blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Beach House Summer – Sarah Morgan

When Joanna Whitman’s famous ex-husband dies in a car accident, she doesn’t know what to feel. Their dysfunctional marriage held more painful secrets than she cares to remember. But when she discovers that the young woman with him in the crash is pregnant, Joanna feels compelled to act, knowing exactly how brutal the media spotlight will be on celebrity chef Cliff Whitman’s ex-wife and his mysterious female friend.

Ashley Blake can’t believe it when Joanna shows up in her hospital room and suggests they hide away at her beach house on a sleepy stretch of California coast. Joanna should be hating her, not helping her. But alone and pregnant, Ashley can’t turn down Joanna’s offer. Yet she knows that if Joanna ever found out the real reason Ashley was in that car, their tentative bond would shatter instantly.

Joanna’s only goal for the summer is privacy, but her return causes major waves in the local community, especially for the man she left behind years ago. All Ashley wants is space to plan for her and her baby’s future, and to avoid causing any trouble for Joanna. But as secrets spill out under the hot summer sun, this unlikely friendship is about to be put to the test.

My thoughts: I do enjoy a Sarah Morgan novel, they’re excellent cheery reads and perfect for days just lounging about reading. Ideally on holiday. In this one we’re in California, by the beach as Joanna and Ashley navigate their unusual connection and Joanna revisits her past.

Cliff Whitman was not a nice man and it took his now ex-wife a long time to see it, but once she did she was done. Joanna wants to help Ashley and protect her, knowing exactly how it feels to be thrust into the limelight and over a summer, the two women bond and cook and chat.

It’s not a complex read, but there are a few plot twists and surprises lurking in this book, the light and intelligent story whizzes along and Joanna, Ashley and their old/new friends are charming company.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Keep You Close – Mary Burton

Old secrets are hard to keep buried in this gritty and gripping novel of suspense from New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton.

Kelsey Warren may now be a high-flying journalist, but she’s never forgiven her reckless mother Donna for abandoning her as a teenager.

Yet when Kelsey returns to her hometown and discovers her mother’s body at the bottom of a flooded quarry with a gunshot wound in her chest, Kelsey’s world is flipped upside down. Her mother didn’t desert her; she was killed.

Despite Sheriff Mitch Garrett’s pleas to leave the case alone, Kelsey is determined to uncover the truth about her mother. But small towns hide big secrets, and someone has their eye on Kelsey and is set on silencing her for good.

Previously published as In Dark Waters

My thoughts: I liked Kelsey and Mitch, the way they bickered and her irritation at his need to protect her from everything, even though she had a right to know what was going on, after all it was her mother’s disappearance they were looking into.

However this book contained one of my biggest bugbears and it distracted me from the plot – the phrase “making love” as a euphemism for sex. If you can happily write a steamy sex scene, then please use the phrase “having/had sex” instead of “making love” which just makes me gag. Especially when it’s in the back room of a dive shop or a one off, they’re having a shag, not *gag* “making lurve”. Please stop.

Apart from that, and this isn’t the worst offender, it was a good and enjoyable crime story – I didn’t guess the killer right away and couldn’t see at first how the other deaths were connected, which was good. If it’s too obvious, it’s boring. Which this wasn’t.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

reviews, books, blog tour

Blog Tour: The Break Up – Charlotte Barnes

You don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.

Edi Parcell thought she had life all planned out, so when her childhood sweetheart proposes a three-month break to date other people, she’s shocked. Unexpectedly back on the dating scene after years with the same guy, this is the first opportunity Edi’s had to think about what she really wants from life – and love.

From disastrous first dates to meet-cutes at museums, Edi is soon on a voyage of self-discovery – and she has her best friends on hand to help with everything from deciphering WhatsApps to deciding whether that cute woman in the art gallery really was flirting with her. When the break is over, will Edi even want her old relationship back?

My thoughts: I liked Edi and her hilarious friends, I was in agreement with them about how much her stupid boyfriend needed to be dumped for good, and kicked in the shins for good measure. He’s so pathetic, he didn’t like it when Edi realised she didn’t need him any more.

I didn’t really get why they were together in the first place and for so long, but never lived together and just, there was something off about him from the start and his parents seemed like total nightmares too.

He also went into typical hetero panic mode when Edi met Fred, shock horror, a woman! As a queer person, I just rolled my eyes at this, sexuality is fluid, especially for women, and heaven forbid Edi find a woman attractive. Cemented his loser status right there. I cheered when Edi finally realised she wanted to make some serious changes and not stay stuck in a rut forever.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Keep Her Sweet – Helen Fitzgerald

Desperate to enjoy their empty nest, Jen and Andeep downsize to the countryside, to forage, upcycle and fall in love again, only to be joined by their two twenty-something daughters, Asha and Camille. Living on top of each other in a tiny house, with no way to make money, tensions simmer, and as Jen and Andeep focus increasingly on themselves, the girls become isolated, argumentative and violent. When Asha injures Camille, a family therapist is called in, but she shrugs off the escalating violence between the sisters as a classic case of sibling rivalry … and the stress of the family move. But this is not sibling rivalry. The sisters are in far too deep for that. This is a murder, just waiting to happen… Chilling, vicious and darkly funny, Keep Her Sweet is not just a tense, sinister psychological thriller, but a startling look at sister relationships and they bonds they share … or shatter.

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and adapted for a major BBC drama. Her 2019 dark-comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in the Literary Review, Herald Scotland, Guardian and Daily Telegraph, shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and won the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award. Her latest title Ash Mountain was published in 2020. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband. Follow Helen on Twitter @FitzHelen.

My thoughts: I don’t have the easiest relationship with my sibling but Asha and Camille take things to a whole new Cain and Abel level with their violent, relentless fighting, bitching and casual cruelty. Even the therapist they hire to help the family mend some fences is a bit at a loss and some things are beyond talking about it.

After their parents spiral off in their own problems, the sisters are left alone, rather unwillingly, and war breaks out. Asha definitely has some serious issues and Camille can’t take the constant abuse anymore. They aren’t children so the violence is all the more shocking, Asha knows exactly what she’s doing when she attacks her sister. The brutal behaviour worsens the longer they’re together and in the end it might just break them.

Shocking, unrelenting and disturbing, this takes sibling squabbles to an extreme beyond the norm and then some. Brilliant writing, jaw dropping stuff.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: To The Grave – John Barlow

Will the truth be buried with the dead?

When DS Joe Romano first meets Ana Dobrescu she’s nervous, in serious danger, and clearly needs help. The next time Romano sees her, she’s dead.

There was nothing more he could have done, but that’s cold comfort for Romano. He’s determined to catch Ana’s killer. Although the prime suspect, her millionaire boyfriend, is in a coma.

With the help of his larger-than-life partner Rita Scannon-Aktar, Romano begins to piece together a puzzle that places Ana at the centre of something much bigger than they could have imagined.

But while they’re hunting a murderer, those higher up are more concerned about the money. So it’s up to Romano to get justice for Ana. And whatever she knew, he’ll just have to pray that she didn’t take her secrets to the grave.

My thoughts: from what looks like a simple pub fight on the surface, to murder, people trafficking, exploitation and dodgy financial dealings in the small town of Batley, Yorkshire.

DS Romano, himself the grandson of immigrants, is sensitive to the plight of a group of trafficked Romanians, stripped of their passports and forced into horrible jobs for little to no pay, living in squalor. But Ana had a plan to help them, can Romano and his team unravel all the threads in this gritty and dark thriller?

I liked Romano, even if he really could use a clean suit and a good night’s sleep, he’s very determined and forges on even when he’s told that Ana’s death is “probably a domestic”, he knows there’s more to it than that and he won’t rest till he’s helped the same people Ana wanted to. I liked his partner in solving crime, Rita, not your stereotypical copper, and her no nonsense, take no prisoners attitude too, she was good fun.

The case felt timely and real – Brexit may well mean more people trafficking as it’s harder for migrant workers to come into the country legally to do the work Brits don’t want to do, some unscrupulous individuals will take advantage wherever they can. Hopefully the real DS Romano’s out there will put a stop to them.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Her Child’s Cry – S.A. Dunphy

‘I just want my little girl back. She’s so little, she needs her mummy. And she doesn’t even have her panda bear with her. Find her, please find her, before it’s too late.’

Little Rosie Blake has been taken. Since going missing from the hospital where she was being treated for cancer, Rosie’s distraught parents haven’t heard a word. And time is swiftly running out. They have to find her, and right away, because Rosie can only survive for ten days without her medication.

With the police unable to find any leads at all, criminal behaviourist Jessie Boyle and her team are brought in to help. Who would be so evil as to steal a sick child? Narrowing down on a suspect, Jessie quickly moves to arrest them, only to discover the suspect’s dead body instead… And with no Rosie in sight, the case becomes even more desperate.

Who killed their chief suspect, and where is Rosie now? And is Rosie’s disappearance linked to the sudden revival of Dublin’s Hellfire Club, an ancient and terrifying cult obsessed with death and human sacrifice?

As the race to find Rosie intensifies, her heartbroken parents know their little girl’s time is running out. The clock is ticking, but Jessie clings on to the hope of finding her safe. Then her search leads her to Ireland’s remote mountains… Will Jessie be able to survive the deadly threat that awaits her, rescue Rosie, and get her back to safety, before it’s too late?

An utterly compelling crime thriller that will have you hooked from the very first line. Fans of Patricia Gibney, Lisa Gardner and Lisa Regan will not want to miss this.

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Shane Dunphy (S. A. Dunphy) was born in Brighton in 1973, but grew up in Ireland, where he has lived and worked for most of his life. A child protection worker for fifteen years, he is the bestselling author of seventeen books, including the number one Irish bestseller Wednesday’s Child and the Sunday Times Bestseller The Girl Who Couldn’t Smile. His bestselling series of crime novels (written under the name S. A. Dunphy) feature the criminologist David Dunnigan. Stories From the Margins, his new series of true crime books written for Audible, has been critically acclaimed and the second title in the series, The Bad Place, is an Audible True Crime bestseller. 

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My thoughts: the team return for another case with folkloric overtones, although this time they’re rooted in more human behaviour – the Reavers are a strange band planning a sacrifice, spun out of the infamous Hellfire Club, and a child’s life is at stake.

There seems to be several different groups interested in little Rosie’s life – why did the hospital porter report that she wasn’t safe, what does an old school gangster have to do with any of this?

Dawn gets to go all Die Hard, kicking in doors and wielding guns, while Jessie goes off on her own and Terri is put in danger. It’s absolutely cracking, heart in mouth, stuff. There were several moments where it seemed as though we might lose a character as they’re up against possibly the nastiest bunch so far. And of course Jessie’s creepy serial killer stalker Uruz is still around sending her messages, are they any closer to identifying him? Cannot wait for book four.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books, reviews

Readalong Round-Up: The Plant Rescuer – Sarah Gerrard-Jones

A simple, stylish and complete guide for any houseplant owner
Whether you have just one or many houseplants, this is the book they need you to read. It is a clear and practical toolkit on all aspects of plant care from how to choose a plant to tips for everyday care. Changes in your plant’s appearance are often a cry for help and this book will help you understand their needs. Learn how to help your plants not only survive but thrive.

Sarah, also known as @theplantrescuer, is a self-taught houseplant obsessive who firmly believes every plant deserves a happy life. Her determination to see beyond the ‘perfect plant’ and to rescue unloved plants makes her the go-to guide.

My thoughts: I don’t have green thumbs, notoriously my plants die, although those that survive are clearly very stubborn. But I love plants so I keep trying. With my fingers crossed.

Like a lot of people I really got into house plants during lockdown, I had some before but I bought quite a few while unable to go out, bringing that lovely green into my flat. However not everyone survived, including me, tearing my hair out as some of the plants just gave up – despite me trying my hardest to keep them alive.

Then comes along this book, and a spark of hope for some of my slightly droopy plants. It’s full of explanations to why plants go brown, or limp, and die. And ways to save them that don’t include “cry, chuck in bin and buy a new one” – aka my go to method.

Instead of spending ages on Google trying to solve the droopy leaf crisis of 2022, I dipped into this book to diagnose my sad little plants and do some clever plant healing. Though the fact that plants suffer from over and under watering will continue to drive me mad – how can I stop this nonsense!

A really useful and informative guide to houseplants, I’m hoping this will encourage and help me be a better indoor gardener and give me at least a tiny bit of a green thumb, just a tiny bit of plant magic.

Below I’ve posted the readalong challenges, if you read this book, please share your thoughts. And tag me @ramblingmads in your plant photos on Instagram.

books, reviews

Readalong Round-Up: When Women Were Dragons – Kelly Barnhill

I took part in another Tandem Collective readalong last week – this time for Kelly Barnhill’s first YA novel, When Women Were Dragons.

A rollicking feminist tale set in 1950s America where thousands of women have spontaneously transformed into dragons, exploding notions of a woman’s place in the world and expanding minds about accepting others for who they really are. • The first adult novel by the Newbery award-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons; left a trail of fiery destruction in their path; and took to the skies. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of.

Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of this astonishing event: a mother more protective than ever; an absentee father; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and
watching her beloved cousin Bea become dangerously obsessed with the forbidden.

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, award-winning author Kelly Barnhill boldly explores rage, memory, and the tyranny of forced limitations. When Women Were Dragons exposes a world that wants to keep women small—their lives and their prospects—and examines what happens when they rise en masse and take up the space they deserve.

My thoughts: first up, I love the cover, all those lush greens and purples, the hint of scales and then that eye in the bottom left corner, hinting at hidden things and the mystery within.

Obviously being published right now when reproductive rights in the US are at risk makes a book about women – wives and mothers all, as the book says, spontaneously turning into giant fire breathing mythic beasts, breaking free of society’s confines, feels very prescient. As the law seeks to repress women yet again, an age old conflict, the idea of one of the oldest creatures in our collective folklore being within women is very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind being a dragon sometimes.

This is an incredibly moving book, I cried a few times, and very honest. Alex is a wonderful protagonist, my heart really ached for her as she loses her aunt, her mum, her home and struggles to get by, taking so much care of her sister Beatrice.

I was angry with her stupid dad and wanted a dragon to eat him – what a terrible man, so weak and cruel. Who in their right mind treats any child the way he does. He’s pathetic.

I loved librarian Mrs Gyzinska, she was amazing, what an incredible woman, total hero. Her support of Alex and Bea is so important to Alex’s survival.

Overall I thought this was a powerful, timely book about women, their strength and courage, about change and hope. I really enjoyed it once I got into the story, the use of extracts from various documents got a bit grating at times – I cared more about the characters.

I’ve posted the challenges from the readalong below – if you read the book, maybe you’d like to share your thoughts inspired by these starters.

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Blog Tour: Of Legends and Roses – Ashley W. Slaughter

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Welcome to the book tour for Of Legends and Roses by Ashley W. Slaughter. Read on for details and the chance to win a fabulous giveaway! Oh and stay tuned for the release of the second installment in the series Of Deceit and Snow which comes out this November!

Of Legends and Roses (The Crowned Chronicles #1)

Publication Date: August 31, 2021

Genre: YA Fantasy

A realm touched and forgotten by magic.

A young queen orphaned by disease.

A prince after her heart.

Queen Rosemary Avelia knows little about ruling a kingdom, and even less so about the ancient legends of her land. Since no one has been born Talented in centuries, she simply scoffs at the idea of magic. However, when the charming Prince Gryffin Danicio arrives just as her kingdom is under a deadly threat, he shows her that not all kingdoms of the Magian Peninsula have so quickly dismissed the legends of the Talented. Perhaps the Talented should not so easily be forgotten.

Of Legends and Roses is the first book in The Crowned Chronicles, a series following passionate and determined Queen Rosemary as she faces reign, love, the threat of war, and the mystifying world of the Talented.

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Teaser

I heard Zeke’s voice again. Point your blade downward.

With every emotion swirling through my head, I almost laughed; even in his absence, Zeke was trying to tell me what to do.

But I listened to him as I pushed up from the cobblestoned street and let the tip of my sword hang downward toward the ground. Don’t relax. I tried to feign fatigue, which really wasn’t too much of a challenge, but I kept my arms taut. Ready.

A wicked smile spread across my opponent’s face, and he strode forward, his weapon glinting in the sun, ready to strike.

Then, just before I was within his sword’s reach, I shot the tip of my blade upward, and I thrust my sword forward with every fiber of strength contained within me.

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Ashley W. Slaughter was born and raised in south Louisiana, among sugarcane fields lining the banks of the Mississippi River. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2018 and worked as a wildlife biologist before pursuing her career as an author. Writing has always been a passion of hers, as shown through her near-to-bursting manila folder of short stories she’d written throughout grade school, and the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed her to rediscover this passion. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, spending time with her husband and pets, and, of course, reading.

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My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, Rose is a great protagonist, always trying to live up to her parents, but even when she falls short, she doesn’t give up. She wants to be the best Queen she can, even if that means giving up some of the things she wants.

She’s also a good big sister, caring about her younger sisters, aware they don’t remember their parents the way she does.

I liked her relationships with her servants, advisers and friends – she’s aware of the boundaries between them because of who she is but is still able to talk to them as people, not in a high handed “Queenly” way.

The plot is interesting without being overdone and story moves at a good pace, keeping me engaged and keen to read more – something not every writer can do. Fingers crossed book 2 is as good.

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*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Little Drummer – Kjell Ola Dahl, translated by Don Bartlett

When a woman is found dead in her car in a Norwegian parking garage, everyone suspects an overdose … until a forensics report indicates that she was murdered. Oslo Detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda discover that the victim’s Kenyan scientist boyfriend has disappeared, and their investigations soon lead them into the shady world of international pharmaceutical deals. While Gunnarstranda closes in on the killers in Norway, Frølich and Lise, his new journalist ally, travel to Africa, where they make a series of shocking discoveries about exploitation and corruption in the distribution of foreign aid and essential HIV medications. When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, all three investigators face incalculable danger, spanning two continents. And not everyone will make it out alive… Exploding the confines of the Nordic Noir genre, Little Drummer is a sophisticated, fast-paced, international thriller with a searingly relevant, shocking premise that will keep you glued to the page.

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published thirteen novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

My thoughts: what starts off as a bit of paperwork following a suspected OD becomes a far more complicated beast, when the police discover the victim was murdered and CCTV shows a man fleeing the scene. He flees all the way back to his small village in Kenya, and detective Frølich follows him there, he doesn’t think the young scientist is a killer, but he’s definitely a witness.

Covering international relations, big business, fraud, murder, conspiracy and all sorts of other nefarious practices, this book unfolds a shocking tangle of bodies and lies that all ultimately link to the biggest evil of all – money.

Journalist Lise is personally involved from the start – she found Kristine’s body, but her own life is at risk when she starts digging into the case, hoping for a cracking story, she bites off a bit more than she can chew, but a partnership with Frølich means she’s not in too much danger as his instincts mean he’s watching out for her.

As the case unfolds and they start to connect the dots, one man is their suspect, but is he a red herring? Could another, rather more innocuous man, be the real mastermind and murderer?

Clever, twisting and turning, revealing some of the crimes of international development in the global South, this book takes you from Norway to Kenya and back, following the money and peeling back the layers of secrecy and control to find the killer at its heart.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.