BLOG TOUR: Sisters of Willow House

This was such a heart-warming, genuine and beautiful novel, with gorgeous scenery descriptions and great personalities.

Roisin McKenna and her husband Cian are taking time apart. Unsure of what she wants, Roisin’s prayers are answered when she receives a call from her sister Maeve who is desperate for her help.
Roisin heads to Sandy Cove to help Maeve restore their aunt’s gorgeous tumbledown mansion Willow House and soon all she has time to focus on are its crumbling walls. Despite a shocking announcement from Maeve and hidden secrets in the house’s rafters, Roisin begins to feel a sense of self she’s been missing for years.
The ties that bind Roisin to her husband seem to be unfurling in the Irish wind, when she unexpectedly stumbles into a mysterious man on the beach. Suddenly, she’s swept up in the idea of another life she could lead…
The restoration may have brought the sisters back together, but as a storm rolls over the coast Roisin feels sure she must make a choice. Will her time at Willow House teach her the precious lessons she needs to return home or has the cove called to her in ways she’d never imagined it could?

I enjoyed this immensely, which was a pleasant surprise as it’s quite different to the genres I normally read. However, I really loved the characters, especially Roisin, and felt that I was easily able to connect with her and her story.

I loved the descriptions of Willow House and the surrounding coast, it was really beautiful and often fit with the mood of the plot which was a nice touch. It made visualising the story really easy as well, and so I thought this worked great.

Roisin was such a fun character. She definitely wasn’t perfect, and she had ups and downs throughout the novel, but she was full of emotion and I felt really able to connect with her. I liked the friendships and relationships she had throughout the novel, especially with her sister who was a brilliant and stable influence on her.

The plot itself was fun, uplifting at times, and slightly stressful at others, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had it’s hilarious moments, and it also demonstrated real struggles in relationships, with I think worked really well together.

Overall, this was a great read, and one I would definitely recommend!

Sisters of Willow House
Susanne O’Leary
Bookouture, 26th July 2019

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

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: Death in Avignon by Serena Kent

This was a detailed and different murder mystery, with a quaint setting and a likeable main character.

Glamour, intrigue, and a mystery to die for…
When Penelope Kite attends a gallery opening on the arm of the gorgeous mayor of St Merlot, her dream life in Provence seems finally to have become a reality.
But beneath the glamour, scandal is brewing. Shockwaves ripple through the art world when a controversial painter, Roland Doncaster, chokes on an almond-stuffed olive.
A tragic accident? Or a ruthless poisoning? Embroiled once more in a murder investigation, Penelope discovers that any number of jealous lovers and scheming rivals could be in the frame. And with dashing art dealers to charm, patisseries to resist, and her own friends under suspicion, Penelope will need all her sleuthing talents to uncover the truth…

I really enjoyed this! It starts off with a simple setting, re-introducing the character of Penelope, and highlighting the cute, very French, setting that she’s living in. Her life seems full of croissants, fashion advice, house renovations and new friends, and I instantly warmed to her.

Once the background and feel for the book has been established, it quickly moves on to the exhibition Penelope is attending, and the art world is where the mystery really starts to show. The sudden collapse and subsequent death of painter Ronald Doncaster is very shocking, and Penelope’s instincts to solve it rise quickly. The reason I liked this is because it’s different to the usual detective mysteries. Firstly, Penelope isn’t a detective herself, although she previously worked in forensics, and secondly she definitely doesn’t get along with the detective actually in charge! I liked this as it would have been easy to write them as two best friends, but their relationship was actually more tricky than that and so it made Penelope’s determination to solve the murder even more interesting as she had no help from the police department.

All the characters in this were brilliant as well, and I liked that Kent included lots of detail about Penelope’s personal life, making the reader feel more connected to her. She was just such a loveable main character, with a whole range of emotions. Seeing her children visit her from England gave the reader a respite from the murder mystery, and the addition towards the end of Penelope’s best friend Frankie was really fun as well. There were so many awesome characters, and Kent wrote Penelope’s relationship with all of them really well, including all the ups and downs that happen with friendships.

The ending of this definitely took me by surprise, and trust me, if you read this then you’ll definitely feel the same! I was 100% blindsided by the ending, and finding out who was responsible was a genuine shock. It made perfect sense as well, and although it was a great ending, it still fitted the general tone of the novel by being slightly outlandish! I just loved it, the inclusion of all the characters worked really well as they all brought something to the story. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of murder mysteries and want something a bit different!

Death in Avignon
Serena Kent
Orion, 26th June 2019

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

BLOG TOUR: Kill For Me by Rebecca Bradley

This was a fast-paced, intriguing and unusual crime novel, with an intelligent yet emotional detective and a very satisfying ending.

A deadly game. An unstoppable killer. The perfect alibi.
Lucy Anderson is late collecting her daughter from nursery. A mistake that could prove fatal. 
Her daughter is gone and there is only one way Lucy can get her back. The ransom is simple, she has to kill someone…
And this is just the beginning. A deadly game with a domino effect has started as the real killer forces others to do his bidding.
Can detective inspector Hannah Robbins find the killer’s next puppet before they’re forced to strike or will this be the case where her opponent has found the perfect way to kill?

Straight from the start this hooked me. Lucy was a very emotionally engaging character, she really connected with the reader, and so the choices she made were even more hard-hitting. She’s forced to kill someone in order to get her daughter back, and the detailed thought process she goes through to make her decision and accept it is really quite painful to read. It also forces the reader to confront the choices they would make in this situation, making it even harder to read. The way this novel works is through a domino effect, with someone behind the scenes pulling all the strings. I don’t want to give too much away, but what happens to Lucy is actually really upsetting for the reader as she is the first character we bond with other than the detective. It’s a fast-paced outcome however, with no time to lose, and the next character that the novel focuses on is so different to Lucy that I felt it hardened the reader to their potential outcome and stopped the reader from becoming too emotionally attached to each character. This worked really well, as each time a new character was introduced the suspense built further and further.

Where this book really shines is in the questions it poses on morality and choice. Are the characters really offered much of a choice? The intense emotional blackmail they face would be hard for anyone to resist, but it’s also equally difficult to imagine letting it force them to commit these horrific crimes. But Bradley writes this part extremely well, highlighting the emotional turmoil they go through, their feelings after committing the crimes, and in the case of one of the characters, a sense of relief when they became the victim. It was truly brilliant writing in the face of a difficult moral topic.

The main detective, DI Hannah Robbins, was a really strong detective. She was intuitive, emotional and frustrated with the sense of the unknown. The reader had a real sense of the urgency needed to solve this case, and she was a brilliant lead character to do it. The ending was very emotionally satisfying, especially after such a difficult story. It wasn’t the most surprising, but that’s fine, as it instead provided satisfaction after such a fast-paced and intense novel.

I loved this, it was different to a lot of other crime/detective novels, it was fast and intense, and the characters were all written really well. I’d definitely recommend this!

Kill For Me
Rebecca Bradley
15th February 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott

Okay wow, I read this in a day and honestly, I’m in love. This was such a gorgeously written, deliciously creepy, in-depth novel.

She thought she would never go back…
Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago. Her father.
Leaving London behind to settle her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, accompanied by the half-sister she’s never taken the time to get to know.
With the past threatening to swallow her whole, she can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her. And when Ailsa confronts the first nighttime intruder, she sees that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything…

I loved this. A beautiful, haunting and unpredictable novel, both the characters and story hooked me right from the beginning. Ailsa was the type of character I felt both connected and disconnected to – her fear, panic and self-doubt in the face of seemingly unreal events were so relatable, but her closed nature, abrupt phrasing and general disconnect from those around her also isolated her from the reader. This is exactly why she was such a brilliant main character, as she wasn’t perfect, but there was so much to her, she had so many layers. I also really liked seeing her character development, even over the seemingly small things, such as why she always corrected those around her as to her sister being her half-sister. It was little details like these that really cemented Ailsa as a wonderful central character.

Apart from Ailsa, all the characters in this were written simply beautifully. The extra details that Elliott puts in, the time she takes to describe a character, it’s all worth it. The minute descriptions of Ben’s facial movements and expressions were so easy to visualise, and the way she writes Ali speaking was just as clear to imagine. I loved Ailsa’s sister Carrie – she was a stubborn, strong and stunning counterpart to Ailsa herself, especially in moments where she understandably didn’t recognise Ailsa’s fears about the house, otherwise known as The Manse. Fiona is another wonderfully ethereal and yet grounded character, and so was her son Callum – the way that Elliott uses the concept of time with these two characters, and the certainty in which they seem to understand time, was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a while. I loved the description of time as ‘folded’, it just completely makes sense within the novel, and these are the kind of details that complete the novel. All the other characters, Jamie, Bryn, Glen etc. are all brilliantly written, but where Elliott’s writing truly shines is in the relationships between all these characters. Ailsa and Fiona’s rocky friendship (if we can call it that) is one of the weirdest friendships, and yet by the end the way they communicate makes total sense. I was hooked by the adorable friendship between Ailsa and Callum, and Callum’s wisdom and factual way of discussing the strangest of topics was brilliant to read. I liked how Elliott uses hints of romance to enhance some of the friendships, and she also includes some lovely LGBT+ representation.

One thing I have to touch on is the disappearance of Ailsa’s father twenty-seven years previously. It offers a sort of indirect look into Ailsa’s reaction to it, all these years on, after returning to her childhood home. Between each chapter is a theory, presumably from Ailsa herself, as to what may have happened to her father, or where he may have gone. It’s genuinely quite heartbreaking at times, as there’s almost a childish sense of pain and confusion as to why he left throughout all these sections. The change in tone as the truth about her father eventually comes to light works really well alongside what’s happening in the story, and it just helped build up the suspense and fear even further.

The Manse deserves it’s own section in my review, because it’s such an interesting character. Despite being a house, it’s definitely got a creepy sense of personality about it (hence why I’ve called it a character…). The way Elliott links The Manse with the theme of time is a deeply unsettling yet interesting thread throughout, but her descriptions of this are really gorgeous. The reason why The Manse is so creepy, and effectively so, is because it’s not something that’s outright stated – instead Elliott weaves descriptions of the sounds and shapes within the house to build up an unsettling sense of the unknown. It definitely works, and I started to feel quite spooked by it all, but I loved it at the same time. This is where the real story lies – what exactly is going on in The Manse. Why don’t animals go near the house? Who is leaving the threatening and creepy signs that Ailsa should leave…? Despite all the other details and plot lines throughout, such as the character relationships and her father’s disappearance, the real gem in this novel lies in the puzzle of The Manse itself.

This book is pure brilliance. I would get shivers up my spine, but I couldn’t possibly stop myself from reading. It’s creepy and unsettling, but it’s also beautiful, ethereal and heart-wrenching. Somehow, Elliott weaves all these emotions together perfectly, in a story examining family, love, time and the home. It’s a must-read book for sure.

Thanks so much to Anne at Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this tour! I loved being a part of it.

The Missing Years
Lexie Elliott
Corvus, 6th June 2019