Bookish Bites: Little Girl Sleeping by Jennifer Chase

He looked down at the little girl, sleeping peacefully, her arms wrapped around a teddy bear. He knew he was the only one who could save her. He could let her sleep forever.
An eight-year-old girl, Chelsea Compton, is missing in Pine Valley, California and for Detective Katie Scott it’s a cruel reminder of the friend who disappeared from summer camp twenty years ago. Unable to shake the memories, Katie vows she won’t rest until she discovers what happened to Chelsea.
But as Katie starts to investigate, the case reveals itself to be much bigger and more shocking than she feared. Hidden deep in the forest she unearths a makeshift cemetery: a row of graves, each with a brightly coloured teddy bear.
Katie links the graves to a stack of missing-persons cases involving young girls—finding a pattern no one else has managed to see. Someone in Pine Valley has been taking the town’s daughters for years, and Katie is the only one who can stop them.
And then another little girl goes missing, snatched from the park near her home.
Katie’s still haunted by the friend she failed to protect, and she’ll do anything to stop the killer striking again—but can she find the little girl before it’s too late?

Loved Katie, the main character! She was so strong, yet definitely had her vulnerable side and very likeable and easy for the reader to engage with. I also thought the plot was brilliant, it was tense, sinister, unpredictable and the ending took me completely by surprise.

Disliked the added detail that one of Katie’s friends as a child had also gone missing. Combined with the fact she had just come out the army, it felt like a lot for her to contend with and perhaps a bit much to throw at the reader all at once. The scenes where she ‘saw’ her missing childhood friend didn’t seem to fit the story at times. I would personally rather have seen more exploration of her emotions regarding her years in the army, but as I said, I generally really loved her as a character.

Favourite moment was probably when Katie was hiking through the woods. Although her intention was to look for the missing girls, the description of the countryside and Katie’s emotions was so vivid and clear that I felt really connected to the scene, as if I could have been there myself!

Favourite character is Katie at the moment, but I do have a soft spot for her deputy, McGaven. I’d love to hopefully see more of him in the rest of the series.

For fans of Carol Wyers and Angela Marsons

Final comments: This is a really fast-paced, emotive and incredibly tense book, with a strong and determined main character and the beginning of what looks to be an awesome series.

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: 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: 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 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