Saturday, 30 April 2016

Scarlet Widow - Graham Masterton



My Review

I have broken my own unwritten rule of reading mainly books by female authors as the write up for this new book by Graham Masterton seems to tick all my boxes, historical setting mid 18th century TICK, strong feisty female heroine TICK, lots of twisty mysteries to solve TICK. And its not like I haven't read and enjoyed a few spooky horror tales by this author before So here I go...

This is an about face for one of the great masters of horror fiction and would seem to be the perfect beginning to an exciting new series of historical mystery/ crime books featuring Beatrice Scarlet the apothecary's daughter, born in England, brought up by her experimental apothecary father with an inexhaustible knowledge and love of herbal medicine and unusual remedies.

Orphaned at 16 and brought up by her Aunt in the mid 1700s she meets and marries preacher Francis Scarlet and emigrates with him to America where she lives a sober life as a Goodwife enjoying making home for her husband and caring for her beloved little son Noah.

When strange events begin happening in the locality which seem to have the mark of the devil or witchcraft, she uses her scientific knowledge and begins to investigate, her suspicions fall on enigmatic yet sinister stranger to town, Jonathan Shooks. As events turn more and more dreadful and horrific her own life and those of her family begin to be in danger.

I often find it somewhat difficult to accept a leading female role written by a man and feel that it shows through in the writing. Beatrice is feisty and educated for a woman in this era which is fine but I agree with a couple of other reviewers that just one particularly nasty and very seedy unnecessary scene, almost taints the whole book and in my mind this could only have been written so insensitively by a man.

However the rest of the book is really gripping and compelling so I'm prepared to overlook this and will certainly read the next in this series as I'm longing to know what life has in store for Beatrice and I'm sure it will present her with more unusual goings on to keep things mysterious and thrilling.

My thanks go to Netgalley for my advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Blurb

London, 1750: Beatrice Scarlet is the apothecary's daughter. She can mix medicines and herbs to save the lives of her neighbours - but, try as she might, she can't save the lives of her parents. An orphan at just sixteen, Beatrice marries a preacher and emigrates to America.

New Hampshire, 1756: In the farming community where Beatrice now lives, six pigs are found viciously slaughtered, slices of looking-glass embedded in their mouths. According to scripture this is the work of Satan, but Beatrice suspects the hands of men. As she closes in on the killer, she must act quickly to unmask him - or become the next victim herself...

Monday, 25 April 2016

In too Deep - Samantha Hayes - a very twisty tale



My thoughts

Another competent and gripping psychological thriller from Samantha Hayes.

Gina hasn't had things easy, her beloved son was killed in a hit and run car accident a couple of years ago now her husband nipped out to the corner shop and never came back. She is convinced he will turn up despite police investigations turning up nothing at all. Why did he disappear, and what secrets was he hiding, did he meet with an accident, has he been murdered?

So, when a phone call from a luxury hotel reveals that a booking was made by her husband for a weekend break for the 2 of them she decides to turn up, taking her teenage daughter Hannah, who is also pretty stressed. She's missing her dad and brother too and uni doesn't seem to be going as well as hoped.

Gina keeps hitting the bottle and drowning her sorrows, her job at an estate agent is no longer fulfilling and she needs a break. She is also half convinced it could all be an elaborate hoax by her husband and is hoping he might show up at the hotel shouting surprise! Even though he's been gone for months.

But this doesn't happen and even though the hotels lovely and she makes friends with Susan the hotel owner, nothings quite as it seems, undercurrents flow through every nuance and secrets are layered upon secrets.

The beauty of the story is revealing bit by bit exactly what happened to Gina's husband and what is going on with all the characters, because every single character in the book has something to hide. The Author plants clues and red herrings throughout the book. I must confess I did work out a lot of what had happened and was delighted to discover I'd puzzled it out correctly, yet there were still one or two surprises and twists in the tail, and although by the end all the mysteries are resolved there is still a bit of a cliff hanger that made me cry out "Nooo, don't leave me dangling"

A must for fans of this author and lovers of fast paced twisty stories with masses of secrets and lies.

My copy was kindly provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The blurb

The compelling new psychological suspense novel, from the author of Until You're Mine, Before You Die and You Belong to Me. Perfect for fans of S J Watson and Sophie Hannah.
  
     Your husband goes out to buy a newspaper. He never comes back. 

     Months later, an unexpected phone call puts you and your daughter in unimaginable danger. 

     Even if he were still alive, your husband can't save you now. 

     He told you way too many lies for that.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Last Thing I remember - Deborah Bee - thrilling



My review

The last thing I remember .... is typing the final few words of my review for this and then my pc crashed!! Oh I’m so gutted! I'd written a detailed review and lost the lot. I’ll have to try and remember what I said, don’t you just HATE it when that happens!

This is a very competent debut novel. Exciting and gripping, a psychological page turner, written in the very different voices of 2 women.

First voice we hear is the thoughts of Sarah, a young woman in her 20s who has no physical voice at the moment, as she is lying in hospital in a coma unable to move, speak or do anything at all apart from think and hear what others are saying although she cannot react in any way. She has been injured and left with practically no memory of events in fact at first she can’t even remember who she is.

The other voice is that of Kelly, a neighbours daughter, who waits for Sarah to regain consciousness, her vigil at the hospital unusual only in that you’d think a 15 year old an implausible friend for a young married woman but it appears the 2 were unlikely but close friends with something in common, the desire to stamp out bullying.

Kelly is “like OMG, I’m not even lying, FML (fuck my life)” her voice really grated on me she says LIKE about every single thing and perhaps my inability to relate to her way of speaking shows me up as the old fart I undoubtedly am. I heard her voice in my head as that of Matt Lucas character - Vicky Pollard from little Britain which I found rather off putting!

Both women live in an apparently rough area of London called Tottenham of which I have no knowledge and am pretty glad about that, it sounds a rather revolting place. Thrown together by circumstances and being neighbours they have come to rely on each other and Kelly wants to be there when (if) Sarah wakes up. So do her rather irritating and somewhat self centred family, Mum and Dad who have come along to wait at Sarah’s bedside and complain a lot, her mouthy sister who wants to play tapes and talk, to stir Sarah from her coma and a strange man who turns up at her bedside – just who IS he?

The whole story gallops along at a rip roaring pace and we get to know more about Sarah as she begins to remember things and revisits her own past in her thoughts. It’s clever and twisty and a real page turner, easy to follow and a nice quite quick read which kept me thoroughly entertained and wondering for a couple of days. It’s quirky and different and very absorbing and I enjoyed reading it.

My thanks go to Twenty7 books from whom I won a signed copy of this book, without which it may have evaded my attention.

The Blurb

For fans of BA Paris' Behind Closed Doors and The Girl With No Past, a tense thriller with a clever and original premise - and a devilish twist

Sarah is in a coma.

Her memory is gone - she doesn't know how she got there. And she doesn't know how she might get out.

But then she discovers that her injury wasn't an accident. And that the assailant hasn't been caught.

Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past.

And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room.

A novel that grips from the very beginning and that will live long in the memory, The Last Thing I Remember is Deborah Bee's startling debut thriller.

Swan Boy - Nikki Sheehan - enchanting




My thoughts

I don't read many childrens or young adult books but I spotted this up and coming novel and something about the description appealed to me.

Swan boy by Nikki Sheehan is obviously going to draw comparison with Billy Elliott with the young lad and dance connection, but Billy Elliott didn't captivate me as much as Young Johnny Emin did. The lovely writing reminds me very much of David Almond David Almond (of Skellig fame)

13 year old Johnny doesn't have an enviable life, his Dad died recently, his Mum moved them to a tower block miles from all his mates, he has to look after his little brother Mojo, whose name I really don't like :( Mogjo's just a little kid, 5 years old and half the time pretending to be a dog, or is he a cat today? He spends his free time drawing elaborately on the kitchen table and Johnny agrees to keep this hidden from Mum as at least it keeps Mojo occupied and helps with him missing his dad too much.

To crown everything, Johnny had to change schools with the home move, and is now the new boy that everyone loves to pick on, at a rather rough school where he can't seem to fit in.

Gosh I loved Johnny, I really wanted to make everything ok for him, but it isn't and it's going from bad to worse. The gang of kids known as the populars have chosen Johnny as their pet project and making his life even more miserable is the little gangs leader Liams ambition. Liams a nasty little bully boy with a few hangers on who aren't any better than he is. But one day as Liam has a massive go at Johnny a rescuer appears in the unlikely appearance of a Swan who scares off Liam and seems to be protecting Johnny. Rather inevitably this marks him out even more and he becomes known as Swan Boy and not in a nice way!

Johnny's not the only kid being bullied, there's the lonely overweight kid Stefan from whom the gang are extorting cash and both he and Johnny end up in the schools strict punishment regime of being made to pick litter after school as reparation for any misdemeanour a hated rule from which there no escaping. Except that this time there is .... an alternative that is.

The large group of youngsters on litter picking duties, which also includes Liam and his cronies are offered the chance to escape the litter crew by taking part instead in a dance group which quirky drama teacher Mrs Cray has formed. It's Hobsons choice for Johnny, either he picks litter wearing a bright green uniform and become even more noticeable and likely to be bullied, or learn to dance and get picked on for that. But when he reluctantly goes to Mrs Crays class she offers him a starring role in the dance - which just turns out to be ballet and it's based on Swan Lake! Swans become an over riding influence to Johnny and he keeps coming across them in unusual places as he eschews litter picking to learn dancing and even a piece de resistance move which will be almost like flying. Day by day he grows and develops and we watch him learn to be himself and begin to grow into the man he is set to become one day.

This is a coming of age story which seemed to be out of my comfort zone reading wise yet I felt instantly at home in.

There are a few slightly ethereal elements to the story, although many things fall into place very neatly a couple of things remain inexplicable. The whole story is beautifully told, just the right balance of nastiness and a touch of niceness to counteract it and the everyday alongside the otherwordly. Utterly charming and wonderfully readable I recommend this enchanting book to readers of all ages from 8 to 80.

I recieved a free copy of this beautiful book from Oneworld publications in exchange for my honest opinion which its been a pleasure to give.

The blurb

When Johnny moves house and starts a new school he has to deal with a bully who can't leave him alone. But help comes from an unexpected and surprising source and Johnny's growing power soon puts him in a very special place.

A chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. His teacher wants him to live the role, and when feathers start sprouting on his chest, Johnny begins to understand his true potential. But will he be strong or brave enough to beat his bullies, take care of his brother, support his mother and find a place for himself among all the chaos that is prevailing in his life.

The Finding of Martha Lost - Caroline Wallace - wonderful



My thoughts on this truly wonderful book ......

The finding of Martha Lost isn't just a book its a fully immersive reading experience

If you can remember the heyday of the Beatles, Cilla Black, jukeboxes and the long hot summer of 1976 you’ll find a particular affinity within the pages of Martha Lost. If you can’t remember this era you’ll enjoy a little jaunt back into a magical past set in an unlikely location and peopled with larger than life characters.

This is one of the hardest books to categorize, I found it totally unique, mesmerising and wonderful. With faint reminders of Neverwhere and the book of lost things I did expect it was going to be more of a fantasy than it turns out to be, it’s certainly otherworldly yet all of it is based firmly in our world with very real human characters and Liverpool locations familiar by reputation If never actually visited. Lime street station, the Liver buildings, the Cavern club.

We meet Martha as she spins around the station greeting familiar faces all quirky and larger than life. Martha lives in the station with the revoltingly cruel Mother who runs the lost property office and has an apartment above it. I honestly thought Martha was about 6 years old at first and got a little confused when I realized she’s 16 years old and had to turn back a few pages and begin again. This is a coming of age story with real charm and a heroine I absolutely adored, though I did wish she would stop spinning everywhere – she made me dizzy!

Martha is a foundling, not only does she live above and work within the lost property office she belongs to it. This is where she was found as an abandoned baby and has been waiting ever since for someone to turn up and claim her.

Meanwhile she spends her days reuniting missing umbrellas, stray false teeth and abandoned books with their owners, creating a library of lost books and utilising her unique skill of being able to see the circumstances in which items went missing just by touch. But she can’t find out who she belongs to.

Next door is a coffee bar run by Martha’s friend Elisabeth who shows her support of Martha by providing large quantities of lemon drizzle cake and a shoulder to lean on, we meet an enigmatic Roman soldier called George and the very smelly but strangely loveable outcast William. Alongside Martha’s story is the parallel tale of the lost ashes of Mal Evans ex-Beatles roadie – a real character woven into this story who plays his own Post mortem part in Martha finding herself.

I must admit I wasn’t sure about reading this book from the description – it almost sounded a little silly and very far fetched and I worried I may be a little too pragmatic to enjoy it ….. WRONG on all counts. I read an excerpt of it on a blog which piqued my interest – I just HAD to read on.

The finding of Martha Lost, will I feel, stay with me for some time. It’s one of those books which made me feel bereft after finishing it as though I’d suddenly lost touch with a whole group of lovely friends.

It charmed and captivated me throughout and the ending was just perfect.

I received my e-book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and I extend my thanks to them.

The Blurb

Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out - if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

The lost and found life of Rosy Bennett - Jan Birley - Love on the farm

My thoughts

This is an enjoyable Chick - lit/ family drama about a young Mother of 2 boys who suddenly finds herself a widow and in a precarious situation. In a scenario I hope never to experience, Rosy’s husband drops dead on the morning train right in front of her and her cosy well-heeled enviable life crumbles to pieces.

Her 2 boys are hard to handle youngsters and make life even more difficult – in particular the younger lad James is just a nightmare! I found Rosy’s attitude toward dealing with him a little bit namby-pamby, he really needed a firm hand and the way he spoke to her was appalling.

Not only does Rosy find herself unexpectedly a single Mum, she is horrified to discover that the beautiful family home with all its lovely memories has been mortgaged to the hilt to fund her husband’s completely secret and unlikely purchase of a run-down Alpaca farm in the wilds of Dorset.

Being townies Rosy and her sons are reluctant to move there but their situation forces them to sell their urban nest and relocate, learning about Alpaca farming and country life as they go. I found the idea of Alpaca farming which is the main storyline in this lovely book, really appealing and I wish my husband would secretly buy an alpaca farm behind my back!

Settling in to their new life Rosy finds the chance of romance but baulks at getting into a new relationship so soon after her husband’s sudden death although she seems remarkably open to giving it a try, especially as her husband’s double life reveals itself and her relationship with him turns out to have been built on sand.

This is a light hearted way of weaving a story around quite awful situations and making it fun and easy to read chick-lit. A great romantic beach read for the summer and definitely one for fans of Erica James and Katie Fforde and highly recommended for all die hard chick lit lovers.

I received a free ebook from the authors publicists Hello Chick-lit for reviewing.

The blurb

Rosy loved her London life – her job in a designer shop, her gorgeous West London family house and of course her gorgeous family (although young sons are enough to test anyone at times). All that disappears when, one unremarkable morning, after one unremarkable school run, her husband collapses on a crowded tube carriage and dies. 

As she struggles her way through the grief, she discovers her husband’s secret life: secrets accounts, secret deals that their solicitor knew nothing of, secret debts and what looks like a secret “very close friend” at least. 

Totally unprepared and suddenly in debt, Rosy is forced to leave London to start a new life with her incredibly reluctant boys in the countryside. Can angsty urban teenagers cope with farm life, let alone enjoy it? More to the point, can their mother? It’s certainly not going to be easy but when you are at rock bottom the only way is up.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Eden Gardens - Louise Brown - a rich tapestry of delight and despair




My review

I must admit I found the way this book reads is more like a series of memoirs than a story, the descriptions of Bombay and Calcutta at the end of British rule in states of upheaval and famine are rich, detailed, evocative and often extremely harrowing.

I found a couple of brutal scenes set at the times of drought and famine and during upheaval and riots so strong and horrific I actually wanted to retch - therefore this is not a read for anyone of a sensitive nature it's not the light and fluffy romantic read one might expect from the beautiful cover, between the pages lie atrocity and human failing galore.

The book is narrated in turn by Maisy, daughter of the, quite frankly, sluttish Ma and Pushpa, the loyal family retainer, a local woman living a hard life and making the best of her lot. This is very much a story of the lot dealt to women in the 1940s and the prejudices, unfairness and uncertainty of life in India. We encounter class division and racial inequality and three women whom I found it difficult to admire but easy to believe in.

Ma comes to India to better her lot, life in England has become unbearable and holds no opportunity, so she heads to India where she has heard white women are in demand and white husbands are aplenty and sets out her stall to find a husband with the means to keep her well above the breadline.

However this doesn't work out quite as planned she has neither the class nor the wiles to secure a place in society or a husband to admit her and life soon finds her a widow with a young daughter and little means of supporting herself - she falls rather eagerly into prostitution with her legs wide open and a bottle of whisky in her hand. With a series of increasingly less wholesome "uncles" visiting the family home, very much on the wrong side of the tracks, it's easy to see why this little family are poor white trash. They don't fit in with any sector of Calcutta society, you only have to listen to Ma's quite foul mouthed use of the English language to know she's not one bit pukka and that's the relatively few times she's sober!

Ma's determined that Maisy won't follow her example, and will achieve what she herself failed - a good marriage to a British gentleman. But fair hair and white skin don't make a lady, nothing about Maisy’s life is proper, but she can’t see why - she’s never known life in polite British society and as far as she’s concerned she has white skin therefore she must be a lady. But brought up mostly by servant Pushpa, playing in the overflowing gutters of Calcutta with the children of poor native half caste families Maisy is destined to fall by the wayside too and this book tells her story with no punches pulled.

A portrait of a lady this is not, but a punchy well told, richly embellished tapestry of delight and despair it certainly is - sure to enthral, horrify and delight in equal measures.

I received my advance reading copy via Netgalley and this is my unbiased review.

The Blurb

Eden Gardens, Calcutta, the 1940s. In a ramshackle house, streets away from the grand colonial mansions of the British, live Maisy, her Mam and their ayah, Pushpa.

Whiskey-fuelled and poverty-stricken, Mam entertains officers in the night - a disgrace to British India. All hopes are on beautiful Maisy to restore their good fortune.

But Maisy's more at home in the city's forbidden alleyways, eating bazaar food and speaking Bengali with Pushpa, than dancing in glittering ballrooms with potential husbands.

Then one day Maisy's tutor falls ill. His son stands in. Poetic, handsome and ambitious for an independent India, Sunil Banerjee promises Maisy the world.

So begins a love affair that will cast her future, for better and for worse. Just as the Second World War strikes and the empire begins to crumble...

This is the other side of British India. A dizzying, scandalous, dangerous world, where race, class and gender divide and rule.

Someone else's conflict - Alison Layland - excellent storytelling



My Review

What an engaging storyline and wonderful characters I met between the pages of this exceptional, scintillating novel.

It's tip top quality romantic fiction but is SO much more than chicklit or a love story. Set mainly in the Yorkshire Dales, a setting I found instantly familiar, together with occasional trips back in time to a period of war and unrest in former Yugoslavia (a setting I also found a touch familiar as I visited there on holiday, at a very tense time just a week before the civil war first erupted)

Jay is a wanderer, he leads a nomadic life never putting down roots. Moving from town to town busking for a living, weaving stories and telling them in marketplaces, doing the occasional odd job. Does his propensity for weaving a fantastic tale mean he can't be trusted? That's what Marilyn wonders. Instantly attracted to Jay, she's nonetheless very wary, having recently freed herself from a bad relationship she's reluctant to open her heart in case its torn into even smaller shreds. We meet Marilyn when she's panicking over a stolen purse, she has her own ideas about a young lad who may have stolen it but can't prove anything. That's not her only problem, she badly needs some help at home, repairing the old isolated house and barn she is renovating, especially when a storm comes along and causes damage.

Jay happens to be nearby and he's available and willing to help. He keeps his background close to his chest and we learn about his past in series of flashbacks, he is haunted by his past and the spectre of a young boy who haunts his memories and won't give him peace of mind. Another young lad comes on the scene too, Vinko, whose story is somehow connected to Jays past.

The drama unfolds gradually at first, with secrets from the past and some very dodgy characters coming to light and suddenly we're thrust into activity, immersed in a murder, corruption and the lives of illegal immigrants, confict and deception.

This clever book has all the elements of great storytelling, thrills, action, secrets, great location and complex characters.

It reminded me somewhat of The Cheesemaker's House similar writing and location and both sheer reading pleasure.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves a little romance, a lot of excellent narrative, a few surprises and a really gripping read. I loved it and I would hate this to slip beneath the radar, it's so very excellent. I also think it would make a fab book for reading groups as theres lots to discuss and something for everyone amidst these pages

I'd like to thank Helena at Honno Press for providing me with a copy for review, do have a look at their website, there are some real treasures of books there.


The Blurb

The boy looks up and sees the foreigner's rifle aimed at him. Why is this man here? This is not his conflict, it is not the boy's... it is hell.

Jay has been home for a long time, but the ghosts of Yugoslavia
are still with him as he busks his way round the country.

Marilyn is fresh out of a controlling relationship and desperate
to reassert her independence. The last thing she needs is to fall
for an itinerant storyteller who has a strange relationship with
the truth. And then the police call on her.

When the past catches up with the present and stories become
reality, Jay and Marilyn must decide who to believe and who
to betray.

A compelling narrative of trust and betrayal, love, loyalty and honour from a talented debut novelist.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sugar and Snails - Anne Goodwin - moving and original



My thoughts

Sugar and snails is a beautifully written debut novel. It’s kind of a mid life crisis/coming of age story with a difference.

Diana is a woman in her mid 40s who has built a successful career yet remains unusually gauche and innocent. She has recently begun her first serious romantic relationship in a long time and is finding it difficult, she has kept herself at arms length from involvement for a long time, but is it herself she can't trust, or other people who have let her down in the past?

Her story is told in a series of flashbacks to her teenage years where it is clear she struggled to fit in with her family’s ideals and felt they would never understand her and as a result momentous decisions were made and actions taken which have impacted on her whole life.

Watching her family struggle to deal with her teenage angst, her inability to conform to their ideal of how their offspring should behave was enlightening and I went from holding them in some contempt to realising they really were making every effort to do what they thought was their best.

This is a beautifully written, character driven story, based around keeping secrets, and dealing with being different. It tackles some major issues in quite a gentle way.

I don’t think I will be causing any spoilers by confessing that I had in fact guessed what Di’s secrets were before I even began reading the book, but this didn’t spoil it for me as it was fascinating getting to know her character and discover how she grew from the misfit child to a woman I can only hold in the highest regard. I was a tiny bit disappointed that the ending left one big issue unresolved and left me jumping up and down dying to know what happened after the last page.

A moving and accomplished novel with a difference, especially poignant for anyone who, particularly as a child, felt misunderstood and different from everyone else.

Available now on Amazon amongst other places

I’d like to thank the author for sending me a copy of her book to read and provide my unbiased review.

The Blurb

The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin ... 

At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound. 

To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance ... until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why. 

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Unseeing - Anna Mazzola - shrewd and ingenious



My Review

What a fabulous, gripping read this stunning debut novel is. I SO enjoyed it, it is one of those unputdownable page turners which lulls you into thinking it’s merely a competent and enjoyable story, when really its grasping hold of your windpipe ready to squeeze it tightly and leave you breathless and buffeted.

It’s ingeniously woven around a true crime committed in the first half of the nineteenth century in London. Yet the author has shrewdly delved deeply behind the sensational headlines of the day – with themes on the lines of …. “Womans body brutally chopped to pieces” “Murderer carries murder victims severed head through London” and fleshed out the main characters involved, taking us inside the depths of Newgate prison to meet Sarah Gale, a single Mother, who isn’t saying much about her participation in, or knowledge of, the murder of her ex-boyfriends other woman Hannah Brown on the evening before she was due to marry.

Sentenced to death, convicted of playing an active part, along with her lover the sometimes violent James Greenacre, in the gruesome murder of Hannah Brown; Sarah has all but given up hope of redemption when fledgling lawyer Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to re-investigate Sarah’s part in the crime and determine whether she is less or perhaps more guilty than charged and see if an appeal against the death sentence might be an option. But Sarah seems reluctant to speak out on her own behalf, even to save her own life. It’s clear she is hiding something but is it guilt, fear or some other secret making her so reluctant to speak out?

Devoted to her young son she is a complex character I soon grew to like, and was rooting for her, yet was never completely sure whether or not to completely trust her. One minute I was thinking - She must have been involved, she couldn’t have not known exactly what played out the night Hannah died, the next moment I’m thinking - but she couldn’t possibly have known, she’s far too nice, a caring Mother a loving sister, then I do an about face and think OMG, did she actually do it herself? No, surely she’s innocent? And this goes on right through the book! We follow Edmund as he begins his investigation as he soon becomes wrapped up in Sarahs story, meets her sister and tries to piece together the gaps in this heinous crime so we get to know him, his overbearing father, his impatient wife his guileless nature, is he too trusting perhaps?

The author paints a vivid picture of life in Newgate prison and London itself and there are several twists in the tale which kept me guessing, right until the final pages.

It’s a seductive story, grim and gory certainly, brutal in places but with a charisma and charm which captivated me and left me quite desperate for a follow up. I’m longing to know what happens afterwards to some of the surviving characters.

For historical mystery lovers and enthusiasts of clever twisty fiction this is an absolute “must read” outstanding debut novel I am certain will be a huge success.

My gratitude goes to the publisher Tinder Press for allowing me early access to this title in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion and to Ella Bowman (publicist) for permitting me to share my thoughts now, because I am bursting to tell everyone to add this to their “to be read” list, even though it isn’t released until July - on the 14th to be precise (which just happens to be my birthday, a big one – cake and chocolate also accepted for review purposes?? ….. Oh well, worth a try I suppose)

The blurb

It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah's petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death?