Flying high: Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal #BookReview

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1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

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Elizabeth Macneal is a wonderful storyteller, don’t you agree? Her debut novel, The Doll Factory, was incredibly good (here’s my review) so I was more than a little excited to read Circus of Wonders. I was very happy Macneal chose for the Victorian era as the new setting of another book although I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in the circus life. Turns out I really fell for it, feeling as enraptured and close to the magic and the wondrous as if I was literally walking between the wagons at the site.

The exhibition of freaks, monstrosities or the so-called marvels of nature were essential components of travelling exhibitions in Europe and America throughout the Victorian period and Circus of Wonders shows all sides of this phenomenon in a story that moves the voices between Nell (the attraction of the show), Toby (the man who sees her for who she is) and Jasper (the man who wants to make Nell the star of his show).

Nell was an outcast in her village, but when she is forced to join Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders she soon discovers a community there where she is not regarded as a freak. In the company of a bearded woman, a giantess, and other ‘revels’ she finds a a sense of family and belonging. As a reader I was happy the story progressed so positively for Nell, although I knew this probably couldn’t last.

Nell is fast on her way to become the star of the show. Unfortunately Jasper is not satisfied yet and he wants to eclipse the famous P.T. Barnum and his attraction Tom Thumb. So what he wants is to perform for the Queen, he wants fame and fortune and he will do anything to get what he wants. I was anxiously reading about Jasper’s growing obsession to become the greatest showman of all time. Everything comes at a price of course. He makes a pact with a devil and now the pressure is sky high. There is tension and danger lurking in the shadows, which I loved. Will he achieve his goal or does he want to fly so close to the sun that – like Icarus – the wings will burn and he will tumble to the ground? It didn’t bode well…

Even though Nell is the star of the show/novel I liked her but I never really loved her character so I came to enjoy reading other parts of the book more as the story progressed. I found the whole setting highly interesting, how everyone was looked upon, what life entailed in the circus. I loved that real references were woven into the story and Macneal writes scenes so vividly that the era certainly comes alive. The two brothers Toby and Jasper fascinated me most of all and I also loved the mysterious plotline between them. There’s a story – a secret that originated during their time at the Crimean war – that overshadows their sibling relationship and makes it toxic, there’s jealousy and fear and the author keeps up the tension and mystery until the very end by leaving small crumbs all through the story.

I’m afraid to say that by the end of the novel I was less of a fan of Nell. She chooses her path in life when given two choices and I didn’t follow her in her dream and desires so the ending wasn’t entirely how I had envisioned it. Apart from that this is really another excellent immersive read by a historical writer I respect very highly!

I received a free copy of this novel from publisher Picador Books. This is still my honest opinion.

 

The Skylight by Louise Candlish, a #QuickReads2021 title #TheReadingAgency

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Do you know what Quick Reads is? A ‘quick’ introduction:

One in six adults in the UK – approximately 9 million people – find reading difficult, and one in three people do not regularly read for pleasure.

Quick Reads – a programme by The Reading Agency, a national UK charity – plays a vital role in addressing these shocking statistics by inspiring emergent readers, as well as those with little time or who have fallen out of the reading habit, with entertaining and accessible writing from the very best contemporary authors.

This year Quick Reads is celebrating its 15th Anniversary, which means that over five million copies of Quick Reads titles have been distributed since the life-changing programme began in 2006. To celebrate this year there’s this amazing deal:

“Buy one, gift one:

Buy a Quick Read this summer and Quick Reads will gift a copy to help someone discover the joy of reading.”

And all of the Quick Reads are available in paperback for purchase at just £1.

There is something for everyone in the six 2021 titles:

  • The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic);
  • The Skylight by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster);
  • Saving the Day by Katie Fforde (Arrow);
  • Wish You Were Dead by Peter James (Macmillan);
  • How to Be a Woman, abridged by Caitlin Moran (Ebury);
  • The Motive by Khurrum Rahman (HQ).

I’m very grateful to the lovely publishing team of MIDAS PR for sending me the title of my choice, a copy of The Skylight by Louise Candlish.

Louise Candlish, author of The Skylight (Simon & Schuster) said: It’s an honour to be involved in this [next] year’s Quick Reads. Reading set me on the right path when I was young and adrift and it means such a lot to me to be a part of literacy campaign that really does change lives.”

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They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…

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I haven’t read any of her novels yet but I wanted to get to know this author’s work after reading so many appraising reviews for The Other Passenger and hearing Our House is now in development for a major TV series, so this Quick Reads title seemed like a perfect introduction. I’m normally not a big fan of short stories so it did set the bar rather high. If Louise Candlish could convince me in only 89 pages then I’d definitely want to read more of her novels, if not, well then that would be too bad but at least I’d know. Well I can say that I read the book in one sitting (that’s also a first and I loved it that I didn’t have to put it down in between reading this) and really enjoyed it 🙂

Louise Candlish had no trouble convincing me of her writing, I liked Simone right away I was practically as shocked as she was when I read about her discovery. I don’t know if I’d follow the same course of action (well I don’t think so) but I was with her every step of the way and with such a limited number of pages it still managed to hold the necessary amount of menace and mounting tension that would happen in a full paged book of 300 pages. I could actually foresee the ending a little bit but I hadn’t actually anticipated the big twist. I didn’t actually mind the ending too much, it was ok as a wrap up and one I could live with. I certainly want to read more of her books now so I think that’s mission accomplished.

This Quick Reads title was a nice surprise. They’re not easy to find here in Belgium but if I’d came across them in a bookstore I’d certainly pick up a few more new authors who seem interesting to me.

I received a free copy of a QuickReads title from publisher MidasPR. This is still my honest opinion.

The Car Share by Zoe Brisby #BookReview

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A ninety-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s and a heartbroken young man end up sharing a ride to Brussels that changes their lives forever.

When Alex pulls up to meet “Max”, he expects everything but a ninety-year-old lady who has her heart set on getting to Brussels by carpool.

As for ‘Max’, who is actually called Maxine, she could not be more ill at ease when settling into the seat next to this young man with bloodshot eyes. God help her if he turned out to be a drug addict who hasn’t slept in days!

When it becomes clear that Maxine is suffering from Alzheimer’s and wants to take matters in her own hands while she still can, and that Alex battles severe depression, a wonderful friendship starts to form between the unlikely pair. Before long, their travel plans take an unexpected turn…

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star three and a half / 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars_1457015877_81_246_96_2

I don’t pick up a lot of feel-good books but the fact that Max and Alex were to travel to Brussels (Belgium) for some reason got my attention and honestly, I wanted to read a novel with good vibes. The Car Share didn’t let me down, I really had much fun reading this quirky story with wonderful uplifting rays of positivity

Max and Alex’s first encounter already gave a little taster how much fun there would follow in the rest of the novel. They were as surprised as someone walking in on their husband lying in bed with someone else (minus the anger it would go with) when they discovered who their travel partner was going to be but even though they would have preferred someone else, other options weren’t really available so they were well and truly stuck with each other. I found the time they traveled taking quite long but I wasn’t complaining because there was plenty to keep me entertained along the way. Soon enough they have the police on their backs and they’re forced to travel incognito to outrun the nationwide manhunt. Alex, 25 years old is actually the one with the ‘old soul’ in the novel and Maxine is the one who acts like she’s mentally the youngest. Is it believable that a nonagenarian is as quick, agile and energetic as shown here? I’m not that sure, but then everything in this novel is quite over the top. Honestly, I did love that Maxine is not your ordinary heroine, and the fact that she still feels so much younger (she plays down her age whenever she has the chance) made me almost forget sometimes what age category she really was in. Max really stole the show for me and I loved how witty she was and how she tried to lift Alex out of his depression with the things she commanded Alex to do.

In fact they are both trying to change the other one’s mind for their set plans before the end of the car ride and I loved how they cared for one another. For all the hilariousness throughout the novel, the ending had me holding my heart and it became surprisingly emotional for such a funny story. Max and Alex are definitely characters that’ll grow on you and will be kept in your heart. A wonderful tale of an unlikely friendship that will change their lives. Exactly the sort of read I needed!

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley. This is still my honest opinion.

Sleepless by Romy Hausmann #BookReview

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It’s over, my angel. Today I’m going to die. Just like her. He’s won.

It’s been years since Nadja Kulka was convicted of a cruel crime. After being released from prison, she’s wanted nothing more than to live a normal life: nice flat, steady job, even a few friends. But when one of those friends, Laura von Hoven – free-spirited beauty and wife of Nadja’s boss – kills her lover and begs Nadja for her help, Nadja can’t seem to be able to refuse.

The two women make for a remote house in the woods, the perfect place to bury a body. But their plan quickly falls apart and Nadja finds herself outplayed, a pawn in a bizarre game in which she is both the perfect victim and the perfect murderer . . .

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I know there were a few weeks of silence but a combination of not enough sleep (the cat still keeps me awake every night from around 3 am), 8 hours of work already on the computer each day and some other things filling my head (my apartment’s final delivery is coming up but there are still things that need to be solved, just to name one), well it drained my energy and made my reading and reviewing suffer. I can’t even promise to be back next week, I’ll have to see how it goes, although I do hope to feel more energized and full of inspiration to write reviews soon (it’s amazing that I had so many visitors in between though, now I feel even more guilty for not keeping up).

Anyway, I want to let you know my thoughts on Sleepless by Romy Haussman today. I was a big fan of Romy Hausmann’s first novel Dear Child so I was thrilled with a chance to read Sleepless. There’s no comparing the two novels though, this new title did have an altogether different feel to it, even though it is also themed as a psychological and mystery novel.

I was already a good portion into the story before the connections between the characters made sense, especially at first it felt quite confusing. A young girl Nelly is having an affair with a salesman who stays at her parent’s inn whenever he’s travelling but it was impossible to work out what her appearance had to do with Nadja, especially because it happened in a different time frame. I couldn’t place what happened in the past to Nelly in any context and this thread is left then as well so other then introducing another character into the story, I did not see the relevance right then but eventually it does become clear in the end.

Nadja Kulka is quite a mysterious character, she was arrested when she was only 15 for committing a terrible crime and now she’s in the heat of the fire again when she’s called for help by Laura, a friend she made while working at a Gero van Hoven’s law firm. I’m always team underdog so I liked her but with everything that happened the author managed to make me have my doubts too… Is Nadja the perfect victim or is she in fact the one orchestrating and lying most of all? Who is the real villain of the story, Laura, her husband Gero van Hoven, or Nadja, it isn’t always clear and changes a over the course of the story too.

I absolutely love novels with fascinating characters that make me want to analyse them and Nadja was the most fascinating of all. Laura was a cheat and Gero a shark (he’s a lawyer after all) who didn’t listen when his client said he was innocent, so I catalogued them as the other party from the start and there was no love lost on them but Nadja, yes she was the one worthy of trying to figure out. Haussman is at her best on the psychological front and I enjoyed this part the most again. Nadja’s childhood was addictive to read and the story also came full circle with Nelly’s story tied into the great emotional ending of the novel. The story is about sacrifice but you’ll have to read it to learn who is being sacrificed. I found it a tad unbelievable, in light of how it all started but maybe I’m too severe, who knows. Let me know when you read it so we can exchange viewpoints.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley. This is my honest opinion.

Layla by Colleen Hoover #BookReview

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When Leeds meets Layla, he’s convinced he’ll spend the rest of his life with her—until an unexpected attack leaves Layla fighting for her life. After weeks in the hospital, Layla recovers physically, but the emotional and mental scarring has altered the woman Leeds fell in love with. In order to put their relationship back on track, Leeds whisks Layla away to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. Once they arrive, Layla’s behavior takes a bizarre turn. And that’s just one of many inexplicable occurrences.

Feeling distant from Layla, Leeds soon finds solace in Willow—another guest of the B&B with whom he forms a connection through their shared concerns. As his curiosity for Willow grows, his decision to help her find answers puts him in direct conflict with Layla’s well-being. Leeds soon realizes he has to make a choice because he can’t help both of them. But if he makes the wrong choice, it could be detrimental for all of them.

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star three and a half

It’s been a while since I read a novel by one of my favorite romance authors. Even though I’m a big fan I don’t want to binge-read her novels. Her books need to be savored like a fine wine, I enjoy drinking in her words but want to pace myself and not just have too much at once. This novel is causing some division in my head though and it’s the first novel I read that is a difficult one to form an opinion of. I confess I had not read any reviews beforehand because I know this author and I loved every single book she has written but I was unprepared for the genre of novel this was. It seems she’s venturing further from the type of novels she wrote in the past, first dabbling into a different genre with Verity (a thriller, which I really liked because it also had a cool twist) and now this one.

Layla had an important and big plot twist which involves one of those tropes I really don’t like reading about so I felt a little deflated when I first found out. Had I known this then I don’t know if I had picked it up yet and would have chosen to read another one of hers first. Maybe it is a good thing though that I didn’t know because I did come around in the end so the final verdict is that I did enjoy it and chances are you’ll probably like it even more than me.

Without going into the plot, I can say that I felt conflicted at first that Leeds spent so much time with Willow, it somehow felt quite disloyal that he started to have these sort of secret conversations and encounters and as the story progressed that feeling only grew stronger. I was happy when he finally started to think about what he was doing because I reached that point much earlier so I didn’t really like Leeds and the fact that there are chapters where he has Layla TIED UP IN HER ROOM was even more reason for me to totally dislike him. I totally changed my mind in the end though and I totally understood his actions then so I did love that the author managed to change my feelings towards Willow, Layla and Leeds completely.

Apart from the trope that demanded some suspension of my belief, it is also not my favorite novel by the author because I couldn’t feel as deeply and as emotionally as I would have if it were a straightforward love story. One where I didn’t block the feeling of wanting a romance to blossom between two people who aren’t in a relationship as much as I did here from the start. The focus of my feelings was more on disliking certain characters instead of focusing on the love aspect. It’s all a bit unrealistic for me but she did manage to write something that will surprise the reader as it is something fresh and original.

I do have Heart Bones, another novel of hers waiting on my tbr pile so hopefully that will really give me what I want to satisfy my romantic side.

I bought a paperback copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Missing Pieces by Tim Weaver #BookReview #BlogTour @MichaelJBooks

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You don’t know your darkest secret.
But someone else does . . .

Rebekah Murphy knows too much. . .

She knows she’s alone on an abandoned island with a killer on her trail.
She knows that to get home to her children, she must survive long enough to understand why this is happening.
She knows someone tried to kill her for a secret.
What she doesn’t know is what that secret is . . .

Detective Frank Travis doesn’t know enough . . .

He doesn’t know where to find Louise Mason. He doesn’t know how and why she vanished into thin air three months ago. He doesn’t know the identity of the man last seen talking to her. Not yet.
But what he does know it that he’s a week away from retirement — and if he doesn’t find out where Louise went, no one will.

What neither Rebekah nor Detective Travis realise is that each holds a missing piece from the same puzzle — and it will cost them everything they love to finally solve it . . .

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We toss the term addictive around quite easily sometimes but you must take my word for it, Missing Pieces is crazy addictive!

It’s laughable in hindsight but when I had the book in my hands I was a little intimidated by how heavy it was, it counts 500 pages so I was a little scared to start with… but I flew right through them. It was an amazing read, and you know why I read it as fast as I could? Because nearly every chapter ended with a splendid cliffhanger. I swear sometimes I would think about stopping at the end of the chapter but then I would reach the end and I just found I COULD NOT STOP READING. 

It’s as much a survival story as it is a very compelling mystery and while I’m not always so into survival stories because they often show the same precut elements (being chased, struggling with the simplest survival skills etc.), it was a completely different story in Missing Pieces. Rebekah, the main character of the novel, is awesome, she’s very resourceful, she’s got what it takes and she’ll do anything to see her two children again.

The novel opens with Bek alone on the island but then also shifts between the time before she arrived there and detective Travis’s final days before his retirement. There’s one case Travis hasn’t cracked and with the hours ticking away he finds himself pushing himself to try and find some answers. I couldn’t work out at all how Louise Mason could be connected to Rebekah because artsy Louise seemed very far removed from mum-of-two Rebekah and they certainly didn’t seem to know each other.   

While Rebekah wonders why someone tried to kill her she is trying her best to survive in this utterly desolate place called Crow Island. The imaginary of the island itself was vivid and movie-worthy and it wasn’t even her struggle to find food that worried me the most but I was more afraid the lack of interaction with other human beings might prove to be the bigger threat for a deterioration of her state of mind. I rooted so much for her that I felt I couldn’t abandon her sometimes. Does that sound crazy? I know it does but really, I sometimes wanted to continue reading just to see how she would tackle a certain challenge. It’s not that I didn’t have faith in her, I just wanted to see what she would do and how and rather see her do it sooner than later. I did hold my breath at one particular time though when a situation that was built up over the course of the book became so tense and dangerous, it was really a make or break kind of moment and when I thought I could breath out again, I found it wasn’t over at all.

How are the women connected, is Travis going to solve the case, what happened to Johnny, who is after Rebekah, what ‘secret’ does she know, how is this all going to end? The questions just kept on coming and I was strung for answers. I highly anticipating the moment the ‘missing pieces’ of this puzzle would fall into place and the author certainly pulled it all perfectly together in the end. Missing Pieces is an incredible pacy read with a taut and compelling plotline that I hugely enjoyed. 

Where was I all these past years and why hadn’t I read any of his novels? I seriously regret not having read any of this author’s books before… what a big mistake! Missing Pieces is a brilliant standalone novel. Gripping is an understatement for this un-put-down-able mystery!

A big, big thank you to Chrissie Antoniou of Michael Joseph for the free paperback copy of this spell-bounding novel. This is my honest opinion.

* Do check out the other stops on the tour *

Missing Pieces Blog Tour

 

The Whispers by Heidi Perks #BlogTour #BookReview @arrowpublishing

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A MISSING WIFE. FOUR FRIENDS. WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH?

Anna Robinson hasn’t been seen since she went on a night out with her four closest friends.
She has a loving husband and a son she adores. Surely she wouldn’t abandon them and her perfect life. . .

But what has happened to her?

At the school gates, it’s not long before the rumours start. Anna’s oldest friend Grace is beside herself with worry – desperately searching for answers, and certain that someone is hiding the truth.

With each day that passes, Anna’s life is under increasing threat. And a the pressure mounts, it won’t be long before something cracks. . .

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The wait was long but it’s fiiiinally my day to boast about this novel! Just so you know what’s coming up ahead ;-). I absolutely loved Heidi Perks’s novel Now You See Her (it made my top 10 of 2019) so I couldn’t be happier with the chance to read her latest novel The Whispers and – I can repeat my words from a few years ago – I absolutely loved it! The Whispers made it definite, Heidi Perks is on my auto-buy list from now on. I love the massive twists she incorporates in her stories. She really took me by surprise again this time and I was ready for anything but this.

The prologue starts with the discovery of a dead body (it’s in the first sentence so it doesn’t count as a spoiler I think) and then jumps to four months before, when Grace Goodwin shows up with her daughter Matilda at the local school in Clearwater, where she grew up herself. She’s looking for Anna, her childhood friend – they were even more like sisters then – but when she sees her it’s clear that Anna’s three new friends don’t really want to share Anna.

It is impossible not to sympathise with Grace who feels all alone and only wants to revive the friendship they once shared but her old friend doesn’t seem interested in reminiscing about the past. Anna’s friendship with Nancy, Rachel, and Caitlyn made alarm bells go off in my head, the circle of friends felt all wrong and Nancy came over as having quite an intimidating and domineering personality, I didn’t like her one bit. Then Anna goes missing after a night out with her besties and NOBODY seems inclined to involve the police. At least she has one good friend, Grace of course, who tries to find answers. Nancy, Rachel and Caitlyn were the last ones to see her so surely one of them (or maybe all 3 together) are keeping secrets? Would they really hurt her though, and if so, why? I was still able to hear Anna’s thoughts through her sessions with a therapist and I knew something was eating at her but she doesn’t immediately share what it is so the anticipation was a wonderful slow build of tension.

Cue an invisible break in the story where there’s a shifting of gears which put some of the things I thought I knew and felt in an entirely different perspective. I fell from one surprise into another and could hardly believe my eyes. I suddenly felt ambiguous towards both Anna and Grace and unsure what to think about the three musketeers,… Whose story to believe? It’s brilliant how she managed to make me feel throughout the story and made me change sides again and again, only to finally leave me with a astonishing ending. The ending should have felt righteous and justified and yet I couldn’t help feel sad for this person. Believe me I wouldn’t change the ending at all and I loved how tragic it is, it’s just one of the things that makes the impression of this novel long-lasting.

The Whispers is a fabulous psychological type of novel. I’d love to read more books of this type so I’m going to add the ones I haven’t read yet and I’ll definitely keep my eye out for the next one!

Many thanks to Rachel and the Arrow Publishing team for asking me to take part in Heidi Perks’ blog tour for ‘The Whispers’, and for supplying me with an ARC to review. This is as always my honest opinion.

* Do check out the other stops on the blog tour here *

HB Whispers Blog Tour Poster (1)

Win by Harlan Coben #BookReview @PenguinUKBooks

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Over twenty years ago, heiress Patricia Lockwood was abducted during a robbery of her family’s estate, then locked inside an isolated cabin for months. Patricia escaped, but so did her captors, and the items stolen from her family were never recovered.

Until now.

On New York’s Upper West Side, a recluse is found murdered in his penthouse apartment, alongside two objects of note: a stolen Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase bearing the initials WHL3. For the first time in years, the authorities have a lead not only on Patricia’s kidnapping but also on another FBI cold case – with the suitcase and painting both pointing them towards one man.

Windsor Horne Lockwood III – or Win as his few friends call him – doesn’t know how his suitcase and his family’s stolen painting ended up in this dead man’s apartment. But he’s interested – especially when the FBI tell him that the man who kidnapped his cousin was also behind an act of domestic terrorism, and that he may still be at large.

The two cases have baffled the FBI for decades. But Win has three things the FBI does not: a personal connection to the case, a large fortune, and his own unique brand of justice …

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I’m not one of Harlan Coben’s long-time fans but I really want to become one! This novel is an absolute WINner (yes that couldn’t be helped)!

I haven’t read the 11 books in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series where Win makes his appearance but that clearly isn’t imperative for enjoying this novel. I do have to say that I am a little curious about Myron himself because he’s talked about on several occasions but he doesn’t make an appearance in this novel. I’m mentioning this to keep the die hard fans from being disappointed ;-). I was happy though that the story really focuses on Win in the first novel of this brand new series.

Win (full name Windsor Horne Lockwood III) is as his name suggests as rich as croesus. He also has class and style and he might come across as a snob because who in the world answers the phone with ‘Articulate’, but aside from that I knew that deep down he is essentially a good guy, someone who will take action for the weak, even if his methods tend to be a bit violent sometimes. He’s charismatic, witty and he has a good dose of self confidence but he gets away with everything for me. Win is an awesome character to come across, he’s very well described and I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the novel.

I would not dare to say much about the complex plot except that it is kept intriguing at all times and I had no idea how the different subplots could end up fitting together. While there is progress on one front continually, other aspects of the story remain delightfully incomprehensible until Win’s tenacity pays off in the end. Over the course of the novel he dives into a story of terrorism in the seventies where a group of youngsters who became known as The Jane Street 6 threw a Molotov cocktail causing the deaths of several, as well as into his own family history and what happened with his cousin when she was 18 and the death of her father on the same night.

I marvel at the way the author used an abduction, an art heist and the murder of a recluse, all over the span of several decades, and made them very logically come together in the end. It’s a very clever and ingenious plot indeed!

I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this but I enjoyed this mystery novel decidedly more than I did the Netflix series The Stranger (I actually found it ok to watch at the time but it is nothing compared to this)! A very promising start to a brand new series! I for one can’t wait to read the next one!

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher Century. This is as always my honest opinion.

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay #BookReview #BlogTour #AlexFinlay @HoZ_Books

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay and a big thank you to Chrissie of Head of Zeus for the invite to read and review this great debut novel!

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University student Matt Pine has just received devastating news. Nearly his entire family have been found dead while holidaying in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI aren’t convinced – and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy thrusts his family into the media spotlight again. Seven years ago, Matt’s older brother, Danny, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his teenage girlfriend. Danny has always sworn he was innocent, and last year, a true crime documentary that claimed he was wrongfully convicted went viral.

Now his family’s murder is overlapping with Danny’s case, Matt is determined to uncover the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison. Even if it means putting his own life in danger, and confronting his every last fear.

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That opening chapter of Every Last Fear… BAM! I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be so in your face right from the start. The discovery of Matt’s dead family was a little bit shocking, yet intriguing and it certainly made me want to dive right into the story, so as far as first chapters go, I’ve got to give it credit, it’s easily one of the best I have come across in quite some time.

In general terms, I very much enjoyed the writing style of the author as well as the special format of the story building and it didn’t take me long at all to know that this was going to be a novel to devour and that I would need more hours in a day. There are several mysteries up in the air at the same time making Every Last Fear quite a rollercoaster read. The first being of course the murder of the family which had me guessing wildly why anyone would want to murder an entire family (assuming it wasn’t an accident of course but I thought that was a safe bet) but I could not see any reason for a very long time. The other plotline involves the possible false imprisonment of Matt’s other brother Danny. Matt is absolutely sure Danny’s guilty but his father Evan and sister Maggie were never convinced he did it and never stopped trying to prove otherwise. The small matter of fact is that Danny actually confessed, just to make things more complex. What happened 7 years ago isn’t just told in cold hard facts nor in flashbacks like is often the case in these type of novels, no it’s through the family’s investigation as well as parts of a documentary made after Danny’s arrest that an image took shape in my head until the rest was filled in at a much later point in the novel. 

There’s also a detective in the story, Sarah Keller, but – another surprise – she’s not appointed to investigate the family’s deaths (because they were claimed to be an accident) but leading a money-laundering investigation into Marconi LLP, the firm Evan Pine was employed at before he was made redundant. Did that mean we have to search in the direction of corporate fraud or were the answers lying elsewhere? It’s not Keller who leads us single handedly to the truth in this novel but there was a wonderful mix of leads being followed and progress brought on by several of the family’s characters. There were also parts of an interview with Evan Pine interspersed between the chapters which were intriguing to read and I hoped they would help me build a picture of what happened with Danny Pine and possibly hold a clue in them somewhere that could be useful later into the story.  

At around 60-65% I started to have a small inkling about some of the answers but it was really only in the last 10% of the novel that it all started to make a lot more sense. I absolutely loved that the author was able to keep me in suspense for so long, and although I’m still in two minds about whether the (entire) family really had to die and the motive, I enjoyed the outcome very much. 

Finally, a word of appreciation for making me feel the pain of losing this wonderful family. I knew four members of the family were dead right from the start, yet I couldn’t help hoping for another outcome at the end of the novel. They were so alive in all those pages, Maggie a wonderful tenacious investigator and Evan such a wonderful father, it made it all the more tragic.

Every Last Fear is a very commendable debut novel. I love the author’s fresh ideas and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Alex Finlay in the future!

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley. This is as always my honest opinion.

* Do check out the other stops on the tour here *

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🎬 🔪 The Cut 🎬 🔪 by Chris Brookmyre #BookReview

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Millie Spark can kill anyone.

A special effects make-up artist, her talent is to create realistic scenes of bloody violence.

Then, one day, she wakes to find her lover dead in her bed.

Twenty-five years later, her sentence for murder served, Millicent is ready to give up on her broken life – until she meets troubled film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry.

Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed on that fateful night . . . and someone doesn’t want them to find out why.

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I had only read Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre before and I found that one so very, very clever (you can read my review here) that it made it into my top 10 the first year after starting the blog. So when I saw The Cut and read the first line of the novel (‘Millie Spark can kill anyone’) I was immediately intrigued and wanted more than only this sublime catchphrase.

Millie and Jerry proved to be a brilliant and dynamic combination in this novel, even if you wouldn’t put them together at first sight. On the one hand there’s Millie (Millicent) who is in her seventies and lives with two other older ladies after her release in prison where she spent 25 years after being arrested for killing her partner. At the start of the novel she isn’t anyone’s best friend, her reactions keep everyone at a distance but at the end of the novel she’s transformed into a much friendlier woman, someone who can make jokes and who can have fun after all, and it might just be that Jerry played a role in making that transformation happen. Jerry is a student who studies film. He’s always been extremely interested in horror movies (or video nasties as they are called) and he knows just about every movie title and every actor. The story starts with alternating plotlines introducing these two characters and it was fun to see how their lives intersect and seeing them discover how much they have in common in their passion for the job on a movie set for Millie and love for the end product the actual film, for Jerry.

The story really kicks off when Millie – in Jerry’s company – finds a photo of her boyfriend of the time and doesn’t know who the other people in the photo are. A quick phone call only raises more questions about the night the picture was taken and unwittingly she happens to draw the attention to herself by someone who doesn’t wish her well exactly. She and Jerry don’t really have a choice but to embark on a thrilling and dangerous adventure in search of answers about who her dead boyfriend really was, while trying to figure out who is coming after them and why. 

The Cut is a story that plunges the reader into the movie business, horror movies in particular, and it entails everything from a little history about how the genre came to life to urban legends, while also making you feel as if you’re a fly on the wall on a movie set. Even though it’s not my genre to watch at all, I thought it was very interesting to read about.

The status of horror movies is negative by association. There are rumours of people dying who watched a horror movie or worked on one, and have you never heard media say that crimes that were committed stem from watching this type of movies? In the book they also talk about some cult movie, Mancipium, which was never shown because it’s supposed to be too disturbing for the public. Is it a myth, is it real, who knows? It does play a role in the story but not how I had anticipated at all. I did struggle a little bit following the political influences involved and the powers financing a movie and I thought this would ultimately lead me to the path of destruction and danger but I could never have been more wrong so you don’t need to worry when it sounds a bit complicated because the author created some wonderful red herrings only to lead you to the truth in the end, and what a stunning and shocking revelation it is! Much to my satisfaction, I loved how the story ramped up on speed and tension and the story turns out to be something completely different than I had thought, but in the best way.

The Cut is another great book by Chris Brookmyre, it’s one to sink your teeth in! Very compelling, highly recommended. I can’t wait to read more of his books after reading this one!

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley. This is still my honest opinion.