Category Archives: reviews

Review: ‘Dark Skies’ by LJ Ross

One fateful, clear-skied night, three friends embark on a secret trip. Only two return home. Thirty years later, the body of a teenage boy rises from the depths of England’s biggest reservoir and threatens to expose a killer who has lain dormant…until now.

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan is back following an idyllic honeymoon with the love of his life but returns to danger from all sides. In the depths of Kielder Forest, a murderer has evaded justice for decades and will do anything to keep it that way. Meanwhile, back at CID, an old adversary has taken the reins and is determined to destroy Ryan whatever the cost.

As usual, LJ Ross excels in her descriptions of the landscape where the story is set. What I really like about the DCI Ryan series is that LJ Ross sets macabre discoveries and heinous crimes in beautiful locations, ‘Dark Skies‘ is no different in that respect.

Add to that a number of intriguing sub-plots and a recurring cast of compelling characters and it’s no wonder that this series is one of the most successful in recent times. 

With ‘Dark Skies‘, however, there’s a new element to the series with malevolent forces within the force bringing extra tension to the narrative. 

As with the previous novels in the series, there are some unresolved issues which will undoubtedly keep readers hungry for more. 

Vic x

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Review: ‘Cambridge Black’ by Alison Bruce

Amy grew up in the shadow of her father’s murder conviction but, twenty-two years later, she discovers that her dad may have been innocent all along and sets out to clear his name. 

DC Gary Goodhew is also haunted by the past. His grandfather was murdered and Gary is still hunting for the person responsible. 

But, right now, someone is about to die. Someone who has secrets, who kept quiet but is now living on borrowed time. This person is going to die because someone has disturbed the past and awoken a killer. 

Cambridge Black‘ is the seventh book in the DI Goodhew series but if you haven’t read any of the others, fret not! Alison Bruce skillfully weaves her overarching narrative into the story without confusing the reader. There are plenty of strands to keep you interested as you wind your way to the denouement. 

Just like its front cover, ‘Cambridge Black‘ is an atmospheric, sultry read with an intriguing cast of characters. Alison Bruce deftly weaves evocative descriptions of Cambridge into the story, bringing the city to life, while the action unfolds.

Themes of deception, family and betrayal are all front and centre in this sophisticated novel. The relationships are complex, as are the people themselves but it was refreshing to read a book where the author didn’t patronise the reader by explaining every last detail. Bruce obviously trusts that her readers will understand what she is driving at. 

From what I’ve read elsewhere about the series, this story appears to bring many of the previous novels to a close. However, I still feel there is scope for some of the main characters to reappear which should come as a relief to fans of Goodhew. 

As Morse was to Oxford, Goodhew is to Cambridge. 

Vic x

*Chasing the Traveller Blog Tour* Review.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to take part in the cover reveal for ‘Chasing the Traveller’ by Alex Kane.

Today I’m honoured to take part in the blog tour for ‘Chasing the Traveller‘. 

As a traveller, Kat has always felt out of place, especially since the death of her parents in a fire. Having fallen in love with tearaway Jimmy Denton, Kat ends up married to a controlling and violent thug. After sixteen years of violence, she decides enough is enough and begins plotting her escape.

On finding an unlikely ally in her sister-in-law Ellie, Kat discovers that she isn’t alone. Kat’s quest to find out who she really is continues once she and Ellie have found their feet away from the camp but a discovery leads her back to the place she’d been desperate to escape.

Will she find the answers she is looking for, or will she fall prey to the violent Jimmy Denton once more?

I found the depiction of Jimmy Denton terrifyingly believable. The manipulation, threats and his insidious degradation of Kat’s confidence seem totally realistic in the most horrible way. I had a very strong sense of who Jimmy Denton was as well as the way in which his actions impacted on those around him. 

I read this novella in one sitting because I found that I couldn’t bear to wait to see what happened. I found myself holding my breath through a lot of this story due to the tension. I feel like this was because I cared about Kat and particularly Ellie. I would have actually liked to spend more time with Ellie and hearing her story and experiences. 

Chasing the Traveller‘ is an engaging portrayal of  a woman’s desperation to free herself from domestic abuse and find her own way in the world. It’s by no means an easy read in terms of the content but it is certainly worth the heartache. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Deaths of December’ by Susi Holliday

When an advent calendar is sent to a police station, no one takes any notice until a young DC opens it and discovers a murder behind each day. Instead of munching mince pies and winding down for the Christmas season, DC Greene and DS Carmine and their team find themselves looking for a murderer, who appears to be killing at random. With four more doors left on the calendar, there are four people who could be saved – if the police find the killer in time. 

I am a self-confessed Scrooge and therefore a murder mystery set during “the most wonderful time of the year” made a great deal of sense to me. I almost empathised with the criminal! Actually, I did empathise with the killer but not because of their loathing of Christmas but because of  their motive. I think Susi Holliday has managed to create a complex character in her murderer which is really refreshing. I often find the ‘bad guy’ a little two dimension in novels so it was great to read about a murderer with some depth.

I felt like Carmine and Greene (she what she did there?) were characters I knew even though this was their first outing. Holliday creates characters that confound the usual stereotypes. 

The premise of ‘The Deaths of December’ is really original and I found the way it unfolded an interesting technique. 

This is a well written festive tale with plenty of punch and a killer last line. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes

It’s been many years since I last read a Marian Keyes book and now I can’t stop asking myself why I left it so long. I bought ‘The Break‘ after going to see Marian Keyes in Newcastle. I found her funny and engaging and her explanation of the premise of ‘The Break‘ had me intrigued.

Amy’s husband Hugh wants to take a break. Not the romantic, coupley kind but a break from their marriage. Hugh wants six months away from Amy, their family and their commitment to one another in order to ‘find himself’ and promises that, after those six months are up, he’ll come back and they’ll be together again. OK, so he’s not saying he wants to break up but his departure leaves Amy reeling. Will Hugh come back? And if he does, will he still be the man she married? And will she still be the woman he left behind?

Marian Keyes writes prose the way she talks – she intertwines serious subjects with humour and humanity. ‘The Break‘ doesn’t just dissect a marriage; it also questions what it’s like to parent in the 21st Century, what it means to be a modern working woman, how to navigate the minefield of female friendships as well as exploring a larger social issue of abortion laws in Ireland.

Marian Keyes manages to do what the second series of TV show ‘Doctor Foster’ failed to do: make the characters sympathetic. Even when they’re doing things that you might disagree with, you cannot help but be on their side. In several interviews I’ve heard, Marian Keyes has said she hopes to show that these characters – and the situations they find themselves in (whether through choice or by chance) – are nuanced and I think she does that admirably.

The cast of characters is large and varied and I can’t help but think that many of the family scenes are influenced in part by Keyes’s own extended family. I loved Locmof (read the book and you’ll understand) and Amy was fantastically real to me. I also adored the delicate Sofie and the sage Kiara.

Although there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in ‘The Break‘, they are tempered with sadness and anger. It may be a bit of a cliche but I genuinely laughed and cried while reading this novel and I think the reason for that is not just Keyes’s accessible writing style but because she creates characters that are as real as the people we share lives with.

The Break‘ is an absolute triumph of a book and I can’t help but hope we see these lovely, warm, realistic characters again.

Vic x

Just going to leave this here…

**Whiteout Blog Tour** Review

I’m delighted to be reviewing ‘Whiteout‘, the fifth book in the ‘Dark Iceland‘ series by Ragnar Jónasson, as part of his blog tour. 

Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of a deserted village. Questions swirl as to whether the woman took her own life or if it was taken from her. As the snow continues to fall unabated, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s sister and mother also died in exactly the same place over two decades ago. More secrets are revealed and the death toll continues to rise as the Siglufjordur detectives battle to stop a killer before anyone else is harmed. 

Whiteout‘ is the first book by Ragnar Jónasson that I have read and I really enjoyed it. Although I found it a little slow to start, once it got going the tension didn’t let up until the very end! I must also add that Quentin Bates has done a marvellous job with the translation of this compelling story.

Featuring an interesting cast of characters that, in my mind, could have easily come out of an Agatha Christie story, ‘Whiteout‘ makes everyone a suspect. This device ensures that the reader ends up pretty much accusing everyone at some point! 

Through the development of the narrative Ragnar Jónasson manages to set up several mini-mysteries within the overarching question of what happened to the young woman. This is a very clever technique which ensures the reader is frequently satisfied throughout the novel. 

Jónasson uses beautiful descriptions of the setting to drop the reader right into Iceland at Christmas. The weather throughout this novel adds an extra level of peril to everything the characters do: whether it’s driving or chasing someone on foot, the driving snow and black ice make almost every action potentially fatal. The descriptions make the action so vivid that I could see it happening in my head. 

Although ‘Whiteout‘ is the fifth book in the ‘Dark Iceland‘ series by Ragnar Jónasson, I found that this book worked perfectly as a standalone. You definitely do not need to have read the others to follow this plot – it’s a self-contained mystery.

Whiteout‘ is the perfect novel to read from cover to cover while you’re snuggled under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night. 

Vic x

*Descent to Hell Blog Tour* Review

 

Today I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Nic Parker’s debut novel, ‘Descent to Hell‘. 

When Charlie Ward’s beloved niece is kidnapped by a demon he has to find the secret gateway into the one place every human hopes never to visit: Hell! Armed with only courage and determination, Charlie has to survive in the most forbidding place while attempting to overcome challenges no mortal should ever have to face.

I found this story totally original and engaging.  Although there are elements of horror present in this novel, Nic Parker has constructed something wholly unique. There’s everything from a mystery to romance as well as a very strong sense of humour. She manages to balance peril and fun with aplomb.

Parker develops her characters throughout the story, giving them each a strong arc. Charlie Ward is a likeable guy who literally goes to Hell and back in order to save his niece. His tenacity and strength of character makes the reader root for him. The fact that Charlie is also the police’s main suspect adds another dimension to this story. I also really enjoyed Parker’s portrayal of Lucifer. She really flips the stereotype on its head, again adding originality to a compelling story. 

For me, though, Max was the star of this story. She’s got attitude and kicks butt – both metaphorically and physically! Max may come off as a cold-hearted citizen of the underworld but Nic Parker manages to portray her with depth as the story goes on. Max’s dry humour is one of the best things about ‘Descent to Hell‘. 

Although it does have traits of horror, ‘Descent to Hell‘ could also be described as gothic noir. In some ways, this is also a detective story with a police hunt going on in our world while Charlie undertakes his rather unusual journey. There are twists and cliffhangers galore during ‘Descent to Hell‘ and I could really see this being adapted for the screen. 

Vic x