Book Reviews

Book Review: A Messy Affair by Elizabeth Mundy

The only way is murder…

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner working in London, is forced to brush up on her detective skills for a third time when her cousin Sarika is plunged into danger.

Sarika and her reality TV star boyfriend Terry both receive threatening notes.  When Terry stops calling, Lena assumes he’s lost interest. Until he turns up. Dead. Lena knows she must act fast to keep her cousin from the same fate.

Scrubbing her way through the grubby world of reality television, online dating and betrayed lovers, Lena finds it harder than she thought to discern what’s real – and what’s just for the cameras.

 

I am very happy to be involved in the blog tour for A Messy Affair by Elizabeth Mundy.

Lena is an Hungarian cleaner who works in London. She uses the cover of her job to solve the murder of reality TV star, Terry Tibbs.

Whilst trying to figure out who killed Terry and keep her cousin safe, she’s struggling to determine what is real and what was for the cameras.

I had not read any of the previous books in the series but this didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t feel that I was playing catch up.

Lena is a feisty character and I immediately liked her. The supporting characters were all intriguing too.

Reality TV plays a big part in the plot along with revenge, obsession and murder. It’s a good study at how reality TV is blurring the lines between what is real and fiction and like Lena, I was desperate to find out what was what.

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Book Review: Right Behind You by Rachel Abbott

Jo Palmer’s peaceful and happy life is about to end.

Ash – the man she loves – will be arrested by the police.
Millie – her precious daughter – will be taken from her.

She will lose her friends.
She will doubt her sanity.

Someone is stealing everything Jo loves, and will stop at nothing.

But right now, Jo is laughing in her kitchen, eating dinner with her family, suspecting nothing.

It’s raining outside.

There’s a knock at the door. They are here.

When the police show up at Jo’s door saying they are arresting her partner, Ash, she doesn’t know what to think.

When Social Services are not that far behind, saying that they want to take her daughter, Millie due to complaints of abuse, Jo very reluctantly agrees when she thinks she has no choice.

When it becomes clear that things are not what they seem, Jo becomes frantic.

DCI Tom Douglas and DI Becky Robinson are back and they vow to help her but with Jo questioning which people she can trust, she doesn’t know whether she will see Ash and her daughter again.

I am always so happy when Tom and Becky come back again. They are one of my favourite crime fighting duos and I was intrigued to see what came next.

I don’t know what it is about these novels but I devour them. I race through them because I can’t stop reading and then I have such a book hangover once I’ve finished. Rachel Abbott has such a way of writing a compelling thriller and this book, like the others, did not disappoint.

Some of Jo’s decisions are questionable but overall, I felt sorry for her.

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NK Chats To… Paul Nicholls

Hello Paul. It’s lovely to be welcoming you to Novel Kicks today. Can you tell me a bit about your book, The Magical Secret of the Crystal Kingdom and what inspired the story?

It’s a children’s portal fantasy novel along the same lines as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which was one of my favourite books growing up. It’s about a group of children who find a collection of crystals buried in a cave in the woods.

They take the crystals back to the house that they are staying in and that night they are transported into another world made of crystals and inhabited by magical talking animals. The female protagonist Rose is transformed into a pink horse and is separated from all of the other children who also think that they are alone there and are also transformed into magical animals.

One by one the children start realise that this world is at war and has been for a long time and that it is down to them to save it. It is a story of love and hope and believing in yourself.

 

What were the challenges you faced when writing?

Keeping track of the characters! I always knew from the start that I wanted to create a world into which both the characters and the readers can escape into. By creating another world it was inevitable that the children were going to meet lots of characters along the way.

Also, for the purposes of relating a deeper meaning to certain aspects of the story I knew that I needed to have seven friends who go into the crystal kingdom together.

 

What’s your writing process like from first idea to final draft, where do you like to write and do you have any writing rituals?

I did initially start with an outline or more accurately a headline for each chapter but as I started to write I realised that the characters and the story took on a life of its own and that so much just happened spontaneously that was never in my original plan.

I write at my desk at home and normally just write on a Friday morning to get me going. However once I’ve really got going I tend to write at all different times.

 

What’s your favourite word and why?

I think Enchanting is my favourite word it just sounds exciting and amazing and wonderful all at the same time.

 

Which book made the most impact on you as a child?

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Book Review: Make Do and Mend a Broken Heart by Katey Lovell

When you know how, you can make anything from scratch, including a new life after love…

When Leanne and Richard bought a dilapidated old seaside cottage to renovate together as their forever home, their future was full of hope and promise.

But heartbreak was just around the corner: fast forward a few months and Richard is gone. With his death, Leanne finds herself stony broke, faced with an uninhabitable home and lacking even the basic skills to do it up herself.

With the help of the friendly woman who runs the library and the reluctant assistance of the man who works in the local hardware shop, the cottage is lovingly restored. But broken hearts aren’t so easy to fix… are they?

 

I was so excited to be part of the blog blast for Make Do and Mend a Broken Heart by Katey Lovell.

When Leanne and Richard buy Sea Glass Cottage, they can’t wait to begin the new chapter of their lives and start renovating their new house by the seaside. When Richard dies before they have a chance to realise their dream, Leanne decides to go it alone.

She soon finds that the residents of Rockgate Bay pull together for her, especially the handsome, Harry. Can they help mend her broken heart?

First of all, can I move to Rockgate Bay please? Having grown up near the sea, this book really made me miss it so much.

The town sounds so wonderful (the setting is described so well,) as does most of the residents. There are a couple of them I didn’t care for. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

I loved Mary and Harry. Oh Harry Also, can I steal Milo?

Leanne was very easy to love. She’s been through a lot. I wanted to reach into the page and give her a hug.

She shows such strength as a character. She is well-developed and to me, she jumped off the page.

Katey Lovell’s style of writing made this novel hard to put down for me.

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Book Review: Snowflakes and Sparks by Sophie-Leigh Robbins

One small town. One swoon-worthy neighbor. One second chance at love.

Old Pine Cove is the one place on earth Suzie swore she’d never return to, but then her boss asks her to manage one of their bookstores there. Since it’s only temporary, she agrees. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?

Gosh, how naïve of her.

Alex Denverton opening the door with that smoldering look of his, that’s what could go wrong. It’s been ten years since she broke his car and his heart. How is she supposed to focus on work knowing he’s right next door? And why did she even agree to organize the annual Winter Walk with him?

One thing is certain, though. If Suzie wants to have a magical Christmas, she can’t ask Santa to make it happen. It’s up to her to decide: go big or go home.

 

Snowflakes and Sparks focuses on Suzie. Living in LA, working in a bookshop and hoping for promotion, she didn’t think she would ever return to the small town of Old Pine Cove but it’s where she finds herself, just before Christmas, managing the bookshop there.

She has not been in town long when she sees Alex. She’s not seen him since she left and broke his heart ten years earlier. He’s as gorgeous as she remembers and seems to have no anger toward her.

How was she supposed to concentrate with him next door? She has even said she’d help organise the winter walk with Alex. What could go wrong?

Snowflakes and Sparks was my introduction to Sophie-Leigh Robbins but it won’t be the last book of hers I read.

I read this at the beginning of December and it immediately put me in the festive mood.

I loved Suzie from the beginning. She is a very open, friendly and relatable character. I want to be her friend.

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Book Review: The Afternoon Tea Club by Jane Gilley

I am pleased to be welcoming Jane Gilley and the blog tour for her latest book, The Afternoon Tea Club. 

Marjorie, Stacy, Raymond and Dora each hold a different story to their chest – lost loves, abandoned dreams, crippling self-confidence issues, and simply feeling invisible. For each of them, the thought of letting those stories out is almost as terrifying as letting strangers in, and that makes for a very lonely life indeed.

But when these four strangers who have struggled to “fit in” end up on the same table for an event at their local community centre, little do they know that their lives are about to be entwined and changed forever because of an Afternoon Tea club.

Cue an unexpected journey of self-discovery, some unlikely new companions, and plenty of tea and biscuits along the way…

 

This novel had me at the title. Tea is one of my favourite things. There’s a lot more to it than that though.

The Afternoon Tea Club focuses on Marjorie, Dora, Raymond and Stacy.

All vary in ages but all are harbouring their own secrets and insecurities. These four characters are also lonely in their own ways.

When The Afternoon Tea Club is announced in their local area, each of our main characters goes although some are more reluctant than others. Dora, Raymond, Marjorie and Stacy are four unique characters who have more in common than they realise. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because, as normal, I hope you will decide to discover this book.

Marjorie carries a lot of learned behaviour and has much emotional baggage tied into the relationship with her husband.

Dora also has a lot of hurt from her past and it’s been something she’s been running from for a long time.

Raymond is probably one of the sweetest fictional characters I have come across. He’s a simple man who is still in love with his wife ever after her death.

Stacy is missing so many aspects of love from her life and she almost has to hit rock bottom to find herself again.

I think out of all of the characters, I related to Stacy the most. She and I don’t share life experiences but there was just something about her. Although, I think she may be a little braver than me.

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Book Review: Eve’s Christmas by Julie Butterfield

Working for a department store where Christmas arrives in August, Eve prefers her own festivities to be low key with nothing more complicated than an oven ready turkey and frozen peas while she spends the day in her pyjamas. Unfortunately, this year her husband has invited his best friend to visit, the glamorous and sophisticated Abby, and Eve reluctantly decides that she needs to inject a little sparkle into their laid back and slightly shabby Christmas.

So the celebrations are upgraded to include champagne and canapes along with homemade gravy and organic turkey and plans are made for a Christmas that looks as though it has emerged from the pages of a glossy magazine.

But even the best laid plans can go wrong and as Eve struggles with her mini Yorkshire puddings and an interfering cat, she is suddenly faced with an unexpected guest and an explosive secret that threatens to put her vision of a perfect Christmas in jeopardy.

Eve prefers the quiet life at Christmas especially as working in a department store means that the festive season arrives in summer.

This year though, she has to trade her PJ’s and minimum efforts for all out glamour and perfection when her husband announces that his best friend, Abby is coming to stay for twelve days over Christmas.

Her home is soon covered with pages ripped out of magazines, pages of notes and failed cooking attempts as Eve becomes slightly obsessed with making everything perfect. She is surrounded by an excited youngest daughter, an eldest daughter who doesn’t waste a chance to remind her of the amount of waste generated over Christmas and a confused husband but she gets tunnel vision and is soon even redecorating the spare room in anticipation of Abby’s arrival.

I had a mixture of sympathy and annoyance toward Eve at the beginning of the book as I had a feeling it was not going to go as planned.

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Audiobook Review: Murders of Old China by Paul French

One country rich in history, 12 unsolved murders. Reopening the archives on China’s long forgotten past.  

Why did a remote police station, built to combat pirates, find itself at the centre of a murder-suicide after a constable went on the rampage? How did Chinese gangsters avoid conviction after serving a deadly dinner to Frenchtown’s elite? And why is the Foreign Office still withholding a key document to solving a murder that took place in the Gobi desert in 1935?

By delving deep into 12 of China’s most fascinating murder cases, Murders of Old China delivers a fast-paced journey through China’s early 20th-century history – including its criminal underbelly. 

Uncovering previously unknown connections and exposing the lies, Paul French queries the verdict of some of China’s most controversial cases, interweaving true crime with China’s chaotic and complicated history of foreign occupation and Chinese rival factions. 

I rarely feature non-fiction on Novel Kicks but when I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Murders of Old China and read about the premise, I jumped at the chance.

Murders of Old China is an Audible original and is narrated by the author, Paul French. He looks at twelve murder cases that happened in China in the early 20th century.

Each chapter focuses on a different case and even though it’s non-fiction, it felt that I could have been reading a fictional murder mystery novel. Some of it was almost unbelievable.

The mystery and the twists and turns in these cases appealed to my love of puzzles and history.

This has made me want to know as much as possible about this era that I have previously not known anything about.

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Novel Kicks Book Club: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

Hello December. I am excited as this is my favourite time of the year.

The trees and lights are going up and the cold weather has certainly arrived so there is no better reason to curl up with a cup/glass of something and a book (I know I say this every month,) and I am hoping you’ll join me with reading this month’s book club.

I’ve chosen Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn.

This book sounds like a lot of fun and has an interesting premise. As normal, I have posted a question to kick off the discussion. Hopefully see you in the comments.

 

About Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.

I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.

At the urge of her lucky-in-love brother, sixteen-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of dares on her favourite bookshop shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept. Curious, snarky Dash isn’t one to back down from a challenge – and the Book of Dares is the perfect distraction he’s been looking for.

As they send each other on a scavenger hunt across Manhattan, they’re falling for each other on paper. But finding out if their real selves share their on-page chemistry could be their biggest dare yet….

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Book Review: It’s Not PMS, It’s You by Rich Amooi

Hello to Rich Amooi and the blog tour for his novel, It’s Not PMS, It’s You. Welcome, Rich. 

Ruth “Ruthless” Harper is on the verge of becoming managing partner at her all-male consulting firm and she won’t let anything stand in her way. That includes men, relationships, and that dreaded F word, FEELINGS—distractions she eliminated long ago.

After the worst day ever (a near-death experience and a public wedgie, for starters), Ruth realizes she doesn’t want to live and die alone. She puts together a business plan to find the perfect man and dives head first into the murky online dating pool. All she wants is a high-powered executive who understands how important her career is. If only it were that easy.

Problem is most men are intimidated by Ruth’s confidence and shocked by her bluntness. The exception being her landscape designer, Nick, whose cool demeanor and unsolicited dating advice are driving her nuts. He’s the antithesis of the business-oriented man Ruth envisions for herself, so why do all signs keep pointing back to him?

 

Ruth is a workaholic and has been too busy for love. She’s about to become a managing partner in her all-male consulting firm and she is not going to let anything stand in her way.

However, after experiencing the worst day which includes a near death experience and a public wedgie, she makes a plan to meet the perfect man. She doesn’t want to end up alone.

Nick, who Ruth has employed as a landscape gardener isn’t intimidated by her confidence or bluntness.

Can Ruth’s perfect man be closer than she thinks?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. From the first chapter however, I knew it was going to be a book I was going to love. I couldn’t put it down. I mean, the title alone is brilliant.

Ruth is a funny, real, relatable character who doesn’t apologise for who she is and knowing what she wants.

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Book Review: The Perfect Widow by A.M. Castle

I’d like to welcome A.M. Castle to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her novel, The Perfect Widow.

Louise Bridges has the perfect life.

A loving husband, Patrick. Two adorable children. A comfortable home.

So when PC Becca Holt arrives to break the news that Patrick has been killed in an accident, she thinks Louise’s perfect world is about to collapse around her.

But Louise doesn’t react in the way Becca would expect her to on hearing of her husband’s death. And there are only three plates set out for dinner, as if Louise already knew Patrick wouldn’t be home that night…

The more Becca digs, the more secrets she uncovers in the Bridges’ marriage – and the more she wonders just how far Louise would go to get what she wants…

Is Louise a loving wife – or a cold-hearted killer?

 

Louise Bridges has the perfect life. She has the husband, two wonderful children, the house, the car and the lifestyle many would and do envy.

When the police arrive to tell Louise that her husband is dead, her veneer doesn’t falter.

Becca, who works for the police sees something strange in Louise’s behaviour. What starts as curiosity turns into obsession as she tries to prove whether Louise is just grieving or whether she murdered her own husband.

This isn’t a normal crime whodunnit. It’s unique in its set up and it’s unlike anything I have read, especially in this genre.

It’s told from a ‘then and now’ structure with a POV from both Louise and Becca. I liked this as it gave me an insight into each of their motivations and character.

Louise is a character I tried to empathise with but I found this hard to do. However, I don’t think I was meant to like her and I needed to question her motives and decisions. It was like she was set up to put the reader on edge and this added to the tension throughout the novel. I loved this aspect. Although I didn’t like her, I wanted to understand her and that made me want to keep reading and for this reason, I think she was very well-developed.

Becca is a character I found to be quite a sad and lonely woman; similar to Louise really. Becca sees work as a way to fill her life and escape her reality. Both in their own way are seeking validation.

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Book Review: Snowdrops on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry

I am pleased to be welcoming Ellen Berry and the blog tour for her new novel, Snowdrops on Rosemary Lane.

 

Last winter she had a plan.

Lucy fell in love with tumbledown Rosemary Cottage as a child. So thirty years on, when she loses her city job and discovers the cottage is for sale, it feels like fate. She’ll raise her children in Burley Bridge and transform the cottage into a B&B with her husband.

But a year can change everything . . .

Now Lucy is juggling two children and a B&B, but on her own. Christmas looks set to be their last on Rosemary Lane – until she meets James, a face from her past and someone who might offer a different kind of future . . .

Should Lucy leave the cottage behind? Or could this winter on Rosemary Lane be the start of something new?

 

I am not crying, I have something in my eye…. OK, I am crying.

It was hard not to reach for the tissues with the latest book by Ellen Berry.

It focuses on Lucy, who after losing her job in Manchester, makes the decision with her husband Ivan to move to the picturesque village of Burley Bridge. It is not all plain sailing for Lucy and her family and there are many ups and downs along the way. Lucy wonders whether Rosemary Cottage is her forever home after all?

It’s not hard to feel love and empathy for Lucy especially as things happen for her pretty early on in the novel.

James, like Lucy is dealing with issues that I think a lot of people would be able to relate to. He and Lucy have many layers to them. I liked them both a lot.

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Book Review: The Rector’s Daughter by Jean Fullerton

The Rector’s Daughter is the latest novel from Jean Fullerton and I am happy to be welcoming her blog tour to Novel Kicks today. 

Charlotte is the daughter of Reverend Percival Hatton. She’s been ok to follow the path set out for her. She’s happy to help the poorer people of the parish (much to her father’s annoyance.)

She also has an understanding with Captain Nicholas Paget who she is expected to marry.

Everything in Charlotte’s world changes when she meets Josiah Martyn.

Josiah is in the area to help build the first tunnel under the River Thames. He’s an ambitious, Cornish mining engineer and he is the complete opposite to Nicholas. He is not at all the man the Reverend wants for his daughter.

Josiah and Charlotte grow closer. Can they defy the odds against them and have their happy ever after?

 

The Rector’s Daughter is, I am ashamed to admit, the first novel I have read by Jean Fullerton.

Charlotte is a character I warmed to straight away. She is a good person, who, in and out of love, is having to fight against the expectation of her class and gender.

Josiah is such a likeable, honourable leading man and I like the idea of him and Charlotte together. Whether they do make it, I hope you find out for yourself by reading the novel.

The supporting characters are a mixture of wonderful and outright horrible. Some I wanted to throw in a cupboard and throw away the key. Haha.

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Book Review: A Convenient Marriage by Jeevani Charika

Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.

Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding
for him.

When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow
their heart?

Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?

 

Featuring a subject that is obviously close to the heart of the author, ‘A Convenient Marriage’ has, at its centre, two main themes; arranged marriages and a couple of LGBT characters.

Let’s get the wee bit about the story out of the way (for more details…buy the book!)

Getting married to satisfy the expectations of family and society, Gim and Chaya are two of the most satisfying, realistic characters I’ve come across for a good while. The way the author has drawn them and the culture they come from really touched me.

This is a novel where the power of culture and family are central to all that’s wrong with large parts of some societies and because of that, all down to this readers upbringing, I did find that a little hard to understand. However, in the end, this is a novel about friendship and all that should be important.

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Book Review: Starlight Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett

Hello to Sarah Bennett and the blog tour for her latest novel, Starlight Over Bluebell Castle. 

Jessica Ridley’s life has just been turned upside-down – and not in a good way! So when blast-from-the-past Tristan Ludworth invites her to stay at Bluebell Castle and transform it into a winter wonderland, it’s the perfect distraction for Jess and her two young children…

Jess is used to planning even the most elaborate events in her sleep, but she certainly didn’t expect to be working so closely with Tristan at the castle – or that she could still find him quite  so handsome after all this time!

And with a little holiday magic in the air, it’s becoming harder and harder to resist his charms. Can Tristan convince Jess to give love one more chance, just in time for Christmas?

 

Jess is on the up and up with her job. She also has a huge crush on her colleague, Tristan. Then, when they are on the verge of taking things beyond flirting, Jess leaves and both their lives take different directions.

Years later and Tristan and Jess’s paths cross again. Tristan has left London and returned to Bluebell Castle to help run his family estate. When he finds out that Jess’s marriage has ended and she needs a job and sanctuary for herself and her two boys, he offers Jess a job.

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