Truth comes tumbling down

‘The Three Women’ – Valerie Keogh

5-star-rating

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How well do you know your friends?

When Beth, Megan and Joanne meet at university, they become inseparable friends who’d do anything for one another — even agreeing to keep what happens one shocking night a secret.

Now in their forties and outwardly successful, each of the three has dealt with what happened in their own way. But secrets and lies leave their mark.

When Megan decides to tell her fiancée the truth about that night, it threatens to ruin the lives of everyone around her.

But someone is prepared to do anything to stop that happening….

When you are presented with three women standing on the edge of a cliff, ready to end it all, at the very opening of a book… well, it would be difficult to resist being drawn in straight away. This evaluates my experience of this novel as I found I simply could not put the story down – I had to know what circumstances pulled three women into a suicide pact. What had possibly gone so wrong for them that the only answer was death?

Keogh expertly twists the narrative around three women – Megan, Beth and Joanne. We meet them at university and see how their friendship was founded. Only a small section of the novel is dedicated to this era before it jumps to present day. Now, with the women approaching their forties, we discover how one night shaped all of their lives. However, an admission by Megan causes their whole existence to come crashing down – tumbling like a delicate and precarious house of cards.

The theme of deceit is prevalent in this novel. When you think you have found out the final truth, Keogh adds in another layer of lies. I felt like a fly caught in a spider’s web: the more I struggled to find the truth, the deeper the lies went. I enjoyed how Keogh lures the reader into this false knowledge each time, especially as the newest revelations were surprisingly unexpected.

All three women are initially presented as  rather likeable characters. However, as the novel develops, traits are exposed which shows they are weaker than what their close friends expected. I thought it was clever how Keogh had established this facade and it really tied in with the theme of deception. Nothing is what it seems, especially behind closed doors.

The final ending of the novel, (I’m talking about the Epilogue here) really stayed with me. Reading this book, I thought it was very good. However, the closing of the story pushed my enjoyment through the roof. I had not anticipated how Keogh would finish this story and, whilst it made sense after I had completed it, enjoyed the roller coaster I had experienced. I do appreciate being surprised in suspense novels and this final revelation made the story even more gripping afterwards.

A pacey, thrilling read, I delighted in the twists and turns of Keogh’s narrative. Who knew how three women could have become so immersed in deceit, that it completely and irrevocably destroys their lives? A lesson to be learnt for all: honesty really is the best policy.

Author bio:

Valerie Keogh was born in Dublin, qualified as a nurse and then studied English in University College Dublin gaining a BA in English and a Masters in American Literature. She moved to the UK several years ago where she lives with her husband, Robert, and cat, Fatty Arbuckle. She enjoys writing both crime and psychological thrillers.

thumbnail_Better photoWhen she’s not writing, Valerie loves to travel.

You can follow Valerie on Twitter: @ValerieKeogh1

Or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/valeriekeoghnovels/

 

 

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With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Another great Dugdall book

‘Humber Boy B’ – Ruth Dugdall

5-star-rating

Humber Boy B

‘A blur in the sky, a brick no, a trainer, red falls to the water… There seems to be a scuffle… a hand grabbing at the dangling child. Then, with the awfulness of inevitability, the hanging child drops, gravity takes him.’

A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity.

Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep.

Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?

Three books in and Dugdall continues the Cate Austin series without disappointing. There was no repetition from previous stories and once again, Dugdall’s formula meant I was gripped from start to finish. Completing the book has left me excited to read the next one – I feel addicted to this series!

Once again, readers follow Cate as she is is appointed probation officer for a teenager just released from prison. His crime is chilling and reminded me of contemporary news stories. However, Dugdall’s characterisation of Ben, the teenager released from prison, is very clever in the fact that it was difficult to not sympathise with him. It is clear that he has been institutionalised and the challenges he faces with understanding the modern world, independent of any support, showed that actually, Ben is a lost boy who is confused by what is around him. It felt confusing to sympathise with him and Dugdall manipulates the reader’s emotions: comparing him to a victim of circumstances, you can’t help but consider how much Ben has lost from such an ambiguous crime.

And despite the judgment that Ben has received, what happened that day on Humber Bridge is only gradually revealed over the narrative. It may seem a “clear cut case”, but actually, events that happened that day had far more wider reaching effects. I relished in the slow reveal and it reminded me of Ben coming to terms with what happened that day as well.

Readers learn more about Cate’s past in this story with the appearance of her long-lost sister. It was an element of the plot that took me by surprise and I almost wish that the writer had developed this aspect further. It seems that this narrative has concluded by the end of the novel, but I would have been interested to see if there was material for a further story? On the other hand, Cate becomes an even more convincing character as we watch her feelings develop for Olivier. I appreciated this part of the story because it showed that Cate was not just a dedicated probation officer – she has a life and a personality beyond her work!

Whilst I was able to predict some of the outcomes, it definitely did not lessen my enjoyment of the story. In fact, it made me want to devour the book even quicker because I was keen to see how the story unfolded. Dugdall’s storytelling is superb and I think it’s not necessarily about predicting the perpetrators, but more about the narrative itself and watching events take place.

One might argue that the narrative could be considered confusing. Each chapter is from a different perspective, switching between people who were involved in Ben’s crime in the past, and then present day. However, the story simply flows well and this does not disrupt the pace. Indeed, I liked how Dugdall changed the perspective to recount events from a different character. Whilst you are technically reading about the same event, the alternate viewpoint provided a different interpretation. It was not repetitive but added depth to the story.

I’ve really enjoyed this read. There are some references to previous books in the series but this could also be read as a stand-alone novel. Dugdall’s characterisation is brilliant and throughout the story I was always wondering if she would reveal Ben’s true name, his true identity. I won’t tell you here what the answer is…

A fabulous read and I’m excited to see what happens next to Cate. It’s a great style of writing that left me wanting more.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Bingo 2020 category completed: Free space.

Amateur sleuther

‘The Sleeper Lies’ – Andrea Mara

5-star-rating

Sleeper Lies

ONE WINDOW, THREE LIES

I step forward, breathing fast. Movement. I force myself to take another step. I think about all of it, all of the deaths and all of the accidents and all of the pain. And I know what I need to do.

ONE WINDOW
It’s March 2018, and the country is covered in snow. Roads are impassable, shops are running out of food, and official advice is to stay indoors. Marianne lives on her own and works from home, so this isn’t a problem. Until she wakes one morning in her house in the middle of nowhere and finds footprints trailing all across her garden. Half-asleep, she is at first curious. Then she realises the footprints stop at her bedroom window, and curiosity gives way to unease. Who was looking in at her, while she was asleep?

THREE LIES
As the big freeze worsens and the stalker begins to leave disturbing mementos, Marianne’s thoughts go back two decades to the schoolyard outburst that tore her childhood apart. Old feuds resurface, and the mystery of her mother’s death is pulled back into focus. Marianne begins to see patterns – is there a link between her stalker and the true crime story she’s been obsessively researching, or does the answer lie closer to home?

24 DAYS
In the end, 24 days is all it takes for everything to come crashing down.

Quickly engrossed with this novel, I could not quite see how the story would progress. It felt different, it covered multiple time frames and even countries. In short, it was a great find and a proper five-star read.

There’s multiple narrative threads running through this story. In present day, we follow Marianne, who discovers someone is visiting her bungalow whilst she is sleeping at night. How does she know? The deep snow that has fallen means she can see the footprints. And when they finish outside of her bedroom window, that’s enough to freak anyone out. Things take a turn for the worse when strange gifts start arriving at her doorstep. When it becomes apparent that this mysterious stalker even has access to her home, Marianne does not know where to turn.

Besides this, readers gradually learn about Marianne’s past relationship with American author, Ray. At first, it was not clear how this story was connected to the present, so I enjoyed how the writer gave gradual clues. Furthermore, the story takes a European twist by heading to Denmark – the birth place, and final location, of Marianne’s mother. Here, we learn that Marianne’s mother did not simply disappear and that there is more to this story than Marianne was originally lead to believe.

All of these seemingly separate elements gradually become mixed together and I enjoyed how the web became more complex. I felt like Marianne: an amateur “sleuther” who was looking for answers. As I became increasingly involved in the narrative, I felt as desperate as Marianne and yet frustrated that the truth was not so forthcoming.

I think it was the two settings that made this thriller stand out from the rest. Undoubtedly it became more interesting and I appreciated the ambiguities that came with the story moving to Denmark. Indeed, it symbolised the lack of certainty that Marianne herself felt: both in her own bungalow in Ireland and then in Europe.

As the story developed, I was keen to see the novel’s conclusion. I had some idea of where the story was headed, but the writer still maintained the element of surprise and the unexpected. This was a great piece of storytelling and I relished in the twists and turns that came from the narrative.

I received an advanced review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Do not go down and under

‘Trap Door’ – Dreda Say Mitchell

4-star-rating

Trap Door

100 years ago young women were killed in this workplace.

Is history about to repeat itself?

Rachel, a young woman in serious debt, needs to find a job fast before she’s made homeless. She gets a lucky break when she is offered a great position in a successful company. Then she discovers that the building was once a Victorian sweatshop with a tragic history. Is this why Rachel feels something increasingly sinister?

Soon her new job becomes a living nightmare. Rachel desperately wants out, but she has no other way of escaping her debts. She’s trapped. Then she makes a shocking discovery.

Haunted by the death of others and as the present and past begin to close in, Rachel needs to find answers before she finds herself in grave danger…

What is really going on in her workplace?

And can she ever escape her inner demons?

This book had me gripped from the beginning. The premise of working beneath a trap door was spooky and with the legend of a fateful fire ripping through the basement, it literally sent shivers down my spine. I could not help but feel equally trapped with Rachel as her world literally and metaphorically closes in on her.

Rachel is definitely a character to sympathise with. She seems to have tried so hard to make her way in life but has yet to find her place. With little security, no money and mounting debts, I admired the way that Mitchell gave Rachel continued strength and determination: despite Rachel’s father having millions of pounds, she strives to not beg him for help. This independence is a characteristic that develops throughout the narrative and I appreciated how Rachel wanted to make her own way in life, without having to repeatedly return to her father for financial handouts.

It was only until I reached the final few chapters did I realise the metaphorical meaning behind the novel’s title. Whilst ‘Trap Door’ refers to Rachel’s bizarre working environment, it gradually dawned on me how she has to go through her own symbolic ‘trap door’ in relation to her past. As the story progresses, Rachel has to confront the fears buried in her past and acknowledge that what she knows is not the truth. The phrase ‘down and under’ is used frequently to describe Rachel entering the basement and I think this perfectly reflected the search for truth that she has to undertake. I like a good, metaphorical title and I’m so glad that Mitchell didn’t resort to ‘Basement’ – it would have been far less effective!

If I’m being perfectly honest, I found the story a little far-fetched, leading me to only give this a four-star review. I was initially gripped and intrigued by the premise and found I had goosebumps tingling up my arms as it became clear that Rachel is being haunted by her past. However, the idea of an employee being sent down to an underground basement to work on a highly intense project was a little beyond my stretch of reality. It was pretty clear that the business was not what Rachel believed and, when she is forced to sleep in an abandoned part of the office because she has no home to go to, I thought that Mitchell was pushing things too far. Indeed, the sudden discoveries of other trapdoors and secret passages towards the climax of the novel were too convenient for my liking and I thought the writer could have executed this part of the plot in a different way.

All this being said, I could not put the book down. After my curiosity was piqued, I was determined to discover the truth behind this sinister basement. So many characters are not what they appeared to be and I enjoyed the gradual revelations that the writer leaked into the narrative. I experienced many emotions whilst reading this story – fear, horror and surprise, meaning this is a great candidate for those of you who enjoy a jolly good, thrilling and suspenseful read. This is my first read by Mitchell and I am definitely keen to see more stories by this writer.

Author bio:

Dreda Say Mitchell is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer, broadcaster, campaigner, and journalist. Since her sixth book she has been co-writing with Tony Mason. She is the author of eleven novels, with her debut awarded The CWA’s John Creasey Dagger. She has been a frequent guest on television and radio including

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Dreda Say Mitchell and Tony Mason

Question Time, BBC Breakfast, Newsnight, Victoria Derbyshire, The Stephen Nolan Show, Front Row and Woman’s Hour and numerous others. She has presented Radio 4’s Open Book. Dreda was named one of Britain’s 50 Remarkable Women by Lady Geek in association with Nokia. She was the 2011 chair of the Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival. Dreda and Tony’s work is currently in development for TV. She was born and raised in the East End of London where she continues to live.

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With thanks to Bloodhound Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Bingo 2020 category completed: New author.

Austen parallels

‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency’ – Fiona Woodifield

5-star-rating

Austen dating agency

Does true romance really exist?

Sophie Johnson is young, intelligent and attractive. So, when she lands the dream position of Sales Executive at a leading fashion magazine, it appears she has it all. But in reality, she hates her job, is sick of her controlling mother and is a dating disaster.

Then she discovers The Jane Austen Dating Agency, an exclusive club for ladies who want to meet real gentlemen and believes her luck has changed. And when Sophie meets Darcy Drummond, she thinks her dreams have come true. That is until she discovers he is arrogant and hard-headed.

So, when Daniel Becks steps into her life, she thinks she’s found the one. But is he really all he seems?

The Jane Austen Dating Agency is for anyone who has ever dreamed of romance and wondered if it really exists.

Fans of Sophie Kinsella, Lindsey Kelk, Jane Green, Meg Cabot and, of course, Jane Austen will love this heart-warming, romantic comedy

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a total fan of Jane Austen. She, (along with Mr Darcy!) is my total heroine. Having the opportunity to read this novel, it was impossible to reject it. With perfect parallels to Pride and Prejudice, Woodifield brings a modern twist to a timeless classic.

I honestly think that if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice then this novel might be your way in! Woodifield cleverly creates a narrative that runs parallel to Austen and, whilst we don’t have the focus of the Bennet sisters, instead see Sophie and her friends at the hands of the Jane Austen Dating Agency. It’s a neat, romantic idea and Sophie sees it as her opportunity to end her doomed single existence once and for all. With frequent references to Austen and her craft, this was an ideal narrative to remind me of how much I love this writer. On the other hand, if you are new to Austen or have felt daunted by reading her classics, then this novel is a modern way to get immersed into the story!

All being said, I don’t want readers to think that the writer is merely imitating Austen. This is definitely not the case. The plot is entertaining with plenty of humour and romance. It is a brilliant chick-flick read and one you could easily immerse yourself into on the beach. In fact, I could see this as a pick-me-up for any time of the year. Personally, I enjoyed the escapism this book provided and happily imagined the Bath and Regency scenes that Woodifield describes.

I definitely could see a part of me in the protagonist, Sophie. I don’t tend to quote from novels in my review, but this could not be ignored:

“‘…when one has so many better things to do, there isn’t any necessity to read books’…

…I can’t be bothered to explain to this woman my absolute love of books; they are my friends, my refuge.”

Oh, it just summarises my thoughts exactly! Sophie is also a true Austen fan (akin to the author, who admits to being inspired by Austen in the closing Author’s note), and a typical bookworm. She is horrified when management haven’t read Austen and is trying to find her own Mr Darcy, whilst simultaneously avoiding Darcy Drummond. I could see so much of myself in Sophie: the romanticism, desire for a happy ending and satisfaction towards reading a good book. It made her character even more likeable and the plot all the more enjoyable.

This was a lovely romantic story. Admittedly, I was sold just from the title, but am so pleased to say that the novel reached my expectations. I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the narrative because, quite honestly, it left a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart and reminded myself that yes, there is a Mr Darcy out there for all of us.

Author bio:

As a young child, Fiona spent hours reading, curling up with a book was one of her favourite past times. Her current volume would accompany her everywhere, to school, on daytrips, holidays and visits. The idea of providing an imaginary world in which others can escape is a wonderful one and this became Fiona’s dream, to become a published author.

From an early age, Fiona’s parents encouraged her writing – commencing when they gave her a simple red lined exercise book. Soon she had a collection of notebooks, small, large, plain, The Snowman, Brambly Hedge, they all became full of her jottings.

thumbnail_Fiona_36bwYears later, Fiona studied for a Combined Arts Degree at Durham, then a Masters in English – writing her thesis on Jane Austen and Masculinity. In total contrast she went to work for a top fashion magazine in London, then various marketing posts. Four lovely daughters later, during which time she has graduated from laughing at Mrs Bennet to sympathising with her, she continued to scribble away, only the notebooks are somewhat bigger. Fiona has written for national magazines on diverse subjects from Jane Austen to caravanning! One morning the idea came to her for ‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency’ and this was the first book she just had to write.

Fiona obviously loves writing, especially romantic comedy, meeting with friends and family, dancing, walks by the sea and escaping into a book whilst consuming a worrying amount of chocolate.

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With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Bingo 2020 category completed: Chick lit.

Understanding dreams

‘The Curious Dreamer’s Dream Essentials’ – Nancy Wagaman

3-star-rating

Dreamer

Dream meaning is so powerful that one dream can change your life. Discover 11 keys to interpreting your own dreams in this book from the author of The Curious Dreamer’s Dream Dictionary. With these practical tips, translation tools, and analysis techniques, you’ll be free to explore your dreams and unlock their transformative power.

Dream Interpretation Process:
Follow a practical 4-step process to interpret and benefit from your dream.

Symbolism Shortcuts:
Discover common symbolism patterns pointing to dream meaning.

Intuition as a Dream Translator:
Learn how to recognise intuition and use it as a personal dream translator.

Powerful Dream Analysis Tools:
Choose from step-by-step techniques to explore dream and symbol meaning.

Symbol Categories Defined:
Translate any dream symbol based on clues from its symbol category.

A Concise Dream Dictionary:
Explore meanings of top dream symbols defined for personal growth.

Working with a Dream Expert:
Learn how to select a qualified dream professional and get the best results.

Understanding Subconscious Influences:
Find out what dreams reveal about your subconscious mind and how it works.

Remembering Your Dreams:
Discover tips to enhance dream recall and retrieve subconscious details.

Nightmares:
Learn how to interpret and recover from nightmares and avoid certain triggers.

Dream “How-To”:
Find tips, answers, and resources to help you understand your dreams and what they reveal about you.

Includes an excerpt from The Curious Dreamer’s Dream Dictionary!

Today I’m reviewing something a little bit different. When asked to review this book about dream interpretation, I was curious (just like the title!) to see what I could gain from it. Whilst it was not completely to my typical fiction tastes, I can see how this would appeal to those who would like to start out with interpreting their dreams, without the unnecessary, convoluted jargon.

Picking up this book, I thought about several recurring dreams that I have, keen to see if there was any under-lying meaning to them. Regularly I dream about old school acquaintances – who remain fixed as their teenage selves, whilst I am the older adult; being incredibly late and despite either using a car or running, it is like going through treacle as I never reach my unknown destination; having to sit my History A-Level exam again for which I have never prepared for. These dreams frequently occur and I have always wanted to know why. Why do I dream about them so often? What do they mean? In addition, I was conscious of a more recent, random dream where I was drifting in a hot air balloon, going over the motorway to avoid a traffic jam. In my dream my hand was trailing out of the air balloon basket, which then gets randomly bitten by a horse (!). I find myself queuing up at the doctors, like it is a supermarket, with a very sore hand. Bizarre.

So, some may say that I went into this book with rather high expectations. Not at all, I was very open-minded and wanted to explore this market of interpreting dreams. For me, interpretations come with literature and reading texts, so this abstract nature that links to your subconscious was very interesting. Wagaman helpfully chunks down the chapters meaning it is easily a book for reference that you can go back to. There is little theory and scientific jargon which should appeal to all sorts of dreamers – from beginners to those more experienced.

However, at times I felt it quite repetitive and there were times when I thought that phrases were repeated unnecessarily. Furthermore, there are frequent references to Wagaman’s other books. I appreciate that this is so the reader can use this text as a spring-board to more detailed self-help books. However, at the same time it felt like an advertising platform and not an opportunity for the reader to explore the meaning behind their dreams.

I guess the question you are asking yourselves is whether I found the answers to my bizarre, random dreams. To be honest, I had already figured out most of them (just not the horse-biting one!) and was curious to see if there was anything I had missed. I don’t tend to dream very often – I’m too tired and fall into heavy sleep. Yet, my examples gave me an opportunity to consider alternative ideas. Also, I feel a bit more prepared for any new symbols in further dreams. Of course, I wasn’t expecting specific answers because interpretations are relevant to the dreamer, but it was quite interesting nonetheless.

If you are up for recording and analysing your dreams, this should certainly appeal. Particularly if this is new to you, Wagaman explains everything in easy-to-digest terms with helpful examples. Personally, I’m happy to keep my wacky dreams as something to entertain the husband with the next morning, rather than obsess on implied meanings.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Riots and abduction

‘Little Boy Lost’ – J.P. Carter

4-star-rating

Little Boy Lost.jpg

Innocence is no protection against evil…

One early October afternoon, ten-year-old Jacob Rossi begins the short walk home from school. But he never makes it.

Days later, DCI Anna Tate is called to the scene of a burning building, where an awful discovery has been made. A body has been found, and the label in his school blazer reads: J. Rossi.

As Anna starts digging, she soon learns that a lot of people had grudges against the boy’s father. But would any of them go so far as to take his son?

And is the boy’s abductor closer than she thinks?

If I could have read this book in one sitting… I would have done. It was soooo good and gripping that I felt I just had to keep going. However, that thing called “life” got in the way and I had to keep coming back to this novel. No worries, I still enjoyed it and found myself completing it in record time.

This is my first read from Carter and I had no knowledge of Anna Tate, the series this book focuses on. Despite being the third book, Carter helpfully provides enough background information that I did not feel like I had missed anything. I felt connected to Anna as a character and shared her heart-aches and worries surrounding her daughter, Chloe. Indeed, the end result was that I shall be looking for the first two books in the series, so please do keep an eye out for their reviews in the near future…

What I enjoyed most about this story was the intensity of the action. Set in London during a time of awful unrest, Carter recreates the horrors of the 2011 riots. The clock is ticking as Anna is trying to solve the murder of a young boy whilst all police forces are being stretched to the limits. London is falling in on itself as gangs are destroying the city, reacting to a terrible mistake by a police officer earlier in the week. It all felt incredibly real and believable; I felt the stress and anxiety experienced by Anna and Chloe and could not fathom how the civil services were going to cope.

The narrative is initially divided into two segments: Anna on her murder investigation and Chloe. Chloe becomes sucked into the riots one night and her encounter with lawless London is terrifying. Disorientated, confused and with no way of finding safety, Chloe is swept away into the nightmare that London has become. I found these sections the most exciting and interesting as the horror that is portrayed had my heart in my mouth. I was desperate for Chloe to find safety and for Anna to come to her rescue.

On the other hand, the murder investigation gradually grows in dominance in the narrative. Naturally, this had a much slower pace and I enjoyed watching the progress of the case. Many recognisable London places are referenced and, knowing the area rather well, I could easily picture these urban streets in my head. Anna is a detective who leaves no stone un-turned but, with a depleted police force due to the riots, finds herself with few resources and a ticking clock as she tries to find who killed the little boy, Jacob. Whilst I could not see who committed this atrocious action, I liked the final twist at the end as it maintained my interest throughout the story.

This was a great, gripping read. The setting was enthralling and I loved the intensity this added to the rest of the crime. Whilst Chloe’s story was more enjoyable, I liked Anna as a main character and supported her quest for justice. She is portrayed as an admirable character and I look forward to reading about more of her investigations in the future.

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With thanks to Avon books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Bingo 2020 category completed: Begins with the letter ‘L’.