‘Stepsister’ by Jennifer Donnelly

I’ve read a lot of Jennifer Donnelly’s adult readership books and loved them. This is my second young adult read from this author, after ‘These Shallow Graves’, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I was intrigued to see how this particular fairy tale character would be re-invented.

This is definitely a fun fairy-tale read, creatively continuing the story of ‘Cinderella’ from one of the Stepsister’s perspectives. The opening of the book was very cinematic with the characters of the Fates in their tower room, busily creating maps of people’s lives, however their peace is soon shattered by Chance, a pirate-like figure, who bursts in to steal one of the maps. This draws us into the world of Isabelle de la Paume, one of the Ugly Stepsisters, who is described as selfish, mean and without beauty. A gauntlet is set down by Chance to change her fate.
The story switches to the end of ‘Cinderella’, when the Stepsisters are cutting off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper and marry the prince. As we all know, that plan failed dismally and as Cinderella and the Prince ride off, Isabelle is left behind bleeding. It’s her life after this events that is now the focus.

Donnelly weaves a tale of Fates, Chance, Death and a dark, live rabbit munching Fairy ‘Godmother’! We are soon routing for Isabella, after understanding her life from her perspective. The reader is soon on another fairy tale quest to defeat the villains!

Isabella has to take a chance on changing her fate, to find the strength and will to be responsible for her own destiny, of her own choosing, to seek forgiveness and take back what her heart truly desires and ultimately deserves.

Recommended YA read. With thanks to Zaffre books for the review copy.

‘The Gaia Trilogy’ by David Barker

‘The Gaia Trilogy’ by David Barker is a thriller series set in the not too distance future where the threat of a war for water is on the horizon. The central protagonists are Sim, who has newly joined the Overseas Division, and the more experienced Freda who both battle the constant threat from terrorists and their governments who are after control of the world’s water supplies. Freda and Sim must put themselves at great risk to protect the future of the ‘blue gold’ but it’s a deadly game of deception and high-paced, dangerous missions.
The second book ‘Rose Gold’ focuses on a mining base on the moon and the potential saviour for the world’s global problems but there are others that do not want this project to succeed. The central characters return in this development novel and once again a battle against terrorists recommences; Sim and Freda are once again caught up in a deathly intense mission.
The newly published final book ‘White Gold’ returns the story to Earth and Sim is out to seek retribution for the criminals his Overseas Division battles against. However, the complication of a nuclear warhead being stolen changes his direction and focus. This book is a race to find those responsible and disarm the dangerous device.
This is an intelligently and well-written thriller trilogy that begins with the real question of water becoming an at-risk commodity in our own future and the stark implications of this. It’s pacy, dramatic, with an action film vibe; the principal characters are engaging and their dialogue entertaining. It’s a battle of good and evil, and about those who fight to do the right thing in the face of extreme situations and challenges. And for the reader it also highlights the importance of the earth’s commodities and an awareness of how valuable they are; that we have a collective responsibility to look after our valuable, life-sustaining but increasingly fragile planet.

Published by Urbane. All three books are now available on Amazon UK from £0.99 and available on kindleunlimited; this information is correct as of May 2019.

DAVID BARKER – was born in Cheshire but now lives in Berkshire. He is married to an author of children’s picture books, with a daughter who loves stories. He is Chief Economist for an international fund. David is a graduate of the Faber Academy.

David Barker says: “The Gaia Trilogy allows me to combine my love of thriller writing with environmental and climate issues that are close to my heart. Using the thriller genre gives me scope to look at the complexities surrounding the future of our resources while still entertaining readers.”

Thank you to Urbane Publications for the copy of ‘White Gold’ and introducing me to David Barker’s trilogy.

‘The Never Game’ by Jeffery Deaver

An engaging puzzle of a thriller, full of twists and introducing a new breed of ‘hero’ who you’ll definitely want on your side!

Yep Colter Shaw works for me! What an intriguing protagonist, his approach to his ‘job’ is fascinating and I’ve even started thinking in percentages – lol!
He is a fascinating ‘hunter’ and uses the skills taught to him by his parents to help people who need help finding others. He is a lonely figure but seems confidence and secure in the life and career he has chosen.
This is a thriller, that immerses the reader into Shaw’s world of kidnap, murder and the psychology of the criminal mind linked to the multi-million pound video gaming world. I’m not a gamer, but I was fascinated with this world of video games and its ability to put people into virtual worlds. It’s also a current thread about how playing such games can alter and affect the reality of the players.
I was intrigued by this book and despite the pace slowing at times, I really enjoyed the twists and turns and working out the puzzling threads as the story developed. It’s also clearly the beginning of a series and I’ll definitely be reading more.

Published by Harper Collins – 16th May, 2019

April Wrap-Up

Whoops – slightly delayed… but 20 books read or listened to in April.

April was a busy month for reading and here’s my summary:

‘The Wolves of Winter’ by Tyrell Johnson – an atmospheric story in a dystopian environment where survival is a daily battle. 3.5 stars.

‘Warrior of the Wild’ by Tricia Levenseller – A YA Viking inspired novel about a monster-ridden world and how a girl defies exile to seek justice. Took me a while to get into it, but I enjoyed the story as a nice escape from reality. 4 stars.

‘To Ride a White Horse’ by Pamela Ford – I really enjoyed this, set during the terrible Irish famines of 1846 and centres around a girl whose adventure to save her family forces her to make a choice of family loyalty or a challenging love. 4 stars.

‘The Reckoning’, ‘The Stranger You Know’ and ‘The Last Girl’ by Jane Casey – I love all the DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent novels and this month I’ve been listening to the audio-books after being inspired to have a full re-read after the recent release of ‘Cruel Acts’ the 8th book in the series. Overall 5 stars for the series. Love them!

‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novik – I loved this! Beautiful writing steeped in the style of traditional folklore. Fab! 4.5 stars.

‘The Darkness Around Her’ by Neil White – a really solid and engaging legal mystery in the Dan Grant series. Great read. 4 stars.

‘A Curse So Dark and Lonely’ by Brigid Kemmerer – It took a while to get into the story and then I had a great time reading this – a decent fantasy YA read re-working the timeless and always endearing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story. I’ll look out for the sequel. 4 stars.

‘Thirteen’ by Steve Cavanagh – the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series and I loved it – all beautifully twisty and bloodthirsty! 4.5 stars.

‘Here’s Looking At You’ by Mhairi McFarlane – I chuckled away several times at this, got bored and skimmed when the pace dragged and then chuckled again and went ‘awwww’ at the cute ending. Yep, it was okay. 3.5 stars from me though, wanted it to be more, but something just didn’t click for me personally.

‘Where the Dead Fall’ by M.J.Lee – the second book in the D.I Ridpath series and a solid crime read, happy with this one! 4 stars.

‘Sweet Little Lies’ and ‘Stone Cold Heart’ by Caz Frear – a crime series featuring DC Cat Kinsella, really enjoyed both of these and I am eagerly awaiting book 3! 4 stars.

‘Come Back for Me’ by Heidi Perks – had great time reading this mystery set on a remote island… until the end. I did not like how it ended, which ultimately spoilt it for me. 3.5 stars – should of been a solid 4.

‘Little Darlings’ by Melanie Golding – a dark creepy, Grimm’s tale influenced psychological thriller about a mother’s fear that her babies are in terrible danger. 4 stars overall.

‘One Night for Seduction’ by Erika Ridley – the first book in the Wicked Dukes series and it didn’t really work for me, the principal female was so annoying. 3 stars for the ‘hero’ – lol!

‘Ayesha at Last’ by Uzma Jalaluddin – I’m usually wary of re-workings, particularly with beloved author’s such as Jane Austen…however I enjoyed this ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Muslim version. Felt the end was rushed and was a little anti-climatic but enjoyed the overall journey. 4 stars.

‘#taken’ by Tony Parsons – the sixth book in the Detective Max Wolfe series, a page-turning thriller read, very happy with it. Easy 4 stars.

‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ by Christy Lefteri

This story is written simply and beautifully and encapsulates the journey of Nuri and Afra into a relevant, powerfully crafted journey of deep deep loss and the prevailing light of hope.
It is the human spirit and its resilience that ultimately shines through even after such heart-wrenching and deeply destructive events.
It’s the story of a city destroyed by a futile war and of a fraught and dangerous journey to find a home.
The narrative switches back and forth as Nuri and Afra are being processed for immigration into Britain to join Nuri’s brother and help look after a colony of bees and the dominating and harrowing story of their journey.
It certainly opened my eyes to the life of a genuine refugee; absolutely compelling reading.

‘No Turning Back’ by Sam Blake – mini-review

I really enjoyed this book about Detective Garda Cathy Connolly. It’s a part of a series, so to get the most from it, I’d definitely read ‘Little Bones’ and ‘In Deep Water’
From the opening quote “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!” from Walter Scott’s, ‘Marmion’ I was hooked!

The story begins with a prologue set late at night as a woman hurries along a icy coastal path overlooking Dublin Bay; she is set to met someone she needs help from, however this soon becomes the next crime to investigate for Connolly and her Detective Inspector, Dawson O’Rourke. Cathy and Dawson were partners previously and now through promotions have different roles, but their personal relationship in this book develops; it’s been a underscore in the previous two and more built on a strong respect and friendship.
I enjoy both the character of Connolly and O’Rourke; they work well as a team and their developing personal relationship is also engaging. The central story works well and explores how two deaths in different places on the same night are connected, some solid plot twists and I really enjoyed the read.

I’ll eagerly look out for the next in the series. An engaging, well-plotted and character driven crime novel.

‘The Darkness Around Her’ by Neil White

I really enjoyed ‘The Darkness Around Her’ by Neil White, the second book in the Dan Grant and Jayne Brett series. This can be read as a standalone, but as always to get the most out of the relationships, I’d recommend starting with ‘From the Shadows’, the first in the series.
Dan Grant is a lawyer and for his cases he uses a previous client, Jayne Brett, as an investigator. Brett comes with a lot of ‘baggage’ from a previously destructive relationship and a murder charge; she is still coming to terms with the aftermath and this impinges on her working and developing personal relationship with Dan Grant . Grant is a solid character and really likeable, so together they make a great team to follow on their new cases.
In this book, the crime centres around a young woman who is found murdered and Dan is tasked with representing her alleged killer. However, this case is far more complex than first perceived. I really enjoyed the development of the case and the uncovering of other deaths and missing people. Great writing; a brilliantly paced and thoroughly engaging crime novel culminating in a tense and dramatic ending. Can’t wait for the next book.

March Wrap-Up

Physical Books

March was a busy reading month for me, particularly as I tried to reduce my Netgalley reads. So, out of the books I read, I have some clear favourites and my summary statements are below. (Summary only, as I read 22 books and some are reviewed in more detail in other blog posts and some have full reviews to come):

‘Hell Bay’ – 4 star. Loved it, a cracking start to a new crime series by Kate Rhodes.

‘Blackberry & Wild Rose’ – 4 star read from Sonia Velton, a fascinating glimpse into the silk trade in London’s Spittle-fields and a drama or two along the way!

‘The Hating Game’ – 3/4 star, an easy to read bit of cheeky light entertainment – gave me a chuckle or two along the way, thanks to author Sally Thorne !

‘The Familiars’ – 4 star, if you want to head back in time and immerse yourself in hypocrisy and witchcraft then this’ll do. Based on real people, places and events. Well researched and executed novel by Stacey Halls.

‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ – 5 stars from me for Taylor Jenkins Reid, loved everything about this one. All written as interviews and the story emerges from different accounts and perspectives.

‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ – 5 stars, I was fascinated by this book, based on a true crime and carries an important message about lost, forgotten voices. A great accomplishment by Elizabeth Haynes.

‘Soulless 1 & 2’ – 3.5 stars, fun graphic novel interpretation of the Soulless series of novels by Alexia Tarabotti concerning vampires, werewolves and parasols, adapted by Gail Carriger.

‘The Cheater’s Game’ – 3.5 stars, the continuation of ‘The Watchmaker’s Daughter’ series by C.J. Archer. This one is about magic, murder and a visiting Wild West Show.

‘The Night Raven’ – 3 stars, couldn’t get into this one, but a great idea from writer Sarah Painter. Waring magical families, ghosts and missing people dominate the story.

‘From the Shadows’ 4.5 read from Neil White. A fast paced, well plotted and character driven thriller. Great read.

Kindle reads & Netgalley

‘Cruel Acts’ – 5 star, my most anticipated read this year from a favourite crime author, Jane Casey. Loved it! Desperate for book 9 now!

‘Sleep’ – 4.5 nearly 5! I read this during a storm, which was creepy! Really enjoyed this one; my first C.L. Taylor read – looking out for more!

‘A Dangerous Collaboration’ 4 stars, Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell mystery books are always enjoyable – fun, light-hearted escapism with a dash of romance, and a nicely plotted mystery.

‘Final Betrayal’ – 4 stars, I’m a fan of Patricia Gibney’s Lottie Parker crime books and this one was a cracker of a read! Great stuff!

‘They Call me the Cat Lady’ – 4 stars, and I thought this was great! Had to use up several tissues and ended giving me a huge smile for the rest of the day. Nicely written book by Amy Miller.

‘King of Fools’ – 3 stars, this Amanda Foody (middle book in a trilogy) novel, fell somewhat flat for me. Still thinking about it, might have to re-read the actual print version when it comes out, before a final rating.

‘Stepsister’ – 4 stars, a new style for Jennifer Donnelly and a twist of a beloved fairy tale. Some creepy overtones and loved the cinematic style.

‘The Girl from the Sea’ – 4 stars, a one sitting read, in this tense mystery thriller of lost memories and murder from Shalini Boland.

‘The Almanack’ – 3.5 stars, some great ideas and execution but it didn’t grip me. Suspicion and prejudice in a small village surround this mystery romance by Martine Bailey.

‘The Dancing Girls’ – 2.5 stars at the end, because of the end – really really didn’t like the outcome of this book. Sorry M.M. Chouinard but I couldn’t accept the events – too far reached for me.

‘In the Night Wood’ – 4 stars, this Dale Bailey novel worked for me; mixing the gothic setting of the house in the woods with an exploration of grief.

‘Hell Bay’ by Kate Rhodes

I’d previously read all of the Alice Quentin novels by Kate Rhodes, so when I saw a new character series set by the sea, I was in! I bought ‘Hell Bay’ when it was published in 2018 and put it on my shelf… sooo, the confession is, it sat there until this week. The constant TBR dilemma was the culprit and not the book – I love the cover and the blurb “Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike at any time”. This new book series is based in the Isles of Scilly, predominantly Bryher, where our principal character DI Ben Kitto was born and where he has returned to to recuperate after a traumatic event back in London. However, upon his arrival a local teenager is reported missing and soon Ben’s plan’s drastically change as he joins in the investigation.

I really enjoyed the detailed and evenly paced development of this book, particularly how the landscape is also pulled in as another ‘character’. I’ve never visited the Isles of Scilly, but would love to. Bryher is a small island of contrast, one side meets the tempestuous Atlantic ocean head on, but the other side is sheltered with calm sandy beaches. There is a luxurious Hell Bay hotel, small shops, like The Bryher Shop selling local produce, farm eggs, fresh sea food and island fudge and two local boatyards. All these real elements are richly bought to life by Rhodes with a wonderful cast of colourful characters, and we in turn have a dramatic, dark crime novel.

What follows is Ben returning to police work and using his experience as a Murder Team inspector to hunt down the killer on Bryher. As he begins to reacquaint himself with the local community, he finds there are many secrets hidden from him and his past friendships are under question. Could someone he knows be an aggressive killer? Is his own life in danger? This is a great study of a small, isolated close-knit community with many secrets to hide built around an engaging murder mystery.

I would definitely recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more of this series. Many thanks to Kate Rhodes for creating it and for Shadow, who I already love and can’t wait to catch up with again!

‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

“For Harriet and her son, not forgotten”

Whilst chatting with Elizabeth Haynes on Twitter, she said “you see why I didn’t want her to be forgotten?” and I absolutely did. Also, and most importantly all the other ‘Harriets’ living in a time when women were treated as inferior within a patriarchal and hypocritical society. This is a book that explores the plight of the unmarried female and is based on a true murder case; it is clear this book is a labour of love by the author to give this young woman a voice and a justice, albeit within a dramatic fictionalisation. I think, that’s a truly remarkable aim that is certainly fulfilled for the reader. I have thought a lot about this book since finishing it and how it’s a rich, gripping read that pulls you into the events after and finally leading up to the murder with an engaging and driven narrative.

Harriet Monckton was murdered on the 7th November 1843, only 23 years of age, unmarried and six months pregnant. The story is told through the different perspectives of Francis Williams; Reverend George Verrall; Thomas Churcher and Richard Field. All four voices each with a motive for murder. I really enjoyed the plot structure, moving between the perspectives of these central players. The very clever portrayal of three very different men who all affect Harriet’s life. Verrall’s narrative is particularly foul to read, as he justifies his lustful and abusive treatment of women as a religious act, and Field’s narrative, albeit a seemingly caring man, is not at all what he first seems. The fourth, Francis Williams is the female voice, develops a friendship with Harriet and her story is also significant as a study of the unmarried female with her own desires and challenges.

What follows is a dark and disturbing psychological study of this group of people as we follow the events after the murder and into the community that is at the heart of it all. Towards the end of the novel, Haynes has included Harriet’s fictional diary and this is the particularly poignant moment for the reader and the threads finally come together. I really ‘enjoyed’ this part of the book, even though it was really sad and frustrating to read.

In summary, this book is like going back in time, it’s engaging, driven and a great murder mystery. We also have a culprit at the end, albeit a fictional one; it could easily been seen as a real possibility. It’s a shame Harriet’s murderer was never found and made to pay for their crime, but at least Haynes has given us a plausible fictional one, and in that, there is some justice for Harriet’s story.

I thoroughly recommend this book – an addictive read!