BLOG TOUR: Perfect Stranger by Jake Cross

This was creepy, unsettling and had an epic ending.

You let her in. You’ll wish you hadn’t.
Following a whirlwind romance, Rose and Chris’s marriage has been unshakeable for twenty years. But when teenager Katie turns up on their doorstep, blonde, wide-eyed and beautiful, their perfect life threatens to crumble to pieces. Because Katie says she’s Chris’s long-lost daughter, the product of a forgotten summer fling.
The couple is still reeling from shock when Katie tells them she has nowhere to go. The couple is her only hope. Kind-hearted Rose invites Katie to stay, despite Chris’s protests. The poor girl has only just lost her mother – they can’t leave her out on the street.
But soon after Katie moves in, strange things start happening. Someone crashes into a neighbour’s fence. An unexplained fire starts in the couple’s kitchen. And a family friend coming to visit disappears on the way to the house. Chris insists Katie has to go. But it’s Chris who won’t explain where he was at the time their friend went missing…
The couple’s dream life seems to be turning into a nightmare. With dark secrets about Chris’s history with Katie’s mother coming to light, Rose no longer knows who to trust. Soon, she isn’t sure whether she’s invited a dangerous stranger into her home, or whether she’s been living with one all along…

What an epic and creepy thriller this is. Chris and his family seem settled and happy, when a shock letter and almost-mugging begins the path of something that will rock their whole life. Every event simply ups the ante, and increase the tension and questions.

Katie is a very unsettling character. To the reader it seems there really is something wrong, but it’s impossible to put your finger on what exactly. Her lies and stories simply don’t add up, but there’s no way to know what’s true or not. Chris seems naturally a bit suspicious of her, but Rose and Julia are such kind people that Katie quickly integrates herself in their family.

As the book goes on, there are a myriad of unexplainable events, such as a beating, a fire and more, and it just keeps escalating. If it’s even possible, the tension rises even further when it seems that Chris is hiding the truth as well, and halfway through the book I genuinely couldn’t put it down as I was desperate to know who was genuine and who was the real monster.

The ending to this was probably one of the busiest but most epic endings to a thriller I’ve read in a while. There was a LOT going on, but it meant that I just simply couldn’t put it down. It was chilling, tense, dark and quite frightening at points. Katie was at her best in these scenes, and the writing was magnificently creepy. The very final scene finishes the book off perfectly, it’s calm, calculated and the final truths all come to light.

This is such a satisfyingly creepy book, with brilliant characters and a tense atmosphere throughout.

Perfect Stranger
Jake Cross
Bookouture, 21st August 2019

BLOG TOUR: Lucy’s Last Straw by Debbie Viggiano

This book was SO much fun to read, I tore through it in a day because it’s such an enjoyable, hilarious yet heartwarming book.

It was the toothpaste smeared around the sink that broke my marriage. As I rubbed it away AGAIN, I was reminded of everything else I’ve put up with these twenty-five years. My husband’s obsession with his pension, his ability to charm me into every single one of his ideas, never being taken on a romantic date, let alone ravished on the patio (like the woman who lives next door)… small things, but the realisation was huge.
Just when Lucy Jones thinks her marriage is about to screech to a halt over toothpaste, her husband, Leo, announces he wants to move to tumbledown (clapped-out) Rose Cottage, and Lucy knows she’ll be the one managing the renovations.
Then along comes gorgeous builder Will, ten years younger and the only person actually listening to Lucy. His twinkly eyes and blowtorch smile are causing Lucy to break out in a hot sweat – but is it love, lust or simply dodgy hormones that are causing her heart to flutter?
Lucy loves her husband, but everyone knows that little things build up. And then they explode. Can Lucy keep it together, or will there be one last straw she might not be able to get over?

I have one main thing to say about Lucy… What. A. Character! She’s brilliant, with extreme emotions, funny conversations with her dog, truly hilarious inner monologues and a radiating confidence in herself and her abilities. She’s so outgoing, and I really warmed to her – I think it would be hard not to! I don’t read too many books from this genres, but this has well and truly made me a convert, as I had so much fun reading this.

The plot itself is funny, off the rails, with lots of larger than life characters, and that’s the whole fun of it. It is over the top and the unexpected always seems to happen, but it’s just great to read. It centres around Lucy’s husband Leo persuading her to buy a run-down house to renovate, then jetting off to America for a new job, and a hunky builder hanging around Lucy’s house all the time while the hubby’s away… It’s outrageous, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and totally fun to read. Lucy’s reactions to everything are always so over the top, but it makes the book unpredictable, and that’s the whole fun of it. Her theories and suspicions about her husband and his affair, while they have a hint of seriousness at times, are generally assumed from the most obscure clues so there is still a sense of lighthearted-ness about it. There are moments when her insecurities show through, and this is why she’s such a relatable character, but her inner confidence soon radiates through and she’s back to her usual loud and outrageous self!

Lucy’s flirtation with Will seems harmless, but definitely gets steamier throughout, until it reaches possibly one of the most hilarious scenes of the whole novel… Lucy’s descriptions leave little to the imagination! There are lots of other great characters in this, from her sweet daughter Amy, to her bullish and prissy daughter Jessica, and my personal favourite, her best friend Patsy. All of them bring something to the novel, whether it be a serious tone, a friendly lecture, or a reminder that life is about having fun!

This is a laugh-a-minute, fast-paced, compulsive and generally heartwarming book, about friendships, love, betrayal and romance. The ending just sums up the book perfectly, with a final detail that definitely made me chuckle! It’s a perfect summer read.

Lucy’s Last Straw
Debbie Viggiano
Bookouture, 15th 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

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

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 Child Before by Michael Scanlon

This was a detailed, intriguing and complex mystery, with an interesting main detective and a horrific, scary crime.

She began to sing, the girl. Her voice was soft, so soft it was almost of the wind. It was a lullaby. She cradled her arms, rocking them gently back and forth. As if she was holding a baby. But she was not. Her arms were empty.
On a cold morning a cyclist finds the brutally-slaughtered body of a woman in her car, on a remote lane leading to the long-abandoned Irish village of Kelly’s Forge.
But when Detective Finnegan Beck arrives from the nearby town of Cross Beg to investigate he notices there’s a baby’s seat in the back of the car. A bottle of baby’s milk lying in the footwell. And no child.
Little Róisín isn’t the first child to go missing from that same remote location though. There was another baby girl, taken more than fifty years before, who was never found. Has too much time passed for there to be a connection, or does something – or someone – link these two crimes?
Beck claims he does not want to stay in Cross Beg. His heart is back in Dublin, with the woman he loves. But, knowing that a child’s life depends on him changes things. He knows he has to find the missing baby girl. Because if he doesn’t, he fears there’s a chance everyone will give up the baby for dead, just like they did before…

This story was really detailed, so it does require more concentration than other crime novels you might read but because of this it’s much more rewarding.

It starts with some fascinating flashbacks to 1954 when some unknown family is going through what seems like a traumatic incident involving a young baby. It’s very mysterious and creates a real aura of the unknown which is quite spooky. It’s also unclear at first how it’s linked to the present and honestly, when it is revealed, I was definitely not expecting it. It was a very well written and clever twist.

The murder and missing child mystery of the present is quite graphically described, but it’s very intense. The pain and stress of Beck, the main detective, is very clear to see when it comes to finding the missing baby. As the clues as to what may have happened to the baby are revealed, the hunt for her becomes quite emotional. It’s actually quite a stressful read in some places, as the crime and methods of solving it are described in such detail that I felt really involved with it.

Beck himself was an unusual choice for the main detective, his alcoholism and methods of dealing with it were unorthodox, his bluntness was brilliant, but his moments of inspiration were particularly great. I loved seeing his thought process and investigation so in depth, as it made the whole crime seem much more real. The glimpses into his personal life were also fascinating, and his slight character growth/change throughout was really well written.

The ending was seriously shocking. It’s not often that you come across an ending that genuinely and completely blindsides you, but this was it. To be honest, I had no idea where this was going, as there were enough red herrings or confusing clues to mislead the reader entirely. I really loved how Scanlon wrapped it all up, it was detailed, well thought-out, and with a partly happy ending included as well.

This was a very different and detailed crime novel, and if you’re looking for something you can get your teeth into, that has a truly awesome ending, then this is it.

The Child Before
Michael Scanlon
Bookouture, 5th June 2019