A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende @isabelallende @BloomsburyBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2020 from Bloomsbury
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1526615909

September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge arises, they board a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to Chile, the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.

A masterful work of historical fiction that soars from the Spanish Civil War to the rise and fall of Pinochet, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

This is an epic tale that, in Allende’s trademark fashion, sweeps across continents, telling the story of political uprising, repression and the history of dispossessed peoples through the story of one family across the decades since 1939.

I love that Allende bases this work on real events and peppers them with facts about people so that you feel as if you are reading real history as it happens and learning a great deal about the circumstances of the time and how a sense of belonging can be the most important thing a person clings to.

This is the story of Victor Dalmau a young man at the height of the Spanish Civil War. He is studying Medicine and helps look after the wounded in battle, while his younger brother, Guillem, fights for the Republic. Told in the third person, mostly from Victor’s point of view the book follows his life. We learn about his family and Roser (his brother’s girlfriend and one of the students of Victor’s father, a musician), and hear first-hand of his experiences during the war. Roser is pregnant with Guillem’s child when he is killed. Victor vows to look after his brother’s lover and so when it is clear that Franco is winning, they escape into France together, entering into a marriage of convenience.

But the French are not welcoming to Spanish Civil War refugees, placing them in concentration camps with poor sanitation and insufficient food. Victor and Rosa decide to  emigrate to Chile on the Winnipeg – the ship that Pablo Neruda organised to bring 2,000 Spanish refugees to freedom in Chile (oh the irony). Victor and Roser settle down in Chile, making a new life for themselves. Rosa pursuing her musical work and Victor becoming a cardiologist. But then, in 1973, comes Pinochet and the fascists take root in Chile, leading to a military coup and the mass murders in the football stadium where Victor Jara was murdered.  When even the artists are being murdered, it is time to uproot and flee. Victor and Rosa, long-settled and feeling at home in Chile, become refugees once again.

This time Victor and Rosa head for Venezuela. As they yet again flee, their hope of returning to Spain mutates into a longing for Chile that keeps them going. Their role is to bear witness to the battle between freedom and oppression until finally Roser and Victor find that home is closer than they knew.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a sweeping family saga about belonging which shows us the important contribution that refugees can make to society, which gives the book a contemporary message that is important and resonated loudly with me.

Verdict: An ambitious work which blends the personal and the political to depict the life of a refugee. Sometimes a little wordy, this is a story for today. An epic saga that blends fact with fiction until we no longer know what is real and what imagined but which shows us the important contribution that immigrants can make to society.

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Isabel Allende—novelist, feminist, and philanthropist—is one of the most widely-read authors in the world, having sold more than 74 million books. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel won worldwide acclaim in 1982 with the publication of her first novel, The House of the Spirits, which began as a letter to her dying grandfather. Since then, she has authored more than twenty three bestselling and critically acclaimed books, including Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna. Translated into more than forty two languages. Allende’s works entertain and educate readers by interweaving imaginative stories with significant historical events.

The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler (JoonaLinna#6) trs Neil Smith @crimebythebook @AAKnopf #RabbitHunter

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 14th January 2020 in the USA from Knopf
PP: 528
ISBN-13: 978-1524732288

Ten little rabbits, all dressed in white
Tried to get to heaven on the end of a kite.
Kite string got broken, down they all fell,
Instead of going to heaven, they all went to…

It begins with a nursery rhyme. Nineteen minutes later you die.

A masked stranger stands in the shadows. He watches his victim through the window. He will kill him slowly—make him pay.

Soon the Rabbit Hunter has claimed another three victims. This predator will stop at nothing to reap his ultimate revenge. It’s up to Joona Linna and Saga Bauer to untangle one of the most complex cases of their career, and follow the killer’s trail of destruction back to one horrific night of violence.

The Rabbit Hunter is the sixth book in the Joona Linna series and to get the most from this book, I strongly recommend that you start with the first in the series, The Hypnotist and progress from there. It is so worthwhile as although each book has a stand-alone case to be solved, Joona Linna’s own back story is so deliciously good and interesting that it makes all the books really sing.

Though this is quite a big book, it doesn’t feel that way because the chapters are short and the writing pacy, so time just flies by as you are reading.

Lars Kepler books are not for the faint-hearted. They are dark, gory and violent and The Rabbit Hunter is no exception. Following on from the difficult times that Saga Bauer and Linna went through in the fifth book, Stalker, Joona Linna is now languishing in a high security prison.

A Swedish Foreign Minister has been murdered in weird circumstances and there are no clues as to who might be responsible. Stockholm is on edge and the police are under severe pressure to solve this murder, not least because other murders follow fast behind.

The reader meets The Rabbit Hunter early on in the chapter and we are left in no doubt that this is seriously disturbed killer whose perverted mind enjoys inflicting slow, tortuous death.

The authorities, with the express blessing of the Swedish Prime Minister, come to Joona Lina with a deal. Help Superintendent Saga Bauer find the killer, and in return he will have earned his freedom.

Current thinking is that these murders are politically motivated acts of terrorism but Joona Linna, following this through, realises that there is something much deeper and more personal going on. This is a ruthless and efficient serial killer but the twisted acts of violence point him to an historic reasoning behind the serial killer’s twisted thinking.

Seeking a connection between the victims, he realises that they all hear a child chanting a nursery rhyme about rabbits and then, exactly 19 minutes later, they are brutally murdered.

Joona Linna will have to go back in time to investigate events of 30 years ago to find out why these people have died at the hands of a sadistic killer.

The book is tense and thrilling as the suspense mounts and Linna once again puts his life on the line to expose a scandal that goes back decades.

Verdict: Another taut and disturbing read from this writing duo. Light on characterisation, The Rabbit Hunter relies on the twisted and disturbing killings to keep the reader’s attention focussed. Not the best Kepler I have read, but still an enjoyable and completely engaging contribution to the series.

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LARS KEPLER is the pseudonym of the critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Their number one internationally bestselling Joona Linna series has sold more than twelve million copies in forty languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler and have each published several acclaimed novels. They live in Stockholm, Sweden.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton @Rosamundlupton @EllieeHud @VikingBooksUK #ThreeHours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th January 2020 from Viking
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-0241374498

Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds.

It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.

It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.

It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. From the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

It’s hard to do justice to this stunning novel which I urge you to read. Anyone who remembers the Dunblane shootings, not so far away from where I am now, will recall the sense of horror and devastation that the horrific school shooting brought not just to parents and relatives but to a whole country.

Three Hours is, thankfully, not set in Scotland, but in a similar, small rural community in Somerset. It is a masterclass in exceptional writing and this book only works because of the power of that writing. That’s what makes it stand above the crowd. It is a book that centres itself in the middle of your heart and refuses to leave.

A heart-breaking story of love, courage and exceptional bravery in the face of a stark, cold and horrible planned attack, Three Hours is exceptional in its prose and in the way that Lupton has created characters that immediately claim their place in your mind and your heart and take up residence.

This is storytelling that rises above the crowd. The writing is exquisite, drawing you in to a completely shocking event, allowing you to experience the horror and the chaos that ensues and finally making you confront the awful, terrible truth of what is going on.

Lupton’s chilling and deeply atmospheric narrative moves forwards and back in time, letting the reader experience the most terrible three hours we will ever know where the very definition of innocents is threatened by malice and hatred so strong that it is determined to wipe out everyone who threatens its world view.

Set against this is a completely overwhelming story of love and hope and everything that is good in our world. Immense courage and fortitude; leadership and compassion shine through this most terrible of times.

The triumph of this book though is not just in how it makes us experience these events and feel the urgency and the compassion. It is in the way that Lupton gently and without any sense of lecturing draws the path through our turbulent times to show us just how this has become a plausible reality.

She shows us, gently and without comment, how our society made this kind of behaviour possible and why kindness and love now have to battle against hatred and false reporting every day.

I can’t adequately express how good this book is, how completely it immerses you in the story, how the prose wraps itself around your heart and squeezes hard.

Verdict: Buy it; read it; you will not be sorry. A finer piece of prose writing will be hard to find.

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Photo of Rosamund Lupton

Rosamund Lupton is the author of four novels. She graduated from Cambridge University in 1986. After reviewing books for the Literary Reviews and being invited to join the Royal Court Theatre, she won a television play competition and subsequently worked as a screen writer. Her debut novel Sister, was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over thirty languages and has international sales of over 1.5 million copies. It was the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author, and was winner of the Richard and Judy Best Debut Novel of 2011 Award and the Strand Magazine Critics First Novel Award. Film rights of Sister are currently under option.

Lupton’s critically acclaimed second novel Afterwards also went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists and was the No. 2 Sunday Times fiction bestseller of 2011. The Quality of Silence her third novel was a Sunday Times best seller and a Richard & Judy bookclub pick.

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Pine by Francine Toon @FrancineElena @Doubledayuk @emma_a_paterson @annecater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 January 2020 from Doubleday
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-0857526700

They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

It is an enormous pleasure to be starting off the blog tour for this strong and contemporary novel.

Pine is a beautiful, fabulously evocative novel, set in a small village in the midst of the Highlands where all around pine trees create a world of shadows. Lauren lives in the village with her father Niall, a shadow of his former self, given to bouts of melancholia and drinking ever since Christine, his wife, Lauren’s mother disappeared.

Lauren was so young when her mother went tries to channel her through her alternative therapy books about spiritual healing through crystals and reading the cards. Christine was a free spirit, and Lauren is hoping she has inherited some of her more mystic qualities, as she practices reading the tarot through the cards. She never does get answers though as to what has happened to her mother, or why her father is so withdrawn much of the time.

Gossip about what happened to Christine is of course rife in the small village and Lauren is bullied at school for the very severe offence of being different.

As the novel opens, Lauren and her father are driving through the forest after an evening of guising with her childhood friend Billy at Hallowe’en, when a woman falls into the road in front of them. Niall drives the woman home to their cottage but in the morning when Lauren gets up, she has vanished.

Francine Toon has created a beautiful, unnerving setting where a child is in the half life not quite yet on the cusp of becoming an adult, trying to understand the maelstrom of emotions that are running through her; neither part of the younger children’s group nor yet adult enough to form a serious relationship. With no woman to guide her, Lauren is caught in that half –life between child and pre-pubescent woman.

Toon flawlessly paints a rich and unsettling canvas where the forest is a dark blanket wrapped around the village and setting it apart from the world; a gothic, eerie place at night especially. It is the character of the forest that gives the book it’s hushed, claustrophobic feel and allows Toon to play with elements of the supernatural, witchcraft and folklore in the writing.

But Pine is not just a gothic novel; rather it is a completely contemporary work which looks at the impact of small village life on a community when one of their own, a local teenager goes missing. Suspicions grow, whispers surround Lauren everywhere she goes and the tension builds as this community tries to reconcile itself to the fact that this disappearance has echoes of what happened to Christine a decade ago.

Niall’s drinking gets worse, his anger seems barely suppressed and Lauren feels that there are things she’s not being told, but which remain frustratingly out of her grasp. h It seems that someone has once again threatened a woman of the village and caused her to disappear. There are those in the village who are not prepared to see history repeat itself.

Pine has a strong sense of love and longing, a pining for lost loves. But it is also a novel about darkness and sexual violence and how women can stay strong in the midst of darkness and oppression.

Verdict: Beautifully written, powerful storytelling that sets a haunting, evocative scene and uses that to tell a story that weaves Highland folklore and mysticism into an eerie and suspenseful modern and surprisingly tender gothic story. I loved it. Highly recommended.

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Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.

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The Other You by J.S. Monroe @JSThrillers @HoZ_Books @amberachoudhary

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 9th January 2020 from Head of Zeus
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1789541670

Is he who you think he is?

Kate used to be good at recognising people. So good, she worked for the police, identifying criminals in crowds of thousands. But six months ago, a devastating car accident led to a brain injury. Now the woman who never forgot a face can barely recognise herself in the mirror.

At least she has Rob. Kate met him just after her accident, and he nursed her back to health in his high-tech modernist house on the Cornish coast. When she’s with him, the nightmares of the accident fade, and she feels safe and loved.

Until, one day, she looks at Rob anew – and knows, with absolute certainty, that he has been replaced by an impostor. Is she right? Have her old recognition skills returned? Or is it all in her damaged mind?

I wanted to read The Other You because I really enjoyed J.S. Monroe’s Forget My Name.  I wasn’t disappointed. J.S. Monroe has a strong flair for capturing a distinctive crime that you won’t easily forget and then building a novel around it that has the reader questioning and second guessing the plot all the way down the line.

Kate was a highly skilled super recogniser. Working for the police and gaining high profile results when she had a car accident. Now she is recovering, but her skills at recognising have gone. She has ditched her loser boyfriend, Jake and is now living with her handsome partner, tech mogul Rob in a beautiful Cornwall home where she feels safe and cared for. Until one day she looks at him and is convinced that he has been replaced by an imposter.

Capgras syndrome is a recognised medical condition causing an irrational belief that someone the sufferer knows or recognises has been replaced by an imposter. Has Kate’s injury caused this syndrome or is something more sinister going on?

Monroe takes the reader on a thrilling journey, constantly asking us to evaluate what we are reading and test it against our understanding. I loved the twistiness of the plot, the constant need to recalibrate our understanding and the short punchy chapters that help keep the pace fast and the prose lively.

I’m always interested when a writer takes an original concept and demonstrates just how it can be achieved and Monroe’s creepy scenario is sufficiently plausible to make his plot truly chilling and completely addictive.

Told from the perspective of three principal characters, – Kate’s former boss Wiltshire Police’s DI Silas Hart;  Kate’s ex-boyfriend, Jake, and Kate herself, Monroe builds up narrative strands which build the tension and  enable the reader to become invested in their progress, as the narrative becomes ever more compelling and propulsive.

The themes are fascinating; from the rise of technology, to the way the brain works to notions of instinct over reason.

Verdict: A fascinating premise beautifully conceived and executed makes for an original and chilling novel that is part thriller and part police procedural. Unmissable.

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J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

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The Mothers by Sarah J. Naughton @SarahJNaughton @TrapezeBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 January 2020 in e-book from Trapeze 30 April  2020 in p/back
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1409184607

Five Women.

They meet at their NCT Group. The only thing they have in common is they’re all pregnant.

Five Secrets.

Three years later, they are all good friends. Aren’t they?

One Missing Husband.

Now the police have come knocking. Someone knows something.

And the trouble with secrets is that someone always tells.

The bond between mothers and their children is strong, but there is also a strong bond between these 5 mothers who met at their NCT class and stayed with each other throughout their pregnancies. A chav; a media-twat; a hippy; a Sloane and a frump. They should have nothing in common, but their shared experience has brought them together and after their various births, they stay in contact.

Sarah Naughton’s book moves effortlessly between past and present; painting a picture of these womens’ lives with their children and where appropriate, their partners. Unlikely friends, they nevertheless bond and look out for each other at their regular Mother’s Club get-togethers.

Naughton gives us pen portraits of each of these women; their troubles, the secrets they are hiding and their relationships, warts and all.

Then Bella Upton’s husband goes missing and the police are called in to investigate. Detective Inspector Iona Chatwin is called in to investigate and soon it becomes clear that this family had a lot to hide. Has Ewan Upton done a runner, or is something darker at work here?  When one of the women, Jennifer Baptiste, who had taken on the role of child-minder to Bella, cannot be found, the police begin to see connections.

Naughton’s book tells the story from the perspective of each of the women involved, seamlessly weaving their stories from when they met through to the present day. This character driven narrative creates a well rendered picture of each of the women and the challenges they face in their roles as partners, mothers and in their working lives.

Each has a story to tell, but no-one is telling the whole story. Their fraught lives begin to fall apart as Naughton lets us into their daily struggles to stay on top of their lives. We get to know these women well enough to be able to follow the different lives without difficulty.

The unlikely friendships are explored and Naughton shows us how their bonds are tested, leading to the disappearance of Bella’s husband.

Into this scenario, Naughton introduces the possibility of not one but two crimes, leading the police to conclude that they must be related. But the women claim to know next to nothing and their friendship starts to look a lot more superficial than we knew.

Naughton cleverly layers her plot so that there is tension and real mystery surrounding these women and as the story peels back the layers, there is a very real psychological thriller at its heart.

Verdict: Clever plotting, addictive and credible characters lead to a nicely twisted mystery that grips the reader’s attention and builds to a satisfying conclusion.

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Sarah J Naughton was born in 1975 and grew up in Dorset.  She studied English Literature at UCL and has been in London ever since, spending ten years as a copywriter in an advertising agency before giving up to have children.She was shortlisted for The Costa Children’s Book Award for her novel, The Hanged Man Rises, and now writes psychological fiction for adults.She lives with her husband and two sons.

Who Did You Tell by Lesley Kara @LesleyKara @Transworld Books

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 January 2020 from Bantam Press
PP: 304
ISBN-13: 978-1787630055

It’s been 192 days, seven hours and fifteen minutes since her last drink. Now Astrid is trying to turn her life around.

Having reluctantly moved back in with her mother, in a quiet seaside town away from the temptations and painful memories of her life before, Astrid is focusing on her recovery. She’s going to meetings. Confessing her misdeeds. Making amends to those she’s wronged.

But someone knows exactly what Astrid is running from. And they won’t stop until she learns that some mistakes can’t be corrected.

Some mistakes, you have to pay for . . .

I loved Kara’s The Rumour, so was really keen to read Who Did You Tell? Kara writes small seaside town life really well, conveying the slightly decaying and claustrophobic atmosphere of Flintstead – a town where everyone knows everyone else and is always a bit too interested in the other’s business.

Astrid Phelps is our protagonist. She’s come home to live with her mum because she’s just out of rehab. At 32, Astrid is a recovering alcoholic. She knows she needs to put her life back together and at her mother’s insistence is attending AA meetings, but Astrid has demons from her past that she can’t outrun.

In AA Astrid meets Helen and Rosie. She likes Helen, who has the same slightly cynical attitude to the mantra’s of AA, BUT Rosie, older and wiser, counsels Astrid that these things matter in times of severe stress.

Astrid is a mess, but meeting Josh Carter on the beach has been a huge boost to her confidence. Once an artist, she is further thrilled when Josh’s dad offers her some work installing and painting a trompe l’oeil in his home.

Josh is immensely likeable. He is handsome, caring, and seemingly smitten with Astrid. You just know it’s all going to go wrong, don’t you?

But she isn’t ready yet to tell Josh about her past or her addiction and the lengths she goes to in order to avoid setting foot in the last chance saloon make her life full of tension and temptation.

Told in the first person, readers will find themselves questioning just how reliable a narrator Astrid really is.

Kara makes a great job of telling Astrid’s story; keeping the best elements until they will make the greatest impact. As an alcoholic she has everything you might expect. Subject to strong cravings; suffering from being unable to rust herself and knowing her mother doesn’t trust her at all. Astrid wants to love Josh, but she has no self-confidence and finds herself full of self-doubt, and worst of all, terrible, terrible guilt.

Astrid harbours an awful secret. She believes she is responsible for a life that was lost. Her previous boyfriend Simon committed suicide and Astrid can’t forgive herself. Simon was also an alcoholic and now everywhere she goes she gets reminders of him. She can smell his aftershave, she’s sure she sees his clothes in a charity shop, and all the time she has the feeling that she is being watched.

How much of this is her alcoholic paranoia the reader cannot know, but what we can see is Astrid struggling under extreme pressure, which reaches boiling point when she realises that Josh’s dad knows something about her situation.

Worse, it seems that someone else knows her secret and is sending her ever more poisonous pen letters.

Is there anyone she can trust, or will Astrid spiral out of control as once more it seems that everything in her life is going wrong?

Verdict: Kara’s writing exquisitely conveys the atmosphere and tension of Astrid’s life in this small seaside town. Astrid’s struggles are realistically portrayed and the levels of suspicion are layered and twisted until the reader suspects everyone.  Who Did You Tell is a psychological thriller that sucks you in and is full of suspense.

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Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University, having previously worked as a nurse and a secretary, and then became a lecturer and manager in Further Education. She lives on the North Essex coast.

Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb @crimethrillgirl @OrendaBooks #TeamLori #IAmLori

Source: Purchased copy
Publication: Published in e-book on 5 January 2020 and on p/back on 5 March 2020
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193171

A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood…

Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.

An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces, one by one. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.

When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die.

And that’s just the beginning…

You can read Deep Dark Night as a stand-alone, but readers of the Lori Anderson series will recognise this book as a direct follow on from Deep Dirty Truth, which I loved almost as much as this 4th book in the Lori series.

Broadribb is on fire in this latest sizzling story. Caught between a rock and a hard place by Agent Monroe of the FBI, she has very reluctantly agreed to do one last job for this man whom she does not trust at all.

Lori was mentally ripped apart by her last encounter with Monroe, in which way too many innocent people died just so that he could make his case, and more importantly, his name. So she’s more than wary when he calls in the debt he claims she owes him. Reluctantly she agrees to co-operate, but makes it clear that after this, all debts are paid and she and her partner JT can walk away free and clear.

Lori heads to Chicago to play in a high stakes poker game in a swanky penthouse apartment with JT as her close protection. The plan is to entrap Mafia boss Cabressa and gain sufficient evidence to enable Monroe to lock him up for life.

Everything is at stake for Lori who is outside her comfort zone when she realises that she is the only female player in the room and that JT, along with other personal security guards are to be sequestered in a different room in the building.

In a fresh and exciting take on the quintessential locked room mystery. Broadribb gives Lori her biggest challenge yet as she faces enemies on all fronts and JT is left unable to help and protect her.

Lori has to utilise every ounce of her trademark grit and determination to make her way through the traps that have been set for her, and every moment is spent wondering if she will ever see her little girl and J.T. again. With only her moral compass for guidance, Lori has to plough a path out of that dark and deadly room in order to stay alive long enough to pay her debt.

Verdict: This is Broadribb firing fast and furiously on all cylinders as we take a massive thrill ride into Chicago’s criminal elements and find that not everyone is playing a straight game. It’s dark (in more ways than one), violent and full of tension and suspense. An electrifying read that will have you on the edge of your seat praying for Lori to succeed.

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Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at http://www.crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases.

Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts.
My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Dark Truths by A.J. Cross @severnhouse #DarkTruths

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 September 2019 in the UK and 7 Jan 2020 in the US from Severn House
PP: 240
ISBN-13: 978-0727889065

Introducing criminologist Will Traynor in the first of a gripping new forensic mystery series from an expert in the field.

When a headless body is discovered on a popular jogging trail, Detective Inspector Bernard Watts and his team are plunged headlong into a baffling murder investigation. Why would someone stab to death a young woman on her daily run – and take her head?

When a close examination of the crime scene results in a shocking discovery linking the present murder to a past crime, criminologist Will Traynor is brought in to assist the police. Aware of Traynor’s troubled past and already having to deal with inexperienced rookie PC Chloe Judd on his team, Watts is sceptical that Traynor will bring anything useful to the investigation.

He’s about to be proved very wrong …

Dark Truths is billed as the first in a forensic criminology series, and that’s what we get, an introduction, because Will Traynor is not the central figure in this police procedural/serial killer mystery.

DI Bernard Watts has been languishing in the Unsolved Crimes Unit of the West Midlands Police, but when it is disbanded, Acting Chief Inspector Brophy brings him in to head up the hunt for the brutal killer of Zoe Roberts, a young woman jogger who has been murdered and decapitated.

Brophy instructs Watts to take on a rookie, PC Chloe Judd who is characterised both by her keenness and by her high opinion of her own abilities, something that quickly gets up Watts’ nose. Though she is a P.C., Chloe takes on more of a D.C. role.

The final key player in this team is criminologist Will Traynor. Brophy believes Traynor can bring fresh insights into the team but Traynor is a damaged shadow of his former self.  His wife disappeared some ten years ago, presumed dead, but her body was never found.  He is still obsessed with finding her and this impacts on his ability to form a clear picture of the investigation. During the course of this investigation he will see links to his wife where none exist, which makes Watts’ life even more difficult.

When more heads are discovered near the site of the jogger’s body in the stifling summer heat, it is clear that the team have a serial killer on their hands. Watts believes there must be a link between these deaths but he and Judd have difficulty in making the connections they need, not helped by Judd’s  excessive enthusiasm; she is a character who is determined to prove herself, even if that gets in the way of police procedure, and the case suffers as a result.

Judd’s backstory is an interesting one and makes her a character that it is possible to have some empathy with, while Watts is more of a closed book.  Pathologist Dr. Connie Chong is a nice addition to the case, with a rather more cheerful demeanour than her colleagues.

Dark Truths is a solid police procedural mystery which relies on detailed examination of the evidence and A.J. Cross’s familiarity with forensic evidence adds authenticity to the story.

She provides a range of suspects to keep the reader guessing and delivers a well thought through puzzle for the reader to enjoy, albeit that the pace is sometimes quite slow.

Verdict: An interesting start to a new team of investigators. I hope we will see these characters further fleshed out and more character development in future series.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband and is the author of two previous Dr Kate Hanson Cold Case mysteries.

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband and is the author of two previous Dr Kate Hanson Cold Case mysteries.

A different kind of end of year #bookpost

It’s the end of December and I had planned to offer you a list of the books that I have most enjoyed this year. But circumstances have changed and this is going to be a different kind of post. So much so that I don’t want replies, thanks. This is personal and I’m sharing it because I want to record how important books have been to me and what the friendship of bookish people has meant.

Some of my book chums will know that I came to book blogging as a result of finding myself having to give up working as a result of severe stress and clinical depression.

In an attempt to give myself a challenge and something to keep my brain working, I began my book blog. Slowly, tentatively, it took shape. That first post, for Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin was a tentative foray into book reviewing five years ago in December and slowly as I grew in confidence, I found that book blogging gave me back confidence, introduced me to some of the best people I have met and provided me with endless reading delights, deadline driven activity to keep me focussed and a host of book festivals to introduce me to new authors and like minded people.

This year, despite some challenging accessibility issues (I need a new hip) I have felt renewed and positive. There have been setbacks; an accident at the Edinburgh Book Festival has had long lasting repercussions for my mobility, but I still felt positive and determined to celebrate a big birthday by taking a fabulous luxury trip to Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

It was indeed fabulous, and though I could have wished for better mobility to enjoy it to the full, I am so glad I took the trip. Again I met some great people and the sheer beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam alone was worth the journey.

HaLong Bay, Vietnam

What many people didn’t know was that my partner of 15 years had very significant health issues which meant that we had to stay apart; he looked after in a care home; never well enough to make the journey to Scotland to be closer to me, but ever hopeful that he could make that happen. We talked most days. We knew he was on palliative care; frequently hospitalised and yet so supportive of my making the trip to South East Asia to celebrate my birthday.

I made the trip knowing he was very unwell, but he’d been that way for at least 5 years. Did he know? I don’t know. But when I got to my final stop in Hong Kong, I was concerned that I couldn’t make contact. Arriving back in London, I found that he had passed away on 23 December. Moved to a hospice while I was away, he left instructions that I was not to be told until I returned to the UK.

So this year has ended on a note that is pretty much breaking my heart. And yet, his life had so little quality, there is comfort in the fact that he is at peace now and his pain has gone. I wish I could have been with him; that will be a source of endless regret for me and yet his selflessness in refusing to bring me home (because of course I would have come home had I known) is typical of the way he would behave.

I’m angry with him, so angry at not telling me, but we make our decisions and for better or worse, we have to live and die with them.

I find though, that in grief, I turn to the remembrance of both the joy we had and the great times we had together and then to the new path I have found on my own in making book friends and forging a new life out of shared passions of a different kind.

So this post is for all of you who have helped reshape my life; who have given me new friendships and things to look forward to. Those who have come to events with me, discussed books and authors, and met me over drinks and yet more books.

I took December off book blogging for my trip. Right now, I don’t feel much like blogging, but what I have learned over the last 5 years is that renewal is possible and that it is possible to take great comfort from people I have never met, yet who feel like old friends.

Tonight I am going to burrow in, have another wee cry, and tomorrow I’m going to do my best to start a new year fresh with a new book and a brand new reviewing slate.

It isn’t everything, but it is something. That and my own friends and family will keep me sane and keep me going. For now, that’s enough.

Thanks for listening and a Happy New Year to you all xx

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