October Wrap Up

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Another month is over so it’s time for another monthly wrap up.

October has been another great month for me. I took part in eight blog tours and attended a book event in Nottingham where Laura Purcell interviewed Jessie Burton and I got to meet two of my favourite authors. On a personal level we celebrated my partner’s 40th birthday, he started a new job that means he’ll be home more and I went to watch The Wizard of Oz ballet with my Mum on a rare girls night out.

In terms of reading,  I’ve read eleven books and one novella. I was hoping to have finished The Photographer of the Lost but that will end up as my first completed book of November instead. I’m finding that I’m reading slower when the book is for a tour as I want to be sure I soak it all in and take as many notes as possible to write the best review I can. But I’m fine with that as I’ve read some incredible books I might not have picked up if it weren’t for being on the blog tour and I wouldn’t trade that for having a few more books on my total at the end of the month.

So, here’s what I read in October:

  1. The Family by Louise Jensen ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
  2. The Thorn Girl by Laura Elliot (previously titled In My Mother’s Name⭐⭐⭐⭐
  3. The Birthday House by Jill Treseder ⭐⭐⭐.5
  4. The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  5. The Blossom Twins by Carol Wyer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  6. The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  7. Her Mother’s Lies by Rona Halsall ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
  8. Seven Days by Alex Lake ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  9. The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
  10. Bad Seed by Jessica Eames ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  11. The Lost Ones by Anita Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  12. Keeper by Jessica Moor ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As you can see it’s been a great month with some fantastic books – including four 5-star reviews. I’m not choosing a favourite this month as I think all the 5-star reads are deserving of that title, but the most memorable for me was definitely The Blossom Twins as it was nail-biting, shocking and emotional – the best yet in Carol’s Detective Natalie Ward series. I’ve still not recovered from the turmoil of that book! It is released on December 12th and my review will be posted December 14th as part of the blog tour.

What books did you read in October? Were any of these on your list?

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Blog Tour Review: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The Lost Ones was one of my highly anticipated books this Autumn so I am thrilled to be able to take part in HQ’s Halloween takeover and to share my review with you today. Thank you to Joe Thomas at HarperCollins UK for the invitation to take part and my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiance, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeliene, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion. 

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…   

In the classic tradition of The Woman In Black, Anita Frank weaves a spellbinding debut of tragedy, loss and redemption.

MY REVIEW:   

“Things happen in this house that defy explanation.. I am afraid.. . I am afraid of this house.”

Wow! Anita Frank blew me away with this mesmerising novel. Atmospheric, tender, alluring, harrowing and chilling, The Lost Ones is an exploration of family, love, grief, tragedy, secrets and the supernatural expertly woven together into a breathtaking story that I couldn’t put down. 

“Of one things I was becoming increasingly convinced: behind the crass grandeur and tasteless opulence, the walls of Greyswick were infused with so many secrets and lies that the very fabric of the building breathed deceit.”

Stella Marcham has returned home from nursing the wounded in France after the death of her fiance, Gerald. She is crushed and desolate, overwhelmed by her grief. Only her sister, Madeleine understood and slowly brought her back from the brink. Her parents don’t recognise her grief and think there is something wrong with her and call Dr Mayhew saying they think she needs help. Like before, an asylum is mentioned, much to Stella’s horror. How can she get them to understand she isn’t hysterical and just needs time?

When her brother-in-law Hector asks Stella if she’ll go and stay with her pregnant sister at his ancestral home, Greyswick, she jumps at the chance – it’s the perfect excuse to get away and to repay her sister for all she did for her after Gerald’s death. Arriving at the mansion, Stella finds her sister a shadow of her former self and vows to do whatever she can to help.  That first night she experiences the first of many strange events that will lead the sisters to believe there’s a supernatural element at work, beliefs that will see them labelled troublemakers and hysterical. But even after Madeleine is sent back to their parents’ home, Stella is determined to investigate the dark history and secrets of Greyswick and discover the truth.

“And finally, I told him of that day, the day my nightmares were created.”

The Lost Ones is gothic fiction with heart. Interlaced with the chilling ghost story, scandalous revelations and shocking twists are love stories about the many different forms that love takes. But it is the sweet love story of Stella and Gerald that was one of my favourite parts of this book. The flashbacks where Stella remembered their happy times together would make me smile but also make me ache for what she’d lost when he’d been killed in France. Stella’s raw, agonising and overwhelming emptiness and grief was palpable and the chapter where we finally learn the circumstances of Gerald’s death broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

“Something happened in this house, something that led to terrible consequences…And there’s someone still here who never wants it revealed.”

The author has filled this book with an array of compelling and fascinating characters. Stella was a great protagonist. Though she feels weakened by her grief, she is a strong, determined and brave woman who was easy to relate to and root for. Annie Burrows, Stella’s housemaid, is vital to the story and probably the most intriguing character. She is a strange girl who unnerves people, but in fact she is an anxious, timid, quiet young woman who tries to keep herself unnoticed in the background as much as possible. As the strange occurrences increase Stella notices little things about Annie and begins to see her in a new light, realising she has a gift that could be the key to solving the mystery of Greyswick.

Mrs Henge and Lady Brightwell were fantastic antagonists and there was an oppressive atmosphere that radiates from the page anytime they were in a scene. Lady Brightwell is the matriarch of Greyswick, an imposing and unflinching woman who and insists on things being done properly. She has little time for what she considers to be the histrionics of Stella and Madeleine and is insistent that there are no ghosts or secrets to be uncovered. She’s a tough adversary, especially when everyone else is on her side. Mrs Henge, the housekeeper, is an ominous, foreboding character. I was suspicious of what she knew from early on but couldn’t ascertain how much Lady Brightwell or others were involved.  

“I would find a way to fit the pieces of this appalling puzzle together.”

Anita Frank is an author to watch. I am in awe of her talent and still can’t believe this is a debut novel. Expertly and elegantly written, flawlessly plotted and utterly immersive, The Lost Ones had me  hooked from the first page. The vivid scene setting made me feel like I was right beside Stella in the shadowy, claustrophobic halls of Greyswick, chills running down my spine as the eerie things begin to happen. I even had to sleep with the light on as I was so unsettled by sinister events and the ghost of a young boy. 

Even if spooky stories aren’t usually your thing I would urge you to try this one as I think it’s a story that has something for everyone. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I look forward to seeing what the author writes next.

Out today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Anita Frank was born in Shropshire and studied English and American History at the University of East Anglia. She lives in Berkshire with her husband and three children and is now a full-time career for her disabled son. The Lost Ones is her first novel.

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Blog Tour Review: Her Mother’s Lies by Rona Halsall ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this tense and gripping thriller. Thank you to Bookoture for my invitation to take part, and to Bookoture and NetGalley for my e-ARC of the novel in exchange for my honest review. 

SYNOPSIS:

‘She hasn’t told you, has she?’ He squeezed his eyes shut. She watched the muscles of his jaw tense, then his eyes blinked open and he took a deep breath…‘I’m not your father.’

He was there for her first steps, for her first day of school. He helped her with her homework, and took her for ice cream at the weekends. And then, two days before her ninth birthday, Martha’s father walked out. She never knew what went wrong, but she and her mother Fran never saw or heard from him again.

Fifteen years later, frustrated in a life which consists of caring for an increasingly-ill Fran, and heartbroken after the death of a beloved friend, Martha decides she needs some answers, and she knows it’s time to track down the father who left them behind.

Except when she comes face-to-face with him for the first time in fifteen years, he tells her a brutal truth.

He isn’t her father.

Her mother has been telling lies.

And not just about who her real father is.

A page-turning, gripping psychological thriller for fans of Paula Hawkins, Clare Macintosh and C. L. Taylor.

MY REVIEW:

I flew through this taut and twisty thriller. It had me hooked from the first page right until the last, immersing me in Martha’s world as she saw everything she believed to be true crumble and following her in her search for the truth.

Martha and her mother Fran have a difficult relationship. Martha loves her but the twenty-four-year-old craves freedom and resents Fran’s reluctance to untie the apron strings, as well as her financial and practical reliance due to her self-inflicted declining health. She’s torn between following her dreams and enjoying her youth, and being there to help the one person that’s always been there for her. But when Fran is rushed into hospital after a drinking binge triggers a diabetic coma, Martha uncovers a series of lies that shatter her whole world. Turning to the only person she can think of, her friend Izzy, Martha vows to unveil the truths she’s been denied all these years, having no idea that she’s setting down a path that will see her entire life unravel.

I was not prepared for this book. Nothing is as it seems. The author skillfully crafted a deceptive hall of mirrors, luring me into believing I had it all figured out. I didn’t see the bombshell coming until it was on the page. Bravo Rona, Bravo! I was now transfixed and on the edge of my seat, unable to look up until I finished the book.

Her Mother’s Name is layered, complex, emotionally charged, skillfully plotted and sizzling with suspense. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.

Out today.

Rona Halsall new author.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rona is the author of Best Selling psychological thrillers THE HONEYMOON, LOVE YOU GONE and KEEP YOU SAFE. Her fourth book, HER MOTHER’S LIES is out in October 2019.

She lives on the Isle of Man with her husband, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She is an outdoorsy person and loves stomping up a mountain, walking the coastal paths and exploring the wonderful glens and beaches on the Island while she’s plotting how to kill off her next victim. She has three children and two step-children who are now grown up and leading varied and interesting lives, which provides plenty of ideas for new stories!

To find out more about Rona’s novels, go to http://www.facebook.com/RonaHalsallAuthor or follow @RonaHalsallAuth on Twitter or instagram @ronahalsall.

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The Dark Mirror #DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth

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Purple books for #DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth

This is a very personal post that I’ve been considering sharing for about a year.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Twenty years ago today I married a man who turned out to be abusive. There were red flags before I married him but I was very young, just twenty years old when we wed, and I believed his apologies and excuses. I also didn’t see control and emotional and verbal abuse for what it was and thought because he’d “only” hit me a few times and had stopped, that everything was ok. I was wrong. Our marriage was dominated by various forms of violence that would fluctuate.

I found the strength to leave a few months before our 9th wedding anniversary. By that point we had a four-year-old son that this mama bear needed to protect.

A number of years ago I wrote this short story about that time. In honour of spreading awareness and to remind people that they can leave even after many years, I am sharing it today. I’m terrified and am shaking as I write this but I know it’s the right thing to do.

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The Dark Mirror

I’m ready. I’m wearing the ivory embroidered gown covered in lace and sparkling details, with a long train that flows out behind me like a royal robe. A tiara glitters in the mirror and a full length, white veil covers my perfectly made up face and my curled hair that cascades down my back like a waterfall. As I gaze at my reflection feeling excited about the promises I’m about to make and the life ahead something strange happens; the girl looking back begins to change. She still looks like me with the same blue eyes and auburn hair, but something is different. There is a sadness in her eyes and through them I can see her  head and heart are full of harrowing memories and broken dreams. I can see the pain, heartbreak and sorrow. Reflected in them I see the movie of her life start to play : the love and joy following solemn vows, then the anger in his voice, the plates smashing, the girl cowering in fear of his wrath, the jekyll and hyde of his character as he’s loving and adoring one moment, hateful and vicious the next. I see the anguish as she dreams of leaving but still loves him and wants to stay. I glimpse her heart breaking into a thousand pieces as he smashes up the house and tells her she’s worthless, that the child they will have is better without her and she should be dead.  I feel her longing for release so greatly that death seems favourable. She is destroyed from the inside. He’s taken away who she is and what she knows to be true piece by piece until she is nothing but a hollow shell. He’s destroyed her and thinks he’s won. That she is his and will do as he dictates forever. But he’s wrong. Deep down the fire in her is still there and she claws and fights her way back to the surface and she begins to stand up and be counted. Initially she suffers all the more for doing so. I see the hell she calls home until she can finally take no more and packing a few belongings and clutching the small boy’s hand, she flees, leaving the nightmare and all the broken promises and dreams behind. The vision has me fighting back tears, at all the woman has been through and because I know this is my future. I know she’s showing me what my happy ever after will become. I look away, not wanting to see anymore. When I look back she is gone and all that’s left is a discoloured white veil lying discarded on the floor. 

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Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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As always, this review won’t contain spoilers and I will give as little detail as possible so that anyone who hasn’t yet read the book can enjoy the surprises like I was able to. 

SYNOPSIS:

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a modern classic. Now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she’ll go for what she believes.

‘Dear Readers, everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ Margaret Atwood

MY REVIEW:

“History does not repeat itself. But it rhymes.”

Praise Be. The Testaments is finally here and it is a masterpiece. Margaret Atwood is a genius and she has written a powerhouse of a novel that I immediately became lost in. Thought provoking and moving, I was transfixed by every word. Reading it was like having an unquenchable thirst and I couldn’t stop until I was finished.

The story takes place fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three very different women. Each offers their own unique perspective and gives us a broader insight into Gilead and the lives of its women. This book is about illuminating the truth behind the facade of Gilead in various ways and we finally learn the answer to the question posed at the end of the first book – how did it fall?

The multiple narrators give the book a tone that sets it apart from the first book. I enjoyed seeing a wider range of life in Gilead and understanding how different roles truly work. I thought the people the author chose to use to narrate were inspired and had me re-examining everything I thought I knew.

As someone who loves the book and show, I did wonder if this sequel would negatively affect my views towards the latter, but it has made me love it more. I plan to rewatch every episode for clues of what I’ve learned from this book and the chance to see certain characters through a different lens.

The Testaments is a magnificent, emotional, riveting ride and it felt like I held my breath for most of the book. It was an experience like no other and Ms Atwood far exceeded my expectations. I don’t think it’s a surprise to learn that I highly recommend this book. And if you’ve never read the first one then I have it on good authority that it works well as a stand alone too. The hype is real and you don’t want to miss this book.

July #frydayfavourite : Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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It’s the first Friday of the month which means it’s time for this month’s #frydayfavourite

This is a hashtag started on bookstagram by the lovely @artbreaker.bookclub where on the first Friday of each month you share a five-star read from before you joined bookstagram.

This month’s book is Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. When I went away to Bournemouth last month the Airbnb we stayed in had lots of books in the room I was in, including this one. It was like I was supposed to choose that room. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of their copy with some of their beautiful ornaments. Am I the only one that loves finding different props at other people’s houses? No? Didn’t think so.

Synopsis :

A RICHARD AND JUDY BOOK CLUB 2017 PICK

A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The best books make you see differently. This is one of them. The eye-opening new novel from Jodi Picoult, with the biggest of themes: birth, death, and responsibility.

When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father.

What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.

Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us.

It is about opening your eyes.

SOON TO BE A MAJOR FILM STARRING VIOLA DAVIS AND JULIA ROBERTS

Jodi is one of my favourite authors and her books are auto-buys for me. I’ve been a fan ever since I picked up My Sister’s Keeper on a whim when it was first released and have read all her books. Small Great Things is one of her best and most heart-rending books. I loved how this book made me look at myself and my thoughts in a new way, how it made me aware of pre-concieved notions I didn’t even realise I had.

At first it seems like the two main characters couldn’t be more different but as time goes on you learn the complexities and nuances that make up a three dimensional person and see that even those with the best intentions to begin with can become prejudice and that the nurse and the baby’s father are actually more alike than they’d care to admit, especially him.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and it’s certainly in my all-time top ten. Just make sure you have tissues handy and lots of time to read it as it’s a page-turner.

I’ve taken part in #frydayfavourite a few times before but never thought to also post it on my blog so check out my Instagram or Facebook page to see previous month’s books which were My Lovely Bones, My Sister’s Keeper, We Need To Talk About Kevin & The Handmaid’s Tale.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Review: ‘The Liar’s House’ by Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

IMG_20190607_110009_285.jpgSamantha stumbled out of the party and out onto a busy street only ten minutes away from her home. But she never made it home.

Seven years after Samantha’s disappearance, on what would have been her thirty-fifth birthday, her best friend Diane is shocked to find a letter addressed to Samantha on her doorstep.

Opening the envelope, Diane pulls out a birthday card and a finger nail painted in dusky pink nail polish. The same shade Samantha always wore. The same shade she was wearing the night she went missing.

When police analyse the nail they don’t get the result they expected. Instead of linking them to Samantha, the nail belongs to another woman, Jade Ashmore. And Jade was murdered the night before the envelope was delivered…

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Domestic Abuse

Thank you to NetGalley, Bookoture and Carla Kovach for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

DI Gina Harte and her team are back for the fourth book in this fantastic series and the ominous tone is set from the start.

Samantha Felton is being watched by a man taking pictures at the local social club. She knows he’s watching and is enjoying putting on a show with another man on the dance floor. What she doesn’t know is that the man behind the camera thinks she needs to be taught the error of her ways and is taken by surprise as he attacks her as she leaves the club.

Seven years later Jade Ashmore is making the short walk home after a party when she’s suddenly aware of footsteps behind her. She hopes the person will pass but instead she’s attacked and knocked unconscious. Her attacker is disturbed by a late night dog walker but it’s too late for Jade.

Diane still misses her best friend Samantha and thinks of her often. What happened to her seven years ago? On Samantha’s birthday she finds a card addressed to her friend hand delivered to her house. Inside is a sinister greeting in cut out letters and a finger nail painted in the same shade Samantha always wore. She calls the police and DI Gina Harte attends the call. When the nail is analysed they’re all shocked to discover it belonged to Jade, not Samantha. Could the two cases be linked? Why is someone reminding them about Samantha after so long? And why did they attack Jade?

The two cases become linked when Jade’s finger nail is found in a birthday card addressed to Samantha that was delivered to her best friend, Diane, the same day Jade was killed. But why now after seven years? There are multiple suspects and very few clues in this gripping thriller.

Carla Kovach has done it again. She’s written another riveting installment in what is one of my favourite police book series. As Gina and her team search for the man responsible for Jade’s murder, and possibly Samantha’s disappearance, there seemed to be two or three suspects that emerged. Despite this the team are mostly working with hunches and circumstantial evidence as real clues to the culprit evade them.

At the same time Gina’s personal life is causing problems when a man she recently went on a date with refuses to take no for an answer, won’t stop messaging and keeps turning up unannounced. To add to her problems she finds her past and present are entangled in her latest case and threatening the reputation she’s spent years building.

Themes of domestic abuse and stalking are handled with raw honesty throughout the book. We see the way these men control their partners through fear, using it to coerce them into doing things they don’t want to just to please them. The reader is again shown the long-lasting psychological damage of abuse through Gina’s character, and how even decades after freeing yourself of the relationship you can still be haunted by it. The author is skilled at writing domestic abuse, in all its forms, in a way that helps the reader understand these women, why they stay, why they take desperate courses of action and do the various things we see them do to protect their abusers.

The Liar’s House is what we’ve come to expect and love from this series: complex characters, brutal, gruesome murder scenes and great writing. This novel was particularly skillfully written and ingeniously plotted. I can’t wait for book five!

Publication Date: 2nd July