually happened on the night that Hattie died.

Everything You Want Me to Be is an absorbing piece of fiction that had me questioning the masks that people wear and scratching the surface to see who the real person is beneath.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




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Poison (Tales from the Kingdoms #1) - Sarah Pinborough



POISON is a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the Snow White story which takes all the elements of the classic fairytale that we love (the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and, of course, the poisoning) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It's fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

What did I think?

After reading my first Sarah Pinborough book, Behind Her Eyes, I couldn't resist looking through her back catalogue.  The amazing cover of Poison caught my eye and once I knew it was an adult retelling of the fairytale, Snow White, I just had to buy it.  Even better, it's part of a trilogy with Charm (Cinderella) and Beauty (Sleeping Beauty) completing the set.  I have to say that if you want to read these books, do go for the hardbacks as the colours when they catch the light are simply magical.


There is enough of the original Snow White story to be recognisable, with the huntsman, dwarves and poison apple, but Sarah Pinborough has cleverly embellished and twisted it to make this a story of Snow White as never told before.

It's actually hard to review this without giving away any of the plot.  Ah but we already know the story of Snow White, you say...not this version you don't.  Will Snow White get her happily ever after in this twisted tale?  I'm not saying but suffice to say it captivated and entertained me from start to finish.  At the appearance of the poisoned apple, I would have clapped my hands with glee if it didn't mean putting the book down.  Not that I meant ill to Snow White, but we all know how the story goes...or do we?

Poison is fun, ingenious and risqué and I'd definitely recommend it to fans of Once Upon a Time.  I can't wait to read the next two in the series.

My rating:




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The Dear God Letters - Claire H Perkins


You are not alone. Not for one minute, not for one second do you ever need to feel alone.

This is a year's journal of letters, letters to God. Not the God that is supposed to be feared, nor the God that will strike you down if you do something 'wrong'. It's not a religious book. This is a book that will bring you comfort, serenity and peace in a crazy world.

Claire writes letters to God asking questions such as:
If love is all there is, why are there terrorists?
Why do I feel that I never have enough money?
Is there a heaven?
How to find proof of God
Is death the end?
Why is it so hard to be patient?
How do you fall in love with your life?
What do you do when you have eternity to live?

The answers are astoundingly simple yet they comfort enormously.....Fear leaves, uncertainty is banished and you are left with an understanding that there is no separateness, that you are eternal and much loved.

God is approachable and God is listening.


What did I think?


It is a unique experience to read what is inside someone's mind and I felt that Claire H Perkins has really bared her soul in The Dear God Letters.  It was a privilege and an honour to read her thoughts and it is a book that I would read and refer to again.

I loved how the book was written in months with each chapter starting with a little paragraph which perfectly captured the essence of the month itself.  The questions and thoughts within are deep and meaningful with some eye-opening answers from God aka Claire's inner being.  Whichever God you believe in, he/she lives inside all of us so we only have to look deep within ourselves for the answers that we crave.

I think I need to read the book again as it's quite short at 90 pages, and I did rocket through it, as I didn't feel that it spoke to me as much as Life Purpose.  It did, however, lead me to seek out my own inner voice.  Once I find it, I intend to listen to it and perhaps I will have the amazing experience that Claire clearly has.

It's not a religious book but whatever your belief or religion, The Dear God Letters will bring peace and understanding if you allow it into your soul.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




Buy it from Amazon

Death in Profile - Guy Fraser-Sampson



The genteel façade of London's Hampstead is shattered by a series of terrifying murders, and the ensuing police hunt is threatened by internal politics, and a burgeoning love triangle within the investigative team. Pressurised by senior officers desperate for a result a new initiative is clearly needed, but what? Intellectual analysis and police procedure vie with the gut instinct of 'copper's nose', and help appears to offer itself from a very unlikely source a famous fictional detective. A psychological profile of the murderer allows the police to narrow down their search, but will Scotland Yard lose patience with the team before they can crack the case?

Praised by fellow authors and readers alike, this is a truly original crime story, speaking to a contemporary audience yet harking back to the Golden Age of detective fiction. Intelligent, quirky and mannered, it has been described as 'a love letter to the detective novel'. Above it all hovers Hampstead, a magical village evoking the elegance of an earlier time, and the spirit of mystery-solving detectives. Guy Fraser-Sampson is an established writer best known for his series of Mapp and Lucia novels which have been featured on BBC Radio 4 and optioned by BBC television. This is his debut work of detective fiction, and the first title in the Hampstead Murders series.

What did I think?

If you're looking for a traditional yet quirky murder mystery then look no further than Death in Profile.  It went in directions I never saw coming and kept me on my toes and completely entertained throughout.  It's filled with good old-fashioned police work and is refreshingly devoid of expletives.

I knew from the first word, 'Boyo', that I was going to enjoy Death in Profile.  Boyo is a dog living on the street with his vagrant master. It is Boyo who finds a body in an alley one day and, in a move resembling Lassie, raises the alarm.  The police find this murder similar to other unsolved crimes and, when they run out of ideas, call in profiler Dr Peter Collins.  With Dr Collins' help, a suspect is arrested and found guilty but moments too late an alibi is discovered.

Dr Collins blames himself for the conviction of an innocent man and, like a tortoise in its shell, retreats into the safety of his own brain where Dr Peter Collins becomes Lord Peter Wimsey, the fictional detective.  Hilariously, his partner, DC Karen Willis, and her police colleagues all play along in order to bring him out of his delusion but to also track down the real murderer.

Death in Profile is such good fun and I was enjoying the Lord Peter Wimsey scenes so much that I forgot about trying to solve the crime, and completely missed the hidden clues by not questioning certain things.  WIth the Lord Peter Wimsey delusion, it felt like two books in one as the past and the present collide in order to solve a modern day crime, proving that even with so many technological advances, sometimes all it takes is a clever piece of deduction.

I really enjoyed Death in Profile and I'm eager to see how it compares to the second in the series, Miss Christie Regrets.  With such fresh and amusing writing, I'm sure the Hampstead Murders series will quickly become a modern classic for murder mystery fans.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




Buy it from Amazon

Monday, 26 December 2016

Serial Damage - Liz Cowley and Donough O'Brien



A merciless killer with no apparent motive.

A series of murders with no discernible pattern.

How can he be stopped?

In disconnected locations all over the world a killer plies his terrible trade, seemingly selecting victims at random and killing without remorse. The crimes are the result of one man's obsessive mind, a man warped by a litany of slights and disappointments since childhood for which he seeks methodical and terrible revenge. Because of the geographical spread of his chilling, 'motiveless' murders, they might normally be impossible to solve, but inexperienced and ambitious police psychologist Alice Diamond may unwittingly hold the dramatic key to his capture…

A riveting thriller in the best traditions of Barbara Vine, Patricia Highsmith and Val McDermid, Serial Damage will keep you gripped to the very last page.

What did I think?

I am a big fan of both Urbane Publications and heart-pounding thrillers so when I saw Serial Damage in Urbane's catalogue I knew it was one that I just had to read.  I was also intrigued by it having been written by two authors, husband and wife Liz Cowley and Donough O'Brien.  Are two brains better than one or should writing always be done solo?

I was completely riveted from the first chapter when the peace and tranquillity of Cornwall was shattered as 84 year old Helen Mitchell was shot and killed whilst pruning her roses in her own front garden.  The killer had one regret: that he didn't tell Helen who he was. The reader is then given a flashback to the 70's where an art teacher is writing a letter to a 7 year old's foster parents after seeing his disturbing drawings.  It's clear from then on that this is a revenge story but I would have liked a few more flashbacks to fully get into the mind of the killer and to perhaps explain a bit more why he chose his victims.

As the killer goes on a rampage of revenge across the world, we are introduced to Helen's god-daughter and psychologist, Alice Diamond.  Alice becomes the main character as we follow her personal life where she meets and dates two men: safe John and dangerous David.  There was a definite air of menace around Alice's relationships as I wondered whether John was as safe and David as dangerous as they appeared to be.  Alice gets involved with the police in trying to track down the serial killer and as the pieces start to fit together in her mind and the net closes in she doesn't realise that she might be next on his list.

Although I enjoyed Serial Damage, I felt that each murder was over too quickly.  There was good build up to each one as we were introduced to the characters, then the murder happens but, before you could process it, the authors have already raced on to the next victim.  If I counted correctly, there were ten murders and you know they are linked but there's not enough information there to gather clues.  After each victim I raced on to the next one and quickly forgot about the predecessors.  When one comes back to haunt the killer it was a murder I had completely forgotten about, so I had to flick back through the pages to remind myself, slightly spoiling the effect of the ending.

Aside from rushing past the murders, the pacing is good and Alice's story became more of a hook than the killer's for me.  I think that with only one author there might not have been so many characters, some of them being lost in the dense fog of my brain.  Fewer victims and more depth of character would have made this a superb book, but I still enjoyed it so it's a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:





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Friday, 16 December 2016

An Honest Man - Simon Michael



Criminal barrister Charles Holborne may have just escaped the hangman by proving he was framed for murder, but his life is now in ruins. His wife is dead, his high-flying career has morphed into criminal notoriety, and bankruptcy threatens. When the biggest brief of Charles's career unexpectedly lands on his desk, it looks as if he has been thrown a lifeline. But far from keeping him afloat, it drags him ever deeper into the shadowy underworld of 1960s London. Now, not only is his practice at stake, but his very life. Can Charles extricate himself from a chess game played from the shadows by corrupt police officers and warring gangs without once again turning to crime himself?

Based on real Old Bailey cases and genuine court documents, An Honest Man is the second in the series of Charles Holborne novels by barrister, Simon Michael, set in the sleazy London of the 1960s.

What did I think?

I was introduced to Simon Michael's books by the fabulous Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications, for which I will be eternally grateful. The Brief and An Honest Man are two books that I will not only recommend to everyone, but I will read again and again.  If it's at all possible, I will probably enjoy them as much as, if not more than, the first time as I read them both so fast due to the inability to put them down.  Many people have said that An Honest Man is better than The Brief.  I couldn't possibly say that it's better, as I thought The Brief was just the most outstanding book I have read in a long time, but it's certainly on par with The Brief thanks to the fast pace, inclusion of genuine court documents and completely riveting storyline.

I love watching legal dramas and I would never have expected to get the same tension and sense of occasion in a novel, but Simon Michael has such a descriptive and dramatic style of writing that the reader gets a completely 3D experience.  I visualised the courtroom with ease and I was so immersed in the story that I could have been a spectator in the public gallery or a member of the jury. I even kept convincing myself to read one more chapter by saying that I couldn't possibly put the book down as I was still in court.

The story, about those accused of being party to a diamond heist, is set in the 1960's and the sense of era is outstanding with mentions of The Krays, The Profumo Affair and even the legendary outside toilet.  As with The Brief, a lot of the story is set in court but there are so many other strands of the story to follow, including picking up with Charles Holborne where The Brief left off.  Charles thought all his drama was over but it's only just beginning! 

There has been a recent Twitter promotion for a book with a #WTFthatending hashtag.  An Honest Man could take a leaf out of that book with a hashtag of #OMGthatending as my jaw dropped, then my heart sank in despair as I realised that there were no more pages left to read.  I was enjoying it so much that I didn't want it to finish and I'm absolutely bursting to read book 3. 

I've read enough books to know when something special has come along, so take my word for it and pick up both of these books.  You could of course read An Honest Man as a standalone novel but to fully appreciate the story and the history behind Charles Holborne, and simply because it's brilliant, you should read The Brief first.  Once you've read Simon Michael's books, you'll never look at legal thrillers in the same light.  The bar has indeed been raised and I don't think anyone will ever come close.  Move aside John Grisham, there's a new lawyer in town.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:




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