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Emma's Anticipated Treasures First Lines Friday

First Lines Friday

Welcome to First Lines Friday, where I share the first lines from one of the books on my shelves to try and tempt you to add it to yours. I’ve not done this for a few weeks due to having multiple blog tours falling on a Friday, so I’m happy to be back sharing first lines once again.

Dorchester, Dorset, 19 August 1642
As the hour for the priests’ execution approached, the press of people heading for Gallows Hill grew denser and more impatient. Jayne Swift had expected crowds, but not such a multitude as this. It seemed every Puritan in Dorset had come to gloat at the the spectacle of Catholics being hanged, drawn and quartered, because there wasn’t a road or street in Dorchester that wasn’t thronged with hard-faced men and women, their eyes aglitter in anticipation of papist blood being spilt.”

Today’s first lines are taken from The Swift and the Harrier, the latest novel from Minette Walters, which is published on November 4th. Walters is one of my favourite authors and I’ve read her books for as long as I can remember. I think I’ve read all of her thrillers and I’m intrigued by her switch to writing historical fiction, especially as it’s become my joint favourite genre alongside what used to write, so I’m looking forward to jumping into this and reading a completely different book from her.

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SYNOPSIS:

Dorset, 1642.

When bloody civil war breaks out between the King and Parliament, families and communities across England are riven by different allegiances.

A rare few choose neutrality.

One such is Jayne Swift, a Dorset physician from a Royalist family, who offers her services to both sides in the conflict. Through her dedication to treating the sick and wounded, regardless of belief, Jayne becomes a witness to the brutality of war and the devastation it wreaks.

Yet her recurring companion at every event is a man she should despise because he embraces civil war as the means to an end. She knows him as William Harrier, but is ignorant about every other aspect of his life. His past is a mystery and his future uncertain.

The Swift and the Harrier is a sweeping tale of adventure and loss, sacrifice and love, with a unique and unforgettable heroine at its heart.

You can pre-order here*
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Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the gorgeous gifted ARC.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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Emma's Anticipated Treasures Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Wrap Up – November 2020

Well that was a fast month!

The last month of 2020 is almost upon us and my mind is full of what to include in my favourite books of the year. But before that, there’s this month’s reading wrap up and a month of reading more books to do.

November has been a slower month for me as this time of year always brings with it the worsening of my chronic health conditions. I didn’t manage to read all the ones I’d started either and am in the middle of 3 others (one paperback, one kindle and one audio).

So, what did I manage to do? I read thirteen books, took part in thirteen blog tours, two readalongs and one watchalong. One of those readalongs was a bit different as we made cocktails using the new Peaky Blinders Cocktail Book. It was also fun taking part in the Shirley watchalong. It’s made me want to finally read Shirley Jackson’s books and more about her fascinating life.

Here is what I read in November:

  1. The Night Away ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  2. The One Before ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  3. The Diabolical Bones ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  4. One By One ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  5. The Package ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  6. The Company Daughters ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  7. Fallen Angels ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  8. How To Belong ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  9. Body Language ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  10. The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  11. Her Sister’s Child ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  12. Dead Girl Walking ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  13. Bright Lies ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read some great books this month. The Diabolical Bones and The Package were standout reads that were contenders for BOTM for a while. But when I read The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside there was no question that this would be my BOTM. EVERYONE needs to read this book! It is one of my favourites this year for sure. You can read the review for it, and the other books I’ve read this month, by clicking the link in their title in the list above.

In December I’m looking forward to a more relaxed month. I’ve only taken on three blog tours and will be doing more mood reading. I can’t wait!

Thank you to the tagged publishers who sent gifted copies.

Did we read any of the same books this month? What was your favourite book in November? Let me know in the comments.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Bright Lies by A. A. Abbott

Published: November 23rd, 2020
Publisher: Perfect City Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Trigger Warning: Sexual and physical abuse

Today is my stop on the tour for Bright Lies. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to A. A. Abbott for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

She’s learned too much, too young. Can she break free?

Emily’s dreams come true when her mother marries wealthy painter, David. Thanks to him, Emily’s artistic talents shine. Then he starts teaching her things a 14-year-old shouldn’t know. When Emily escapes from David’s luxury mansion, she’s penniless and forced to sleep in a rat-infested alley.

Bad boy Jack has turned his life around. Working as a DJ with ambitions to open a club, he rescues Emily from the streets when he sees a woman in trouble. He doesn’t know she’s still only 15 – and trapped in a dark web of secrets and lies.

David must find Emily and silence her. As he closes in, Jack faces the hardest choice of all. If he saves Emily, he’ll kiss goodbye to his future…

What would you sacrifice for love?

MY REVIEW:

“I’m technically an adult now, but I had to grow up a long time ago.”

Bright Lies is a story of heartache, abuse, survival and hope. It’s a difficult book to read at times – particularly the grooming and abuse Emily suffers at the hands of her stepfather – but beneath the darkness is a sliver of light. We see that there is still kindness to be found even in the bleakest of times and to keep hope of better things to come.

“Who knows if you can stick a girl like Emily together again, after a man like that has broken her?”

At the heart of this book is fantastic characterisation. Emily and Jack were both very real characters that are likable characters and easy to get behind. It broke my heart the things they knew and had suffered that no one should, particularly at such a young age. I liked how protective Jack was of Emily as despite his flaws he’s one of the good ones. Without him her life after running away could have been even bleaker. That being said, I found reading about their life on the streets difficult as I have children of a similar age, and the idea of them being alone in the world, trying to survive, is unimaginable. My heart broke for them, and for Emily’s mum, who is an innocent victim in all of this too. I wanted to tell Emily to just talk to her mum and reassure her it would be ok. 

There are some vile characters in this book that are so well written they made my skin crawl. But none so much as David. The way he grooms and abuses Emily is practiced and all too familiar. I hated him and wanted to hurt him in every way possible for what he was doing. I just hope that books like this are able to serve as a warning and can help potential victims identify such behaviour from predators before it’s too late.  

Bright Lies is a compelling, thought-provoking and moving read.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the ending at first, but after a few days of pondering on it, I like the direction the author took and thought it was the right way to end Emily and Jack’s stories. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

From the author’s website: Who doesn’t love a cracking crime story, full of twists?

I’m British crime thriller writer A.A. Abbott – known to friends as Helen – and I believe a good read is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I write fast-paced suspense thrillers set in the British cities of London, Bristol and Birmingham. As a city girl, I’ve lived and worked in all of them. I also know the beautiful countryside of North Somerset well, and that’s where my latest story begins. By far my darkest book yet, psychological thriller ‘Bright Lies’ follows runaway teenager Emily from a country mansion to a city squat, as she flees the stepfather who’s gotten too close.

In contrast, the 5 book Trail series focuses on a vodka business – and what happens when the two families running it fall out with each other and with a London gangster. The Bride’s Trail leads from London to the secret tunnels below Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. The trail continues with a kidnap in the former Soviet Union in The Vodka Trail, an ill-starred venture with a marijuana farmer in The Grass Trail and a killer on the loose in The Revenge Trail. At the very end, The Final Trail serves up a heady cocktail of betrayal, revenge and reconciliation.

Like 10% of us, many of my family are dyslexic. While I’m not, I want my books to be enjoyed by readers with dyslexia and visual impairment too. That’s why I publish my thrillers in a LARGE PRINT dyslexia-friendly edition as well as the standard paperback and Kindle versions. Don’t forget, you can also adjust the font on your Kindle to suit your needs.

I like speaking to book groups, business networks and social circles, and reading my thrillers and short stories at live fiction events and on Zoom. If you’re a book blogger, litfest organiser, reviewer or simply adore books, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Bristol Fiction Writers’ Group, and Birmingham’s New Street Authors.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Dead Girl Walking (Jessie Novak Book 1) by Roberta Gatley

Published: November 24th, 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Noir Fiction, Police Procedural, Medical Fiction, Medical Thriller, Mystery

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this first book in a riveting new crime series. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

‘“911. What’s your emergency?”
“He came for her. She’s been shot,” says a desperate voice, as footsteps echo down an alley. “She’s dying.”
“Oh no, oh no, he’s coming back. Please, come quickly––” And then a click, and the drone of a dial tone.

The beautiful young woman on the stretcher could be on her honeymoon. Chestnut hair tumbles around a pretty face, rose petals tangled in the loose strands. But the bandage around her forehead tells a different tale, as Emergency Room Nurse Jessie Novak desperately battles to keep her alive. Jessie’s thoughts are racing—who shot this beautiful young woman and more importantly, why?

Ann Hart’s life hangs by a thread, and Jessie cannot bear to see this beautiful young woman die without justice being done. Being a nurse is like hunting for clues, and Jessie is sure she can find the person who hurt Ann. She also asks her friend Detective Sam Dallas for help digging into Ann’s past. But then Jessie receives a gift that sends shivers up her spine: a huge bouquet of blood-red roses, just like the ones in Ann’s hair…

As the first snowflakes start to fall, another body turns up. Jessie is sure that she’s in danger too—since the roses, someone has been watching her… Sam is reluctant to see the link but Jessie knows she must find the culprit before he strikes again. He is stalking her through the frozen streets and he doesn’t want his fun to stop. Can Jessie turn the tables on the killer, or is she just a dead girl walking?

A totally addictive mystery novel that will leave you gasping for breath and have your heart thumping! Fans of Lisa Regan, Gregg Olsen and Tess Gerritsen will be completely hooked.

MY REVIEW:

“Something was wrong here, very wrong.”

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a great crime series. With Dead Girl Walking I’ve added yet another to my ever-growing list.

ER nurse Jessie Novak finds herself embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse after becoming determined to bring a killer to justice. She is sure she knows who brutally attacked Ann Hart, but the police don’t agree. So she sets out to find the evidence herself, putting her own life in danger. Can she find the proof and expose the killer before they can silence her?

“And that was what she liked best about the ER. It was a metaphor for life; unpredictable, unexpected, both deadly boring and wildly exciting, and you could have all of that in one shift.”

Reading this was like watching a mash-up of ER and Rizzoli & Isles. It is a riveting start to a new series and I flew through this book in just a few hours. The author knows how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat and is full of heart-stopping tension. Jessie’s job as an ER nurse only adds to this, the chaos leaping from the page. It is obvious from the detail in these scenes that the author has experience of working in that environment and this added to the authentic feel of the story.

For any series to be successful, it’s characters have to be believable, interesting and memorable. The author has given the reader just that with the creation of Jessie and Detective Sam Dallas. Jessie is easy to like and get behind. I quickly felt invested in her life and was rooting for her to bring the killer to justice. The dynamic between her and Sam is entertaining and they have the perfect amount of chemistry and tension to make a great crime duo. I’m looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for them in book two.

A captivating start to a new crime series, this taut, twisty and suspenseful book is one you’ll find hard to put down. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well written thriller or mystery.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Roberta Gately, lives in Boston where she works as a nurse at the Boston Medical Center. It was in the ER where she developed an interest in the investigations behind the crimes and the victims she encountered. Working in a busy ER is much like being a detective—the search for answers is a methodical process, not unlike the work required to solve a murder!

Her crime series with Bookouture stars the brave and brilliant ER nurse Jessie Novak who teams up with her detective friend to solve tricky Boston murder cases. Expect addictive mysteries, breathtaking suspense and a gutsy heroine you’ll never forget. When she’s not writing or working at the hospital, Roberta enjoys reading, working out and spending time with friends and family.

She has also worked in humanitarian aid, providing medical care in some of the world’s bleakest spots ranging from Africa to Afghanistan. Her two previous novels, Lipstick in Afghanistan and The Bracelet were based upon her experiences of nursing abroad. Her memoir—Footprints in the Dust tells the true stories of some of the extraordinary people she met.

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Blog Tours

Her Sister’s Child by Alison James

Published: November 26th, 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this gripping thriller. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

She rolls over and reaches for her instinctively: her baby. Her hand hits air and flaps redundantly. She stumbles out of bed and switches on the light. But this only confirms it. The baby is gone. Someone has taken her.

Sixteen years ago, Lizzie Armitage woke to find her newborn baby gone. Just days later, Lizzie was dead.

Her sister Paula swore she would do everything she could to find the child. If she hadn’t promised to keep Lizzie’s pregnancy secret, maybe the baby wouldn’t have disappeared. And maybe Lizzie would still be alive. But, in nearly a decade, Paula’s never found any trace. Until now

When Paula bumps into an old friend from the past, she realises she wasn’t the only one who knew about her sister’s child. Someone knows what happened that day. Someone knows where Lizzie’s baby went.

But can Paula find out the truth before another family is ripped apart?

A twisty, unputdownable psychological thriller that will keep you hooked until the last page. Fans of Behind Closed DoorsFriend Request and The Girl on the Train will love Her Sister’s Child.

MY REVIEW:

“But the baby is gone. Someone has taken her.”

Her Sister’s Child is a domestic thriller told from the point of view of three women – Paula, Charlie and Marian. Moving between timelines, it tells the story of a tragic death and the search to find out the truth about a baby who went missing sixteen years ago.

A quick and easy read, I flew through this book in just a few hours. Though there were some issues with the novel – it felt a little predictable and confusing at times as it shifted between characters and timelines – it captured my attention for the first page and held some surprising twists along the way.

The characters are well written and each of the protagonists are flawed and complex. There were times they’d pull on my heartstrings and others I’d want to shake some sense into them. Their connection might seem obvious, but the full picture of how these women are linked is more intricate than it first appears and there are plenty of shocking revelations as the full picture is slowly unveiled.

A moving, compelling and twisty thriller, this is a great read for anyone who enjoys this genre.

Rating: ✮✮✮.5

Trigger Warning: Infant death, infertility, alcoholism

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Born in the Cotswolds, Alison spent most of her formative years abroad. She studied languages at Oxford, then became a journalist and author, returning to university after her two children to take a law degree. After a three-year stint as a criminal paralegal, Alison worked as a commercial copywriter and then a TV storyliner, before coming full circle to write fiction again.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Body Language by A. K. Turner

I’m delighted to be one of the bloggers opening the blog tour to for Body Language, the first book in an exciting new series. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and to Zaffre for the gifted eBook ARC.

Published: November 26th, 2020
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Noir Fiction, Police Procedural, Medical Fiction, Medical Thriller

SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs comes a gripping debut thriller introducing Camden’s most exciting new forensic investigator.

Cassie Raven believes the dead can talk. We just need to listen . . .

People think being a mortuary technician is a seriously weird job. They can’t understand why I choose to cut up dead bodies for a living. But they don’t know what I know:

The dead want to tell us what happened to them.

I’ve eviscerated thousands of bodies, but never someone I know before – someone who meant a lot to me; someone I loved.

The pathologist says that her death was an accident.

Her body is telling me differently.

MY REVIEW:

“From her first day in the mortuary five years ago it had felt totally natural to talk to the bodies in her care, to treat them as if they were still alive — still people. Occasionally they would even answer.”

Body Language introduces us to a new and original voice in crime fiction. Cassie Raven is a goth mortuary assistant who secretly believes the dead speak to her, practices taxidermy in her free time and has held a fascination with the dead since childhood. It goes without saying that she’s viewed as strange by some. But I liked this complex, flawed and slightly offbeat protagonist. 

When the body of her former teacher, mentor and friend Geraldine Edwards is brought into the morgue following her sudden death, Cassie is hit by not only a tidal wave of grief, but the feeling that this wasn’t a natural death. When the police and pathologist rule out foul play she decides to listen to what the body is telling her and embarks on her own investigation. 

This was an entertaining read. It took me a while to get into, but asked halfway through the pace picked up and oozed tension. From that point on I was unable to stop reading and stayed up until the early hours finishing the whole thing. 

The novel is full of interesting and memorable characters and storylines that feel both far-fetched and relatable. The author’s examination of grief and trauma stood out to me in particular for the sensitive, moving and realistic way in which it is portrayed. And Cassie isn’t our only protagonist. We are also told the story from the point of view of DS Phyllida Flyte. She and Cassie are poles apart and yet at their core they are very much like. They are both strong women who are seen as outsiders and believe in fighting to get the answers and justice that victims deserve. I liked how the pair paralleled each other while instantly disliking each other and enjoyed watching the slow shift in their dynamic over the course of the book. 

A tense, twists, darkly humorous and sometimes grisly read that keeps you guessing, this is a great start to a new series. I’m especially excited to see where the author takes Cassie next after the jaw-dropping conclusion. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

A.K.’s first foray into crime fiction was a detective thriller trilogy, written under the pen name Anya Lipska, following the adventures of Janusz Kiszka, tough guy and fixer to London’s Polish community. The first of the trilogy led Val McDermid to select her for the prestigious New Blood panel at Harrogate Crime Festival. All three books won critical acclaim and are currently under option as a potential TV crime series.

Set in a Camden morgue, A.K.’s new novels feature crime-solving Goth-girl mortuary attendant Cassie Raven. Cassie has already appeared in Cut and Paste, a crime short for BBC Radio 4, who are interested in commissioning further stories featuring the character.

In her other life as a TV producer and writer, A.K. makes documentaries and drama-docs on subjects as diverse as the Mutiny on the Bounty, the sex lives of Neanderthals, and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens.

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Blog Tours book reviews

How To Belong by Sarah Franklin

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Zaffre
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Lesbian Literature

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this delightful novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and Zaffre for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Jo grew up in the Forest of Dean, but she was always the one destined to leave for a bigger , brighter future. When her parents retire from their butcher’s shop, she returns to her beloved community to save the family legacy, hoping also to save herself. But things are more complex than the rose-tinted version of life which sustained Jo from afar.

Tessa is a farrier, shoeing horses two miles and half a generation away from Jo, further into the forest. Tessa’s experience of the community couldn’t be more different. Now she too has returned, in flight from a life she could have led, nursing a secret and a past filled with guilt and shame.

Compelled through circumstance to live together, these two women will be forced to confront their sense of identity, and reconsider the meaning of home.

MY REVIEW:

“She’s gradually learning to identify the shape and heft of other people’s feelings, not just her own. The toil it always takes to be in the world, whoever you are.”

How To Belong is a beautifully-written and absorbing story about our need to belong and finding a place to call home. 

The story centres around Jo and Tessa, two very different women who end up living together when circumstances force Tessa to take in a lodger. Both are facing life-changing upheavals: Jo in her choice to leave her career as a barrister in London to return to her hometown of New Forest Dene, and Tessa as she tries to recover from a devastating break-up and attempts to grapple with the frightening symptoms afflicting her that seem to be worsening, leaving her unable to function at times. They are compelling characters and I enjoyed their awkward dynamic, finding it much more fun to read than if they’d been instant buddies. 

While Jo is undeniably the warmer and more outgoing of the two, I found myself drawn towards Tessa and her mysterious story. While Jo is like an open book, Tessa is one you have to read in order to figure out; the pieces revealing themselves slowly until you can complete the picture. I also related to her fear about her deteriorating symptoms and being scared to have hope. This expertly written character found a place in my heart that I know will linger.

This was my first time reading anything by this author and it certainly won’t be my last. Her engaging prose immersed me in the world she’d created and I quickly devoured this delightful novel. I would highly recommend this book and think it is one you can enjoy whatever genres you usually prefer to read. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Franklin grew up in rural Gloucestershire and has lived in Austria, Germany, the USA and Ireland. She lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes University and has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. Sarah is the founder and host of Short Stories Aloud, and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. Sarah lives in between London and Oxford with her family.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Orenda
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Nordic Noir, Mystery, Thriller, Book Series

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this gripping piece of Nordic Noir. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Karen at Orenda for the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Ever-dogged Bergen PI Varg Veum is forced to dig deep into his own past as he investigates the murder of a former classmate. Vintage, classic Nordic Noir from international bestselling author Gunnar Staalesen.

***Now a major TV series starring Trond Espen Seim***
________________

Exploring his own dark memories may be the only way to find a killer

When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he’s unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob guitarist of the once-famous 1960s rock band The Harpers and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum’s first love.

Their rekindled friendship is thrown into jeopardy by the discovery of a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive and a killer.

Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost crime writers

MY REVIEW:

“On the stairs going down it struck me that actually there was something I had omitted to mention: the fact that of the four men who had constituted The Harpers rock band from 1959 to 1975 only one was still alive…”

After a former classmate is murdered, Private Investigator Varg Veum must delve deep into his past and that of his childhood friends. But he’s unprepared for the dark and murky secrets that will finally be revealed in this classic Nordic Noir. 

As with any book published by Orenda, I went into this one with high hopes. It was my first time reading a book by this author and I hadn’t read any of the previous books in the series, but I didn’t feel like that put me at any kind of disadvantage.

“Opening a photograph album is like being captured by the past.”

 Set in 1986, this was a fun trip down memory lane to a simpler time without mobile phones or social media. I think that setting the story in this time period added to the mystery as people genuinely lost contact and didn’t instantly hear about current events. It allowed for an element of surprise in the investigation that wouldn’t have been there in the present day.  

I liked the author’s writing style, particularly his use of metaphors. This was a steadily-paced novel rather than a quick page-turner, and it wasn’t until almost half-way through that the murder actually occurs. For the first half of the book Varg is investigating the whereabouts of his school friend Jakob’s wife Rebecca, who also happens to be the one that got away. While it is a compelling story overall, there were times I felt like it got bogged down in Varg’s walk down memory lane and daydreams of Rebecca. But once the murder had occurred the tension began to increase, building to a crescendo as we approached finale and its shocking revelations. 

Fallen Angels is a darkly atmospheric, layered and gripping thriller that keeps you guessing right until the last pages. It is particularly perfect for those who like a dark tale without the blood and gore. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Company Daughters by Samantha Rajaram

Published: October 30th, 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Lesbian Literature

I’m delighted to finally be able to share my review for this poignant novel. It’s late because of illness, but was worth the wait to read. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Wanted: Company Daughters. Virtuous young ladies to become the brides of industrious settlers in a foreign land. The Company will pay the cost of the lady’s dowry and travel. Returns not permitted, orphans preferred.

Amsterdam, 1620. Jana Beil has learned that life rarely provides moments of joy. Having run away from a violent father, her days are spent searching for work in an effort to stay out of the city brothels, where desperate women trade their bodies for a mouthful of bread. But when Jana is hired as a servant for the wealthy and kind Master Reynst and his beautiful daughter Sontje, Jana’s future begins to look brighter.

But then Master Reynst loses his fortune on a bad investment, and everything changes. The house is sold to creditors, leaving Jana back on the street and Sontje without a future.

With no other choice, Jana and Sontje are forced to sign with the East India Company as Company Daughters: sailing to a colonial Dutch outpost to become the brides of male settlers they know nothing about. With fear in their hearts, the girls begin their journey – but what awaits them on the other side of the world is nothing like what they’ve been promised…

Based on true history, this is a beautiful and sensual historical novel, perfect for fans of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Miniaturist and The Indigo Girl.

MY REVIEW:

“But having lived through so much upheaval, I doubt I will ever know the full taste of safety. I’m forever assuming some future disaster. Reading myself to flee.”

Jana Beil has not had an easy or happy life. She’s fought to survive, escaping violence and neglect only to find herself homeless and starving on the streets of Amsterdam in the late 17th century. She is grateful to find employment in the home of Master Reynst and his daughter, Sontje, but tragedy strikes when Reynst loses everything after a bad investment and Jana faces uncertainty once more. Sontje is faced with just one option; to travel to Batavia as one of the Company Daughters, a bride for one of the VOC settlers on the Dutch colony. When Sontje asks Jana to accompany her she agrees, eager to both escape her life in Amsterdam and to find a way to keep close to Sontje.

I am a big fan of historical fiction, especially when it’s based in fact, so I was instantly drawn to this book which is based on the true stories of Dutch women who were shipped to the other side of the world to become brides for strangers. It was a long and arduous ten month journey where they face increasing hunger and illness that threatens to end their voyage before they reach their destination. It is clear that the author has done a lot of research which she blends with fiction and vivid scene setting to transport you to another time and place, immersing you in this poignant tale.

“I ignore the fear rooting in me and feel triumph in this. Even in our captivity, we’ve found each other. Seized at whatever joy we can find.”

The characters are well written and richly drawn. I loved the protagonist, Jana. She’s easy to like and root for, a strong and determined character who isn’t typical of the women of the day. We follow her as she goes on a compelling journey that is both literal and figurative, her life marred by tragedy; where every time she feels like things are finally going well something comes along to pull the rug from under her feet once again. She isn’t someone who wishes to conform to what society expects of her, and over the course of the book her rebellious streak becomes increasingly evident as she is determined to carve her own path.

“I can’t help but feel bitterness—the fact of my body’s ownership passing from hand to hand—my father’s pummelling, the other men with their pawing and leering, as though I existed only for their gaze.”

The author also examines the lack of freedom, rights and choice available to women of the day. They are owned by men their whole lives and at their mercy. They can only hope for a father, husband or master who is kind and doesn’t beat or rape them. It’s a bleak existence and they have no way to independently make their way in the world; even a widowed woman is looked upon with suspicion if she doesn’t quickly remarry.

Atmospheric, harrowing, moving and hopeful, this was an easy and entertaining read that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Samantha Rajaram spent most of her childhood in Gillette, Wyoming, where she and her family were the first Indian-Americans to live in the community. As a law student, she focused on social justice and international human rights law with a focus on female sex trafficking.

She is now an educator, and currently teaches composition at Chabot College in Hayward, California. She lives in the California Bay Area with her three
children.

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Package by Sebastian Fitzek

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Psychological Fiction, Psychological Thriller

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this jaw-dropping thriller. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

All you’ve done is taken in a parcel for a neighbour. You have no idea what you’ve let into your home.

Emma’s the one that got away.

The only survivor of a killer known in the tabloids as ‘the hairdresser’ – because of the trophies he takes from his victims.

Or she thinks she was.

The police aren’t convinced. Nor is her husband. She never even saw her tormentor properly, but now she recognises him in every man.

Questioning her sanity, she gives up her job as a doctor in the local hospital and retreats from the world. It is better to stay at home. Quiet. Anonymous. Safe. He won’t find her here.

And all she did was take a parcel for a neighbour.

She has no idea what she’s let into her home.

MY REVIEW:

“And all she did was take a parcel for a neighbour.She has no idea what she’s let into her home.”

Omg! What a book! This one starts as it means to go on, jumping straight into the terrifying action with a prologue so chilling it sent shivers down my spine. The author had me in the palm of his hand from that moment on and I devoured the book in one sitting, both unwilling and unable to put it down.

The story moves between multiple timelines, all told from the point of view of the protagonist, Emma. Much of the story is her first person account of what happened starting on the day she takes in a package for her neighbour and shifts between this and her discussing the events with her friend and lawyer. It is clear early on that Emma is in trouble both legally and mentally, and is in custody for a crime, while also being treated for mental health problems.

“The message on the mirror had awoken the darkest memories from her childhood.”

This is an exquisitely crafted novel. The sinister, foreboding and malevolent atmosphere pervades from beginning to end and as we get deeper into the story we discover that this is a more intricate, layered and twisty novel than it first appears.

One of my favourite tropes is an unreliable narrator. And Emma is the ultimate in unreliability. Even she has no idea what is reality and what is her paranoid imagination a lot of the time. I loved that I spent the whole book trying to decide if what she’s telling us is truth, lies or a figment of her imagination. And, honestly, most of the time I felt as clueless as the narrator herself. She is a great protagonist: layered, flawed, fractured, likeable, unlikeable, and, most of all, compelling. You are pulled in by her and I was soon utterly immersed in her world.

“Those who weren’t afflicted were often suspicious of the mentally ill… But these people knew nothing of the demons that would embed themselves, particularly into sensitive souls, then at the moment of that person’s greatest happiness whisper into their ear and reel off their shortcomings

A big part of Emma, and the story, is mental health struggles and how others perceive those who face them. As someone with anxiety, depression and PTSD, I thought the author did an outstanding job of portraying both aspects without judgement. He made it clear that Emma’s mental illness is unquestioned while also showing us how it makes even Emma doubt what she experiences and sees. He makes her pain and torment leap from the page so the reader can’t help but be moved by what she’s going through while also allowing them to see how it might skew her perception of reality, leaving them to make their own conclusions about what the truth is. It is a powerfully observed look at how those who struggle with their mental health are perceived and treated by the mentally healthy that I hope will bring awareness and understanding while also entertaining the reader.

Addictive, chilling, tense and gruesome, The Package is a jaw-dropping thriller you don’t want to miss. Read it now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sebastian Fitzek is a German writer and journalist. His first book, Therapy (dt. Die Therapie), was a bestseller in Germany in 2006, toppling The Da Vinci Code from the first position. Fitzek is currently one of the most successful writers of Germany.

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