Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Book Review: WHO IS MAUD DIXON? by Alexandra Andrews



Author:  Alexandra Andrews

Read: October 2021



Book Description:


Florence Darrow wants to be a writer. Correction: Florence Darrow IS going to be a writer. Fired from her first job in publishing, she jumps at the chance to be assistant to the celebrated Maud Dixon, the anonymous bestselling novelist. The arrangement comes with conditions - high secrecy, living in an isolated house in the countryside­. Before long, the two of them are on a research trip to Morocco, to inspire the much-promised second novel. Beach walks, red sunsets and long, whisky-filled evening, surely? Until Florence wakes up in a hospital, having narrowly survived a car crash.

How did it happen - and where is Maud Dixon, who was in the car with her? Florence feels she may have been played, but wait, if Maud is no longer around, maybe Florence can make her mark as a writer after all...

My musings:


Sometimes you accidentally stumble across a book that turns out to be wickedly good fun to read – if two ruthless women pitted against one another can be described as such. I knew very little about WHO IS MAUD DIXON, except that it involved a reclusive writer and a trip to Morocco, which promised some delicious armchair travel to a place that has always intrigued me. So I picked it up on a whim and just ran with it!


If you have read the blurb then you already know too much about this book. As is the case with a lot of mysteries, going in blindly was a good thing here as the story took me along dark alleyways I had not expected. But don’t despair, because even if the story seems straight forward, it takes a turn I had not anticipated, and so the fun begins ...


Some great themes here: a book within a book, a mysterious recluse, some murderous intent and identity theft, seasoned with a good dose of dark humour and satire. I loved following these two competitive and devious women down the garden path to murder and mayhem – it was all wildly entertaining. Whilst some readers have pointed out the slow start to the story, I thought it set the scene well and gave me a good grasp of Florence’s character, which came in handy later. My only gripe was a coincidental encounter later in the book, which was odd and out of place, but hey, it certainly didn’t take the enjoyment away from the twisty finale. That’s really all I can say without giving away spoilers, and I would hate to do that!


All in all, WHO IS MAUD DIXON was a dark, twisted and yet wildly entertaining character study of two women who craved success and would stop at nothing to get there. With a theme of books, writing and a book-within-a-book, it was a no brainer that I would pick it up, and the armchair travel to Morocco was an added bonus. Recommended to readers who love a slow burning, dark character study and a clever twist at the end.

Book Review: A SLOW FIRE BURNING by Paula Hawkins



Author:  Paula Hawkins

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, it triggers questions about three women who knew him. Laura is the troubled one-night-stand last seen in the victim’s home. Carla is his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the recent death of yet another family member. And Miriam is the nosy neighbor clearly keeping secrets from the police.


Three women with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are – for different reasons – simmering with resentment. Who are, whether they know it or not, burning to right the wrongs done to them. When it comes to revenge, even good people might be capable of terrible deeds. How far might any one of them go to find peace? How long can secrets smoulder before they explode into flame?

My musings:


I love a good character study and with A SLOW FIRE BURNING that is exactly what I got! If you are looking for a fast paced mystery, take a hint from the “slow fire” in the title and keep walking. Firstly, the kindling takes a little while to take, and secondly, it never fully takes off into a raging inferno but slowly smoulders away in an undercurrent of hurt, anger and resentment. Even the murder is not a focal point of the novel, but merely another log added to the flames to be gradually consumed, leaving just the dark ash of despair.


Hawkins is a master at portraying damaged characters, and she has set the stage with this cast. Each and every character is scarred by some form of trauma: a terrible car accident, the death of a loved one, an encounter with a serial killer, neglect, abuse, ridicule, addiction, hopelessness. I would not recommend reading this book if you are feeling depressed, because the deep sadness hidden in its pages will most likely throw you into a pit of despair. Hawkins writes her characters well, which made this an even more painful experience as each and every one of them stumbles into disaster.


Personally, I admired the author’s skill in making me suffer along with her characters, but it was also a bit of a hindrance. None of the characters are particularly likeable (apart from Irene, but she only plays a peripheral role), and yet I also couldn’t hate any of them, on account of their tragic pasts. This probably mired me even more in depression, as I was longing for the intense fire of fierce love or hate for any of the characters. A slow fire burning, indeed!


Whilst the mystery surrounding the murder of a young man on a houseboat forms a central theme, it was not the most interesting aspect of the story for me. Here we also have a “book within a book” theme as some chapters are featuring Theo Myerson’s bestselling novel The One Who Got Away, which rolls out in a reverse time-frame, offering an interesting side story (which was just as tragic as the rest of the tale). With all these elements going off in different directions, it took me a little while to get fully immersed in the story, but once I had a grasp of where it was headed, I was fully hooked!


So, now to the rating. This was really a masterful dark character study that kept me turning the pages despite almost having to make a doctor’s appointment to get a script for anti-depressants as this sad tale unravelled. There were a variety of themes and a lot of threads which all came together in a surprising finale that was cleverly done. After turning the last page, I sat for a while in a state of silent grieving for the poor souls in the story. So I am settling for 3.5 stars simply for enjoyment value even though the writing was top notch. I think I will need to read something light and funny next!

Monday, 25 October 2021

Book Review: I KNOW YOU by Claire McGowan



AuthorClaire McGowan

Publisher:  Amazon Publishing UK

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


When Rachel stumbles upon a body in the woods, she knows what she has to do: run. Get away. Do not be found at the scene. Last time, she didn’t know, and she ended up accused of murder. But when this victim is identified as her boyfriend’s estranged wife, Rachel realises she’s already the prime suspect.

With mounting evidence against her, Rachel’s only hope is to keep the truth about herself well hidden. Because twenty years ago she was someone else—Casey, a young nanny trying to make it as an actress in Los Angeles. When the family she worked for were brutally murdered, all the evidence pointed to her and she went to prison. Back then, she narrowly escaped the death penalty and managed to free herself on appeal. Now she’s fighting to save the life she’s spent years piecing back together.

But with her behaviour raising suspicion and the police closing in, Rachel can’t help wondering: Was her discovery in the woods really just an awful coincidence, or is someone framing her for murder? Someone who knows who she is, and wants revenge…


My musings:


Have you noticed that it is always some poor unsuspecting dog lover who finds a dead body in the woods? However, for Rachel, the dog walker whose canine sniffs out a corpse in the woods in the picturesque Lake District, this may not be the first time she has been in that situation .... Are you intrigued yet?


I admit that I KNOW YOU was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved the premise of a woman whose past secrets have come back to bite her, and Rachel’s backstory sounds truly harrowing. The inclusion of true crime podcasts, online forums and newspaper articles provided a nice touch to marry past and present mysteries together and gave it a very contemporary feel. But even though I could relate to Casey, having been a nanny myself at the same age, there was something that just didn’t totally gel with me. Both Rachel and Casey never got under my skin as much as I had hoped. To be totally honest, none of the characters felt genuine to me. Perhaps I have just been reading too many mysteries lately, but nothing about these characters really stood out for me, and a few days after finishing the book it has already become blurry in my memory.


That said, the mystery surrounding Casey’s conviction for murder at a young age kept me turning the pages to get all the answers and tied up the loose ends in a satisfying finale. I just didn’t feel the same way about Rachel’s timeline, and found her story a bit dull. Even though we get a thorough look into Rachel’s / Casey’s past, her character felt poorly developed to me, which was a real loss. Without any true emotional connection, I was hard pressed to understand each character’s motivation and decision making process. Whilst I understood the author’s choice to make Rachel live under the radar under a different name, the story would probably have worked better for me if Rachel had forged out a richer, “normal” life for herself by the time her past caught up to her. As it was, her decisions seemed half-formed and immature, especially in the light of her past experiences.




I KNOW YOUwill appeal to readers who enjoy a story of past secrets catching up with the present and those who enjoy seeing different elements included in the book, such as true crime podcasts and other online content. Whilst I did not love the book as much as I had hoped, the premise was intriguing and the final reveal added a slight twist that I had not seen coming.







Thank you to Netgalley and Amazon UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Friday, 22 October 2021

Book Review: THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Jewell



Author:  Lisa Jewell

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.

Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.

The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah's friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.

She never returns.

2019: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.

'DIG HERE' . . .

My musings:


I’ve been enjoying Lisa Jewell’s books ever since picking up THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN many moons ago (which remains my favourite), so it was a given that I would read her latest book THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED as soon as I could lay my hands on it! Revolving around the disappearance of young teenage mum Tallulah and her boyfriend after a night out with friends, this slow burning mystery slowly unravels what happened to the young couple that night. In typical LJ style, each character held a few surprises in store and the final denouement was (even if not totally surprising) unexpected. 


I read this as part of a group read, and whilst not my favourite book by the author, we had a lot of fun coming up with wild theories about Tallulah’s fate. Overall, I felt that some elements of the ending lacked conviction for me, and I felt like the author was trying a bit too hard to come up with a number of (quite implausible) plot elements to offer us her signature twists. Saying that, it was still fun to be led down the garden path and I eagerly kept turning the pages to get the answers. My favourite part was the abandoned old mansion, which made for a deliciously creepy setting. I also appreciated that there were several POVs that each approached the mystery from a different angle, which made it all more interesting.  




All in all, THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED was an enjoyable slow burning mystery trying to explore the circumstances behind the disappearance of a young teenage couple that made for a great buddy read. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy a slow burning mystery rather than an action packed whodunnit and don’t mind suspending disbelief for the sake of entertainment. 

Book Review: MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW by Karen Swan



Author:  Karen Swan

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


Award-winning director Clover Phillips is riding high when she encounters Kit Foley; a surfer and snowboarder as well-known for controversy as he is for winning championships.

Involved in an accident that had devastating consequences for a bitter rival, Kit has never spoken about what really happened that day. Determined to find out the truth, Clover heads to the snowy wilderness of the Austrian Alps, sharing a romantic winter wonderland with a man who can’t stand her.

But as she delves deeper, Clover finds herself both drawn to Kit, and even more convinced he’s hiding something.

What attracted me to this book:


If I had to nominate authors who made the covid lockdowns more bearable, Karen Swan would definitely be on the shortlist. Noone writes gorgeous atmospheric locations quite as well as Swan does, which makes all her books unique armchair travel experiences. For her Christmas themed novel MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW, she has chosen the winter wonderland of an Austrian Alpine ski resort to provide a magical backdrop, and it doesn’t get much better than this!


My musings:


One reason that makes Swan’s books so irresistible to me is that her world is not only vastly different to mine, but she also makes her stories stand out by choosing a strong female lead who ends up embroiled in some type of mystery, be it family secrets or, in this case, an old rivalry with tragic consequences. In MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW, our main protagonist is Clover Phillips, a documentary filmmaker who has won multiple awards with her film about tragic surfing legend Cory Albright. Cory’s career was cut short after a surfing accident, caused by former friend and sporting rival Kit Foley during a surfing championship. Vilified and forced out of surfing, Kit Foley has since reinvented himself as a champion snowboarder, set to compete in the upcoming snowboarding championships in the Alps. Clover, on the hunt for a new project, is intrigued when Kit’s sponsor asks her and her team to make a documentary about Kit’s side of the Cory Albright incident, which he has never spoken about. And thus Clover is thrown into the world of competitive snowboarding and sporting rivalry.


I love it when I learn something new whilst immersing myself in a novel, and I appreciated getting a glimpse into the world of competitive snowboarding. Swan’s love for the sport and her knowledge of the wintry slopes shone through as she provided vivid imagery of the mountains in winter, as well as their dangers. Swan also never fails to surprise me by drawing me into a completely different social scene. Zell am See in winter is not only a stage for the stars of winter sports, but also a playing field for the rich and famous. I could vividly picture the luxury ski “cabin” providing a temporary home for Clover and her team and enjoyed every minute of it, even more so since this sort of luxury is firmly out of my league in real life. Swan has a way of setting the scene which paints a colourful backdrop, and her characters are all authentic and engaging. As the dialogue flowed effortlessly, I became more and more intrigued by the mystery at the heart of the novel.


As someone who generally does not read romance novels, I thought that I should point out that Swan’s novels are so much more than that. Whilst there usually is a romantic element (often an enemy-to-lovers theme), there is also mystery, intrigue and drama, with the romantic element slotting seamlessly into the story in a way that does not detract from the main plot. So don’t be afraid to give Swan’s novels a go, even though romance normally isn’t your jam.





All in all, MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW is an intriguing, atmospheric tale that offers the same exquisite armchair travel as all Karen Swan novels. If you have been missing travel as much as I have, you will be pleased to find yourself instantly transported to the winter wonderland of the Austrian Alps, the perfect setting for a Christmassy read (or any time, really). With a mystery surrounding an old rivalry between two sporting greats, and a subsequent tragedy that cost the life of one of them, the book provided plenty of intrigue to keep me turning the pages. If you haven’t discovered Karen Swan’s books yet, I fully recommend picking this one up for an immersive escapist read with a wonderful atmospheric setting.






Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Book Review: WHEN I WAS YOU by Amber Garza



Author:  Amber Garza

Read: October 2021



Book Description:


You meets Fatal Attraction in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester's growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son's pediatrician to confirm her upcoming "well-baby" appointment. It's a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there's another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

But Kelly can't stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can't help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician's office, it's simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession...


My musings:


Have you ever been mistaken for someone else who bears your name? Were you just the tiniest bit intrigued by imagining what your namesake would be like?


Empty nester and unhappy housewife Kelly Medina finds herself in that very situation when she gets a phone call from her son’s paediatrician’s office reminding her of her “well-baby” appointment. The only problem is that Kelly’s son isn’t a baby any more and no longer lives at home. As Kelly tries to imagine the other, younger Kelly, she grieves for the happy days when she was a new mother, in love with her husband and besotted with her baby son. But there is a fine line between curiosity and obsession ...


How utterly fascinating is this premise? Kelly #1, bored, unhappy and longing for the days when her life was happy and full. Kelly #2, newly arrived in town with her baby son and only too happy to accept Kelly #1’s offers of friendship and help with her baby. Until Kelly #1 goes that little bit too far ... Seeing how Amber Garza’s mind works, this could never end well, could it?


If I had expected a crazy stalker story, I was not disappointed, but this book was so much more. Without giving anything away, there were moments when I thought my heart would break. At times, I could relate to either Kelly – the young mum new in town with a small child and no family; and the older, lonely housewife who is mourning the days when her house was filled with the laughter of children. What I hadn’t expected was that each Kelly came with a backstory that would turn everything I had believed upside down – and a twist that made me gape open-mouthed for a few minutes, not sure what I had just read. Could it be? Would it be? Some moments bordered on truly crazy, but Garza always reeled it in at the last minute, making the story stay within the realm of possibility, making it all the scarier!


I love the premise of a main protagonist whose mental state is in question, which makes them an unreliable narrator of the best kind. As Kelly #1 blends memories and fantasies into her story, it’s never totally obvious whether she is telling the truth – or, perhaps I should say that her truth may not always reflect that of others. Garza portrays this tormented souls so well that I felt her pain and turmoil every step along the way through Part 1 of the story. Then came Part 2 and – hang on – what???!!!!! *applause*


Anyway, I don’t want to give any more away. Enter this one blindly if you can and let it take you on a crazy journey. 




WHEN I WAS YOU is one of the best thrillers I have read this year and definitely one of the cleverest twists. The only warning I should give is that if you identify with the empty nester premise, there will be sadness there, too. All in all a clever, twisty thriller that will leave you wanting more from this author in future!


Friday, 15 October 2021

Book Review: WILD PLACE by Christian White



Author:  Christian White

Publisher:  Affirm Press

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: 26 October 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic suburb of Camp Hill in Australia. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won't listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl's father and a local neighbourhood watch group.

But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it. Wild Place peels back the layers of suburbia, exposing what s hidden underneath guilt, desperation, violence and attempts to answer the question: Why do good people do bad things?


My musings:


I can rarely resist a mystery set in a suburban neighbourhood, especially when it promises time travel back to the eighties. It’s fun to be reminded of a reality where kids played out in scrubland just like “the wild place” and there were no mobile phones to keep track of your every movement, and instead of the nosy parkers on social media there was neighbourhood watch. 


When a teenage girl goes missing from the suburb of Camp Hill, a close-knit neighbourhood that borders an area of wild bushland called simply “Wild Place”, the whole community is thrown into turmoil. Worried parents forbid their children to play in the bush. Emergency neighbourhood watch meetings are being hastily arranged. And of course suspicion falls on the one oddball in the neighbourhood, Sean, a teenage boy who has been seen brandishing the tattoo of a pentagram and is spending most of his time indoors listening to heavy metal music. 


Like most neighbourhood mysteries, Wild Place relies on the slow unravelling of secrets the residents of Camp hill keep close to their hearts. Even Tom Witter, a high school teacher at the local Christian college, is perhaps not as lily white as he pretends to be. As residents decide to take matters into their own hands and point the finger at the most likely culprit – in their eyes at least – things soon escalate. 


I’m not sure why I didn’t love this book more, seeing it had all the elements I usually enjoy in a slow burning mystery: characters with secrets to hide, time travel back to the eighties and a few twists and turns that surprised me. But somehow I found it difficult to engage with any of the characters at an emotional level, which made this just an ok read for me. I appreciated the author’s tongue-in-cheek humour sprinkled through the pages and the characters’ dialogue; the many references to religion not so much. I also thought that the satanic rituals featured only very peripherally and could have been used much more to create the spooky atmosphere I had hoped for. There were also too many side characters that added little to the overall plot in the end. I remember saying very similar things about White’s first novel THE NOWHERE CHILD, so maybe his style just doesn’t quite gel with me (though I really enjoyed his previous book THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW). That said, this was an easy popcorn read to devour in a couple of sittings and was entertaining enough to keep me reading. 



WILD PLACE will appeal to readers who enjoy slower, character driven mysteries featuring neighbourhood dynamics and a large cast of characters. Set in Australia, it is also full of that slight tongue-in-cheek humour that charactersises many Australian novels and allows a bit of a chuckle whilst trying to solve the mystery. If you usually enjoy White’s writing style, then you should definitely pick this one up for some satanic time travel to the eighties.


Thank you to Netgalley and Affirm Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Book Review: JAR OF HEARTS by Jennifer Hillier


Author:  Jennifer Hillier

Read: October 2021



Book Description:


Aged just 16, Geo's best friend Angela disappeared without a trace. Years later, Angela's body is discovered in the woods near Geo's childhood home, revealed as yet another victim of the notorious serial killer Calvin James. Geo's high-school boyfriend.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what had happened and told no one, carrying the secret until she was arrested and sent to prison. Why would any woman protect a man capable of committing such a heinous crime? Geo had her reasons...

To Geo, Calvin is more than a monster, a serial killer with no remorse. And while Geo did her time, Calvin escaped and went on the run. Now released, Geo is ready to start over. But then the bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela...

As chilling secrets are revealed, everything turns on what really happened one fateful night, almost 20 years ago. Is it too late for anyone, Geo included, to survive the truth?

What attracted me to this book:


I’m always tempted by the promise of a dark thriller, and JAR OF HEARTS came highly recommended by a friend. Now that I have read it, I wonder why I hadn’t come across this book before? In the “information about the author” section, it states: “Jennifer Hillier imagines the worst about people and the writes about it.” This may explain why all her characters are hiding dark secrets and, even though I am not easily rattled, managed to surprise and shock me in the end.

My musings:


JAR OF HEARTS is both a coming of age novel as well as a serial killer thriller (with a twist). What if your first teenage love turns out to be a murderer? At 16-years-old, Georgina Shaw made one fatal error of judgement when she fell in love with the handsome, enigmatic bad-boy Calvin James, now better known as The Sweetbay Strangler. Now in her thirties, she stands accused of being an accessory in the murder of her best friend Angela Wong, who disappeared fourteen years ago.


The story of all the whys and hows and gory details in between are slowly explored in dual timelines, one in the present and one leading up to Angela’s disappearance. Georgina (“Geo”) provides us with the main POV, though we also hear from Kaiser Brodie, a detective who went to school with both Geo and Angela. And even though Geo is undoubtedly a messed up character, Hillier still manages to portray her in a way that made me root for her.


As dark and disturbing as this story turned out to be, I still gobbled it up like the cinnamon candy hearts Calvin shovels into his mouth whilst he contemplates his evil deeds. The darker and more graphic the story became, and the higher the body count, the faster and more frantically I was turning the pages. And just when I thought I had the answers – BAM! I ran straight into the sharp edges of one very cleverly concealed plot twist that knocked the wind out of me and cut me down to my very core.





JAR OF HEARTS will appeal to readers who appreciate dark and gritty  thrillers that not only mess with your psyche, but also manage to question everything you have come to believe about your characters (and humanity in general). I also appreciated how the prison setting added extra depth to Georgina’s character, showcasing not only her resilience but also her courage and core of steel. If you love a thriller where each and every character has something to hide, and that clever “killer twist” right at the end, then you’ve come to the right place!


Thursday, 7 October 2021

Book Review: A LITTLE BIRD by Wendy James



Author:  Wendy James

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Read: September 2021

Expected publication: 30 November 2021



Book Description:


Running from a bad relationship, journalist Jo Sharpe heads home to Arthurville, the drought-stricken town she turned her back on years earlier. While some things have changed—her relationship with her ailing, crotchety father, her new job at the community newspaper—Jo finds that her return has rekindled the grief and uncertainty she experienced during her childhood following the inexplicable disappearance of her mother and baby sister.

Returning to Arthurville has its unexpected pleasures, though, as Jo happily reconnects with old friends and makes a few new ones. But she can’t let go of her search for answers to that long-ago mystery. And as she keeps investigating, the splash she’s making begins to ripple outward—far beyond the disappearance of her mother and sister.

Jo is determined to dig as deep as it takes to get answers. But it’s not long before she realises that someone among the familiar faces doesn’t want her picking through the debris of the past. And they’ll go to any lengths to silence the little bird before she sings the truth.

My musings:


Wendy James has long been a go-to author when I crave a good Australian mystery, so I was excited to see that she has a new book coming out! Jo Sharpe, her main protagonist in A LITTLE BIRD, is a journalist who returns to her small rural hometown to look after her ailing father and take on a position at the local paper, The Chronicle. Arthurville holds mixed memories for her, mostly connected to the abandonment by her mother and baby sister twenty years ago, with only a short note telling Jo’s father not to look for them. Jo still cannot come to terms with the fact that her mother would just up and leave her older child behind and is keen to talk to people who knew her and can shed some light on her mental state at the time of her disappearance.


James masterfully recreates the claustrophobic atmosphere of a remote, close-knit rural community rife with gossip and speculation. It made a perfect backdrop to this slow, character driven mystery and added some colourful characters into the mix. I loved to get an insight into Jo’s grief and confusion related to her mother’s abandonment, and her longing for answers. As someone who also lost her mother as a child, I could easily understand the gaping hole her mother’s absence has left in her heart.


Rolling out in two separate timeframes, A LITTLE BIRD will work towards answering Jo’s many questions, even though the ending was not something I had anticipated. As with her previous book THE ACCUSATION, James uses her insight into the human psyche and her excellent characterisations to build an air of mystery and tension, which was my favourite part of the story and one that will make me come back for more of her stories in future. Atmospheric and insightful, the book captured my heart and kept me turning the pages, breaking my heart bit by bit as the story progressed. Readers who enjoy a slower, character driven mystery with a small town setting should definitely pick this one up!



Thank you to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Book Review: THE WHISTLING by Rebecca Netley


Author:  Rebecca Netley

Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: 14 October 2021



Book Description:


Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome has taken the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, is a strange child. Distracted and secretive, she hasn't uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William - just days after their former nanny disappeared.

With her charge defiantly silent, Elspeth turns to the islanders. But no one will speak of what happened to William.

Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors.

Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms.

Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?


My musings:


It’s this time of year that I start looking for spooky, atmospheric reads and THE WHISTLING fitted that category perfectly, from its cover to its claustrophobic setting seasoned with plenty of gothic vibes. Its basic premise is an oldie but a goodie: a nanny arrives on a remote Scottish island to take up a position in a grand old manor house, full of hope for a better future and to escape her own personal tragedy. She soon discovers, however, that there may be a good reason the previous nanny left in a hurry, never to be seen again. Elspeth’s charge, nine year old Mary, is so traumatised after the death of her mother and her brother, that she has been mute ever since. Her aunt, a stern, austere woman, will not speak of the past. And the house itself harbours secrets that may lay in a realm outside the human consciousness (let’s just come out with it, the house is haunted!).


I loved the way Netley set the scene. From the moment Elspeth arrived on the island, I could picture it all vividly. The rugged coastline, so stunning in summer, that turns sinister and dangerous in the cold, dark and misty days of winter. The old house, grand from a distance, but with signs of neglect that run deeper than just financial – and of course there are rooms that shall not be entered, and secrets that shall not ever be spoken of. Dark corridors, lit only by flickering candle light. Hostile servants. Whispers in the night, objects that are never in the same place, dusty portraits staring down from the walls, an eerie lullaby coming from the nursery at night. Netley’s descriptive writing brought it all vividly to life in my head. And Elspeth’s own tragic past made her a well rounded character whose motives and aspirations I could easily relate to.


From here follows a story that may not reinvent the traditional haunted house story, but runs with the tropes and uses them well to create a tense, eerie atmosphere. Apart from supernatural vibes, there is a whisper of witchcraft and wise women that fits in well with the era and the setting. I read this at night and got the full effect of the spooky atmosphere. The mystery at the heart of the story gave it extra depth, even though I felt that the ending felt a bit rushed to me after the deliciously slow and tense build-up.




All in all, THE WHISTLING is a beautifully written, haunting novel with a classical haunted mansion theme and a wonderful atmospheric setting. Netley’s writing has a dreamlike, almost wistful quality that made it easy to emotionally connect with the characters, the place and the era it is set in. If you love spooky old houses, the dark corridors of Skelthsea’s manor will lure you in and send shivers up your spine. If you are looking for a perfect Halloween read, and love slower, atmospheric novels in the vein of Laura Purcell or Michelle Paver, then look no further!




Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Monday, 4 October 2021

Book Review: HOW TO DISAPPEAR by Gillian McAllister



Author:  Gillian McAllister

Read: September 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Lauren's daughter Zara witnessed a terrible crime. But speaking up comes with a price, and when Zara's identity is revealed online, it puts a target on her back.

The only choice is to disappear.

From their family, their friends, even from Lauren's husband.

No goodbyes. Just new names, new home, new lives.

One mistake - a text, an Instagram like - could bring their old lives crashing into the new.

As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy.

Staying hidden is much harder . . .


My musings:


How would you feel if you had to pack a bag right now and leave your old life behind forever to save your daughter’s life? Knowing that you could never get in touch with your loved ones again without putting yourself in danger. Having to watch that no picture of your face ever makes it onto the web or the people chasing you will be able to hunt you down.


This is the situation Lauren finds herself in after her teenage daughter Zara witnesses the coldblooded murder of a homeless man and agrees to give evidence in court against two popular football stars. Now both Lauren and Zara are in witness protection, with new identities and strict instructions to leave their old lives behind. Laura’s husband Aiden, who has a daughter from his first marriage, has to stay behind. Will they ever see one another again?


In HOW TO DISAPPEAR, Gillian McAllister explores the heartbreaking topic of people on the run after having been caught up in a situation that now threatens their own lives. I tried to imagine how it would feel to be in Lauren’s place, but it was difficult to fathom the implications of leaving behind everyone and everything you love and live like a fugitive. Would you do this for your child? Of course you would, but what a terrible price to pay!


In the author’s notes, McAllister writes how difficult it was to get any information about witness protection, which meant that she had to use a huge amount of artistic license to make up most of it. And whilst she did an excellent job and the book works well as a work of fiction that revolves primarily about the sacrifices the characters are having to make, this was probably my only disappointment with the story. A few things seemed quite farfetched and unlikely to me, but for obvious reasons little is known about the true processes of witness protection, so who knows? I enjoyed the way the author includes not only the POVs of her characters in hiding but also those of the people left behind, which added depth to the story. However, I did struggle with some of the characters’ decision making processes, especially those in a professional capacity, whose actions did not always ring true to me.





All in all, HOW TO DISAPPEAR is a novel about the sacrifices we make for our children, and how the life we take for granted can be taken away in a heartbeat. It was interesting to reflect on how our social media and online presence can put us in danger and how difficult it is to ever truly stay hidden in our modern world. Despite some inconsistencies in the plot and characters’ actions, this was an intriguing and well written mystery that kept me turning the pages.