BLOG TOUR: What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross

I read this in one day, desperate to finish it, and genuinely almost missed my train stop!

Jenny Bowen is going home. Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper, all she wants to do is forget about her upcoming divorce and relax on the ten-hour journey through the night.
In her search for her cabin, Jenny helps a panicked woman with a young girl she assumes to be her daughter. Then she finds her compartment and falls straight to sleep.
Waking in the night, Jenny discovers the woman dead in her cabin … but there’s no sign of the little girl. The train company have no record of a child being booked on the train, and CCTV shows the dead woman boarding alone.
The police don’t believe Jenny, and soon she tries to put the incident out of her head and tells herself that everyone else is right: she must have imagined the little girl.
But deep down, she knows that isn’t the truth.

What a book. I was so hooked on this! I felt that the start had just the perfect pacing – it was both slow enough to make me want to carry on but fast enough to keep my attention.

This is the kind of book where you never know what’s going to happen. Every chapter held something unexpected, and there were points where I was genuinely shocked that certain things actually happened. There are lots of twists and turns, but I liked that there are different character perspectives for the same events, so the reader gets a glimpse into both sides of the story. It’s genuinely sinister at times, sometimes scary and the writing is superb. The descriptions are so vivid that I felt really engaged throughout, I could really imagine and feel what was happening in the story, which is partly why I was so gripped by it throughout.

Jenny was a great main character. Clearly inexperienced, but ultimately super determined, I was always confident that she was going to get what she wanted eventually. It was a very rocky journey, and perhaps didn’t turn out the way I expected, but it was so so good. It wasn’t always realistic, but I find the most gripping thrillers and crime novels never are, so it worked really really well I felt. The plot was always unpredictable, helping to keep the reader engaged throughout.

After such a highly charged book, the ending was really emotionally satisfying and gave me exactly what I wanted. It’s not often a book hooks me as much as this one did, so I would highly recommend it.

BLOG TOUR: Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson

This is probably one of the most chilling and gripping detective debuts I’ve read this year.

A brutal murder.
A young woman’s body is discovered with horrifying injuries, a recent newspaper cutting pinned to her clothing, and a particular body part missing.
A detective with everything to prove.
This is her only chance to redeem herself.
A serial killer with nothing to lose.
He’s waited years, and his reign of terror has only just begun . . .
On Detective Eve Hunter’s first Monday back at work following enforced leave, she is called to the scene of this gruesome crime. Hunter and her team spend the week chasing leads, until the following Tuesday, another body is discovered in similar circumstances. Each week brings another death and battling against a team who has lost respect for her and her own personal demons, Hunter must put herself inside the mind of a depraved killer if she is to stop this. . .

This starts off, quite frankly, with a horrendous but brilliant flashback. The insight that the reader is provided with into the mind of this killer is really chilling and helps set the tone for the whole book.

For DI Eve Hunter however, this is not an easy first day back. She is thrust into this horrifying crime, which seems to have no reason or pattern and the number of victims just keeps rising. Two key things for me that I need when reading a new detective book is a gripping start and a solid detective, and this certainly has both of those! I really liked Eve, she’s so easy to connect with but there are definitely elements of her past or personality that Masson keeps hidden, allowing for more in-depth character writing for later books in the series perhaps. There are clear vulnerabilities and weak spots for Eve and watching her battle these throughout the book makes her more likeable for the reader. She isn’t perfect, but that’s why she seems so real and solid.

This book also introduces the rest of Eve’s detective team and yet again Masson has done this excellently! All of the team have their weaknesses and strengths, and I personally liked all of them… even Ferguson by the end! (You’ll need to read it to see what I mean…!) But for me, I also liked the fact that they didn’t work perfectly as a team, they weren’t immediately successful, and watching the conflicts rise within the team kept me wanting more. I wanted to know if they could solve it, if they could all get past their issues, and it was really rewarding seeing each character develop and progress in their own way.

Turning to the actual crime now… how utterly horrible! The idea of taking the tongues of the victims was pretty grim, but it also clearly had a meaning behind it that was always just within reach but not quite figured out yet. The pace of this was really good, I felt that Masson allowed just enough time of the team feeling clueless and not getting anywhere before starting to drop clues and tips and the odd red herring. Once the team started getting somewhere the pace picked up even more. I thought the ending was brilliant, all the dots joined together at just the right time to build to really disturbing final scene.

I really did love this, I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to find a new detective book to read and I do hope there are more DI Eve Hunter books to come! It’s chilling, fascinating and really gets under your skin at times… you’ll find it hard to put it down.

Hold Your Tongue
Deborah Masson
Transworld, 20th November 2019

Pretty Guilty Women by Gina LaManna

This was an emotional, tense and brilliantly written character focused novel.

You are cordially invited to the wedding of the year, at the famously luxurious Serenity Spa & Resort on the Californian coast . . .
Ginger is an overworked, under-pampered mother of three who’s barely holding the family together when she learns a secret about her daughter that could ruin everything.
Lulu is a wealthy retiree with four ex-husbands, and a fifth on the way.
Emily harbours a dark secret, which she’s become expert at forgetting with the help of a bottle of wine.
Kate is a powerhouse lawyer with her life in order – except for one little problem that won’t go away.
Only twenty-four hours later a man is found murdered.
All Detective Ramone knows for certain is that these four women sit calmly across from him, offering four very different confessions, each insisting they acted alone.
Why would they confess to the same crime? Only they know the answer – and they’re not telling.

I loved how this was divided between the four women, offering different perspectives on the same events, and on each other. I particularly love character-focused novels, and this did exactly that.

Ginger was the typical over-worked mother, caring and protective but also exhausted and frazzled. She gave life to her parts of the story, and I really liked her chapters especially.

Lulu was actually quite hilarious, despite her story being quite heartbreaking to read. Her attitude in the face of change was brilliant. She was independent, strong, but yet still really vulnerable, and her character had such depth.

Emily was a really fascinating addition to the group. Her issues ran deep, and this was clear right from the beginning. She gave a real darkness to the group in my opinion, but it balanced really well with the other women in the group.

Kate was absolutely my favourite. She was pretty badass, easy to like and easy to empathise with. Her story and character arc was by far my favourite of all the four women, and I was so pleased with how her story ended.

The actual plot was pretty slow, but this is a character-focused novel, and it does that really well. The women all have different and unique personalities and it’s such a fascinating examination of womanhood, female relationships and life itself. The ending did take me by surprise, and it was very satisfying, with the right amount of tension and surprise.

Pretty Guilty Women
Gina LaManna
Sphere, 24th September

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

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: 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