The Home by Sarah Stovell #bookreview blog tour @sarahlovescrime @OrendaBooks @annecater

I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for the brilliant new novel by Sarah Stovell, The Home. With thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

The Home by [Stovell, Sarah]

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One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

MY THOUGHTS

I’ve long been awaiting the second novel by Sarah Stovell, ever since I read her debut, Exquisite. Her latest book, The Home, is utterly gripping and heart-breaking. Although parts of this book are hard to read I found Sarah’s writing to be so addictive; I devoured the first hundred pages in one gulp. The writing here is purely brilliant!

Sarah’s second book opens with the devastating discovery of the body of a young girl, Hope, on Christmas Eve in a churchyard. Hope’s fate is intricately tied with the lives of three girls, Hope, Annie and Lara, who have all come from troubled backgrounds. They all live in a children’s home in a residence called, The Home. But they are all harbouring secrets. What really happened the night Hope was killed? What was really going on in the days leading up to her death?

Sarah Stovell really drew me into the lives of her characters; their personal stories are what make this book quite painful to read at times and we learn some quite unsettling truths about their childhoods. As we get to learn more about Hope and her best friend, Annie, we begin to see that there is a lot of mystery here. As I kept reading, I kept asking myself what would prompt the killer to kill Hope, and I could never quite get to the truth myself until Sarah revealed the devastating details in the final chapters. A few weeks after I’ve read it and I’m still thinking about it. The ending really blew me away.

I found Hope and Annie to be very complex characters. Annie I could never quite make my mind up about, this is especially as she is faced with Hope’s death in the present. To me she came across as very cold, especially in the opening chapters, but as Sarah Stovell reveals more about her background, we can see that this isn’t quite the case.

As we discovered more details about Hope’s past I couldn’t help but feel a lot of anger. I felt that the situation she was in was so unfair and I couldn’t believe what she was having to go through. This is where Sarah Stovell’s talent shines through. I was utterly absorbed by the lives of her characters. You can really feel what they are going through.

I was instantly intrigued by Lara. Although we do hear about her, we don’t get to know more about her until much later on. Her continued silence made me even keener to find out more about her and what her individual story was. This is what I really liked about this book, the added mystery that made it clear that there were more secrets about the characters to be unearthed.

Sarah Stovell does a brilliant job of creating characters who you really care about and I’m sure that her book will stay with many readers for a long while.

The Home is a dark, addictive read that will pull you in from the very first line. It’s beautifully written with a haunting atmosphere. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication date: 28th November 2019 (kindle) 23rd January 2020 (paperback)

Print length: 276 pages

If you would like to purchase The Home, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below.

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The Mothers by Sarah J Naughton #bookreview blog tour @SarahJNaughton @TrapezeBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for The Mothers by Sarah J Naughton. With thanks to Tracy Fenton from Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part.

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Five Women.

They meet at their NCT Group. The only thing they have in common is they’re all pregnant.

Five Secrets.

Three years later, they are all good friends. Aren’t they?

One Missing Husband.

Now the police have come knocking. Someone knows something.

And the trouble with secrets is that someone always tells.

MY THOUGHTS

The Mothers by Sarah Naughton is a really compelling read, and I raced through it in just a couple of sittings.

The story primarily focuses on Bella and her husband, Ewan. In the opening chapters, Bella reports Ewan missing to the police. At first, the police aren’t very interested in taking the case further, in fact the lead detective on the case is asked to push the case aside, but she stands her ground. She believes that something isn’t quite right about Ewan’s disappearance. When they discover that Ewan and Bella’s son’s nanny, Jen has also disappeared and it looks as though there is sign of foul play, then things start to heat up.

I don’t think I found any of the women the story focuses on particularly likeable, although there were times when I did feel sorry for Bella. The way some people treated Bella made me feel very angry. Initially I struggled to connect to Bella, but as her story was gradually revealed I felt I connected to her more.

I loved the dual timeline in this book, and I really liked how Sarah Naughton unpicked the layers as we got closer and closer to the truth. It is very well-plotted, and each character came through very strongly. I also really liked the pacing. It isn’t fast-paced, but I think it was the way I connected to the characters and their personal stories that made me turn those pages. I felt I really got to know them as though they were real people. Sarah Naughton’s writing is very immersive, and it pulls you into the story without any effort at all. In fact, I was actually quite sad to finish it as I was enjoying it so much.

I thought the revelations towards the end were very nicely done, and it fitted the story perfectly. It gave the ending a very satisfactory feeling, and it felt very believable. It does turn into a very dramatic conclusion. There were definitely parts of the story which I didn’t expect but the way it ended did make me feel very pleased.

Having read all three of Sarah Naughton’s books, I think this is her best novel to date. Her characters felt very real, and I found the plot highly intriguing. I wanted to know what had happened to Bella’s missing husband and I enjoyed trying to work out how everything was going to unfold.

Sarah Naughton is a writer who is going from strength to strength. I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next.

Publisher: Trapeze

Print length: 288 pages

Publication date: 9th January 2020

If you would like to purchase The Mothers, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below.

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A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone #bookreview blog tour @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks @annecater

Happy New Year!

Welcome to my first post of 2020 and I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone. With thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

A Dark Matter (The Skelfs) by [Johnstone, Doug]

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Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators…

When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.

Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.

As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…

A compelling, tense and shocking thriller and a darkly funny and warm portrait of a family in turmoil, A Dark Matter introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, marking the start of an addictive new series.

MY THOUGHTS

Doug Johnstone is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. His previous book, Breakers, was one of my top reads of 2019 and he has pulled it off again with A Dark Matter.

I think this book has one of the most original openings I’ve read in a long while. I did have to go over the first two sentences a couple of times as it dawned on me what was happening. Doug Johnstone pulls you into his story with a somewhat disturbing opening as a corpse is being fried. This opening scene grabbed my attention, and I wanted to know what the hell was going on here. But the opening scene isn’t quite as sinister as you might think; there are a lot more sinister scenes to come.

In Doug’s last book, I loved the raw, authentic voice he gave to his characters. In this book, we meet a family who own a funeral home, the Skelfs, which also operates as a private detective agency. I really liked this idea. It did give the book a Miss Marple and an Inspector Poirot kind of feeling.

Hannah, who is the granddaughter of Dorothy, who now solely owns the business after the death of her husband, Jim, is distraught when her friend Mel disappears. She begins investigating Mel’s disappearance on her own and takes matters into her own hands when it appears that the police show little interest. Hannah is tough and is absolutely determined to find out what has happened to her Mel. But meanwhile, another mystery is taking up her mother’s time.  Hannah’s mother, Jenny, has found out that the business is still paying money to the wife of a former employee who also strangely disappeared. She can’t understand why the business is still paying this money and begins to suspect that her father, Jim, may have had a hand in his disappearance. Did he reach an agreement with his former employee’s wife to keep her silent on the matter?

I did think that A Dark Matter didn’t have the same, quite high level of tension as Breakers did, but I did become utterly immersed in the story. It is quite a different book, and it does stand out, it’s hard to place it into just one genre. Doug really captures Hannah’s anger as she searches for answers behind Mel’s disappearance, and also in Jenny’s despair, as she tries to work out what has been going on behind her back within the business. Doug Johnstone has a real talent for giving his characters strong, emotional depth which really brings them to life and makes them feel like real people.

You will be rooting for the characters to reach the answers that they are desperately craving. A Dark Matter is a totally original novel that will have you begging for the next chapter in the series. Fantastic writing!

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication date: 23rd November 2019 (kindle) 23rd January 2020 (paperback)

Print length: 300 pages

If you would like to purchase A Dark Matter, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below.

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I Dare You by Sam Carrington #bookreview blog tour @sam_carrington1 @Sabah_K @AvonBooksUK

I’m delighted to be sharing my review of Sam Carrington’s latest thriller, I Dare You on my blog today. With thanks to Sabah Khan from Avon Books for inviting me to take part.

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AN INNOCENT GAME. A SHOCKING CRIME. A COMMUNITY FULL OF SECRETS.

Mapledon, 1989
Two little girls were out playing a game of dares. Only one returned home.
The ten-year-old told police what she saw: village loner Bill ‘Creepy’ Cawley dragged her friend into his truck and disappeared.
No body was found, but her testimony sent Cawley to prison for murder. An open and shut case, the right man behind bars.
The village could sleep safe once again.

Now…
Anna thought she had left Mapledon and her nightmares behind but a distraught phone call brings her back to face her past.
30 years ago, someone lied. 30 years ago, the man convicted wasn’t the only guilty party.
Now he’s out of prison and looking for revenge. The question is, who will he start with?

MY THOUGHTS

There’s a sinister atmosphere to Sam Carrington’s latest novel, I Dare You.

Set in the rural village of Mapledon across two timelines, 1989 and 2019, we follow events as they unfolded thirty years ago when a ten-year-old girl disappeared. In 2019, her kidnapper, Bill Crawley has just been released from prison which creates an uproar among the locals. They are determined to make sure he doesn’t step foot back in Mapledon, but it appears that there may be a more disturbing reason why they don’t want him back.

Sam Carrington first introduces us to Anna, who is visiting her mother. Anna hasn’t stepped foot in the village of Mapledon for years and is still haunted by the disappearance of her friend, Joni. But things appear to have taken a more sinister turn. Someone has been tearing off doll pieces and attaching them to her mother’s front door. It causes Anna to consider if Bill Crawley is targeting her family, particularly as she was the one who identified him as Joni’s kidnapper thirty years earlier. Although her mother is quick to dismiss these claims, blaming local kids instead. But Anna is unconvinced.

We also meet Lizzie who lived in the village a very long time ago. Lizzie is now a journalist and is probing the story of Bill Crawley’s release. But what is her connection to the events that took place? What is she hoping to uncover?

You really do get the sense that there is certainly some unfinished business when it comes to Joni’s disappearance. I thought the flashback scenes to 1989 were really creepy, particularly when we meet Bill Crawley for the first time, otherwise known as ‘Creepy Crawley’ to the local kids, and that name seems to have stuck. I could never be sure about him. As rumour after rumour and different accusations flew around the village about him, I was never able to separate fact from fiction. It did feel as though he had become the victim of a witch hunt.

As with all of Sam’s novels, I found her latest intensely gripping and I wanted to find out what the real truth was and what had really happened to Joni on the night she disappeared. I couldn’t stop turning the pages as I got to the end and when Sam’s final revelations came to light.  I Dare You is really good.

Publisher: Avon

Publication date: 12th December 2019

Print length: 416 pages

If you would like to purchase I Dare You, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below.

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What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross blog tour #bookreview @MasonCrossBooks @orionbooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross. With thanks to Tracy Fenton from Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part.

What She Saw Last Night by [Cross, Mason]

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A secret that could kill her.

A truth no one believes…

Jenny Bowen is going home. Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper, all she wants to do is forget about her upcoming divorce and relax on the ten-hour journey through the night.

In her search for her cabin, Jenny helps a panicked woman with a young girl she assumes to be her daughter. Then she finds her compartment and falls straight to sleep.

Waking in the night, Jenny discovers the woman dead in her cabin … but there’s no sign of the little girl. The train company have no record of a child being booked on the train, and CCTV shows the dead woman boarding alone.

The police don’t believe Jenny, and soon she tries to put the incident out of her head and tells herself that everyone else is right: she must have imagined the little girl.

But deep down, she knows that isn’t the truth.

MY THOUGHTS

What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross is a rollercoaster of a read. When you start reading this book, you better make sure that you don’t have any immediate plans as you won’t want to put it down.

We meet our protagonist Jenny in the opening chapters of the book. She is travelling on the sleeper train from London to Scotland. But what she doesn’t realise is how much of an impact this journey will have on her life. During the journey, Jenny discovers the body of a woman she met while boarding, a woman with a little girl who Jenny presumes is her daughter. The police suspect it was suicide, but Jenny suspects otherwise. But what is even more perplexing is what happened to the girl who Jenny saw the woman with? The girl seems to have vanished into thin air, and no one will believe Jenny, including the police, that she even saw her. There is no evidence to suggest the girl was even there. Could Jenny have imagined seeing her? As things start to get more complex, Jenny is determined to find out who the girl is and what happened to her. And by doing so, she puts herself in very grave danger.

This book had me hooked right from the very first pages, and I finished in just a couple of days. I really wanted to find out what had happened to the girl on the train. I was thinking right from the beginning that there must be a cover-up going on behind the scenes. The story behind the girl’s strange disappearance became far more mysterious than I thought it would.

There is tension right from the get-go in this book. I thought this particularly as I began to sense that there were people out there who were determined to silence Jenny and I wondered if possibly any members of the police force could possibly be involved. This is what I loved about this read. I was kept guessing right the way through, and MJ Cross kept on tightening up the tension and throwing more obstacles in Jenny’s way as she fought to find answers. You can feel just how strong Jemmy’s determination is. It made me think how I would react if I was in Jenny’s situation, would I let the situation just be forgotten about or would I be brave enough to speak up?

This is a really suspenseful read right the way through that kept me turning the pages. And then MJ Cross hits you with twist after twist, one scene, in particular, left me reeling. What She Saw Last Night is compulsive and hugely engaging. Top stuff!

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 18th April 2019

Print length: 320 pages

If you would like to purchase What She Saw Last Night, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below. 

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The Pact by Amy Heydenrych #bookreview blog tour @AmyHeydenrych @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

I’s my pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour today for The Pact by Amy Heydenrych. With thanks to Tracy Fenton from Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part.

The Pact: Can you guess what happened the night Nicole died? by [Heydenrych, Amy]

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What if a prank leads to murder?

When Freya arrives at her dream job with the city’s hottest start-up, she can’t wait to begin a new and exciting life, including dating her new colleague Jay.

However, Nicole, Jay’s ex and fellow employee, seems intent on making her life a misery. After a big deadline, where Nicole continually picks on her, Freya snaps and tells Jay about the bullying and together they concoct a revenge prank.

The next morning, Nicole is found dead in her apartment . . .

Is this just a prank gone wrong? Or does Freya know someone who is capable of murder – and could she be next?

MY THOUGHTS

The Pact is a highly engaging novel by Amy Heydenrych, and I was quickly pulled into the lives of her characters. It did make me think about how I would have reacted if I was in their shoes when the plot started to unfold. What Amy Heydenrych also, so cleverly does, is she makes you re-examine everything you thought you knew about her characters. Nothing is as it seems in this book.

This was a really intense read. I felt this right from the beginning when the body of a young woman, Nicole is discovered at her flat, and when Amy Heydenrych takes us back in time to reveal the person who she was. As Amy started to reveal more about her, I started to evaluate every other character in the book as I tried to work out who killed Nicole. From very early on, she doesn’t come across as the most likeable of characters, so it seems that there are plenty of people out there who may have a motive to kill her. As Amy begins to reveal more details, you really do get the sense that something sinister is going on behind the scenes.

Every single character in this book kept me engaged. The story is told primarily through the viewpoints of Freya, a woman who briefly worked with Nicole and Isla, a journalist reporting on the case. What I thought I was down really well here were the two timelines. Amy switches between several weeks prior to Nicole’s death and the present, but this didn’t in any way feel confusing to me, and I was able to keep up with everything that was going on.

There were characters who I didn’t trust right from the start, but I don’t want to reveal too much about this as I don’t want to spoil the story. When you start to read this book, you will soon know who I mean. Amy Heydenrych does take us on a twisty ride, and there were a couple of big reveals that completely surprised me. I became so invested in the characters that I thought I had the plot worked out until Amy threw a spanner into the works. This made the ending so exciting as everything that had been held from us, the reader, began to unravel.

This novel also deals with many moral issues, such as the ‘me too’ movement. There is also an intense storyline that ensues when Freya starts receiving disturbing messages, and she begins to think this may have a possible link to Nicole’s death. Is the same person who killed Nicole also targeting her?

Although I found parts of the novel a little slow, I was kept fully engaged. It was maybe a little longer than I felt it needed to be, but I thought everything was wrapped up well, and it made for a very satisfactory ending. Overall, an excellent read!

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 28th November 2019

Print length: 480 pages

If you would like to purchase The Pact, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below. 

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Stay Mad, Sweetheart by Heleen Kist blog tour @hkist @RedDogTweets

I’m delighted to be sharing an extract from Heleen Kist’s latest novel Stay Mad, Sweetheart as part of the blog tour. With thanks to Dylan Thomson from Red Dog Books for inviting me to take part.

Before I share the extract with you let’s take a look at what the book is about.

Stay Mad, Sweetheart by [Kist, Heleen]

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THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN INNOCENCE AND GUILT. AN EVEN FINER LINE BETWEEN JUSTICE AND REVENGE.
Data scientist Laura prefers the company of her books to the real world – let alone that cesspit online. But when her best friend Emily becomes the victim of horrific cyberbullying, she makes it her all-engulfing mission to track down the worst culprits.
Petite corporate financier Suki is about to outshine the stupid boys at her firm: she’s leading the acquisition of Edinburgh’s most exciting start-up. If only she could get its brilliant, but distracted, co-founder Laura to engage.
Event planner Claire is left to salvage the start-up’s annual conference after her colleague Emily fails to return to work. She’s determined to get a promotion out of it, but her boss isn’t playing ball.

As the women’s paths intertwine, the insidious discrimination they each face comes to light. Emboldened by Emily’s tragic experience, they join forces to plot the downfall of all those who’ve wronged them.
But with emotions running high, will the punishments fit the crimes?
A pacy suspense fiction novel with its feet firmly in the #MeToo era.

EXTRACT

1.

JUST ME, LAURA

 

A tear fell onto the page of my book in a star-shaped splotch. I wiped it with my thumb. The stationery cupboard’s dry, inky air tickled my throat as I sighed.

Those poor people.

The photocopier vibrated against my back, mirroring the movement of the novel’s train carriage, its heat evocative of the bodies pressed together, its persistent humming an echo of the stoic prayers uttered by the captives being transported to their final destination.

I hated to leave them, but my time was up. I waved the still damp page side to side and blew the coldest air that I could onto it. The translucent spot rippled the paper. I closed the book and held it to my chest, stroking its edges. It wasn’t the first one I’d ruined this way.

I heard giggling. The door clicked open. I froze. Restless rustling of fabric, the smacking wetness of lips, and baritone groans filled the tiny space.

Crap.

‘Hurry up,’ said a woman.

The man whispered, ‘Let me help.’

It may only have been seconds, but the intensifying moans suggested they were being well spent. I shrunk into my slot between the photocopier and the side wall, forced to listen to the unmistakable swoosh of skirt-lining against tights, the metal tear of a zipper, and the thud and tinkle of a belt buckle hitting the floor.

The room’s flimsy rear partition shook against my shoulder. Through a small gap I saw snippets of skin: her braceleted arms outstretched above their heads, the tips of his fingers digging into her wrist.

I looked away. Beside me, rattled pens rolled towards the edge of a metal shelf. I willed them to stay put.

Her voice again, breathless: ‘I have a better idea.’ She cooed, ‘Help me up.’

I stiffened. Up?

The man grunted. The photocopier creaked and a cascade of red curls fell over the side of the machine onto my head. Definitely Sally. But who was he?

I winced. I preferred not to know. But what if they saw me? They’d think I was some kind of pervert. Steeling myself for intense awkwardness, I cleared my throat. Twice.

‘What the…?’ said the guy.

The mass of hair bounced out of view.

My knees complained as I rose. ‘Sorry. I was reading.’

‘Oh my God, Laura, if I’d known…’ Sally hopped off the machine, clutching the panels of her blouse. She swooped down to pick up her skirt, not realising that swift move exposed me to a full-frontal of the newest data science recruit, his stunned face up top and trousers bunched around his ankles below.

My blush felt incandescent. I covered my eyes to let the interrupted love birds regain their modesty, the three of us developing an unspoken understanding that this never happened.

As the door closed behind them, I caught his worried murmur, ‘Do you think she saw it?’ and her replying with a chuckle, ‘If she did, it will have been her first.’

Though it was true, it was unnecessary. I crouched to retrieve the book from my rudely invaded personal haven. The guy’s head popped back in. I jumped, hitting my shoulder against the shelf.

‘Forgot to tell you.’ He smiled meekly. ‘Justin is looking for you.

THE FILTERED-WATER dispenser in the corridor provided me with much-needed cooling down. The heat receded from my cheeks but immediately fired up again as I saw the clock overhead and stress took hold: I was late.

How did I let time slip away? I grabbed my phone for my regular check-in with Emily, my best friend. The line rang out. I let out a high-pitched whine, torn between wanting to wait to try again and rushing to Justin’s supposedly mission critical meeting.

I walked on.

Five colleagues huddled ahead of me, deep in discussion, drawing flow charts with black marker pens on a long length of wall coated with a special, wipeable paint. One of them spotted me approaching; he nudged another. Their semicircle fell silent and broke open, revealing their work. Hopeful faces sought my contribution, my approval. I passed them with a brisk pace and my most courteous smile.

I dialled Emily again as I strode past rows of desks, their occupants tip-tapping away at their keyboards, their screens faded by the rays of a rare Scottish sun. This time, her line was engaged.

Please God, let them not have found her mobile number, too.

In the lobby, the multicoloured logo of Empisoft stretched across the surface behind the reception desk. Underneath, a shelf showcased our many technology awards, oversized engraved dust-gatherers bearing testament to our team’s hard work. Next to them, an embarrassingly large photo of Justin and me holding yet another trophy, my thin smile doing its best, my eyes missing the lens by a mile.

Liv stood watering the plant next to the visitors’ TV tuned to the non-stop horrors of the outside world. She dried her hands on her cardigan and flashed a motherly smile. ‘There you are. A dose of book time again?’

I nodded, ready to speed on, but my eyeline flicked to the sixty-inch screen. Adam Mooney, the Hollywood star, was exiting Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre and making his way down its stone steps. Saliva flooded my mouth in revulsion.

A sea of outstretched arms shoved microphones towards his angular jaw as reporters pelted him with questions. ‘How do you respond to calls for your arrest for sexual assault?’ I spotted errors in the closed caption transcription. Too many voices. But it perfectly captured his response: ‘No Comment.’

Liv stood at my side. ‘That’s a real tearjerker, isn’t it?’

‘What? You feel sorry for him?’ I asked.

‘No, your book. The concentration camps.’

‘Oh.’ I looked down at the blue-and-white-striped cover. ‘Yes.’

‘I do feel a bit sorry for him, though.’ Liv gazed back at the screen. ‘It’s so easy for this kind of thing to destroy a career. I’m not convinced he deserves to suffer like that.’

I spun towards the boardroom. ‘I don’t think he can suffer enough.’

2.

MY EMILY

The kettle beeped three times, the red numeric display showing the water had reached the programmed temperature of seventy-three degrees. Perfect for herbal tea, according to the manual.

Emily drew a green tea bag from the overhead cupboard of her galley kitchen and plopped it into a brown-rimmed mug. She loved her gadgets, but had she known it was a required safety feature for the voice-controlled kettle to beep when ready, she would have sent the freebie back to her client. It was getting on her nerves. And her nerves were frayed enough.

Swirls of yellow liquid formed underneath the steam in her cup. Unable to find a clean teaspoon in the drawer, Emily fished the tea bag out of her brew with a chopstick pulled from last night’s microwaved egg fried rice. She threw the bag into the sink, onto a pile of its discarded kin, white-rimmed squares of thin, drying paper shrunk around increasingly mouldy lumps of leaves.

With the other end of the chopstick, she scratched behind her ear, stirring thick strands of unwashed hair. She returned the stick to the plastic container as though that small semblance of tidying made up for the surrounding week-worth of filth.

Emily shuffled to her armchair. Her fuzzy slippers stirred dust bunnies into the sunshine streaming through the living room’s large, Victorian window. She blew on her drink out of habit — from when kettles just boiled water to a throat-scorching one hundred degrees centigrade. A dribble of drool escaped her mouth.

The remote control for the TV was out of reach, where she’d hurled it last. That was okay. She’d seen enough. Too much.

But perhaps this time…

Her mobile rang, diverting her attention. But it, too, lay far away and her limbs were heavy. By the time she managed to propel herself forward, the ringing had stopped. She shrugged. Laura would retry later. She always did.

Emily took a tentative sip of her drink. The phone rang again. She groaned. The side table was covered with dirty crockery and technology magazines sticky with donutty finger marks, so she put her mug on the floor. It would mark the floorboards with a ring but sod the landlord.

She read the caller ID and her shoulders slumped. She slid the green strip aside.

‘Hello, Claire.’

‘How are you, Em?’ Claire’s voice wavered. ‘We haven’t heard from you at work.’

‘I’m … I don’t know.’

‘Listen, Darren was having a hissy-fit yesterday, stomping about the place, shouting about deadlines. I’m not sure how much longer I can cover for you… I mean, everybody knows you’re not really sick-sick.’

Emily flinched. No, she wasn’t sick-sick. But this didn’t have a name.

‘Anyway,’ Claire continued. ‘I’m calling because of the Empisoft conference. It’s only weeks away and I need your help. I’m not up to speed and I’ve got my hands full with my charity gig’s PR and coordination as it is.’

Emily suppressed a sigh. Her mind was a million miles from the office, but this was Laura’s company and the most important event of the year for them. ‘What do you need?’

‘I’ve sent you a long email with questions. Would you have a look, please?’ Claire asked.

Emily scanned the room. Where was her laptop? A black triangle poked out from below a blanket of newspapers and magazines on the dining table. ‘Will do.’

‘Honestly, Em, we need you back … and we’re all worried about you.’

Emily massaged her forehead. ‘I guess I could come in tomorrow.’

‘That’s great. But don’t rush-rush. Darren’s gym sessions don’t start until 8.30 now. I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better. See you tomorrow.’

‘Uh-huh.’

Emily rifled through her papers on the dining table, shoving aside print-outs of emails and letters from the council. She found her charger cable and the red sock she’d lost the week before. The TV remote by her feet lured her to have one more peek. She knew she shouldn’t, but she picked it up and took aim.

It was that dreadful women’s talk show. The one where the presenters fanned themselves when the resident Italian chef spoon-fed them tiramisu, the one that ensured guests stormed off to keep the viewers coming back.

Why was the dippy blonde on the right pointing and shouting this time? Emily upped the volume. She leaned closer, her body tensed.

How can you say non-verbal cues should be enough?’ the blonde demanded. ‘What is a non-verbal cue, anyway? A squirm? Does that count? Why not say “no” like a normal person?

The one with the over-white teeth replied, ‘We’re British. We’re polite. A firm “no” is too… punitive, like a slap in the face. When all we want to signal is to slow down.’

‘We can’t expect men to read minds, though,’ interjected the third woman, older, her lips puffed out with fillers

Emily stood transfixed. She knew it was wrong for her to be so unreasonably — unnaturally — drawn to the incessant coverage; but she couldn’t help it. It was about her. It was her harrowing encounter they probed, as selfishly as he’d touched her. They were lifting the lid off her life, as insensitively as he’d lifted her dress.

She bit her lip to channel the hurt; she needed to watch. Which way would it swing today? Would they see it her way? Would they see her? A person. A real, pulsing, sentient human being. Not some slab of meat offered for dismemberment, for them to pry apart her motives, her honesty, her morals — to judge.

Occasionally, throughout this whole ordeal, she’d catch a glimmer of hope through all the contempt, a sliver of validation. So the fascination persisted. She longed to understand what it was that hurled some to her defence and others to the edge of crazy.

Exactly.’ shrieked the first panel member on the TV. ‘I’m sorry, but in my day, you knew not to go to someone’s flat — or in this case a hotel room, which is even worse — unless you were up for it. This girl throws herself at a famous actor she’s only met that night and what? She expects him to read her mind? She can speak. She should’ve spoken up if she didn’t like his kisses or him performing oral sex on her. Quite frankly she should have left the minute she became uncomfortable.

Don’t you think there was a power dynamic at play that made it harder? I mean he’s Adam Mooney, for Christ’s sake.

She doesn’t work for him—

Emily zapped the screen into darkness. Enough. There was nothing new. Nothing that would make the haters hate less. Nothing that would make this ‘she’ they spoke of so callously feel uncorrupted again. Emily covered her mouth; felt a tear hit her hand. They knew her name. Why did they never use her name?

Questions she’d asked herself over and over swirled round in her head. Why hadn’t she just said ‘no’ that night? Why had she thought it a good idea to write her story and have it posted online? Why had she believed that blog when they said she’d remain anonymous? What an idiot. What a fool to think she would be a force for good, for girls’ empowerment, for healthy debate. It had been the worst decision of her life. And now nothing could turn back the clock.

She rubbed her face to loosen the tension and filled her lungs slowly. Must try to move on. Maybe work would help after all?

The itch behind her ear didn’t let up. She scratched it once more and scooped her hair into a messy bun, wincing as the rank-smelling bobble she’d been carrying around her wrist all week passed her nose. Once the bun was secured into place, she knotted the belt of her bathrobe and strode to the table.

The computer broke free from its surrounding papers and magazines with a single yank. She watched the disturbed pile wobble and slip to the ground in a colourful spread. Emily cleared more space on the table, flicking crumbs of who-knows-what into the void with the back of her hand.

There.

She sat down. The laptop whirred into action, the screen’s static attracting a plague of dust. She clutched her sleeve and rubbed it away.

A thump by her door.

She listened for more, the back of her neck tingling. She hoped, of the two things it might be, that it was her neighbour coming to check on her again. But no knock came. Her stomach dropped.

Shit.

She shook her head. Ignore it.

The waterfall background on her screen was meant to be a serene, calming image but all Emily sensed when she looked at it was the thunderous pressure of the water on her head, its silvery foam enveloping her, the absence of air — drowning.

With a slight tremble in her finger, she inched the mouse towards her email. At the top of her inbox was Claire’s red-flagged message: Help! Questions for Empisoft conference.

Emily breathed a wisp of relief when she saw that the fifty-odd other messages were business-related and all from people she knew, including one from HR she’d check out later. She mentally blew a kiss to the IT chap who’d assured her he would filter out all the hate mail, so she wouldn’t be confronted with it.

Her brain wouldn’t focus. She re-read the same piece of text five times. The planning around the annual conference of the city’s most celebrated high-growth start-up was a challenge, sure, but she knew that wasn’t the real problem. It was the thought of returning to work, to the stares, the whispers. They’d had to get extra security at the office when she’d been identified as the anonymous woman behind the incendiary blog post; a daily hassle no one appreciated.

For the best part of two hours, she resolved logistical issues with the catering and stupidly constrained parking around the large conference venue. No reason Claire couldn’t have handled those herself.

Emily’s cramped thighs begged for movement. She got up for another cup of tea, leaving the previous one cold, iridescent plaques lining the surface like an oil slick.

As she passed the front door, she remembered the earlier sound. Despite alarm ringing in her ears, she pulled at the knob.

On the landing lay a medium-sized box, addressed simply to The Bitch. Emily peered over into the stairwell of her tenement, knowing it was pointless. Whoever had finagled access to her building would be long gone.

The box didn’t weigh much, but its content sounded solid when shifted. She carried it inside, her pulse throbbing in her temples, her teeth clenched.

She walked straight to the kitchen, flipped open the stainless-steel lid of her bin, and shook the ‘gift’ out of the box. The large purple dildo fell atop layers of gloopy plastic film pried from ready meals. Underneath, she could still see the fat, curved tip of the other veiny, flesh-coloured sex toy.

Emily smacked the metal lid down and crumpled onto the tiled floor. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her body convulsing with each staggered sob.

She couldn’t do this anymore.

 

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 19th November 2019

Print length: 330 pages

If you would like to purchase Stay Mad, Sweetheart, you can do so by clicking on one the following link below. 

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Through the Wall by Caroline Corcoran #bookreview blog tour @cgcorcoran @Sabah_K @AvonBooksUK

I’m delighted to be sharing my review of Through the Wall by Caroline Corcoran as part of the blog tour. With thanks to Sabah Khan at Avon Books for inviting me to take part.

BLURB

Lexie’s got the perfect life. And someone else wants it…

Lexie loves her home. She feels safe and secure in it – and loved, thanks to her boyfriend Tom.

But recently, something’s not been quite right. A book out of place. A wardrobe door left open. A set of keys going missing…

Tom thinks Lexie’s going mad – but then, he’s away more often than he’s at home nowadays, so he wouldn’t understand.

Because Lexie isn’t losing it. She knows there’s someone out there watching her. And, deep down, she knows there’s nothing she can do to make them stop…

MY THOUGHTS

Through the Wall is a tense psychological thriller by Caroline Corcoran, focusing on the lives of two women who live next door to each other in a London apartment block. Meet Lexie and Harriet. Both women envy each other. Harriet is jealous of Lexie for her perfect family life. However, Lexie sees Harriet as what you might imagine one of the cool kids at school to be, fun-loving and always up for a party. But what they both don’t realise is how very different their lives are to what they imagine them to be.

Right from the beginning, there is an underlying level of tension between the two women, and as the reader, we can sense that things will soon come crashing down for either Harriet or Lexie. Both women are facing their own problems in their personal life at the moment. Lexie and her husband, Tom, are struggling with fertility problems, and Harriet still hasn’t moved on, after her fiancé, Luke decided to break up with her after their engagement. But now Harriet has set her eyes on Lexie’s boyfriend, Tom, and it seems that she will stop at nothing to break them up. To Harriet, Tom seems to be the perfect replacement for Luke.

Caroline Corcoran kept me gripped. I was intrigued by the feud that seemed to exist between both Lexie and Harriet. They don’t actually meet each until much later in the story. Right from the beginning, Harriet seemed to be a very perplexing character, and I had a feeling that there was going to be more to her story. You know what she is beginning to plan from very early in the book, and this is how Caroline cleverly maintains the tension.

As the plot developed, Caroline continues to deepen her character’s stories, and it takes on a much darker tone. Harriet is the person who intrigued me the most. I wanted to know what had happened in her past and how her past. How had her past morphed her into the person she is today? Why was she so obsessed with her neighbours? Why was she so desperate to get together with Lexie’s boyfriend? I also found it fascinating how both women thought of each other as the novel is told from their perspectives.

Although the pace is a bit slow at times, Caroline Corcoran maintains a high level of intrigue that will keep you invested in the lives of Lexie and Harriet. The sense that darkness is creeping in will keep you very engaged.

Publisher: Avon

Publication date: 3rd October 2019

Print length: 352 pages

If you would like to purchase Through the Wall, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below. 

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Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver #bookreview blog tour @will_carver @OrendaBooks @annecater

It’s my great pleasure to be joining the blog tour today for Will Carver’s, Nothing Important Happened Today. With thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

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Nine suicides
One Cult
No leader

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of the People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another.

Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe; it becomes a movement. A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.

How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?

MY THOUGHTS

Will Carver is a writer, unlike any writer I have read before. Last year I read Good Samaritans, and it was my top read of 2018. I couldn’t stop talking about it and recommending it. And Will Carver has pulled it off again with Nothing Important Happened Today. Although I found it a little slower paced than his previous book, it was still very intriguing, and the voice of the narrative made it really gripping. It is a very unique book that you won’t be forgetting about any time soon after you read it.

This book also sees the return of Detective Sergeant Pace who featured in Good Samaritans. The police are investigating nine suicides. Nine people have thrown themselves off Chelsea Bridge. They are called ‘The Chosen Ones.’ The morning of their suicide, they each received a letter with four words written on it, nothing important happened today. But what compelled them all, nine strangers, to meet at the same place, at the same time and throw themselves off a bridge? Are they members of a cult? Who is behind sending the letters out to the individuals? It soon becomes clear that this won’t be the last time such an event happens.

Will Carver does have a very dark mind. I thought this when I read his last book, but the darkness is turned up a notch in his latest. As the story gets going, I wanted to know what was going on in the background and why the nine strangers all decided, on the same day, to commit suicide. It almost seemed as though they had been programmed to do it. I wanted to know who was behind the letters. Will Carver cleverly brings this together at the end in a nail-biting finale. I could never quite pinpoint who I thought was responsible for what was happening, and when it finally dawned on me who it was, it was a mind-blowing moment.

Although there was very little dialogue in this book, I found the narrative so strong. We don’t get to spend an awful lot of time with the victims, but when Will Carver does allow us a peek into their lives, I felt as though I really connected to them. I couldn’t understand why they were planning to kill themselves, and this was what made me even keener to find out who was behind this. I wanted to know how they had come to be in this position in the first place.

Will Carver writes very unique books. He tackles some uncomfortable and sometimes distressing subjects, but his writing is utterly addictive and he makes his books so fascinating.

Nothing Important Happened Today is a book about how a person’s mind can easily be manipulated, and it makes it quite scary to see how this can happen.

Very dark, unsettling but very intriguing.  You won’t find another writer out there who writes like Will Carver.

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication date: 14th November 2019

Print length: 276 pages

If you would like to purchase Nothing Important Happened Today, you can do by clicking on one of the following links below.

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Nothing to Hide by James Oswald #bookreview blog tour @SirBenfro @Wildfirebks @annecater

I’m delighted to be sharing my review of Nothing to Hide by James Oswald, the second book in his Constance Fairchild series. With thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

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Suspended from duty after her last case ended in the high-profile arrest of one of Britain’s wealthiest men, DC Constance Fairchild is trying to stay away from the limelight. Fate has other ideas . . .

Coming home to her London flat, Constance stumbles across a young man, bloodied, mutilated and barely alive. She calls it in and is quickly thrown into the middle of a nationwide investigation . . . It seems that the victim is just the latest in a string of similar ritualistic attacks.

No matter that she is off-duty, no matter that there are those in the Met who would gladly see the back of her, Con can’t shake her innate determination to bring the monsters responsible for this brutality to justice.

Trouble always seems to find her, and even if she has nothing to hide, perhaps she has everything to lose . . .

MY THOUGHTS

Nothing to Hide is the second book in James Oswald’s Constance Fairchild series, and it is a real corker. I thought the first book in this series was good, but I think the second is even better and I read it fast. It does deal with some very dark themes, and it pushes Constance or ‘Con’ as she prefers to be known; only her mother calls her Constance, to the brink.

When we last saw Constance, she had just uncovered a serious case of corruption within the police force after the death of her colleague and friend a short while beforehand. Since her discovery, several of her colleagues have turned against her. There is a sense that she is very much on her own in this book. She has also had to face the brunt of the media who are constantly pursuing her. It doesn’t help as well that she comes from a very different background to most of her colleagues. Her family are descended from nobility, and she came from a background of wealth and privilege; however, her father cut off her inheritance when she went against her parents’ wishes by joining the police force.

I think it’s Constance’s background story that makes her character feel fresh, to me. There aren’t many fictional detectives that I’m aware of, who are descended from nobility. This is what makes her so fascinating. I also like how James Oswald has blended this book in with his other series, which features DI Inspector McLean. Although McLean doesn’t make an appearance, several other characters do, including Madame Rose, and there’s even a reference to Grumpy Bob. But if you haven’t read the Inspector McLean series, you don’t need to have done so to read this book. Perhaps in the future, McLean and Connie may team up which would definitely be interesting to see.

The case which Constance is investigating is a very dark one. She has recently returned to her flat in London, only to discover a man, barely alive, not far from her home, who has been severely mutilated. Although she is meant to be on suspension, she becomes quickly sucked into the case and investigates quietly in the background against the orders of her superiors. During her investigations, she comes across a Church movement who claim to be doing their best for drug addicts and the homeless in the area. And her mother has become very fond of a man connected to the Church, although Con believes he has more of an eye for her mother’s money.

I was utterly gripped to this book, and I managed to finish it in just a couple of sittings. There is high drama right from the first page. Constance Fairchild is fast becoming a favourite fictional detective of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Publisher: Wildfire

Publication date: 25 July 2019 (hardcover) 14th November 2019 (paperback)

Print length: 352 pages

If you would like to purchase Nothing to Hide, you can do so by clicking on one of the following links below.

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