BLOG TOUR: The Girl in the Grave by Helen Phifer

This was intense, clever, fast-paced and I loved it.

Silence falls as the coffin is lifted out of the ground, yesterday’s rain cascading from it like a waterfall. Glancing into what should have been an empty grave, everyone gasps at the sight of blueish-white fingers exposed in the soil below…
When the body of a teenage runaway is found hidden inside someone else’s grave in a small-town cemetery in The Lake District, an urgent call is made to Forensic Pathologist Beth Adams. Still traumatised by a recent attempt on her own life, one look at the beautiful girl’s broken body is enough to bring Beth out of hiding for the first time since her attack. She’s the only one who can help her trusted friend, Detective Josh Walker, crack the most shocking case of his career.
Beth struggles to believe it’s a coincidence that the gravesite was scheduled to be exhumed, exposing the evidence. Does this twisted killer want to be caught?
Throwing herself into her work Beth discovers traces of material beneath the victim’s fingernails that sets the team on the killer’s trail. But this critical lead comes at a dangerous price, exposing Beth’s whereabouts and dragging her back into her attacker’s line of fire once again.
With Beth’s own life on the line, the investigation is already cracking under the pressure. Then another local girl goes missing… Can Beth stay alive long enough to catch the killer before he claims his next victim?

For the first book in the series, this definitely doesn’t hold back! It jumps right in with the discovery of a body underneath a coffin being exhumed. The bizarre discovery brings Beth Adams into the mix to help the investigation, along with her friend Detective Josh Walker. The beginning of the novel is so fast-paced, introducing a myriad of characters, and emphasising the truly weird coincidence that led to finding the body. What are the chances that the one grave being exhumed has a body underneath it? It’s this question that Beth and Josh simply can’t let go, and as more girls go missing, the tension really ramps up.

Beth is a brilliant main character. I liked how Phifer gives Beth a very emotional and terrifying back story, with events in her past clearly affecting her deeply in the present day. It’s not clear to the reader at first what has happened to Beth, but I liked this as it gave her a chance to become her own person before revealing the traumatic events of her past. She’s clever and eager to be back solving cases, but her fragility and vulnerability also comes through.

The main focus is on Beth, but parts of the novel are from Josh’s perspective and I liked this contrast. He’s a very strong character, although not without his own problems in his personal life. His protectiveness, physical and emotional strength, and dedication to his job make him a very endearing character. I loved his friendship with Beth, and it definitely makes the reader want them to work as a couple, I became very invested in both of them! This is purely down to Phifer’s excellent writing, as after only one novel I’m desperate to read more and find out where their story could go.

The crime itself gets steadily more dangerous and sinister, and it’s not often that I say I genuinely had no clue at all who it could be. Phifer offers the occasional glimpse into the mind of the killer, but with no indication as to who it could be, so it makes this unknown figure even more frightening. The ending is definitely unexpected, super creepy and extremely tense. I physically couldn’t tear my eyes from the pages, I was so desperate to find out exactly what happened and why. I loved how Phifer links the past with the present as well, it’s a clever story and worked really well.

If you’re looking to start a new crime series, with strong but emotional characters, a fast-paced story and brilliant ending, then this is the one for you!

The Girl in the Grave
Helen Phifer
Bookouture, 16th July 2019

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

I thought this started really well, the shock and fear was so powerful, but this didn’t continue throughout, and I was left disappointed by the second half.

Your phone rings.
A stranger has kidnapped your child.
To free them you must abduct someone else’s child.
Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child.
If any of these things don’t happen:
Your child will be killed.
You are now part of The Chain.

This book starts off really powerfully. Rachel’s daughter is kidnapped, and she therefore becomes part of The Chain, a spooky entity forcing people to commit crimes to get their kids back. I was hooked from the start, as it was quite an unusual concept, and one that I really liked. Rachel herself was a great main character, she was strong, stubborn and resourceful, as anyone would need to be in this situation. Her daughter, Kylie, was also a strong person, and just as determined to get herself out of the situation.

I felt like the first part of the book was clever, fairly fast-paced, and the story showed a detailed look into the complexity of human nature. Rachel’s emotions were closely examined throughout, her guilt, determination, love, relief and her dangerous side were all shown.

Unfortunately, it’s the second half of the book that I felt let it down. To me, it felt really disconnected. McKinty starts dropping sections written from the perspective of the people behind The Chain. I personally feel this would have been more powerful if it had started earlier in the book, and there hadn’t been such a strong division between Parts 1 and 2. Learning more about The Chain’s leaders was definitely interesting however, so I did like that this was added in.

I also expected more characters to be introduced in part 2, but instead it was the same people, but with more personal issues being thrown at them. I would have liked to see a character who was just a strong, independent and courageous person, without having them battle through an emotional or tragic backstory just for the sake of it. It just felt like a lot to me, for both main characters to have a really intense story, and I would have liked to see some more in-depth analysis of their personality, as was shown in part 1.

The ending was a little cliche for me. There was a lot of heroics thrown in, and it was a bit much. I know it’s a bit ridiculous to say it didn’t feel realistic, as the whole concept is very ‘out there’, but it just felt a little overdone, and I was just reading through it super quickly to get past all the dramatics. I was disappointed by the ending, as I was hoping for something more deeply thought out.

There are definitely things about this I loved, but it mostly comes in the first half of the book, and the second half didn’t live up to how awesome that was. Still a great read, but just not my favourite, and I’d probably rate it a 3* read. However, I know that lots of people have loved this book, so maybe this is just me!

The Chain
Adrian McKinty
Orion, 9th July 2019

Bookish Bites: Last Lullaby by Carol Wyers

Hello, and welcome to my new feature! ‘Bookish Bites’ is a quickfire review round, where I write shorter reviews based off quick and easy to answer questions. If you don’t have the time to read lengthy reviews all the time, then this is the one for you!

Kicking off this feature is Last Lullaby by Carol Wyers.

Charlotte’s baby is safe. But is she?
When the body of young mother Charlotte Brannon is discovered by her husband in their immaculate, silver bedroom, Detective Natalie Ward is first on the scene. The killer has left a chilling calling card: the word ‘Why?’ written on the wall in blood. 
Determined to find justice, Natalie quickly discovers the husband is hiding a troubled past, and she’s sure the teenage babysitter’s alibi doesn’t quite add up.
But before Natalie can dig deeper, another mother is murdered, her young son left distraught, staring at a fresh ‘who’ scrawled beside her.
Natalie knows it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again, but all the key suspects have alibis. It’s her toughest case yet, and with her marriage hanging by a thread, the cracks are beginning to show.
Just when Natalie finds an unsettling clue she thinks could solve the case, another young woman and her baby disappear, and a member of Natalie’s team is put in terrible danger. 
Can Natalie stop this twisted killer and save one of her own before more families are torn apart forever?

Loved the easy to follow, but seriously sinister plot! It was a detailed and clever crime, and I particularly liked the pace of the book as it kept me engaged throughout without rushing anything. There were a lot of red herrings, clues and I really liked the glimpses into ‘Patient X’s conversation with the doctor as it gave an insight into the mind of the killer.

Disliked ummm… nothing? It’s honestly just a great read!

Favourite moment was the first scene between Patient X and the Doctor, as I was so horrified when I realised what I was reading, due to the creepy and sinister nature of the scene.

Favourite character is definitely Lucy. I like her stubborn nature, the way she shows her emotions and being able to have a glimpse into her personal life.

For fans of Angela Marsons and Rachel Lynch

Final comments: This is a truly sinister plot, with the brilliant and established detective Natalie Ward leading the team, and the ending is really satisfying. The plot builds intensity and suspense throughout, and the conclusion gives the reader a lot of detail in order to understand why these crimes were committed. Brilliant book!

Child’s Play by Angela Marsons

What can I say really? Angela has absolutely smashed it yet again, with another brilliant Detective Kim Stone novel!

Finally we’re playing a game. A game that I have chosen. I give one last push of the roundabout and stand back. ‘You really should have played with me,’ I tell her again although I know she can no longer hear.
Late one summer evening, Detective Kim Stone arrives at Haden Hill Park to the scene of a horrific crime: a woman in her sixties tied to a swing with barbed wire and an X carved into the back of her neck.
The victim, Belinda Evans, was a retired college Professor of Child Psychology. As Kim and her team search her home, they find an overnight bag packed and begin to unravel a complex relationship between Belinda and her sister Veronica.
Then two more bodies are found bearing the same distinctive markings, and Kim knows she is on the hunt for a ritualistic serial killer. Linking the victims, Kim discovers they were involved in annual tournaments for gifted children and were on their way to the next event.
With DS Penn immersed in the murder case of a young man, Kim and her team are already stretched and up against one of the most ruthless killer’s they’ve ever encountered. The clues lie in investigating every child who attended the tournaments, dating back decades.
Faced with hundreds of potential leads and a bereaved sister who is refusing to talk, can Kim get inside the mind of a killer and stop another murder before it’s too late?

From the start, this novel draws you in, with a truly sinister scene set in a playground. It’s pretty gruesome actually, but then that’s the Kim Stone series for you! No details are spared, which meant I was immediately invested in finding out who could commit such a sickening crime. It’s a great beginning, even after the first chapter I was unwilling to put the book down at all.

Kim is just such an established character, that by this point all I can say is that I still love her! She’s stubborn, clever, bullish but extremely caring towards her team, and I’ve always liked the complexity of her character. Her friendship with Bryant is a brilliant source of humour, lightening up what would otherwise be a pretty intense plot. Their moments of banter, and Kim’s hilarious working relationship with Keats, all add to lighten the plot when needed, and this is something I’ve always liked about this series. Angela knows just when the reader needs to be lifted by these little moments.

As the plot thickens, it just gets more and more intense, but I really loved it. It centres around an event for genius and gifted children, and it’s a genuinely fascinating concept. I liked the different people the team encountered at the event, and although there were a lot of characters, they all added a lot to the plot and the wider examination of this Brainbox event. It really hooked me, and the sister of the victim, Veronica, was intriguing to say the least. The way she responded to Kim was a nice touch, but the story of her childhood was genuinely quite sad. I felt that I was so invested in each character that got introduced, that I never had time to try and work out who did it, and as always with Angela’s writing, I was completely taken by surprise! The ending was really tense and I literally couldn’t put the book down because I was so focused on finding out who did it and why. It was a clever ending, linking various aspects of the novel for a really tidy and satisfying conclusion.

What I particularly liked about this was that Penn, a relatively new member of the team, had his own story to follow. It allowed him to really develop as a character and come into his own more, and I loved that we were able to see more of him. It was actually a really interesting story in it’s own right, and I felt it offered just the right amount of distraction from the intensity of the main plot.

Of course, I can’t not mention Stace, one of my favourite characters in the Kim Stone series. She’s so stubborn, independent and hard-working that I really warm towards her, and I found her reaction to Tiffany, a new character, really hilarious. What I like about the team as a whole is that they work so well together, complementing each other’s different ways of working, and Kim herself is so caring towards them, but without it being at all cringe. Instead, it comes across as a team of people who have been through some heavy, emotional stuff together, and have bonded because of it, and I really like that Angela portrays this so well.

The DI Kim Stone series is such a brilliant series in general, and this one doesn’t let it down at all. After the sheer awesomeness of the tenth book in the series, I wondered how Angela was ever going to top it, but this one carries on the series so nicely, so intensely and so fast-paced that I was immediately drawn straight back into the world of Kim Stone and her team. A genuinely enjoyable read, I’d of course recommend this as a 5* read to anyone.

Child’s Play
Angela Marsons
Bookouture, 11th July 2019

What She Saw by Wendy Clarke

What a brilliant, fast-paced, intriguing and consistently surprising book!

She lied to her daughter to save her family.
Everyone knows Leona would do anything for her daughter Beth: she moved to Church Langdon to send Beth to the best school, worked hard to build a successful business to support them and found them the perfect little cottage to call home. Leona and Beth hike together, shop together, share their hopes and fears with one another. People say they’re more like best friends than mother and daughter.
It’s the relationship every mother dreams of.
But their closeness means that Beth struggles to make friends. Her mother has kept her sheltered from the world. She’s more reliant on her mother’s love. More vulnerable.
When Beth finds an envelope hidden under the floorboards of their home, the contents make her heart stop. Everything she thought she knew about her mother is a lie. And she realises there is no one she can turn to for help.
What if you’ve been protected from strangers your whole life, but the one person you can’t trust is the person closest to home?

I thought this was a genuinely clever thriller/drama. I loved the elusiveness of Leona, the sense that she was holding something back, even during the scenes with her therapist. It was so brilliantly written, as the reader felt both connected to her and distant from her at the same time. Ria was also a really fascinating character, as she was clearly vulnerable but there was a definite sense of strength and resolve underneath it all. Finally, the other main female character was Leona’s daughter, Beth. Again, she was really well written, both a typical teenage girl but also an unusually independent one, and the friendship she formed with David seemed super suspicious throughout.

I liked how Leona told Ria’s story herself, it gave the reader a sense of dread about what happens to Ria. Gareth was a particularly manipulative character, but I felt that Clarke built up his character at the perfect pace, giving the reader enough dread and suspense without giving too much away too soon. There were points when I literally felt shudders running through me as he was such a creepy and nasty man.

There were definitely things about the story that I questioned throughout, as the reader was meant to, and I was absolutely desperate to find out what happened. The mysterious flashbacks to Ria’s life, the box Leona keeps, Beth’s artistic fascination, all of these details kept me hooked until I found out what they could possibly mean.

The ending was really satisfying. It was definitely dramatic, but after such an intense book I was ready for an emotionally satisfying, happy ending, and Clarke definitely provides this. What I didn’t expect was the main plot twist! I had my suspicions about something else, which turned out to be completely wrong, and I was blind-sided by the turn the plot actually took. Genius writing from Clarke, as she subtly leads the reader into suspecting one thing, in order to completely shock them later on.

This is intense, deliciously creepy, fast-paced, with some absolutely brilliant characters and a shocking ending. A definite must-read book!

What She Saw
Wendy Clarke
Bookouture, 1st May 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Divorce by Victoria Jenkins

I thought this was a really unusual thriller, that absolutely flew by, in a fascinating setting.

I thought I knew how to help them. I knew nothing.
When Lydia and Josh Green walk into Karen’s office for counselling one rainy February morning, Karen sees a couple under stress, almost at breaking point. A husband working long hours at the hospital, a wife working longer hours at home with their young children.
They’re just a normal couple, with normal problems, and Karen is determined to help, but she knows she must be careful. Once in the past, she went too far – her need to fix other people’s lives tipped her over the edge… and someone got hurt.
But the couple won’t open up. And just as Karen begins to feel the couple are hiding a secret darker than the problems of an everyday marriage, she receives something which makes her question her own safety.
With everything she has been through, can Karen trust herself? She needs to listen and she needs to watch Lydia and Josh carefully – there is something there that could be the key to saving them all, if only she can unlock it in time…

I loved that this book was set, for the most part, solely in Karen’s office. It created a very claustrophobic atmosphere within the book, making it more intense than it already was, and it was really clever. Karen’s office, which started as a safe space, slowly became more and more invaded with Lydia and Josh’s problems, and throughout the novel this extended into other parts of Karen’s house, as the issues became more serious. For the odd scene which was set outside the house, there was a real sense of vulnerability and feeling unsafe, which was only reconciled when she returned to her office. Even the scenes in the kitchen were creepy and unsettling, and this use of place really enhanced all the themes throughout the story.

I also really liked how this book swapped perspectives, with different chapters being written from Josh, Lydia or Karen’s perspective. It gave an insight into how they all reacted differently to the counselling sessions, and allowed the reader to compare Karen’s assumptions and thoughts to Lydia and Josh’s thoughts. They were all such well written characters. I was definitely unsure what to make of Lydia and Josh, and had no idea where the story was going. Karen’s vague backstory was also intriguing, and Jenkins gave just the right amount of detail to make the reader feel tense and concerned for Karen.

The story itself goes so quickly – because nearly all the chapters take place as counselling sessions, no substantial time is spent on what happens in-between the sessions, so the plot is very focused. It’s really fast-paced and I was hooked throughout. The spooky little details that Jenkins puts in are perfectly timed to raise the suspense again, from pictures being misplaced to mysterious flowers arriving – they are small details, but they’re essential in building the tension.

The ending was really clever, it linked everything together in a really intense couple of chapters. It was explained really well, and Jenkins offers a much more insightful look into all three characters than the reader is allowed previously, so it’s a really satisfying ending. I was definitely taken by surprise, and the details within the plot make it even better. The last page or two is just as tense and fast-paced though, and even the rather abrupt end works really well – it keeps the pace of the book consistent, but still manages to leave the reader satisfied.

I loved this, it’s a clever, detailed, intense and fast-paced story, with three intriguing characters and a claustrophobic but brilliant setting. I would absolutely recommend this!

The Divorce
Victoria Jenkins
Bookouture, 4th July

BLOG TOUR: The Perfect Betrayal by Lauren North

What. A. Book. This kept me hooked the whole way through the book, and I had no idea what was going to happen until the end.

After the sudden death of her husband, Tess is drowning in grief. All she has left is her son, Jamie, and she’ll do anything to protect him – but she’s struggling to cope.
When grief counsellor Shelley knocks on their door, everything changes. Shelley is understanding and kind, and promises she can help Tess through the hardest time of her life.
But when a string of unsettling events happens and questions arise over her husband’s death, Tess starts to suspect that Shelley may have an ulterior motive. Tess knows she must do everything she can to keep Jamie safe – but she’s at her most vulnerable, and that’s a dangerous place to be.

This book had some of the strongest characters I’ve read in a psychological thriller in a long time. Tess was so hard to read, she was clearly drowning in her grief and trying to take care of her son, but her mood swings showed the reader that something was not quite right. The whole way through the book the suspense just kept building, with Tess’s fear and paranoia increasing, and her protectiveness of Jamie eventually coming to a head. Shelley was definitely the most interesting character, her kindness seemed too good to be true, and the way Tess described Shelley’s emotions and actions convinced the reader that something is not quite right. The two women are simply brilliant characters, and while the others add detail and depth, Tess and Shelley are where the real story is.

It’s difficult to discuss the story without giving too much away, but as Tess and her son Jamie grieve for their lost husband/father, the tension throughout the novel increases. Gradually the reader learns more and more about what happened, and the suspense simply keeps building. As Tess becomes more suspicious of Shelley, who has lost a son previously, the reader becomes quite fearful for Tess and Jamie.

I was actually a bit lost for words at the ending. It was enthralling, unexpected and completely blindsided me. The pace is so fast that the reader doesn’t have time to stop and think, you just keep going until all is revealed. Throughout the book there are interview scenes between Tess and a detective, and these are also connected to the story at the end, and everything ties in really well.

You simply have to read this. Breathtaking, fast-paced, full of suspense and a little bit creepy – it’s honestly got everything.

The Perfect Betrayal
Lauren North
Corgi Books, 27th June 2019