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Friday, January 31, 2020

A Crown In Time by Jennifer Macaire

A Crown In Time (Tempus U Time Book One) by Jennifer Macaire. Published in ebook and paperback formats by Headline Accent on 16th January 2020.
Read January 2020.

Welcome to a far future where time travel is the remit of an elite group of highly trained operatives from the Tempus University. Their job is to research and monitor the past to ensure the future remains stable, and if necessary, they will take action to correct timelines which seem to be going astray - even to the extent of erasing whole chunks of history.

Isobel, imprisoned after a car accident in which a small child was killed, is offered the chance of freedom if she agrees to undertake a dangerous mission to put right a timeline which has been inadvertently knocked off course.

The mission involves going back to France of the Middle Ages and persuading a young nobleman, whose descendants are destined to become the Bourbon Kings, not to run off and join the ill-fated Eighth Crusade.

The chance of freedom proves to be one Isobel cannot ignore and she grabs at it with both hands, even though success will mean that she has to live out her life in the thirteenth century and failure could lead to herself, and history, being erased.

How hard can it be to persuade the mind of a hot-headed youth? Well, as it turns out, nigh on impossible! And so Isobel embarks on a journey that will change her destiny in most unexpected ways...


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I am always a sucker for a time-travel adventure, and one that offers such a rich historical setting as this one does is always going to be a winner with me.

Going back in time does have a pretty vital part to play in the premise of this book, and be assured you will find yourself pleasantly mulling over the loops and consequences of Isobel's mission, which is one of things I find most enjoyable in such stories. But Jennifer Macaire quite sensibly does not dwell too much on the hows, whys and wherefores of the actual mechanics of the time-travel element. Although we do learn some bits and pieces about how things stand in the future that Isobel inhabits - enough to tell us that the world she is used to is very different to the one which is destined to become her new home - this is not a science fiction novel.

It is the past that matters, and drawing us into the past is where Jennifer Macaire's skills as an author really shine. Her uncomplicated writing style is able to completely draw you into France of the Middle Ages. The sights...the sounds...even the smells are described so well that you can almost imagine you are there by the side of Isobel as she tries to navigate her way through a reality she has previously only experienced through the pages of a history book.

The period detail shows that Jennifer Macaire has done her research for this book - one of the things I always enjoy in historical fiction. There is so much about how people lived during this time, not just where they lived. It was also fascinating to read about the danger presented by the rising power of the Catholic Church and how this was changing the attitudes of the population. I loved that she took the time to add a section with her notes about the history behind the tale too, so we could see how the story not only fitted into the time period in which it is set, but also showed the events that followed.

However, don't be afraid that the historical detail makes this book a dry, dusty read, as this couldn't be further from the truth! There is humour, romance and plenty of thrills and spills along the way.

On the subject of humour, the excerpts from the Tempus U handbook at the head of the chapters - giving pithy little snippets of advice about the world Isobel has been sent back to - did make me chuckle. At each stage, Isobel found it necessary to completely go against most of this advice in pursuit of her mission, which was beautifully ridiculous.

I found this book to be utterly charming and became so invested in Isobel's tale that I raced through it in order to find out how the story ended - I and can tell you without the need for spoilers that I was very happy with the result!

A Crown in Time is set to be the first in a new series by Jennifer Macaire, called the Tempus U Time Travel Series, and I am looking forward to reading more.

Thank you to Jennifer Macaire and Headline Accent for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel's Random Resources for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

A Crown In Time is available now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below.

Waterstones
Amazon UK
Amazon.com
Amazon.au

From the cover of the book:

In the far future, a convicted criminal is given a chance at redemption. 

Her mission? To save the crown of France by convincing a young noble not to join the ill-fated Eighth Crusade.

But nothing goes as planned, and Isobel finds herself accompanying a hot-headed youth on his way to fight the infidel in Tunis: a battle Isobel knows is fated to be lost.

From the rainy villages of medieval France, to the scorching desert of Tunis - Isobel faces her destiny and tries to fulfil her duty, knowing she can never return to her time, knowing that a wrong move can doom the future, or doom her to be burned as a witch.

About the author:

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in France.

She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modelled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. 

All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.

Social media links:




Thursday, January 30, 2020

We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk.
Published 23rd January 2020 in paperback by Flame Tree Press. Also available in hardback and ebook formats.
Read January 2020.

Sugar Hill mental asylum - a place where the mentally ill can be cared for and treated with dignity. Or is it?

Dr Alpert has always tried to help his patients in a caring and holistic way, without resorting to the barbaric methods of the past, or relying on the sole use of the strong psychotropic drugs that have become so fashionable. He has a talent for healing tortured souls and believes that his protege, Dr Drexler does too.

Unfortunately, Dr Drexler is not quite the man Dr Alpert thinks he is. He has been working secretly on a drug to cure schizophrenia - one which returns patients miraculously to their former selves - and having run out of funding for clinical trials, he has started using it on the inmates of Sugar Hill.

But the drug has unforseen side-effects, that force previous traumas to the surface and set inner demons free.

And the latest test subject, has some pretty scary demons...

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As a youth, I was a massive fan of a horror book, particularly James Herbert and Stephen King, and loved being scared out of my wits by them. 

Although I tend not to read much horror these days, I do occasionally indulge my old passion when I come across one which really intrigues me, as was the case with We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk - and I am very glad that I did, as it has reminded me of why I used to love them so much.

The setting of a secure mental asylum is always one which bodes well for a horror tale - dangerous, caged inmates and experimental psychotropic drugs with unexpected side-effects? Yes, please!

But I would say that the first two thirds of this novel read more like a psychological thriller, with horror elements, rather than the straightforward asylum-based horror tale I was expecting. This is far from a criticism by the way, Mr Kirk, as I was completely immersed in this book from page one and absolutely devoured it!

Once you get to the final third of the book, then you are blind-sided into a full-scale Stephen King-style horror that completely blows your mind (if you will pardon the pun) - with added Hellraiser to boot!. Here is where the real terror lies and while you are never quite sure what is real and what isn't, there is no doubt that you are right in the middle of a nightmare - and what a nightmare! I loved it.

This story is many layered, finely crafted and wonderfully disturbing. There is a lot of information here about the history of psychiatric treatment, which goodness knows is horrific enough in its own right, but there is so much more.

Yes, this is horror, but it actually covers a lot of interesting ground on the philosophical front, which I found fascinating. It examines the role childhood trauma, PTSD, and feelings of guilt play in dictating adult behaviour, and the importance of forgiveness and redemption in the healing process. And is not afraid to ask questions about how different the doctors are from the patients that they claim to be helping, and whether or not psychiatric treatment has really advanced at all.

Have no doubt, this is a classy novel and I have been extremely impressed by it. I will certainly be investigating Brian Kirk's other work, the next time I feel my own inner demons clamouring for a grisly fix.

We Are Monsters is available now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Brian Kirk and Flame Tree Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review. Thank you also to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.


From the book cover:

Some doctors are sicker than their patients. 

When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free. 



Nominated for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

"A stark and frightening novel. Horror fans should definitely seek this one out." Booklist
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.



About the author:

Brian Kirk Brian Kirk is an author of dark thrillers and psychological suspense. 

His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was released in July 2015 and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.
His short fiction has been published in many notable magazines and anthologies. Most recently, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, where his work appears alongside multiple New York Times bestselling authors, and received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year compilation.

During the day, Brian works as a freelance marketing and creative consultant. His experience working on large, integrated advertising campaigns for international companies has helped him build
an effective author platform, and makes him a strong marketing ally for his publishing partners.

In addition, Brian has an eye for emerging media trends and an ability to integrate storytelling into new technologies and platforms.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Till Morning Is Nigh (Ben Bracken Book Four) by Rob Parker


Till Morning Is Nigh (Ben Bracken Book Four) by Rob Parker. Published 13th December 2019 by Endeavour Media.
Read December 2019.

Bracken, now recovered after the explosive settling of scores at The Penny Black,  unexpectedly finds himself a family man with a new job.

Having been drafted in under duress by Jeremiah Salix, to be an advisor for the National Crime Agency, Bracken's new role casts him as ex-soldier Tom Watson and is intended to keep him out of trouble and quietly in the background.

However, it is not long before Bracken's skills have him involved in an investigation that takes him back into the heart of Manchester's criminal underworld - where a new presence is being felt after the loss of the berg. An undercover officer has been murdered in a most unusual and gruesome way and there are rumours of political links behind the new arrivals.

Something big is on the horizon, planned for Christmas Eve, and Bracken has to infiltrate an ultra-right wing group of ex-military thugs - one of whom may be a serial killer - to find out what it is, and who is behind it.

More than one family is in danger this time around, and one of them is Bracken's....

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If you have been following my blog reviews, you will know that I first met Ben Bracken in 2019, when I had the privilege of reviewing Bracken's third adventure - The Penny Black. I loved this so much that I then went back to fill in Bracken's back-story with books One, A Wanted Man, and Two, Morte Point - and so started my love affair with Rob Parker's broken hero.

Having whetted my appetite for more Bracken, I was over the moon that Rob kindly sent me a copy of the brand spanking new fourth Bracken installment, Till Morning Is Nigh, before publication and I have to say that it is an absolute knockout - my favourite yet!

Each one of  Rob Parker's Bracken books offer great, fast-paced, gritty and violent stories that drag you in and carry you recklessly towards an explosive and gratifying climax, but this time we see something more in our favourite good guy - and that is his reflective side. Bracken is now living the life of a family man, which while being something he has yearned for of late, is somewhat of a surprise for him. It is a bit of an emotional minefield, but he is learning to adapt, to become a different man, and will do almost anything to hold on to his new found happiness. Your softer side is showing Mr Bracken!

The stark and chilling story-line of Till Morning Is Nigh also allows us to learn more about Bracken's inner moral compass. This story is bang up to date for the political morass surrounding Brexit. The picture of a divided country, with the rise of political extremism on both sides of the spectrum that Rob Parker describes in these pages is so chillingly drawn from the times we find ourselves in that you can almost taste it - and it is not a world to be proud of.

We already know that Bracken has a strong sense of duty and cannot stand by while others are being taken advantage of, but we now get a more concrete glimpse of his deeply held beliefs about the kind of country he wants to live in - the kind of country he has always been willing to lay down his life to protect. We begin to understand more about what makes Bracken tick and how he feels about the things he finds it necessary to do.

I was really impressed by the way Rob Parker intertwines the Bracken we know and love with the man he wants to be, set against the backdrop of the criminal underworld and the complex political landscape we find ourselves in - all rolled up in a cracking story. This was so cleverly done and hints at a writer who is maturing and becoming confident with his protagonist. Well done Rob, this is skillful writing.

In addition, we are introduced to some new characters who I hope we will get to see again in the future. I would like to see much more of Okpara, Blake and Catterall please, as they made a formidable team with Bracken and Salix.

I have to say that this book also unashamedly gets you "right in the feels", which is fabulous in a genre which is primarily about big thrills and technicolour action scenes. I absolutely sobbed my way through the end of this book, while simultaneously teetering on the edge of my seat, and I needed a lie down in a darkened room when it was all over!

You should be in no doubt by now that I absolutely loved this book. I have no idea where Rob Parker is going to take Bracken next, but I will most certainly be along for the ride!

Thank you to the stellar Rob Parker for providing me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review.

Till Morning Is Nigh is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the link below:
Amazon UK

You can also find this book on Goodreads here.


From the cover of the book: 

Dragged half dead from a river, Ben Bracken, fugitive ex-soldier, is in a bad way.

But, too valuable to discard and too dangerous to set free, an old friend offers him a choice: abandon his identity and become a desk-bound advisor to the National Crime Agency, or go back to the prison he broke out of – a place where he is extremely unpopular.

Bracken is forced to accept – and he’s becoming a different man.

But all this changes when, days before Christmas, an undercover narcotics officer is murdered in horrific circumstances, and only Bracken has the inside track on the key suspect. Throwing himself into the fray, Bracken finds himself in a very present-day ideological conflict, uncovering a plot which has huge implications for both Manchester’s political, socio-economic landscape, and the nation at large – coming to an explosive conclusion amidst the twinkling fairy lights and frost-tipped boughs of Christmas Eve...

Praise for Till Morning is Nigh:

‘Rob Parker has an astute and humorous turn of phrase that never fails to make me smile. A pacy, intriguing, topical plot showing us the softer side of our dutiful, perpetually conflicted ex-soldier Ben Bracken’ - Heleen Kist, Stay Mad, Sweetheart

‘A cracking, pacy blockbuster of a thriller and with its Christmas setting it’s the perfect gift for your crime-loving friends’ - Trevor Wood, The Man On The Street

‘Till Morning Is Nigh, with themes of how populism is the red meat the far right feeds on, is Parker’s most thoughtful novel yet. Layered, well-researched and with a sparkling narrative, this is an author at the very top of his game. Thoroughly recommended’ - M.W. Craven, author of the Washington Poe series

‘Love Reacher? You’ll adore Bracken; Till Morning is Nigh is a gripper you won’t be able to put down.’ Roger A. Price, author of The Badge and the Pen series.


About the author:

Rob Parker is the author of international bestseller A Wanted Man and Morte Point. He currently writes full time, while also making time to encourge new young readers and authors through readings and workshops at local schools and bookstores.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/robparkerauthor
Website: https://robparkerauthor.com/






Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell (audio book). Released October 2017 by Raven Books/Bloomsbury. Narrated by Katie Scarfe.
Read January 2020.

1866: Newly widowed Elsie Bainbridge is sent to her late husband's crumbling family estate, The Bridge, to see out her pregnancy and escape the gossip that surrounds the brevity of their marriage and her wealthy spouse's untimely death.

When Elsie married handsome Rupert Bainbridge, she was looking forward to a life of comfort, well away from her late father's match factory and the bad memories it holds, but The Bridge proves to be somewhat of a shock. The house is decaying, the few servants employed there are resentful of their new mistress, and the local villagers are downright hostile. Her only company is her husband's impoverished cousin, Sarah, who she barely knows and she longs to be back in London with her beloved brother, Jolyon.

In an attempt to get over her grief, Elsie sets about trying to become mistress of the country estate that is now her home, and improvements certainly need to be made before her child is born. There is much work be done, including finding out what is making the eerie, nocturnal noise beyond the locked garret door - the door that the housekeeper seems reluctant to see opened.

One afternoon, Elsie and Sarah are exploring the rooms they have not yet seen, when they notice that the garret door is now unlocked - the housekeeper must have arranged for a locksmith to come to The Bridge after all. In the dark and dusty garret, they find some old journals and a very strange painted wooden figure of a young girl, that bears a strange resemblance to Elsie as a child - a silent companion - that Sarah takes an immediate liking to.

But the other residents of The Bridge are not so keen on the silent companion, in fact they are terrified. There is something not quite right about the figure and although Elsie puts this down to superstition at first, she soon begins to feel the same - especially when she notices the figure's eyes following her.

Soon, nearly everyone at The Bridge is in fear of the strange silent companion, and things only get worse as more figures start to appear around the house - figures that have materialised from nowhere, and seem to move of their own accord.

The history of The Bridge is bathed in blood and the story behind the companions slowly reveals itself as Sarah reads the journals that were found locked in the garret - the journals of Anne Bainbridge, who was the mistress of the house in 1635. Something very bad happened in this house all those years ago and the evil that lurks there will not rest until it has achieved its aim.

The residents of The Bridge are in terrible danger...

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The Silent Companions is a most unsettling ghost story that chilled me to the bone. I do not scare easily, but this book is the scariest I have experienced since Michelle Paver's terrifying Dark Matter - which is pretty damned scary, I can tell you!

At the beginning of the story, we find Elsie Bainbridge in an asylum, where she has been recovering from terrible burns that have disfigured her and robbed her of her voice. We know that something awful has happened during her time at The Bridge and the story is gradually revealed over the course of the book. Elsie begins to tell her tragic tale by writing an account of her life for the new, young doctor who has been given the task of discovering if she is guilty of causing the fire that has destroyed the house.

The story then follows three timelines - the present, when Elsie is a resident in the asylum; 1866, when Elsie first goes to The Bridge, after Rupert's mysterious death; and 1635, when Anne Bainbridge recounts the tragic events surrounding her own family, via her journals. Throughout, we also learn the history of Elsie's own childhood, with her abusive father and the uncaring mother who fell into madness, and find out why she loves her brother so much.

The story that unfolds is dark, terrifying and completely absorbing. This book evokes a visceral response, but not just from the elements of horror - there is something so claustrophobic and confined about the whole atmosphere of the time periods both Elsie and Anne inhabit, that combines wonderfully with the more sinister elements.

The narration by Katie Scarfe is excellent and she manages to convey the blind fear of these women beautifully. It was so spellbinding that I found myself just sitting and listening, rather than getting on with household tasks at the same time, as I normally would when listening to an audio book!

This is an impressive debut novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also have copies of Laura Purcell's follow up books The Corset and Bone China, and can't wait to read them too.

Killing Beauties: The Chronicle of Susan Hyde by Pete Langman

Killing Beauties: The Chronicle of Susan Hyde by Pete Langman. Published 23rd January 2020 by Unbound.
Read January 2020.

England, 1665: Tension simmers in a country that has been torn apart by the brutal civil wars and the execution of Charles I. His son, Charles Stuart lives in exile with his court, in France, hoping that one day he may return to the country of his birth.

The peace is fragile and Cromwell employs his Secretary of State, John Thurloe, as his spy-master, in order to keep ahead of any possible rebellion by Royalist sympathisers keen to restore the monarchy.

Two spies are sent by Charles Stuart to undetake a dangerous mission to obtain information from under the very nose of John Thurloe himself. But there is something different about these spies, which will hopefully aid them in their task - they are both women, and they will risk everything for king and country.

Based on a true story about England's first female spies, Killing Beauties takes us into a world of intrigue and danger, moves and counter moves, in seventeenth century London. A world which history portrays as one in the hands of men. This is the story of the she-intelligencers.

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Killing Beauties is a new and interesting take on the history of England after the terrible upheaval of the civil wars.

We rarely hear about the women who have had a part in our history, but when we do their stories are incredibly interesting, and this is certainly the case of the amazingly brave women in this book - and their secret sisterhood.

The women in our story - Diana Gennings/Lady Stanley and Lady Susan Hyde - are real and Pete Langman weaves the truth of their existence into a fictional tale that gives us a glimpse into the part they may have played in a London rife with intrigue, betrayal and conspiracy - a world that simmers with tension and glorious historical detail.

Although this is a story primarily concerned with the fate of Susan Hyde and her dangerous mission to make John Thurloe her unwitting accomplice, we see enough of her compatriots to know that the women who are part of this sisterhood are very special indeed. They are courageous, resourceful and as willing as any man to put their lives and reputations on the line, and often have to be much cleverer than a man in the same situation would have to be. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Pete Langman told their tales.

Susan is a complex and rather serious character, dedicated to the task she has been given, even though she knows it will end in her own ruin. It is interesting to follow the development of her character, as she struggles with the practicalities, and mental strain of what she has to do to fulfill her mission - but I must admit that I did find it difficult to warm to her, although she is undoubtedly a formidable character.

My favourite character was actually the gutsy Diana, as her antics were far more fun to read about and I would love to hear more about her adventures in the future. She seems to have a rollicking time wherever she goes, even if her motives are sometimes a little suspect.

There is lots of historical detail in these pages, that tells of the impressive amount of research behind this book, and this successfully immerses you in the time period - you can almost hear, taste and smell the seventeenth century in these pages.

But the text can be a little wordy as a result and the conversations can be somewhat archaic in tone, which means you do have to concentrate quite hard when reading this book. I did find myself a little distracted by the number of times the female characters found it necessary to refer to each other as "sister", as it became a bit irritating after a while, but I understand that Pete Langman was trying to stay true to the time period and reinforce the idea that these women were part of a "sisterhood".

I also think it is much easier to understand the importance of what our women are trying to achieve here if you know a little about the time period in which this book is set. This was a fascinating period history after all!

Killing Beauties is an absorbing read and it is interesting to speculate about how much of this tale could be true. I have no doubt that there were lots of women playing their part behind the scenes of important periods in history and I really enjoy reading about them. I hope you do too.

Killing Beauties is available to pre-order now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Pete Langman and Unbound for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of the Random Things blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

In a world made for men, Susan Hyde is no ordinary woman.

And no one would suspect that the sister of Edward Hyde, chief advisor to King in exile Charles Stuart, spends her time peddling state secrets and fomenting rebellion rather than on her tapestry.

As a she-intelligencer – female spy – Susan’s mission is to extract information from Oliver Cromwell’s unsuspecting spymaster, by any means necessary.

In a shadow-world of ciphers, surveillance, poison, seduction and duplicity, this daring spy will risk everything for king and country.

Based on the astonishing true story of England’s earliest female spies, Killing Beauties will transport you to a seventeenth-century London rife with political intrigue, betrayal and conspiracy.

About the author:

Pete Langman is an editor, academic, cricketer and sometime rock and roll guitarist who holds a PhD on Francis Bacon (the other one) and was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease at 40. 

His non-fiction encompasses Cricket, Parkinson’s Disease, Music, History of Science, literature and culture, and has appeared in publications ranging from The Guardian to Guitar and Bass Magazine. 

He lives between Leiden and Brighton with his partner Dr. Nadine Akkerman, award-winning author of Invisible Agents, who supplies him with extra historical expertise and keeps asking if they can have a cat now, please.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Operation Large Scotch by Bill Flockhart

SPOTLIGHT ON:
Operation Large Scotch (O.L.S. Book One) by Bill Flockhart. Published independently in paperback and e-book formats on 11th December 2017.

From the cover of the book:

Fearing the Good Friday Agreement will effectively end the lifestyle his IRA terrorist cell has enjoyed for years, Michael Caldwell the leader of the 1972 Club (named after the Bloody Sunday Massacre) decides to turn his attention to targeting the UK Government economically. He launches an attack threatening to bomb the Scotch whisky industry unless the British Government pay the terrorists a £20m ransom.

Armitage Brown, Assistant Controller of MI5 is given the task of stopping the terrorist attack, but is unable to get any information on the assailants as to how, where and when they are going to deploy their explosives if their demands are not met. He co-ordinates a strategy, using all the emergency services, to thwart the terrorists under the code name ‘Operation Large Scotch.’


Both the the military and the intelligence services have been guilty of murderous acts going back over the previous eighteen years. John Johnston, a young Ulsterman, living thousands of miles away in South Africa, is determined to get revenge for the killing of his father in Belfast. With the assistance of Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service he releases information that will haunt both the British Military establishment and the terrorists.

Will MI5 succeed in preventing mayhem in various towns around Scotland?


Operation Large Scotch is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

About the author:

'Operation Large Scotch' is my first book and at my age (71), possibly my last. It reflects on my life in many respects, having worked in a distillery in my early working life, before digressing into financial services.

My interests are sport (especially golf, swimming and basketball - the latter through my two sons who played at international level) and current affairs in our ever changing world.

I have always enjoyed a challenge, which producing a book has certainly proved to be, but I would recommend writing to the retired population as it certainly keeps your brain active.

Two years after publishing 'Operation Large Scotch' , I am delighted to release my second novel 'She's Not a Lovely Girl' which is a sequel to my first book. I only hope it gives everyone the pleasure 'O.L.S.' did, judging by the favourable reviews it received.

See more about Bill Flockhart here:





Saturday, January 18, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Published 21st January 2020 by Tinder Press.
Read January 2020.

Lydia lives in Acapulco, Mexico, a dangerous city these days - since the rise of the cartels - but nevertheless, the city that is both her home and that of her beloved family, and they do their best to live normal lives. She runs a small bookstore, and lives in an apartment with her journalist husband, Sebastian and her eight-year-old son, Luca. Her family are her world.

Sebastian's job has brought him to the attention of the cartels, and he has been warned to stop writing stories about them, but he is compelled to report the truth about the violence wrought as part of the power struggles between the gangs in his home city - especially about the cartel on the rise, Los Jardineros (The Gardeners), and its new jefe, La Lechuzza (The Owl). His latest article focuses heavily on the new jefe and what he seems to be trying to achieve with his campaign of violence. While the article is heavily critical of the bloody crusade underway, Sebastian does recognise that some sort of peace may be reached if this take-over succeeds.

When Sebastian shares his article with Lydia, she is appalled to discover that La Lechuzza is actually a man she knows well - or thought she did - but she cannot relate the softly spoken, poet Javier, with the man her husband describes in his report. Can this be true? Is it safe for Sebastian to pursue his attack on Los Jardineros? Will their family be in  greater danger? After much discussion, Sebastian decides to go ahead and publish his article and feels La Lachuzza will in fact, be pleased by the attention given to his violent campaign for peace within Acapulco.

But the article leads to tragic consequences. When Lydia finds herself and Luca the only survivors of her niece's birthday party, after sixteen members of her family are gunned down, including her darling husband, she knows that their only hope of survival is to leave Acapulco...leave Mexico...and head to El Norte.

The journey will be long and arduous, and she is not even sure how to begin, but to stay would mean certain death. She will risk everything...give everything...to save her son. Lydia will find whatever strength she needs to keep running from the man they call La Lachuzza.

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Wow, what a book! American Dirt has been in my eager little hands for some months now, and I actually started reading it way back in September. But I knew, as soon as I started, that this was going to be something very special and there was no way I would be able to hold onto my reaction to it until January 2020. So I made myself put the book away, to pick up in January, near publication date.

It is almost impossible to do this book the full justice it deserves with my words, but I will try.

Before I start, I want to make it clear that I acknowledge this book is controversial - there has been a fair bit of backlash from minority authors about the stereotypical nature of the characters, the fact that the author is "white" etc.
But, it is possible to be aware of this and still enjoy a book on its own merits. The views expressed here are my own and having enjoyed reading it does not make me "rascist", thank you very much!
In my view, any book that shines a light on an issue is worthy, as it leads to debate, and makes people ask questions and read more about a subject.
If you are in any doubt, always read and make up your own mind. The important thing is simply to READ!

This book is an incredible tale of a mother's fight to give her son a future. It is the story of Lydia and Luca's journey north, to a place where they hope they can find safety, and of the people they meet along the way. It is a story of determination, love, family, and the strength of the human spirit. It is a story that will take us to the extremes of human nature -  showing the heartbreaking cruelties that can be inflicted by the powerful on the powerless, and also the selfless face of the kindness of strangers. This is a beautifully written novel, that will work its way into your heart and soul, and stay there for ever.

But is it also so much more...

This is one of the very few books I have read about the tide of migrants in America - in fact, the first one I have read since Valeria Luiselli's mesmerising book Lost Children Archive, - and while it focuses on the journey of Lydia and Luca, it covers a lot of ground (if you will pardon the pun!).

Living in UK, I am more familiar with the the impact of the refugee situation in Europe - both in the news and in the books I have read. So it was both fascinating and harrowing to read more about the world of the migrants from Central and North America, who risk their lives by riding La Bestia, and enduring the terrible dangers of the route they must take, in order to give themselves and their families not only a better life away from the cartels, but sometimes just the chance to survive at all. A world where the dangers of the journeys these migrants take are ones which they are willing to risk in order to escape the hopelessness of living lives scarred by a different sort of war.

This is a tale that will make you take a good long look at the human beings who make this journey - make you understand they are individuals, not a faceless mass of criminals intent on taking away the privileges that others are lucky enough to enjoy. Although there is likely to be an undesirable element, the vast majority of these migrants are people, just like us, who want the chance of a decent life without the constant fear of violence.

What would you do, if you lived in the world these migrants must endure? What would it take for you to follow a similar path? I hope I never need to find out if I have the strength these people do.

American Dirt is an all consuming, emotional roller-coaster of a novel. Your heart will be in your mouth for the entire time and, trust me, you will sob at more than one point. I actually cannot think of enough superlatives to describe this book, so I am not even going to try. This is a book that is completely deserving of all the praise it has earned; one that is an important book of our time; and one that is sure to be on many of the book prize lists in 2020.

I will simply finish by saying you must read this book and quoting the graffiti that adorns the border wall in Tijuana, which cut straight to my heart:


"También de este lado hay sueños."

"On this side, too, there are dreams."


Thank you for Louise Swannell and Tinder Press for providing me with a copy of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

I Can See the Lights by Russ Litten.

I Can See The Lights by Russ Litten (poetry collection). Published 10th February 2020, by Wild Pressed Books.

This is an unusual one for me to review, because it is a poetry collection, rather than a fiction or non-fiction book, but I am actually rather partial to a bit of poetry.

These contemporary poems, Russ Litten's first collection, are dark and gritty, but also rather sensitive and thoughtful. I found them very enjoyable.

My favourite was The Bookie, which I thought was brilliant.

Thank you to Russ Litten, Wild Pressed Books and Kelly from Love Books Tours for my gifted copy of I Can See The Lights.

I Can See The Lights is available to pre-order now from your favourite book retailer.
Amazon link here.

From the book cover: 

The prose poems in I Can See The Lights are earthy and raw, but also incredibly sensitive. It’s pretty much guaranteed that more than one of them will bring you to tears. Characters are vividly brought to life, and stark but warm environments evoked in a down to earth, yet almost painterly manner by Russ Litten’s uncompromising voice.


Tales of home, of un-belonging, of strife at sea – of a northern city’s beating heart. Told in a mesmeric, stripped-down tone, this collection is a work of genius.

About the author:

Russ Litten is the author of the novels Scream If You Want To Go Faster, Swear Down, Kingdom and the short story collection We Know What We Are.

As one half of the electronic storytelling duo Cobby and Litten, he has released three spoken word/electronica albums My People Come From The Sea, Boothferry and Pound Shop Communism.

He has written for TV, radio and film and has worked as a writer in residence at various prisons and youth offender units. I Can See The Lights is his first poetry collection.

Million Eyes by C.R. Berry

Million Eyes by C.R. Berry, Published in e-book 10th January 2020 and paperback in March 2020, by Elsewhen Press.

How does a dry textbook, published in 1995, end up being mentioned in historical papers hundreds of years old and in another book published nearly twenty years before it was even written?

When ex-history teacher, Gregory Ferro, finds impossible evidence of an incredibly boring book, The History of Computer-Aided Timetabling for Railway Systems by Jeremy Jennings, in some old documents from 1348, he becomes convinced that time travellers have been manipulating history.

He soon persuades down-on-her-luck graduate, Jennifer Larson that it looks like something very peculiar might be going on, and they team up to try to solve the mystery.

It appears they are on to something, as they have made themselves the target of some very dangerous people, who are keen to keep their machinations secret.

What if they are right, and we are living in a timeline that has been deliberately altered by a powerful force out to take control of us all?

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I am somewhat of a self-confessed connoisseur when it comes to stories about time, as I absolutely adore them and have read loads. So. the fabulous sounding Million Eyes immediately grabbed my attention when I heard about it.

Well, readers, I have to tell you that I have not been disappointed! Million Eyes has everything I look for in a book about time travel - a compelling story and convincing time-lines - and I enjoyed every time-warped minute of it!

The story moves back and forth between the past, present and future, as we follow the adventures of Jeremy Jenning's apparently sleep-inducing book, giving us the low-down on the historical mentions Gregory Ferro and Jennifer Larson uncover. Trust me when I say that your head will spin at times, as you try to follow some of the time loops in play, but this is one of the things I absolutely love about this sort of book when it is done well.

There are some pretty significant players in history who have a part in the story - William II, Edward III, the Princes in the Tower, a very famous Victorian killer, and even Princess Diana  - and it turns out that the days of old we may have learned about in school might not have happened the way the textbooks have claimed.  Conspiracy theorists are going to love this book! C.R. Berry works these famous names most persuasively into this science fiction tale, and several of the scenes actually had me chuckling - even the very bloody ones - as there is a deliciously dark vein of humour that runs through the whole shebang.

I really enjoyed the way Million Eyes gets you thinking about corporate greed and how huge conglomerates are trying to take over our lives - there are some obvious targets that C.R. Berry pokes fun at here (think a certain search engine provider and a fruit-themed electronics manufacturer), which I found both amusing and very pertinent. There is also a little nod towards the weirdness of current American politics at the end of the book too, which was brilliant.

There are even a couple of intriguing websites around this book to explore to feed the imagination - one is Gregory Ferro's blog, detailing his discoveries and the other is the "actual" Million Eyes company website - and you can find the links below. Inspired!

Million Eyes Company Website
Gregory Ferro's Blog

Million Eyes is a cracking five star romp of a read, and I can thoroughly recommend it both to those of you who love a time-travel story, and those of you who may be new to the genre. This is set to be the first part in a new trilogy, and I cannot wait for more.

Thank you to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel's Random Resources for inviting me to be part of this blog tour, and to C.R. Berry and Elsewhen Press for gifting me a copy of Million Eyes, in return for an honest review.

Million Eyes is available to order now from the following links:
Amazon.com

There is also a free to download book of short stories set around the world of Million Eyes.
You can find the link here.


From the book cover:

How do you fight an enemy who has a million eyes?

What if we’re living in an alternate timeline? What if the car crash that killed Princess Diana, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and the shooting of King William II weren’t supposed to happen?

Ex-history teacher Gregory Ferro finds evidence that a cabal of time travellers is responsible for several key events in our history. These events all seem to hinge on a dry textbook published in 1995, referenced in a history book written in 1977 and mentioned in a letter to Edward III in 1348.
Ferro teams up with down-on-her-luck graduate Jennifer Larson to get to the truth and discover the relevance of a book that seems to defy the arrow of time. But the time travellers are watching closely. Soon the duo are targeted by assassins willing to rewrite history to bury them.

Million Eyes is a fast-paced conspiracy thriller about power, corruption and destiny.

There are also two fabulous book trailers here:
Trailer one    Trailer Two

About the author:

C.R. Berry caught the writing bug at the tender age of four and has never recovered. His earliest stories were filled with witches, monsters, evil headteachers, Disney characters and the occasional Dalek. He realised pretty quickly that his favourite characters were usually the villains. He wonders if that’s what led him to become a criminal lawyer. It’s certainly why he’s taken to writing conspiracy thrillers, where the baddies are numerous and everywhere.

After a few years getting a more rounded view of human nature’s darker side, he quit lawyering and turned to writing full-time. He now works as a freelance copywriter and novelist and blogs about conspiracy theories, time travel and otherworldly weirdness.

He was shortlisted in the 2018 Grindstone Literary International Novel Competition and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Storgy, Dark Tales, Theme of Absence and Suspense Magazine. He was also shortlisted in the Aeon Award Contest, highly commended by Writers’ Forum, and won second prize in the inaugural To Hull and Back Humorous Short Story Competition.

He grew up in Farnborough, Hampshire, a town he says has as much character as a broccoli. He’s since moved to the “much more interesting and charming” Haslemere in Surrey.

The Home by Sarah Stovell

The Home by Sarah Stovell. Published in e-book 28th November 2019 and in paperback 22nd January 2020 by Orenda Books.
Read January 2020.

Three young girls with violent and disturbing backgrounds have been sent to live at The Home, a children's home in the Lake District. The theory being that Hope, Annie and Lara can be reahabilited by living in a remote rural idyll.

But it takes more that the countryside to help these girls get over the tragic hand that life has dealt them, and funds are now running low at The Home. So low that there are plans to close it permanently and send the three girls to new placements, far away from each other and the complicated relationships that have formed between the trio.

When the body of Hope is found in the local churchyard, on Christmas morning, with a weeping Annie by her side, the police begin an investigation into the goings on at The Home. What were the girls doing out on the freezing lake on Christmas Eve? Has Hope been the victim of some twisted revenge campaign? And who was the father of the fifteen-year-old's baby?

Will the truth ever be uncovered amid the tangle of shocking revelations, secrets and lies that abound in the lives of Hope, Annie and Lara?

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I have yet to read an Orenda book that has not grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and ripped out my bloody, broken heart! The splendid authors that Orenda publish have an uncanny knack of confronting the dark and twisted side of human nature, and spinning cracking tales of tragedy that carry you along an a poisonous tide to the bitter, screaming end - and The Home by Sarah Stovell is no exception! I love them!

This is a story of three girls with the most heartbreaking, violent backgrounds, who find themselves thrown together by the impossible logic of the social care system. Hope, Annie and Lara are hard cases, formed by their horrendous experiences into brittle and broken girls who see little reason to go on living.

Hope's narrative tells of life with her junkie, prostitute mother, and charts her inexorable fall into child prostitution at the hands of her mother's pimp, Ace; Annie's part details a childhood coping at the hands of a bitter mother, who descends into madness; and Lara's tale recounts the history of a family strained to a murderous breaking point. Three girls horribly let down by a society that did not take the time to care enough about what was going on behind closed doors, even though the signs were there for all to see.

Once their fates become linked, we can see that there is not going to be a happy ending for any of them, although the manger of The Home does the best she can to help them with the limited resources she has available.

I loved the way that Sarah Stovell reveals the horrific stories behind how our girls find themselves residents at The Home ever so slowly over the course of the book, until the shocking truth is finally revealed. I particularly enjoyed how she did this in different ways for each of the girls - Hope recounting her tale to Annie; Annie not just confiding in Hope, but recording her history in diary form; and poor, mute Lara, musing on her past in her own isolated little world. But the real truth behind their stories is saved for us, the readers, and believe me when I say that you will have no idea what the truth is until you get the the gloriously sublime ending.

If you enjoy a thrilling story about the dark side of life - one that is going to punch you in the gut before the end is nigh - then this is one for you...and while you're at it, go check out the rest of the wonderful Orenda range - satisfaction guaranteed!

The Home is available to buy in e-book format now, and in paperback from 16th January 2020, from your favourite book retailer. Amazon link here.

Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for The Home, and to Sarah Stovell and Orenda Books for my gifted copy - in return for an honest review.


From the cover of the book:

THE HOME | PAPERBACK ORIGINAL | £8.99 | ORENDA BOOKS

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller centring around three troubled girls in a children’s home, by the bestselling author of Exquisite

‘I was immediately ensnared into the devastating and dark world of The Home and devoured it in one day … A triumph’ Holly Seddon

‘Gripping, sinister and utterly heartbreaking … I absolutely loved it’ Lisa Hall

One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

About the author:

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, is set in the Lake District.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahlovescrime.



About Orenda Books:

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016.

In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. 

Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell. 

www.orendabooks.co.uk

Monday, January 13, 2020

Mrs P's Book Of Secrets by Lorna Gray

Mrs P's Book Of Secrets by Lorna Gray. Published 14th December 2019 by One More Chapter Books.
Read December 2019.

The Cotswolds, 1946: A young widow returns home to help out at her uncle and aunt's publishing business, and try to get over the tragic loss of her Naval Officer husband after their whirlwind marriage.

Lucy, known as Mrs P, is looking for a new start among the familiar surroundings she grew up in, but things are not quite as she remembers back at Kershaw and Kathay Press. During her time away, her uncle has hired a pleasant, but shy new editor, called Robert Underhill, who is trying to get over his own traumatic experiences as a prisoner of war.

Try as she might, Lucy seems unable to fathom Mr Underhill and the reason for his frequent absences, but when he asks her to help him with one of the books they are publishing, they begin to understand each other better over the mystery of a missing girl from the past. Both are unwilling to take risks after the grief they have suffered, but they could in fact, be the answer that each of them is looking for, if only they can get over the shadows that haunt them.

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Mrs P's Book Of Secrets is a gentle, but deeply emotional story, set against the back-drop of a country trying to recover from the aftermath of the Second World War. 

Lucy is trying to find a way to settle into the old life that she knew before her brief marriage. She loved her husband, but realises that they did not really know each other, and she is not sure how to grieve for him.

Robert is searching for a cause to cling to in order to help him get over his war time memories and thinks that working quietly to save Kershaw and Kathay Press is the life-buoy he needs - especially since Lucy's aunt and uncle have welcomed him so warmly.

Both of them are tired of the way others misunderstand their intentions and find it necessary to tread on eggshells around them all the time. Neither of them is expecting to connect with another person and although they are drawn to each other, their awkwardness keeps them from recognising that there are feelings developing between them until quite some way into the story. There is a delicious air of suspense over their burgeoning romance that is quite enchanting.

A strong theme of the supernatural also runs through this novel. Ghosts from the past have a significant part to play in the direction of the story, and Lucy certainly seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to the echoes of  voices from the past. You are never quite sure whether there are real spectres or not, but the possibility remains intriguingly close to the surface, and if they are real then these spirits clearly have good intentions.

There is also a thread here that I found really interesting. Women have had to step up during the war years and take on roles which have traditionally been undertaken by men, which has given them a new found sense of independence. The men returning home are expecting to fall back into the jobs they left behind, but when they do so, what then happens to the women? I have not previously thought about the conflict that must have existed in these women's minds - yes, they are being made to return to their kitchens, even though they know they can do so much more, and yet there is also a need to welcome home their men folk and ensure that they are able to find jobs, especially if they are struggling with falling back into civilian life. How difficult this must have been.

Mrs P's Book Of Secrets is a charming tale. This is not a story that goes full tilt, jumping from action scene to action scene. but there is a developing love affair between two characters you know belong together, a gradual build of suspense, and a mystery to solve against a well-drawn backdrop, that keeps you turning the pages until the heartwarming end - and I had a few tears to shed when Lucy finally deciphered Robert's message to her. What a lovely book!

Mrs P's Book Of Secrets is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.
You can find it on Amazon here.

Thank you to Lorna Gray for providing me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review.


From the book cover:

There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.

‘If you’re a lover of literary fiction then you’ll be right at home with this book. You’ll enjoy the intricate play on words and it will take you back to a time when writing was an art form’ Netgalley reviewer

The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946

A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.

But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.

For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…

About the author:

Lorna Gray was born in 1980 in Bedfordshire. Her relationship with the glorious countryside of the Cotswolds began many years ago when she first moved to Cirencester. She has been exploring the area through her love of history, adventure and romance ever since.

This is Lorna’s fourth post-WWII mystery. Her three previous novels are In the Shadow of Winter (2015), The War Widow (2018) and The Antique Dealer’s Daughter (2018). She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. Published 1st February 2018 by Corvus.
Read January 2020.

Failed journalist, Leah Stevens, leaves Boston under a cloud and sets up home with an old friend, Emmy Grey, in rural Pennsylvania. Taking a job as a teacher in a high school, Leah is optimistic her fresh start will help her to forget the mistakes she has left behind.

However, when a woman who looks eerily like Leah is attacked by the lake and Emmy suddenly goes missing, Leah's new start begins to look quite a but less rosy.

Leah is desperate to find Emmy, the only person she really trusts, and looks to Detective Kyle Donovan for help. But it soon becomes clear that Emmy has no left no evidence that she was ever actually there and the police begin to suspect that she may be a figment of Leah's imagination.

Forced to question what she really knows about her friend, Leah realises that she has been lined up by someone to take the fall for their crimes. Leah must find out the truth, before it is too late, if she is to save herself.

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I have had this book sitting on the shelf for some time. Having read the first couple of chapters and not being immediately grabbed by the story, I had put it down and not been tempted to pick it up again. But after enjoying Megan Miranda's twisty thriller The Last House Guest last year, I decided to pick this one up again on a whim, and proceeded to read the rest of the book in one sitting, after being unable to put it down!

The Perfect Stranger is even more twisty that The Last House Guest and went places I really did not see coming from the first couple of chapters. This is a little gem of a thriller - pacy, full of false leads and downright scary too.  I don't want to say too much about this, as it would involve spoilers, but this is a first class mind-blower of a book that will absolutely chill you to the core.

How much do we really know about the people we call our friends, when it really comes down to it? Can we be absolutely sure we are interpreting their intentions correctly? I guarantee that this book will have you asking some questions about the people you surround yourself with!

It's 5 stars from me!