Honour Bound by Alaric Bond

October 2017

5/5 stars. This is a great story, filled with engaging characters, action and conflict and historical details that brings the whole tale alive

Description

Satisfied that he has forged HMS Kestrel into a formidable weapon, Commander King is keen to take her to sea once more. But the war is not progressing well for Britain, and his hopes of remaining in Malta are shattered as Kestrel is moved closer to the action. And so begins a story that covers two seas and one ocean, as well as a cross-country trek through enemy territory, a closer look at the French prison system and a reunion with several familiar faces.

Containing breathtaking sea battles, tense personal drama and an insight into the social etiquette of both Britain and France, Honour Bound is a story brim-filled with action and historical detail.

My thoughts

I have an eclectic taste in books, but believe in one simple maxim – a good story is a good story. And this is a great story, filled with engaging characters, action and conflict and historical details that brings the whole tale alive. While it can be read as a stand alone, it would be a shame to miss out on its predecessors in the Fighting Sail series.

Honour Bound, like its predecessors, is character driven, and not afraid to venture from sea to land when the French capture King’s ship.He and his officers are taken prisoner and held at Verdun, France. Their captivity and way of life is shown in considerable detail, adding an extra dimension to the story and characters, who we get to know a lot better.

Battles at sea are not forgotten though as a parallel story follows the exploits of Lewis, an officer turned smuggler.

If you like your novels to have strong and interesting characters, facing life and death challenges, and you enjoy learning about life in the past, then please give this novel, and the rest of the series, a try.

Highly recommended and I’m looking forward to the next book.

5/5 stars

Confronting the Hostile by Joy Mutter

September 2017

4/5 stars. Written with great wit, humour and style, Joy Mutter’s down to earth writing makes the unusual seem perfectly normal.

Description

A retired Irish superintendent and his former colleague, a handsome DCI from Liverpool, attempt to rid themselves and the world of their lethal tile masters. Will they succeed in reclaiming their freedom, or will the bizarre killing games continue? Set in Manchester, Liverpool, and Ireland. Confronting The Hostile is book 4 in The Hostile series of unusual paranormal crime thrillers.

My thoughts

I’ve followed and enjoyed the offbeat, but original series, where paranormal entities force people to select others to be killed. It’s not as black or gruesome as it sounds, thanks to the dark, satirical humour and excellent writing. Once you immerse yourself in the characters, the stories become addictive.

With new servants to do their evil bidding, Tile X and Joe embark on another killing spree. This time, two police officers, used to solving murders not initiating them, add a new dimension to the mix. Will they select criminals they can’t bring to justice as their victims?

Written with great wit, humour and style, Joy Mutter’s down to earth writing makes the unusual seem perfectly normal. Add the inventive twists and ideas, the cast of great characters, battling to defeat the evil masters, and the scene is set for yet another entertaining and thought-provoking story.

While you don’t need to read the previous novels in the series to enjoy this one, why deny yourself the pleasure of some terrific stories, filled with characters and plots you’ll soon warm too?

4/5 stars

Confronting the Hostile cover

Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster

September 2017

4/5 stars. The lead characters are well-portrayed and engaging as their relationship develops and struggles with the strict morals and codes of class and love in Victorian Glasgow.

Description

The young Scottish socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith was swept off her feet by Pierre Emile L’Angelier. She thought him handsome, charming, attentive. However, things soon soured between the pair.

However, once he had seduced her, he became controlling, manipulative. While she tried desperately to withdraw from the toxic and abusive relationship he started blackmailing her; threatening to expose her indiscretions to her family and her new fiancé which would have ruined her within her strict, Victorian era society.

She felt trapped, desperate even. Suddenly, the threats were silenced by his unexpected death.

Did Madeleine Smith murder Pierre Emile L’Angelier or did he commit suicide?

For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?

This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857.

My thoughts

There’s something pleasurable and fascinating in getting under the skin of a true crime story to discover the events, background and characters behind the names on the court register.

In this case, the journey of working class dreamer and social climber, Emile L’Angelier, spurned twice before and determined not to be rejected again, takes us to Glasgow in the 1850s where he meets Madeleine Hamilton Smith, daughter of a well-to-do architect. Their troubled relationship is brought to life from a series of letters exchanged between the two, revealing the issues and challenges they faced at the time.

This is a well-researched story, brought to life with a fine eye for detail and nuance. The lead characters are well-portrayed and engaging as their relationship develops and struggles with the strict morals and codes of class and love in Victorian Glasgow.

The author’s review of the case and evidence allowed us to compare notes and review some of the factors in more detail, adding to my enjoyment.

If you like a glimpse of the past and a story filled with passion, conflict and engaging characters, all based on real events, then look no further.

4/5 stars

The Curse of the Baskervilles by Colin Garrow

August 2017

5/5 stars. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

Description

Intrepid investigators Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime in a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe. In three more adventures, the intrepid duo tackle a ghostly locomotive, journey to Dartmoor in search of a gigantic hound, and team up with bloodthirsty psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in the hunt for a murderer.

Adult humour throughout.

Curse of the Baskervilles is book #3 in this Victorian comedy adventure series.

If you love historical mysteries, buy something else instead, but if you’re into fart-gags and innuendo this’ll be right up your Victorian street.

My thoughts

I love something different, especially if it makes me chuckle and this had me laughing from start to finish. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

This is the basis for an irreverent comedic romp at the expense of crime literature’s most famous double act. Watson, determined to show his friend he can solve baffling cases, gives a slightly offbeat version of events that’s a delight to read. Better still, I loved Watson’s feisty and amorous wife, Mary, who showed a flair for kicking ass and putting the men in their places.

Inventive, irreverent and hugely entertaining, the Watson Letters will leave you laughing, and occasionally gasping in disbelief as the detective duo trample over convention and good taste to solve some of the most baffling (and curious) cases imaginable. Even an appearance by Hannibal Lecter seems perfectly in keeping as modern characters and events are thrown into the Victorian melting pot of Holmes and Watson.

Once I tuned into the humour and went with the flow, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, which got better as I progressed, reaching an epic climax in the Silence of the Lambtons.

Colin Garrow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I would thoroughly recommend his books to anyone who enjoys a good and irreverent laugh.

5/5 stars

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

July 2017

4/5 stars. I enjoyed the gentle pace of this murder mystery allows the reader time to get to know the main characters and the beautiful and atmospheric Walsingham, while the mystery unfolds.

Description

The murder of women priests in Norfolk’s spooky shrine town of Walsingham draws forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway into a thrilling new adventure.

When Ruth’s friend Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, in a white gown and blue cloak, in Walsingham’s graveyard, he takes it in his stride. Walsingham has strong connections to Mary, and Cathbad is a druid after all; visions come with the job. But when the body of a woman in a blue dressing-gown is found dead the next day in a nearby ditch, it is clear that a horrible crime has been committed, and DCI Nelson and his team are called in for what is now a murder investigation.

Ruth, a devout atheist, has managed to avoid Walsingham during her seventeen years in Norfolk. But then an old university friend asks to meet her in the village, and Ruth is amazed to discover that she is now a priest. She has been receiving vitriolic anonymous letters targeting women priests – letters containing references to local archaeology and a striking phrase about a woman ‘clad in blue, weeping for the world’.

Then another woman is murdered – a priest. As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer before they strike again…

My thoughts

I was lucky enough to meet Elly Griffiths earlier this year when she came to talk to a local writing group. I was struck by her honesty, humour and wit, which are all apparent in this novel. I enjoyed the gentle pace of this murder mystery allows the reader time to get to know the main characters and the beautiful and atmospheric Walsingham, while the mystery unfolds. In this case, it’s the murder of a woman in a graveyard before a religious Easter gathering. Inspector Nelson, who has problems of his own, is then drawn into another case involving abusive letters sent to a woman priest who knows Dr Ruth Galloway.

Is there a connection? Ruth Galloway believes there might be and makes enquiries of her own.

I haven’t read any of the previous books in the series, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of a skilfully crafted story, laced with humour and social comment. Walsingham and its religious history are beautifully described and evoked, adding additional depth to the story.

An enjoyable and entertaining story that reminded me of LJ Ross.

4/5 stars

 

The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite

June 2017

4/5 stars. Filled with raw emotion, as you would expect, this is a harrowing story of lies and deceit, gradually peeled back until the truth emerges.

Description

A mother desperate for the truth. A daughter hiding a terrible secret.

Melanie Oak appeared to have the perfect life. Married to her childhood sweetheart, Jacob, the couple live with their beautiful, loving, teenage daughter, Beth, in a pretty village.

Nothing can shake her happiness – until the day that Beth goes missing and is discovered beaten almost to the point of death, her broken body lying in a freezing creek on the marshes near their home.

Consumed with grief, Melanie is determined to find her daughter’s attacker. Someone in the village must have seen something. Why won’t they talk?

As Melanie tries to piece together what happened to Beth, she discovers that her innocent teenager has been harbouring some dark secrets of her own. The truth may lie closer to home and put Melanie’s life in terrible danger…

My thoughts

Melanie’s daughter, Beth, is left for dead on the Lincolnshire marshes. What was she doing out there at night when she should have been at her best friend’s house? Who delivered the blow that left her for dead? Why doesn’t anyone seem to know anything about the events of that night? Why aren’t the police doing more to find her attacker?

While Beth lays trapped in a coma in hospital, Melanie needs to find answers to these questions and uncover the truth about what happened in the marshes.

Filled with raw emotion, as you would expect, this is a harrowing story of lies and deceit, gradually peeled back until the truth emerges. The author vividly describes the acute pain and soul searching of the parents as they grapple to come to terms with what happened. But Melanie’s need to uncover the truth, drives her to make her own enquiries.

While I empathised with Melanie’s pain, at times she seemed too self-obsessed, which made me lose sympathy with her and left me feeling the novel was a little longer than needed. I can’t say any more without spoiling what is an emotional powerhouse of a story, with deftly handled twists and turns.

A difficult subject to read, but expertly handled. Well worth reading.

4/5 stars

Echoes from Afar by Tamara McKinley

May 2017

5/5 stars. Echoes From Afar is an epic tale, told with a confidence and mastery that engaged and surprised me from the first page to the last.

Description

So this is Paris, she thought in awe. Spread out before her beneath a clear blue sky, it was like a precious gift after the smog and filth of London. No wonder it was called the city of love . . .
After a spiteful rumour ruins her career in London, Annabelle Blake must travel to Paris to start afresh. There she makes the acquaintance of Etienne and Henri – one a poet, the other a painter – both charming, talented and handsome. They spend their days flirting and drinking with the city’s artistes and Bohemians, and soon Annabelle too is swept up in the exotic and exhilarating world of 1930s Paris. But as ever more young people are drawn to the fight against Fascism in Spain, Annabelle must wake from the dream and confront the reality of war. A lifetime later, gifted artist Eugenie Ashton falls in love with Paris the moment she sets foot outside the Gare de Lyon. Like her mother Annabelle before her, the artistic delights of the city are a bright new world to her: but Eugenie will soon find that in its shadows are hidden the secrets of her family’s past.

My thoughts

This is not my usual read, but a good story is a good story, and this one swept me along with its sumptuous cover, vivid characters and stunning descriptions of life in the 1930s and 50s.

Can love endure? Can it survive the onslaught of war, lies and secrets?

Those are the questions facing Belle and Henri as their young love, ignited in Paris, is tested by the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath.

From the sublime descriptions of 1930s Paris to the heart breaking horrors of war, this is an elegantly written story, brought to life with memorable characters that sweep you along on an emotional ride filled with twists, surprises, and love that transcends tragedy.

Echoes From Afar is an epic tale, told with a confidence and mastery that engaged and surprised me from the first page to the last.

5/5 stars Highly recommended.

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

November 2017

Description

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong. But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like the Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons, Peter James’ Roy Grace series and the Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new detective novels today.

My thoughts

I’ve been aware of Rachel Amphlett and the Kay Hunter series for some time, but it’s taken a while to get around to Scared to Death. It’s always good to start with the first in a series so you can watch the characters and stories develop over time. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.

While I have no problem with profanities and violence in stories, I often find them unnecessary and overdone in a lot of stories. Rachel Amphlett’s skill as a storyteller meant she didn’t need gratuitous violence, description or profanities to tell a riveting and realistic story, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.

Her straightforward, no nonsense style is refreshing, allowing readers to imagine the characters, if they want to. There was a strong sense of place and time, especially in the rundown industrial estates of Maidstone, and the scenes in the police station seemed highly realistic and credible to me.

The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour, particularly the snake her veterinary husband brought home to look after. The humour, and Kay Hunter’s compassion, proved the perfect counterpoint to the chills and terror experienced by the victims.

Both Kay and the killer were vividly brought to life, adding to the drama and suspense of the intriguing and original plot.

And behind it all, there’s this uneasy menace, lurking in the dark. I suspect this will continue into the next story.

5/5 stars. Highly recommended.

I’ve already purchased Will to Live, the second Kay Hunter story and look forward to following her fortunes and misfortunes.

Will to Live cover

Series Killers

Sometimes, I wish there were fewer books out there.

It’s not because I’m a slow reader. Far from it. I can zip through the pages like Mo Farah on his final lap of a race. It’s more a question of the amount of time available for reading. I read while I eat – breakfast and lunch each day.

If a book’s good, I can be tempted to extend lunch, but even then I only manage to read a couple of books a month, sometimes three.

Even if I extended lunch to five or seven courses, the temptation posed by the bewildering choice of authors and books would defeat me. Like many readers, I love discovering new authors, and often a series that gives me that extra magic in a story.

That extra magic

It’s usually a subject close to my heart, a plot that resonates at a deeper level, or a character that embodies similar values and beliefs to me. There’s usually a good sprinkling of humour and a distinct voice that makes the author stand out from the rest.

Must reads

I can only think of two authors whose books I have bought and read without hesitation.

Wilt Tom SharpeThe peerless Tom Sharpe had me laughing well into the night, forcing me to retreat under the covers so I didn’t wake everyone in the house. His ability to take a simple problem and escalate it to the scale of a nuclear war was unsurpassed. I wanted to write like him and make people cry with laughter.

Kinsey Millhone and I have an enduring relationship of over 30 years. It started the moment I opened A is for Alibi, the first of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Apart from Kinsey’s feisty attitude, her sense of humour shines through as she passes judgement on all kinds of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. There’s an intriguing backstory too.

New must reads

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few more crime authors who tick the boxes.

While I enjoyed Dead Simple by Peter James, the second in the Roy Grace series, Looking Good Dead, has captured my imagination and shown the great writing that led to him being voted top crime writer recently.

Robin Roughley, who writes the DS Lasser series, grabbed my attention in The Needle House, because of the great characterisation and realism that ran through the story. The second in the series, The Way that it Falls, confirmed what a terrific storyteller Robin is.

LJ Ross wowed me with the charismatic DCI Ryan in Holy Island, set on beautiful Lindisfarne, which still tingles in my memory from a visit there nearly ten years ago. The second story, Sycamore Gap, sits on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

And most recent of all, Rachel Amphlett grabbed me with Scared to Death and DS Kay Hunter, another strong, determined believable character with a no nonsense style. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Will to Live.

Eat more

platterBut with all those books out there, intriguing reviews from the many bloggers I follow, and authors I’ve met through social media, I‘m constantly tempted away from the series I’d like to follow.

Maybe I’ll have to read while I’m eating my tea, or take a few more snacks during the day, maybe indulge in the occasional midnight feast …

It will mean more running to burn off the calories, but that’s a story for next time.

You can read my thoughts on most of the books mentioned in this blog on my Reviews page