Monday, 12 April 2021

Review | The Embalmer by Alison Belsham

Published by Trapeze on March 18, 2021

The Embalmer is the third book in Alison Belsham’s Tattoo Thief series. I must admit I chose to read this book pretty much solely based on the cover so initially I wasn’t aware that this was part of a series, let alone the final book in a trilogy. However, from the first few chapters it is clear that these are returning characters with a lot of history and a quick check shows that the story here follows that of The Tattoo Thief and Her Last Breath.

Any struggles I had keeping up with the links between the characters to begin with were quickly forgotten by just how intrigued I was by the creepy opening chapter and the twisted acts of the serial killer. Yes it was a bit jarring at first knowing I was missing out on some details but this was at no fault of the writing or the story itself as both were extremely fascinating and had this book lingering on my mind whenever I wasn’t reading it, so much so I got the novel confused with a crime series I had been watching on TV around the same time as I was picturing this book playing out in my head so much I actually thought I had been watching it. The Embalmer could be read as a standalone but really I would recommend starting from the first book in the series to get the full experience. It was seriously gripping and had me eager to read more from this author.

In the Embalmer, the series returns to the character of detective Francis Sullivan who receives a call out to Brighton’s Natural History Museum where he is presented with a freshly mummified body. The findings were enough to send a shiver down my spine and whilst the first victim’s fate was gruesome enough, things only got more disturbing with more jars of body parts leading to a truly edge-of-your-seat race against time to stop yet another life being taken.

The Embalmer also continued the story of Marni Mullins, who is caught in the middle of a battle between her ex-husband Thierry and his brother Paul, resulting in one of them losing their life and Marni being charged with their murder. It was evident Marni had been a vital character in previous books so it took me a little bit of time to get up to speed with her backstory, but I found it didn’t take too long before the author had me sympathising with her and rooting for things to work out for her.

Both threads to the story here intertwine satisfyingly, as Marni’s fate became just as important as the battle to put an end to the serial killer was. Each part of the book had good pace to it, enough to drag the reader in whilst catching them off guard with another sinister twist.

Sullivan’s character was perfect for a top crime series. He is flawed but also respected. He invests often too heavily in his cases but is good at his job. The strong characterisation of the detective made this book all the more engrossing but truthfully I found everything about this book had me engrossed. The Embalmer was bursting with originality and had a lingering graphic, gory edge to it that was truly compelling. Fast-paced and atmospheric, this was one eerie book that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Review | Love is Crystal Clear by Joanna Cates

Published on December 10, 2020

Love is Crystal Clear is Joanna Cates debut novel and it is a refreshingly uplifting and romantic tale of self-discovery and second chances.

Henri is fifty-one and single, fifteen years after the breakup of her marriage when her husband had an affair. Danny’s relationship also ended in similar fashion when he uprooted his life only to discover his wife had been cheating on him and didn’t really love him at all. Both characters have been through enough heartache and have closed themselves off from love. But on a night out with friends, one day they meet, and sparks fly. Henri and Danny can’t stop thinking about each other. Could it be time for a second chance at love?

The beginning of the book gets the reader up to speed on the former love lives of the main characters and then in present day, initially for Henri in particular there is lots of talk about sex and little else. Early on the women in this book definitely seemed to have sex on the brain and I was looking for the story and for the romance, but Joanna Cates didn’t disappoint on this front as I grew to connect with the characters and see the depth to their feelings and how genuine they were.

The characters in Love is Crystal Clear are about to discover that life doesn’t stop when you hit the big five-oh. Henri and her friend Maggie may be going through the menopause but that doesn’t mean the end of their own stories. Joanna Cates writes about life for these women with honesty and humour. There’s plenty left for Henri and Maggie to discover including the pleasure of self-love and reinventing parts of their lives that their children and even partners had long forgotten existed for women of a certain age!

This book kept me entertained. It was fast-paced, saucy and heartfelt with likeable and engaging characters that were easy to root for and invest in their potential happy-ever-afters. I did feel that the book could have been longer as the fast pace meant at times things seemed a bit rushed when they could have been played out more. The quick pace did contribute to the feel-good vibes the book possessed but I felt like most of the obstacles for the characters happened fifteen years before the story began. For Henri and Danny there was definitely room for some more controversy in their blossoming relationship. A sweet romance always seemed on the cards, but I would have liked to have been questioning it a bit more with some drama along the way.

With that being said, it didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed this book. I really warmed to the characters as they allowed themselves to open up to new feelings and new experiences. Love is Crystal Clear had me reading with a smile on my face all the way through and I couldn’t wait to get to the end just to see how things would turn out for everybody. It does seem like there are possibilities of a follow up book in the future and I would 100% love to read more.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Review | The Kindness Project by Sam Binnie

Published by Headline on March 4, 2021

The Kindness Project is a book that had me enticed simply by a quick read of the blurb. I love stories of kindness and I believe there is always time to be kind in life. The sound of the project set by Bea for her daughter had me intrigued and I was eager to read all about it. I loved the sound of The Kindness Project straight away and the book itself lived up to all my expectations and more. I could not stop reading.

We meet Alice as she is on her way to Polperran, a place she clearly would not be visiting under any other circumstances. Having just learnt about the death of her mum, Bea, Alice takes all her ill feelings with her to the picturesque Cornish village to tie up the loose ends at her mother’s home. In truth, it’s the last place Alice wants to be and it was evident from the start that she and Bea did not have a good relationship. Alice seems a bit bitter about things that have happened between them and instead of outwardly grieving after the death of her mum, she’s ready to hear her will and get her home emptied and then go back to her day-to-day life in Cambridge.

I found the exploration of the relationship-gone-wrong between Bea and Alice really fascinating. Bea may already be dead once the book begins but Sam Binnie truly brings her character to life through the letters Bea has written, through Alice’s memories and through the stories told by Bea’s friends and acquaintances in Polperran. It’s clear that Alice felt abandoned by her mum when she was a child, but it’s also clear that Alice doesn’t know quite so much about Bea in the years before she died. It was refreshing to learn, along with Alice, some things she wasn’t aware of about her mum as it gave more of a roundness to Bea’s character rather than the wholly negative views Alice has.

I generally love reading books that explore the relationship between mother and daughter. I had the best relationship with my mum, yet others are more complex and discovering the ins and outs of family connections always has me intrigued. One thing for certain was that Bea had had a big impact on the community within the Cornish town she lived in. A place where everybody knows everybody’s business, Bea had never been content with just knowing - she liked to get involved. This is something that doesn’t escape Alice as amongst her possessions in her will, Bea leaves her daughter a series of envelopes, containing The Kindness Project – a set of missions to undergo to help out the residents of Polperran.

I loved the sound of the project and I loved reading each letter Bea sent to Alice. In each letter, she opens up more and more and in turn, maybe it helped Alice open up a bit more too. The development in Alice’s character helped me warm to her a lot during the course of this book. When we meet her, she is a bit disinterested in anything Cornwall has to offer her. She likes to keep conversations short and avoids eye contact. Small talk is the enemy. But the more time she spends there, the more vocal she gets and the more similarities between her and Bea are on show – and I loved seeing her character grow.

One thing I adored about this book was that everybody had a story to tell. The characters had pure life to them and each of them kept me engrossed.

The power of kindness shone through the pages of this book. If all it takes is a moment to say good morning or a little helping hand for someone who knows what they want but doesn’t quite know how to get there, then why on earth not? Kindness is infectious, and Sam Binnie reinforces that throughout this lovely, touching, compelling novel. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Preorder The Kindness Project here:

Monday, 8 February 2021

Review | The Man I Didn't Marry by Anna Bell

Published by HQ on February 4, 2021

Anna Bell’s books never fail to make me smile and The Man I Didn’t Marry was another one of those emotional rollercoasters that had me late night reading hoping for a happily ever after.

Ellie and Max are happily married with their lovable daughter Sasha and another baby on the way. With the birth of their second child not too far away, Ellie and Max are thrown the ultimate curveball when suddenly, one day, Max loses his memory of the last five years.

Five years covers the entirety of Max and Ellie’s relationship. Now, Max’s only memory of Ellie is of her being his sister’s geeky best friend. The idea of the two of them being married, even the thought of them having had sex, never mind conceiving two babies, is baffling to Max and he cannot get his head around everything which has changed in the past five years. He is even told his beloved Brighton are now in the Premier League – so things are definitely not adding up.

As Max tries to make sense of the life he now lives, all Ellie wants is her husband back, so instead of waiting for him to regain his memory, instead she sets out to get her husband to fall in love with her all over again.

The storytelling was bursting with originality and was truly engaging. It was fascinating just thinking about and looking back on how much can happen in five years. All the memories you can miss out on. All the news and politics and how quickly things change even when it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Though I found the book to be very thought-provoking, it was also at times laugh out loud funny and this was the perfect mix for another warm and wonderful book by Anna Bell.

I cannot remember a book with a more entertaining set of supporting characters. There were so many to mention each with their own memorable side stories such as Anneka, Judy, Graham, Mick, Owen, Rachel and I could go on. The friendship and family relationships in this book were sweet and witty and messy in the best kind of way. They kept the story both light-hearted and at times moving and this had me engrossed as there was never a dull moment. I loved the dynamics between the characters and whilst The Man I Didn’t Marry had me rooting for a happy ending for Ellie and Max, they weren’t the only characters I cared for.

As enjoyable as a book this was, I could also picture The Man I Didn’t Marry as a romcom movie with the original story, the romance, the humour, the secrets, drama and a great set of characters to boot. I prefer books to films but I would still pay to see this on screen!

Overall, Anna Bell’s latest novel definitely did not disappoint. Packed full of love and laughter, this book had me hooked – pure feel-good fiction.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Review | One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson

Published by Orion Dash on November 2, 2020

It might seem a bit late (or a lot early) to be reading a Christmas book in January but since where I live has been fully lacking in snow but full of gloomy, rainy weather, I thought it was the perfect time to tuck into a festive feel-good read and One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson fit the bill perfectly.

Ashleigh is spending her winter months working as an elf at a local Christmas farm. You can tell straight away she is a little lost in life. She’s struggling for money, struggling in her relationship with her mum and living with her Nan is more stressful than she’d like. Olivier is also at a crossroads in his life. He loves to cook, and working at a restaurant in Paris with his dad should be everything he wants from his career but he never gets to cook the food he likes and ends up spending his time following his dad’s orders whilst sacrificing the things he would actually like to do.

When he returns to Brighton for Christmas, everything changes for Ashleigh. There is history between them, and attraction. I loved getting to know both Ash and Olivier. The story is told in alternating chapters between the two of them and they are both interesting characters who have room to grow throughout the pages of this book and it was really enjoyable to read. I loved the blossoming feelings between the two of them and the will-they-won’t-they feel to the romance. There were so many unspoken words and this kept me reading on eager to see if we could get a happily ever after.

There was plenty of other things to like about this book such as exploring the backdrop of Brighton. The author made this seaside resort seem so enticing. I wanted a walk on the pier. Also enticing was the sound of the chocolate shop ran by Olivier’s mum. This is not a book to be read with an empty stomach. There was a lovely Christmassy feel to this book all the way through. The author built up such a vivid picture of the season with all the lights and decorations. The story isn’t massively festive but just enough to deliver a warm and uplifting atmosphere for the reader.

One of my favourite parts of this book was all the supporting characters and their side stories. There was a good amount of depth to them and seeing their stories explored was almost as entertaining as the main story. As there were a lot of characters, not everything was going to be tied up perfectly, but at the same time, it didn’t need to be either.

One Kiss Before Christmas was a lovely escapist read, a sweet book ideal for a lazy afternoon’s reading curled up in front of the fire.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Review | Circle of Doubt by Tracy Buchanan

Published by Lake Union Publishing on January 5, 2021

Circle of Doubt is the first book I have read by Tracy Buchanan and she had me glued to my Kindle with all the tension and twists and turns in Forest Grove. As soon as I realised there was another book which was set in the same place (Wall of Silence), I had to buy it as from the first chapter of this book I was fully engrossed and made every excuse to sit and read all day. Forest Grove is home to a bitchy community with plenty of animosity and backstabbing and where rumours spread like wildfire. This made for such a fun read with plenty of drama and unpredictability.

Emma, Dele and their adopted ten-year-old daughter Isla are on surface the perfect little family. But the arrival of a new family in Forest Grove sends Emma’s suspicions into overdrive. There is just something about Tatjana Belafonte that unsettles Emma. From the way she looks just like Isla’s birth mother to the uncomfortable pace she seems to grow attached to Isla at, Emma simply cannot trust her and does her best to find out just who Tatjana really is.

Along the way, Emma’s obsession sees her doubting herself and as Tatjana grows ever-present in her life, cracks soon begin to form within Emma’s perfect little family. I loved the intrigue behind many of the characters in this book. From the main characters to the mean girl vibes the school mums gave off, there were so many people I had my doubts about and couldn’t trust and this contributed perfectly to the unease throughout. I’d love to see Tracy Buchanan explore more of these characters in future books as there were hints at their lives and personalities during this book but there is obviously room for much more development in future books I hope.

Circle of Doubt is definitely a book much better to be read than discussed in a review, as its fast pace means there is too much to spoil by talking about it and the book is really worth reading for yourself. I will say that the way Emma narrates her side of the story is so believable that I felt like I had it all figured out very early on but the story became more suspenseful with every chapter and later on in the book I was second guessing myself and enjoying every little revelation because for the most part I didn’t see them coming.

I obsessed over this book and raced through it, only stopping for the odd what just happened break to take it all in. It was truly gripping and I am definitely looking forward to going back and reading the first book so I can continue my fix of Forest Grove.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Review | A Thousand Roads Home by Carmel Harrington

Published by Harper Collins on October 18, 2018

A Thousand Roads Home combined everything I love about a Carmel Harrington novel – heart, soul, and an emotional and thought-provoking story that didn’t leave after the final page was turned.

The book centers around Ruth and Tom. Ruth is a single mother to ten-year-old DJ and we meet Ruth as she is struggling to make ends meet, and soon she and her son are made homeless and in hunt of emergency accommodation. Tom, on the other hand, is used to homelessness. He has been sleeping rough on a park bench for a very long time, along with his beloved dog Bette Davis.

From very early on there are hints as to how and why Ruth and Tom’s lives may meet and I was fascinated by any links there could be between the two characters as we learn more about them. Both characters were interesting and had things about them that they found better left unsaid. Their moving stories were unveiled beautifully and had me thoroughly absorbed in the book.

The story is told in alternating chapters from both Ruth and Tom’s perspective, past and present. Both characters have had experiences in their past that have contributed to the struggles they are facing in the current day and the similarities between Ruth and Tom is highlighted by the way they are both viewed by strangers and passers-by. They are both judged cruelly at times – Tom is homeless and therefore is judged to have a drink problem or a gambling problem, and Ruth’s straight talking means she is taken to be rude as she tends to say what she thinks even if it could have been worded better. She’s shy and doesn’t overshare her feelings, and the people who meet her can take this the wrong way. However, for the reader, it is difficult to miss the kindness she has and I couldn’t help but feel for her and the way she was misunderstood by people through no fault of her own.

Carmel Harrington writes with real honesty. She explores homelessness and the dangers homeless people can face with depth and sincerity. Whilst she does not evade the harsh realities of life without a roof over your head, that didn’t mean the book was lacking the moments of light this author is so good at. There were many beautiful sentiments and moments to put a smile on this readers face, especially within the characters and friendships at the Silver Sands Lodge.

A Thousand Roads Home is a truly touching novel, beautifully written, frank yet enjoyable. A book that is ever hopeful and one that leaves a powerful lasting message.

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