Take me to that gite!

‘Grace’ – Patricia Dixon

Grace

Miles away from home, can you survive Christmas alone?

Singleton Grace loves Christmas and having all her family with her on the day. But this year things will be different.

One by one, each of her three children announce that they have other plans for the holidays, leaving Grace home alone with a dilemma. Should she put on a brave face or admit she is hurt?

After deciding it’s time for a change, Grace books a cottage in the French countryside for Christmas.

Max is also at life’s crossroads after coming to terms with the end of his marriage. Making a spur of the moment decision, Max heads to the Loire where he hopes to clear his head, see the sights and escape the festivities.

In the meantime, Grace’s children embark on their own Yuletide journeys. Heidi faces the dreaded in-laws, Amber heads to New York to bag herself a fiancé, and Seth can’t wait to hit the slopes.

But when their plans begin to fall apart, they are all left wishing they were at home with their Mum for Christmas.

Will Grace get what she originally wanted or is a surprise in store?

Don’t you just love it when you finish a book and you can’t help but sigh with satisfaction? That’s what Dixon has created with this wonderful Christmas story. I was so immersed that I felt saddened I could not join Grace and Max at their gite in France. Oh, and I am so ready for Christmas!

This was a delightful story that had me warm inside, all the way down to the tips of my toes. Grace is a likeable character from the beginning and I wanted her to find her happy ending. Dixon’s characterisation is wonderfully played because you see the different elements of Grace’s personality. A mother and friend to her three children, we discover how Grace has evolved into a different person since splitting with her husband. Grace is keen to ensure her children are happy at Christmas, and whilst readers can understand her desire to please, it is impossible to ignore the feeling of loneliness and isolation.

Separation and feeling like an outsider is a key theme in this novel. However, Grace and Max decide to live life as an adventure and it is fate that has them meeting on the ferry en route to France. Similarly, Max is just as likeable and you cannot help but sympathise with him as Dixon reveals his past. Grace and Max are destined to be together and I could not put the book down for wanting to discover this relationship.

This book symbolises the importance of togetherness and family at Christmas time. However, I think Dixon is trying to convey that this should not be forgotten at all, regardless of the time of year. The stories of Grace’s children add to the charm of the plot and I loved how they were eventually all woven together.

If you are looking for a Christmas story, then this is definitely one for your bookshelf! I think I could happily read this book any time of the year and if you wish for a literary pick-me-up, then I think this would certainly fulfil that need!

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

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Jigsaw puzzle

‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ – Kate Morton

5-star-rating

Morton

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the depths of a nineteenth-century winter, a little girl is abandoned in the narrow streets of London. Adopted by a mysterious stranger, she becomes in turn a thief, a friend, a muse, and a lover. Then, in the summer of 1862, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she retreats with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a quiet bend of the Upper Thames . . . Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gun-shot rings out. A woman is killed, another disappears, and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time.

Over the next century and beyond, Birchwood Manor welcomes many newcomers but guards its secret closely – until another young woman is drawn to visit the house because of a family secret of her own . . .

As the mystery of The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton begins to unravel, we discover the stories of those who have passed through Birchwood Manor since that fateful day in 1862. Intricately layered and richly atmospheric, it shows that, sometimes, the only way forward is through the past.

Definitely the best way to describe this novel is that it is like reading a jigsaw puzzle. Morton carefully provides intricate details throughout the plot and we gradually learn how the different narrative frames are linked. With different histories to explore, this novel made me feel like a dectective, just like present-day Elodie, learning the truth behind Birchwood Manor.

At first I did not think I was going to settle to the story, but Morton pulled me in with the fascinating stories surrounding “Lily” and Birchwood Manor. I could vividly imagine the scenes that Morton describes, the writing is so clear and detailed. Elodie’s character, our present-day heroine, did not take as much of the story as I was expecting. I think this made the narrative more refreshing and intriguing. So often novels with a flashback feel more centred on the present and, whilst I would have liked to explore Elodie’s character in more detail, I relished learning more about this strange narrator set at Birchwood Manor.

I fell in love with Birchwood Manor and could happily picture such a tranquil setting! This is juxtaposed with the eventual horrors that take place at this idyllic house on the river. There is more to this Manor than so many of its inhabitants believe and the strange, ghostly narrator is the lynch pin that brings them together.

The artists described as inhabiting Birchwood one summer were very flamboyant and exactly how I would have pictured them! Morton picks up on the spiritualism and romanticism of the time, especially personified by Edward. As the story focuses on Lily, Edward is like a by-stander. His emotions towards Lily are represented through his artwork and I found it entertaining how his peers cannot understand how far Edward is inspired by Lily.

The novel reminded me a little bit of Barbara Erskine‘s writing, particularly with the ghost, spiritualism and the different time frames. Admittedly, I got a little confused at times with the varied time periods but on the whole, this merely enriched the narrative even further. I certainly do not think this book would have been as powerful if it had been told chronologically; it just would not have worked.

My first and succcessful read by Kate Morton! This was a surprising winner and at six hundred pages, I found I gobbled this up over a few days. Once I was engrossed, I was desperate to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw: what happened to Lily? where is the Blue Stone? and what are the connections between all of the characters?

Gruesome

‘Revenge’ – Gaynor Torrance

Revenge.jpg

Why are dead bodies appearing when no one has been reported missing…?

When mutilated female corpses are discovered in shallow woodland graves it becomes apparent that a serial killer is at large. With no one reported missing, no apparent motive and no obvious suspect the investigation proves to be far from straightforward.

As suspicion falls upon those associated with the privately-owned woodland, it soon becomes clear that there are sinister secrets they are determined to hide.

Detective Inspector Jemima Huxley is put in charge of the case. But Jemima has dark secrets of her own…

Can Jemima lay her personal demons to rest? Or will the case threaten to overwhelm her?

And can she catch the killer before more women turn up dead…?

REVENGE is the first crime novel in a new British detective series featuring DI Jemima Huxley – a dark serial killer thriller with a shocking twist.

This was a very dark crime novel. Pacey, involving and rather gruesome, I read this over a span of just 24 hours. A start of a new crime series, I look forward to seeing what the writer does next.

If issues of rape, self-harm and detailed descriptions of murder make your stomach turn, then consider this your warning before reading Revenge. Torrance describes these elements in quite a lot of detail which literally had me squirming my way through the pages! The writer does not hold back and this was definitely something I am not used to in my reading. I guess this lack of being desensitised made the details more horrific; reading gruesome crime stories more often would probably make this story seem quite conventional.

I enjoyed how quickly the investigation progressed. Torrance does not prolong it with unnecessary questions and, whilst the team initially do not make rapid progress, it allows the reader to understand the full cast of characters (and subsequently, suspects) that are being introduced into the narrative. The final reveal fills in all of the gaps and the book finishes with a satisfying conclusion. I wonder if it was a little rushed but, on reflection, it suited the rapid development of the rest of the novel.

The lead character, Jemima, is a troubled, lonely soul. Struggling to conceive, she throws herself into her work, thereby isolating herself from her husband even further. There is an obvious divide between Jemima and Nick; I wanted them to be able to open up to one another and talk about the pregnancy issues and their true feelings. I could not anticipate what the writer reveals about Jemima’s character and hope that support is provided to her in the next one of the series. Hopefully there will be some happier times for our protagonist!

Despite the awful crimes depicted, I enjoyed how different this is to other novels that I have read of a similar genre. I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for the next one of the series because I think it has been a brilliant opening. Yes, it is rather gruesome, but the writing style moves so quickly that it doesn’t mean you are left dwelling on it for too long.

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

Not much new here

‘The Death and Life of Dominick Davidner’ – Shawn Inmon

3-star-rating

Davidner

How many lives would you spend to find your beloved?

Dominick Davidner was murdered. Then things got worse.

Instead of going on to the afterlife, Dominick found himself back in his nine year old body, all memories of his previous life intact. All he can think about is Emily, the love of his life, left behind when he died.

Unfortunately, she is now thousands of miles away. How can Dominick find his way back to the woman he loves, and what will he say if he finds her?

The premise of this story is based on a romance spanning many years (and lives). Continuing the time travel series, I was excited to see what the writer could produce this time. However, I am disappointed to say that I was left feeling like no new ground was created here and an opportunity was lost.

I did enjoy the novel, don’t get me wrong. This is the fourth book I have read of the series and it now feels like I am revisiting an old friend. Yet, whilst it was brilliant to see how the lives of Thomas (book 1), Michael (book 2) and now Dominick, all come together, at times it was repetitive and tedious. The middle section of the novel was the least appealing to me. Having read the story of Michael only last month, I am trying to maintain the momentum of reading a series without too much of a gap. However, the writer describes Dominick’s times at the military barracks, where he first meets Michael – just what was featured in the previous novel. This time, the story is from a different character’s perspective but I did not find it very original. In all honesty, it was too similar and I think this section could have easily been reduced to make the rest of the plot more detailed. The army Game and the bullying from more senior students were all too familiar and it felt like an easy way to get past this overlap of stories. I wanted something more unique.

That being said, the story around this section was good. The opening chapter successfully establishes Dominick’s story and I liked how the rest of the novel crept forwards towards this “anniversary”. There is more attention given to the ethereal element of the plot and, like its predecessor, I relished on discovering more information about this. Dominick’s character is what you would expect from someone who has been reincarnated and I enjoyed seeing how a middle-aged man behaved in a nine year old’s body!

Whilst the previous story was about redemption and forgiveness, this is about unrequited love. Dominick is desperate to find his wife, Emily, from his first life, and this is the main factor driving the plot forwards. He does everything he can to find her and when he does, this does not always go to plan – causing Dominick to make some drastic decisions to have another shot at being with Emily. I felt that Dominick was rather naive towards finding his wife; his complete surprise at seeing her in a relationship with someone else was no wonder. I questioned how he could have been this naive to such a development particularly after all the life experiences that Dominick has had. Indeed, trying to force a relationship when they are both so young, even though Dominick was “old” in internal years, was no surprise when it did not succeed. However, this all sweetly demonstrates the love that Dominick continues to hold for his wife.

Towards the closing of the novel, characters start to overlap. We see our time travellers starting to come together and I think this was certainly the strongest part of the novel. I cannot help but continue reading this series because I really want to find out more! There is so much potential here that I am excited to read more about their connections. I can only hope this is done in a more unique manner than what Dominick’s story offered.

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Safe story

‘Daisy’s War’ – Rowena Summers

Daisys-War-1-300x465.jpg

There was more than one kind of war. There was the one that threatened so much of the world now, and there was the inner war within a person.

A terrible tragedy has torn the Caldwell family apart and the Caldwell girls have split up: Imogen has joined the war effort, Elsie has married, and Daisy? Daisy has lost her way.

Living away from home and missing her sisters, Daisy isn’t sure who she is anymore. She’s making new friends, dancing with new beaus, but everywhere she turns, she finds death. Working as a nurse and confronted with new horrors daily, Daisy finds herself wondering what the point of it all is anymore.

As the chaos of the Second World War rages on and her own life falls to pieces, Daisy dreams of real love, of lasting friendship, and of hope for a different life… but she must look for light where she can find it.

Another war time story, this time following young, impressionable Daisy. Whilst it is the second of a series, you can easily read this as a stand-alone – which is exactly what I did. The book itself isn’t that ground-breaking but if you like a story set in the war, then this is probably to your tastes.

I was hoping for a bit more drama than what Summers has created. However, this is rather “safe” and there isn’t anything too daring within the story. Daisy is quite a sweet character, but I found her gutlessness a bit irritating. Her other sisters, particularly Imogen, appear to have a bit more to them; when they appeared in the narrative, I thought it added more variety to the plot.

Daisy is a young girl who is trying to grow up and find her place in a chaotic world. Struggling to find her calling during the Second World War, she settles to nursing. When she finds herself on the medical boats, shipping between the French and English coast, Daisy witnesses things she will never forget. I think this is the making of her and reflects her moving from a girl to a woman. Personally, it was the most interesting part of the story and I enjoyed the grittiness that this part carried. Inevitably, Daisy moves on and over the course of the book, still struggles to feel that nursing is what she should settle for.

The novel’s title reflects how the reader’s follow Daisy’s experiences during the war. However, it is not just the conflict that Daisy is having to deal with, but also her inner turmoil about dealing with members of the opposite sex, coping with her mother’s death, and also her career choices. This was a pleasant touch from the author and illustrates the multi-faceted meanings to the title.

This was an average read. It didn’t take me long but I wasn’t enthralled by it! It felt like a safe saga and I was hoping for something that stood out from the numerous war stories already out there. As part of a series, I don’t think I would seek out the rest of the novels, unless they are strikingly different to this one.

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

Too high hopes?

‘Magpie’ – Sophie Draper

3-star-rating

Magpie.jpg

She’s married to him. But does she know him at all?

Claire lives with her family in a beautiful house overlooking the water. But she feels as if she’s married to a stranger – one who is leading a double life. As soon as she can get their son Joe away from him, she’s determined to leave Duncan.

But finding out the truth about Duncan’s secret life leads to consequences Claire never planned for. Now Joe is missing, and she’s struggling to piece together the events of the night that tore them all apart.

Alone in an isolated cottage, hiding from Duncan, Claire tries to unravel the lies they’ve told each other, and themselves. Something happened to her family … But can she face the truth?

I was really excited to be presented with an opportunity to read and review this book. I have heard a lot of brilliant things about this author and the blurb and cover equally intrigued me. However, this did not meet all my expectations and I wonder if I had too high hopes for the story?

This is a dual-narrative that follows the perspectives of both Duncan and Claire. We are presented with chapters titled ‘Before’ and ‘After’; it is not until we are fully into the story does it become clear what this actually means. For the most part, readers are witnessing the breakdown of Claire and Duncan’s marriage. There is distrust, arguments and their poor son, Joe, often gets caught in the cross-fire. The writer cleverly manipulates the reader into feeling sorry for both Joe and Claire, although it is not until the final chapters do we really understand the full extent of the story.

For the most part, there is a lot of focus on setting. Draper’s vivid descriptions of the reservoir, its surroundings, and the use of pathetic fallacy, created a spooky and isolated feeling. I was glad to be wrapped up warm and inside as a result! However, I feel that this stagnated the plot and made it a rather slow-paced story. Claire seems to be running around a lot, trying to find her son, and is paranoid that she is turning mad. Duncan, who shows little care towards his family, is taking out his anger and frustrations on everyone around him. Then we have Joe, whose only escapism is metal detecting and researching his discoveries.

The title of the novel is really clever. At first, I thought it referenced Joe’s metal detecting and finding a precious coin. However, not only does Claire see magpies during the story, but also the concept of protecting special things plays a massive part. Being attracted to all that glistens – both literally and metaphorically – reflects the recurring theme of the novel.

Overall, I found the plot rather slow and a little uninteresting in places. Indeed, I felt like I had seen this all before with a broken marriage, distrustful wife and cheating husband. I would liked to have seen more detail on Joe and the people he has started to mix with as a result of his findings. I think this would have diluted the jealousy that is rife in the plot and could have provided another perspective to the narrative. It was only until I reached the final few chapters did I really find myself engrossed in the story. I could not predict the ending and found my hands would not release the book until I had finished it! This, I believe, is the type of writing I was expecting from Draper.

In conclusion, I feel this was an average thriller. For the majority of the story, it does not stand out from other books yet, the closing was dramatic and interesting. I would still wish to read Draper’s other stories and believe that her flair for creativity and unexpectedness is something that showcases her talents as a writer.

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

Worst nightmare

‘Under Lying’ – Janelle Harris

4-star-rating

Lying

In this gripping novel of suspense, the disappearance of a couple’s baby daughter leaves everyone a suspect.

Susan has everything she ever wanted. A loving husband, an angelic daughter and the cottage of her dreams in County Cork. Her picture-perfect life seems too good to be true. And it is.

At a housewarming party with their new neighbours, her daughter Amelia goes missing. As friends become suspects, Susan’s life spirals out of control. And when Amelia’s yellow cardigan is dredged from the lake, every parent’s worst nightmare suddenly seems horribly real.

In the aftermath of Amelia’s disappearance Susan and her husband Paul are not themselves. Someone is hiding something. What if Susan and Paul’s entire relationship was built on lies stretching back years?

Some secrets may be best left buried in the past, but uncovering the truth could be the only way to find Amelia – before it’s too late.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: the disappearance of their child. One that literally sends shivers down your spine and has you reaching for your loved one, just to give them that extra cuddle. How can you continue living when your child disappears? How does life carry on? Susan and Paul are the ones who find out.

This book had me from the beginning. It was quick to develop the characters and I felt like Susan was the most “readable” of characters. The narrative is a dual timeline and readers eventually find out who’s perspective the past is being narrated from. Structurally, the story does not jump around between each chapter; events can develop in the present over several chapters before we shift to the past. I found this quite helpful as there have been books where I felt my head was all over the place and I could not determine what time frame I was in! Instead, Harris does not leave too much of a cliffhanger between time periods, alternatively allowing readers to build up a version of their own events as to what has happened.

Naturally, Harris encourages readers to suspect several characters over the disappearance of Amelia. I was a little confused about Helen’s role in the story – she is portrayed as, simply put, a nosy, drunk neighbour who appears to enjoy invading Susan’s house. I believe that Harris could have developed this aspect a bit further, particularly as Susan and Helen’s relationship grows.

What I found most disappointing about this story was the plot development. By half way through, I had guessed how the narrative would progress. From that point onwards, I felt like the narrative slowed and I was desperate to be surprised once more. Not saying that I was bored with the plot but, I was hoping for some different aspects that were not already anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it when I (finally!) predict the ending of stories but I do enjoy a book more when it remains unusual and unpredictable. Consequently, I believe I raced through the latter half of the story in a bid to find something different and as such, it did not have such a lasting impact on me.

This is a good read from Harris but I feel that if you read your thrillers, you will easily be able to guess the novel’s outcome. It lost momentum from Amelia’s initial disappearance and, whilst I did feel chilled over events, wanted Harris to deliver something a little more dramatic by the closing, rather than have an anti-climax.