Book Review – The Housewarming by S. E. Lynes Published by Bookouture

“And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!” –Charles Dickens

As a mother and grandmother, I have one word to describe how I felt when I started reading this book – frantic! Ava and Matt’s two-year-old daughter is missing and their loss, guilt, fear, and disbelief are so heartbreakingly real it pulses off every page.

Set in the present day, The Housewarming starts a year after the disappearance of Ava and Matt’s infant daughter, Abi. With no motive and no suspects, the couple are no closer to knowing what happened to their daughter on that fateful day any more than the police are. Abi was last seen at home, sitting in her pushchair in the hallway. Ava, who blames herself for leaving the front door open, and whose grief feels so realistic it pours from the pages, replays that terrible morning repeatedly in her head. Matt, on the other hand, is desperate to move on and find, or at least try to, a way to start living again. Their neighbours, the Lovegood’s, are having a housewarming and Matt thinks it would be a good idea for them to accept their invitation, if only to help Ava, now a virtual recluse, to start socialising with people again. Reluctantly, Ava agrees. However, conversations with friends at the housewarming about Abi’s disappearance leave Ava with more questions than she already had. Questions that, as she digs deeper, lead to devastating answers.  

Narrated in dual timelines one year apart, The Housewarming, which centres around a missing child, is not an easy read. The writing, however, is stunning; hauntingly good. Ava’s remorse and regret is tangible, and although heartrending it is also gripping and once started, impossible to put down. 

#BookReview – End of Story by @LouiseWriter Published by @HodderBooks Hodder & Stoughton

“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” –Margaret Atwood

Imagine a world where bookshops sell nothing but biographies and factual books. A world where not only is writing fiction banned, but reading it is forbidden too, even as bedtime stories to children, and to do so means breaking the law, which in turn equates to consequences. Devastating consequences in some instances. 

This is the nightmare world of End of Story

Set in the year 2035, this dystopian novel centres around Fern Dostoy, a former writer. From the outset it’s obvious she is grieving, and why wouldn’t she be. Once an award winning, critically acclaimed author, Fern is now regarded, since writing fiction is banned, as a criminal. Socially isolated, she earns her living as a hospital cleaner. However, a covert meeting with a friend and former writer leads her to a secret group, which she becomes a member of, reading bedtime stories to children via a banned phoneline. One regular caller, a boy called Hunter, captures her heart. Sadly though, for Fern, government officials are closing in on her. 

When I heard about this book, which is released later this week, I was intrigued, both by the blurb and the book’s striking cover. However, having read several books by the author under her other pen name, Louise Beech, I was also slightly apprehensive. Yes, her books are, as the author herself says, genre fluid, but a dystopian novel seemed like a huge leap. Could she pull it off, I wondered. I had nothing to worry about. Making clever use of embedded narrative, or a story within a story, End of Story is a taut thriller with characters that are both heartbreakingly, and in some instances frighteningly real, and the twist at the end left me bereft, if not a little relieved. A remarkable, thought-provoking story that will stay with me for a long time.

#BookReview – Murders at the Winterbottom Women’s Institute By Gina Kirkham @GinaGeeJay Published by @Bloodhoundbook

“Murder is always a mistake – one should never do anyting one cannot talk about after dinner.” ––Oscar Wilde

This is the first of two books in The Prunella Pearce Mysteries which, if you like cosy crime with a good dollop of laughter and a smattering of slapstick, is most definitely the book for you. For me, reading it, while tucked up in bed with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night was a real treat and something I really looked forward to. A murder story I knew I could indulge in without fear of nightmares, and often saw me snorting out loud, more likely to die laughing than worrying about things that go bump in the night.

Set in the quaint town of Winterbottom, this is a story of murder and mayhem as one by one, several members of the local Women’s Institute meet their untimely and, may I add, rather unique deaths – if only because the killer has both an imaginative and rather wicked sense of humour (never again will I look at lemon drizzle cake in quite the same way!). However, because we know who the perpetrator is very early on, this is not a typical murder-mystery. The real mystery behind this story is the reason for the killings in the first place, which, as we follow amateur sleuths and WI members, Librarian Pru (Prunella Pearce) and best friend, Bree, who take it upon themselves to follow the clues left by the killer, is slowly but surely revealed.  

A little dark in places with an unexpected twist at the end, Murders at the Winterbottom’s Women’s Institute is best described as light-hearted escapism that is easy to read but brilliantly written. The characters are well-drawn and likeable, including the villain who, as the story unravelled, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for. A fab read and one I highly recommend. 

#BookReview – The Santa Killer by Ross Greenwood @greenwoodross Published by @BoldwoodBooks

“Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and contrives presumptuous deeds.” — Hesiod

With Christmas just around the corner, and in keeping with last month’s festive theme, my book choice this month centres around the approaching holiday season. However, as the title suggests, this isn’t a cosy Christmas tale but rather a criminally good one by local (to me) best-selling author Ross Greenwood.

Set in Peterborough, this is the sixth book in the DI John Barton detective series. It is also the last in the series but the first for me. However, although I am looking forward to reading the rest of the DI Barton collection (now added to my ever-growing TBR pile!), I’m pleased to say The Santa Killer works perfectly well as a standalone.

Narrated by two main characters, namely DI Barton and the unknown assailant, the story opens a couple of weeks before Christmas. A woman is violently assaulted outside her front door, followed several days later by another assault on another woman in a similar fashion. The common theme being, both women are attacked by someone dressed up as Santa. DI Barton – a large, likeable, family loving man who enjoys his food – and his team are determined to catch the dangerous perpetrator. Nonetheless, with no apparent motive for the attacks, and no real clues, DI Barton and his colleagues certainly have their work cut out.

With a rich cast of believable, flawed, and well-rounded characters, set amongst the diverse streets of Peterborough, The Santa Killer is a suspenseful mystery that sensitively explores themes like grief, loss and abandonment, highlighting the very real lack of help often needed for those members of society struggling with such issues. However, it is also a gritty crime thriller that will see you glancing over your shoulder with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the very end.

If you’d like to know more about the author, click here to read an interview I did with Ross in 2018.

#Bookreview Written In The Stars: A #Charity #Christmas #Anthology published by @bloodhoundbooks

“Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.”—Eskimo Legend.

Written In The Stars is a charity anthology of Christmas themed short stories and the brainchild of friend and fellow author Tara Lyons. Sadly, Tara lost her beautiful daughter Sofia in 2020. In 2021, on what would have been Sofia’s third birthday, Tara, in a bid to turn her pain and sadness into something positive, came up with the idea of a festive anthology with all the net profits going to charity, which you can read about in my interview with Tara.

With a surprise bonus story, this delightful compendium includes twenty-three stories by twenty-three different authors and is divided into three parts: ‘A Christmas Crime’ – including the criminally twisted humour of bestselling author CJ Stone. ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ – which includes a contemporary festive feel-good romance by former journalist Natasha Boydell. And last but not least, ‘It’s A Christmas Miracle’ (including a contribution by yours truly) – featuring, among many other brilliant writers, the haunting tale of a mother’s love by Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author Angela Marsons. So, whatever your reading taste, there really is something for everyone in this wonderful collection of stories.   

Released on 17th October, if you only buy one festive themed book this year, make sure it’s Written In The Stars. Whether it’s a gift for yourself or the booklovers in your life, not only will it serve as the perfect reading companion in the run up to, and during the Christmas holidays, but all the net profits go to two very worthwhile charities. Which means, that while this festive gem is getting you into the Christmas spirit, every copy bought will also help or enhance the lives of others, which, I’m sure you’d agree, is the epitome of the true meaning of Christmas.

Click here to order your ebook copy (currently only 99p) or you can buy it as a paperback from 17th October.

And look out for my interview with Tara, which I’ll post in the next few days,

#Bookreview The Perfect Liar by @BevHarvey_ published by @bookouture

“The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.”–Stephen King.

This book has been on my ever-growing TBR pile for some time, and my only regret after reading it is, I wish I’d read it sooner. The Perfect Liar is a taught thriller with well-crafted characters set against the beautiful backdrop of Tuscany.

Three friends, Susanne, who is getting over a divorce, Dale, who is dealing with a relationship break-up, and Evie, who is still grieving the loss of her recently deceased mother, decide to take a holiday together in Italy. Susanne’s neighbour owns a villa in San Gimignano – a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena – and agrees to let the three friends stay there during the summer, for free, on the proviso they keep an eye on her godson, Harry. Harry, a twenty-four-year-old Cambridge graduate who has been travelling around Europe for a while, is already at the villa when the three friends arrive. Well-spoken and well-mannered, Harry seems very charming. He also, much to her surprise, and that of her friends, takes a shine to Susanne, which, despite their large age gap, sees them embark on a steamy affair together. However, all is not as it seems at the picture-perfect Villa Giardino. Especially when it comes to Harry.

The Perfect Liar is a perfectly paced, multi-layered thriller, full of intrigue and deceit, with both believable and well-rounded characters. The writing is sublime – I could feel the sun, see the architecture, and taste the food. If you’ve never been lucky enough to holiday in Tuscany, you’ll probably want to after reading this; a page-turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat, immersed in both the plot and the story’s beautiful surroundings, culminating in not one, but two twists.

To keep up with Beverley you can find her at the following places:

Twitter @BevHarvey_


#Bookreview – The Orphan of Ironbridge by @rebeccamascull #MollieWalton Published by @ZaffreBooks

“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.” ––Friedrich Nietzsche

I haven’t read much historical fiction for a while, but after a recent trip to Ironbridge, which, if you’ve never been, is well worth a visit, this seemed very apt. Addictive and heart-warming, it didn’t disappoint.

Set in the nineteenth century in the real town of Ironbridge, The Orphan of Ironbridge was inspired by the author’s trip to the world’s first iron bridge, which was erected over the River Severn in Telford in 1779. The main protagonist, Hettie Jones, is the spirited and kind-hearted adoptive daughter of the hard-working Malone family. Loving and proud, the Malone’s raised Hettie after her mother died and her father was deported. They love Hettie as one of their own, and she loves them, especially Evan, the second eldest son. Working as a pit bank girl, Hettie’s job is physical hard graft. However, Hettie’s fortunes change when she is summoned to meet with Queenie, head of the wealthy King family, inviting her to become her ladies’ maid. Hettie accepts the offer, which shocks the Malone’s and causes a rift between her and her adoptive family. This, in part, is because of ongoing animosity between the two families, some of which is attributed to the death of the eldest Malone son, Owen, who died in a fire at the King’s family home. However, Hettie’s succession leads to very intriguing and unforeseen circumstances.

Unaware at the time of reading it, this is the third and final instalment in The Ironbridge Saga. However, it works perfectly well as a standalone and took nothing away from my enjoyment of this beautifully written story. Well researched, evocative, and hugely compelling The Orphan of Ironbridge is a gritty period drama, brimming with history and family angst, and above all else, filled with love and hope.

If you’d like to know more about the author, click on the following links.

Twitter: @rebeccamascull

#Bookreview – The Baby Shower by @SELynesAuthour Published by @bookouture

“The truth will out in the end.” ––William Shakespeare

Released in March this year, The Baby Shower is a taut, multi-layered psychological thriller exploring the themes of friendship (good and bad), infidelity, gaslighting, infertility, broken families and, rather interestingly, male consent.   

Set in present day Wimbham, a fictional, once scruffy South London suburb, but now a gentrified smart London village, this is the story of thirty-somethings Jane and Frankie Reece who, although not particularly wealthy, each run their own successful businesses; Jane, as the owner of an independent coffee shop, and Frankie, who has his own plumbing company. Like most married couples, they’ve had their share of problems, but overall, they are happy. Jane’s friendship circle – Sophie, Hils and Kath – is small but close, and, coming from a broken home, one that Jane puts great value on. However, when Sophie introduces someone new to the group, Jane’s world is turned upside down. Lexie, with her glossy hair and flawless skin, who looks like she’s just stepped out of a magazine, doesn’t like Jane, which is obvious from the outset, but only to Jane, because Lexie is a master manipulator, which often sees Jane confused and questioning herself, wondering if she’s being oversensitive, or imagining things until, within a week of Lexie’s arrival, she has an uncomfortable sense of no longer belonging.  

Easy to read but brilliantly written with well-drawn, realistically flawed, believable characters, The Baby Shower is a suspenseful, pacy page turner that delves into the murky world of toxic friends and relationships. The author writes with great compassion and sensitivity about fertility and pregnancy, and I particularly enjoyed some of her witty social observations, which, despite being a psychological thriller, had me laughing out loud at times. I suspected the outcome quite early on, but it did nothing to spoil my enjoyment of this fabulous book.

If you’d like to know more about the author you can read my interview with her here.

#Bookreview – Missing Pieces by @LauraPAuthor Published by @AgoraBooksLDN

“How fragile our lives are anyway. How quickly things can change.” –Nancy E. Turner

Missing Pieces is the beautifully crafted debut novel by Laura Pearson. It is also the first book I’ve read by this author and although heart-wrenchingly sad, I’m pleased to say it is also a story about love, hope and healing.

Written in the third person, this is a family-based drama that explores the ripple effect that one devastating moment can bring to a family. Composed of two parts, each chapter title is a date, with a sub-heading stating the number of ‘days after’. The opening chapter, ‘5th August 1985’, ‘21 Days After’, is incredibly sad. “The coffin was too small. Too small to contain what it did…” and it quickly becomes apparent that Linda and Tom Sadler, who have befallen some sort of tragedy, are burying their three-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Phoebe’s older sister, Esme, is also present, but the circumstances concerning the family’s misfortune are not revealed until much later in the story. What is clear, though, is how the grief of each character differs, but nonetheless sees them all struggling to communicate honestly with one another, which undoubtedly affects all their lives, both as individuals and collectively as a family.

Part Two introduces us to Bea, Esme, and Phoebe’s younger sister. It is 2011 ‘9610 Days After’ and Bea, estranged from her family, is living in London. However, a life-changing decision sees her moving back to the family home. But it’s not a decision she makes lightly, not after a childhood where loneliness was more acute when she was with her family than when she wasn’t.

Written with great sympathy and empathy, Missing Pieces is a story about motherhood, family, and the heart-breaking grief that follows the loss of a young child. However, it is also a redemptive tale that reminds us how healing forgiveness is, and how powerful love is.

Book Review – Reputation By @SVaughanAuthor Published by @simonschusterUK

“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” –Will Rogers

Well, what can I say! This, the fifth novel and third thriller by Sarah Vaughan, which was released on Thursday 3rd March, is, I’m pleased to say, another superb pulse-racing legal drama. Like the author’s first thriller, Anatomy Of A Scandal; a Sunday Times top five bestseller and soon to be released major Netflix series (which I loved), Reputation takes us back to the to the courtroom and the Houses of Parliament. Suffice to say, my expectations were high, and I’m delighted to say I wasn’t disappointed. 

Set-in present-day London and Portsmouth, this is the story of Emma Webster; a high-profile Labour MP who wants to make a difference. The honourable member for Portsmouth South––also a devoted single mother to her teenage daughter, Flora––helps launch a campaign to protect women from the effects of online bullying after it comes to light that one of her constituents, a young woman who was the victim of revenge porn, has taken her own life. Ironically though, her involvement in the campaign only adds to her own online abuse, including veiled and open threats of rape and attack which, although deeply disturbing, she handles like a true professional. “Keyboard warriors, they called themselves. Such a pathetic term. Laughing at them, even if the laughter was hollow, helped a little – though it did nothing to unpick the knot in my stomach”. Inwardly, however, it is obvious Emma is struggling, despite outwardly putting on a brave face suggesting otherwise. At least, that is, until her teenage daughter’s reputation is threatened, which, unfortunately, fuelled by fear, leads to disastrous consequences culminating in accusations of murder.

Reputation is a gripping read with wonderfully written prose that is succinctly, yet beautifully descriptive. A clever, timely, courtroom drama that helps shine a light on violence and misogamy towards women with an important message about the treatment of women in the public eye.