Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Reviews: Hamnet, Crashing Heat, First Class Murder and Jolly Foul Play

For the first time ever, my mini reviews are actually miniature.

And there are four books in this post, which is also a first for me.


Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet

O’Farrell takes the known facts of Hamnet’s life and weaves them through a narrative that is descriptive and immersive and tragic, and the result is a beautiful story about family and love and loss.

If you have this on your tbr, I’d highly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5


Crashing Heat by Richard Castle (aka Tom Straw)
Crashing Heat (Nikki Heat, #10)

I enjoyed the previous nine books in this series, but the tenth instalment just did not deliver for me.

Aside from the glaring plot-hole that was a character who’d died in an earlier book being alive again, the case Heat and Rook investigate was thin and convoluted and had no stakes for me invest in.

I’d love to be able to say that the references to the TV show on which this series in a spin-off (the show being ABC’s Castle, starring Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion) saved the day, but those were few and far between.

Rating: 2/5


First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
First Class Murder (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #3)

Three adventures in and the Detective Society are still going strong. Hazel and Daisy are on the Orient Express for their holidays, and find themselves another case when a passenger is murdered.

There are plenty of suspects (as in the previous novels) and a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 4/5


JOLLY FOUL PLAY BY ROBIN STEVENS
Jolly Foul Play (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #4)

Back at school, and almost a year on from their first case, Daisy and Hazel are mere feet away when a murder takes place during a fireworks display.

In spite of that echo back to their first investigation, the pair have grown up a lot since then. Hazel does some investigating on her own and even questions Daisy’s orders, which she wouldn’t have done in Book 1, while Daisy herself is less about the uncovering of secrets and more trying to prevent an innocent person from being accused of the murder, which shows a massive development in her character.

An old-fashioned, enjoyable YA mystery.

Rating: 4/5

Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Review: Prayer For The Dead by James Oswald (Inspector McLean series)

I realised while writing this post that most of what I enjoyed about it has been talked about it my reviews of the previous books in the series, so to keep from repeating myself, I’ve decided to do a mini review instead.


Prayer for the Dead (Inspector McLean, #5)

I haven’t stuck with a series for more than two or three books before, so that I’ve just finished the fifth in the Inspector McLean series and have every intention of carrying on with Book 6 and the rest, says something.

What I’ve come to enjoy from these books is that McLean has several cases to solve in each one, so as a reader we get more than one mystery to invest in, and plenty of clues to try and make sense of before everything’s resolved in the final few chapters.

That tradition was carried on in Book 5, and we also got to learn a bit more about some of the supporting characters, including Madame Rose (the psychic who’s been making appearances since Book 1) and Constable MacBride, who is struggling with his workload and also with the consequences of his accident in the previous book.

We got to learn a little bit more about McLean himself through chapters set before he’s sent off to boarding school after the death of his parents, and I thought it was cute how even at that young age he already had a strong sense of right and wrong, and of wanting to help others.

Back in the present day, he is still unwilling to admit to the forces that play a part in the cases he investigates, balancing precariously on the fence between acceptance and denial (which is down to his need for cold hard evidence), and it was interesting to see him fighting with that, in spite of everything that’s seen over the course of the five books.

I’m hoping, though, at some point during this series that McLean will accept the things he’s seen and those he can’t readily explain, because I think it would be a satisfying resolution to a story thread that started in the first book, but even without it these stories are fun and clever and I think Tony McLean might be able to given John Rebus a run for his money.

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads


Posted in Reads Rated

Reads Rated: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

This is a little bit different from the previous books I’ve reviewed this year. There wasn’t a single detective or crime scene in sight.

So here is my review of The Flatshare. Which I adored.

I’ve tried to avoid spoilers where possible, but proceed with caution if you haven’t read this book yet and have it on your tbr list.


The Flatshare

Synopsis

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rule book out the window…


// What I Liked//

Tiffy & Leon’s narrative styles reflect their character > We’re introduced to Tiffy first, and learn why she’s looking for a flat to live in, and then Leon.

While I don’t usually like alternating POV chapters, I loved how Beth O’Leary captured the characters’ personalities through their narrative styles.

Tiffy’s chapters are a mix of long and short sentences and sort of tangential much like her conversations with her friends, while Leon’s are short and to the point.

The story > Tiffy and Leon had very busy lives during the course of the book, which added dimension and complexity to them both.

Tiffy had just come out of an abusive relationship, so was working through realising how toxic it had been, and Leon was consumed with trying to get his wrongly-convicted brother out of jail, while also working nights at a hospice, and trying to find the wartime love of one of the patients.

So like I said, Tiffy and Leon had a LOT going on in the lives, but everything was tied off nicely by the end and I loved those mini storylines for giving us further insight into the characters.

The Post-It notes > In the beginning, and for most of the book, Tiffy and Leon communicate solely through leaving notes for each other around their flat.

Leon’s girlfriend Kay doesn’t want them to meet (which you can understand to an extent if your partner doesn’t want to live with you but rents out their bed and flat to a complete stranger) but the pair end up needing to discuss things like bin-days or leftovers in the fridge, which leads to them getting to know each other through Post-It notes.

I think the Post-It notes were my favourite thing about this book, because it was such an unusual idea but worked so well.

//I Could Have Done Without…//

Nothing, because I loved every chapter.

Rating

5/5

I haven’t given many books 5 stars this year, but I think The Flatshare is completely deserving.


Goodreads

 Book DepositoryWaterstones/ The Works

Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Reviews: Murder Most Unladylike & Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens

After realising how grim my reading material has been this year, I started the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens for a change of pace.


Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #1)

This was a fun and fast-paced introduction, and showed us its two protagonists, Hazel and Daisy, as they’re just starting out on their crime-solving adventures.

When Hazel finds the body of one of their mistresses dead in the school’s gymnasium, she’s terrified when Daisy decides she wants them to investigate as she believes it wasn’t an accident.

Hazel likes being safe, and trying to find which of their teachers committed a murder is her very idea of not being safe, so she’s reluctant to share in Daisy’s excitement of uncovering clues and alibis and ruling out their list of suspects.

I loved the 1930’s setting, which Robin Stevens brought to life through Hazel’s narration of the story, and through the characters’ language. And keeping Hazel on the fence about wanting to be a detective, instead of blindly following Daisy down that path, kept the story grounded and reminding us that these detectives are actually still school kids and have formed their own Detective Society because of their love of mystery novels.

Rating: 4/5

Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens

Arsenic for Tea (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #2)

The second book in the series is set a few months after the first, and while Hazel enjoyed the thrill of solving a mystery, she’s struggling with the reality of being a detective and knowing that the person they were looking for was really a murderer.

So when a new mystery lands on their doorstep during the Easter holidays, Hazel only agrees to investigate because she knows how important the case is to Daisy.

The stakes were higher this time around because most of the suspects were in Daisy’s family, and Hazel summed this up perfectly when she questioned whether the answer was one they would want to know, and that addition of right vs. wrong and what each means showed how much both she and Daisy have changed from the beginning of Book 1.

Rating: 4/5

Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Review: Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

I didn’t think I would be a fan of historical fiction, but that was before I started Wolf Hall, and found myself reading up on the Tudor reign in my spare time.

It was an impulse buy because I’d heard so much about the series and heard Hilary Mantel’s name so often I was feeling a bit left out, but it’s turned out to be one of my favourite books I’ve bought this year.


Bring Up the Bodies

I loved this book. More than I expected to, given that Wolf Hall was so impressive in how it brought the world of the Tudor court to life, and immerses you fully in the lives of people who lived over four hundred years ago.

But I did. And I’m so glad I picked it up.

Thomas Cromwell is a little older in this book than he was in Wolf Hall, and he’s aware that the years are slipping past him and he hasn’t remarried since the death of his wife and the only family he has left is his son Gregory and nephew Richard.

Which is mostly what drives him throughout this book, and in helping the king to annul his marriage to Anne Boleyn- he wants the Tudor line of succession to be secure, he wants Gregory and Richard and Rafe, and all the other young men he’s training up, to have their paths clear, because he didn’t and he’s still working to make a better life for himself and for them.

It amazes me still how vivid Mantel’s writing is. I was fascinated by the Tudor sections of Horrible Histories when I was growing up, struck by the thought of a king having six wives and beheading two, so reading about the downfall of Anne Boleyn who turned the king’s followers against each other, and the rise of her replacement, Jane Seymour, through the eyes of the man who brought it about, was fascinating and addictive and shocking, and I’m more than a little bit impatient to get started on Book 3.

Rating: 5/5

Posted in Reads Rated

Reads Rated: Dead Men’s Bones (Inspector McLean Series)

At the start of lock down, I was struggling with being at home so much and having all that free time on my hands. Making a point at least once a day to think about what I’ve been able to do with the time has helped me keep some semblance of sanity, and writing this review of the fourth Inspector McLean novel is yet another reminder of how many amazing books I’ve had the opportunity to read over the past 100+ days.

My reading goal for this year was 20 books, and I’m currently sitting at 37, so that’s one more thing I have to be positive about.


Dead Men's Bones (Inspector McLean, #4)

Synopsis

The body of a prominent Scottish MP is discovered outside his home, a remote house in North East Fife. In a horrifying attack, Andrew Weatherly has killed his wife and two young daughters, before turning his gun on himself.

The question on everyone’s lips is why would this successful and wealthy man commit such a gruesome crime?

Inspector Tony McLean is surprised to find himself at the centre of this high profile investigation. The deeper he digs, the more McLean realizes he is being used in a game between shadowy factions from the world of power and privilege.

Pressure is on to wrap up the case. That would go against everything McLean believes in . . . but to carry on will threaten the lives of his closest friends and colleagues.


// What I Liked//

McLean has multiple cases on the go > It’s been a feature of the previous three books, but it’s worth mentioning again because it makes McLean being an inspector feel more genuine.

There’s mention of the accompanying paperwork, too, but McLean is always more than willing to lend a hand on any of the enquiries he’s overseeing, and with his time being spent equally between each case, we get more than one mystery to invest in.

DCI Duguid > McLean’s superior officer, the detective chief inspector has been something of a comic relief in Books 1 to 3, as he and McLean only needed to set eyes on each other to get their hackles up.

Their bickering is funny and helps to balance out the darker elements of the series, but what I liked in particular about Duguid’s appearance in Book 4 is that he’d mellowed out a little bit and in spite of his motive for setting McLean onto the Weatherly investigation, he’d recognised that McLean is a good detective and therefore the most likely to uncover the reason behind Weatherly’s death.

Supporting cast > The comings and goings of the other officers in McLean’s station added further authenticity to the fictional Edinburgh he inhabits, as there were some who only appeared for a few chapters before returning to other duties, and others who stuck around because they enjoyed the excitement of CID.

My favourite by far of the background cast has to be Grumpy Bob, a sergeant McLean has worked with for a while, and Detective Constable MacBride (yes, that is a reference to the Scottish crime author), who joined McLean in Book 1 and been around ever since.

Book 4 continues features from Book 3, but still works as a standalone > This is also something I’ve mentioned in past reviews about this series, but the more I read, the more I appreciate how well Oswald understands that some people are going to read the books back to back, while others might pick up the most recent addition.

It starts with McLean at a crime scene, and then slowly introduces us to the characters we need to know about.

There was a little less mention to past events this time around, but it was still clear who McLean regularly worked with and what their relationships were like, and if anything that had happened in Book 3 was important to the plot, we were given an explanation if one was needed.

// Not So Much…//

I’d started writing this post while still reading Dead Men’s Bones, and one of the things I’d put down in this section was the absence of the supernatural, which had played such a big part in the previous three novels.

It felt like this was the first book in a series and the author was trying to decide how heavily the paranormal should feature, giving us only little references and suggestions that something other than a human being was involved in McLean’s cases, but then came a turning point and it stopped being so obscure who exactly McLean’s paranormal adversary was supposed to be.

Having finished the book, I was surprised by how well that subtlety worked, and it gave DMB a very different feel to its predecessors.

Rating

4.5/5

I think this has been my favourite of the series so far, and I’m looking forward to finding out where Tony McLean goes next.


Goodreads

Book DepositoryWaterstones

Posted in Reads Rated

Reads Rated: The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

I first read this book when it was available on Netgalley before its release, and I loved it from the first page.

The sequel, The Art Of Dying, was published at the end of last year, but because it had been so long since I read the first one, I decided a reread was in order.


The Way of All Flesh (Raven, Fisher, and Simpson, #1)

Synopsis

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.

With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.


// What I Liked//

The history > I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately, and I loved the setting in TWOAF. Edinburgh is somewhere I love to visit, so it was interesting to learn a bit more about its history through the novel.

The time period was described as vividly as if it were yesterday, and while the city of Edinburgh hasn’t changed all that much since the 1800’s, the authors (Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman) did a great job at bringing the 19th century to life.

Dr Simpson > He was mostly a supporting character, but I enjoyed when Dr Simpson did make an appearance. He didn’t act like he had a reputation as a medical man trying to make discoveries in the field of midwifery, or seem fazed by being recognised by practically everyone he came across.

All that mattered to him was his family, his work, and sharing his knowledge with his colleagues and friends.

The writing > While the story is set in the 1800’s, the writing was clear and the characters genuine.

The historical setting of the book doesn’t require you to have a huge knowledge of the period, because it worked as a backdrop to the main story like the train in Murder On The Orient Express.

// Not So Much…//

Sarah’s attitude > While I understood why Sarah was so frustrated by the lack of options available for women (and herself, in particular, since she wasn’t born into a high class family) I never managed to empathise with her.

For someone who was supposed to be a housemaid, she was incredibly out-spoken and rude to almost everyone, and for that reason, I found it difficult to like her.

There was a lot of allusion to Raven’s past and his secrets, but not much pay-off > He was an intriguing character because of all these hints and references to a huge secret and not being the man he pretended to be, but we don’t get much further than this.

Maybe in Book 2 there will be more development of his history, which will make the hints worthwhile.

Rating

4/5

The Way Of All Flesh was an addictive and intriguing murder mystery, with plenty of authenticity lent by the details of old Edinburgh and the developments in science and medicine.


Goodreads

AmazonBook DepositoryWaterstones

Posted in Reads Rated

Reads Rated: Lost Girls by Angela Marsons (D.I. Kim Stone Series)

It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to it, but I finally reached the third instalment in the Kim Stone series.

After Book 2 I didn’t think I would get here, but I promised to give the series one last chance so here we are.

As usual, I’ve tried to be spoiler-free but there may be things mentioned which give away elements of the story so consider this a notice to proceed with caution.


Lost Girls (D.I. Kim Stone, #3)

Synopsis

Two girls go missing. Only one will return.

The couple that offers the highest amount will see their daughter again. The losing couple will not. Make no mistake. One child will die.

When nine-year-old best friends Charlie and Amy disappear, two families are plunged into a living nightmare. A text message confirms the unthinkable; that the girls are the victims of a terrifying kidnapping.

And when a second text message pits the two families against each other for the life of their children, the clock starts ticking for D.I. Kim Stone and the squad.

Seemingly outwitted at every turn, as they uncover a trail of bodies, Stone realises that these ruthless killers might be the most deadly she has ever faced. And that their chances of bringing the girls home alive, are getting smaller by the hour…

Untangling a dark web of secrets from the families’ past might hold the key to solving this case. But can Kim stay alive long enough to do so? Or will someone’s child pay the ultimate price?


//What I Liked//

The premise > It reminded me a little of Adrian McKinty’s The Chain (though Lost Girls was published first) and I enjoyed a different take on that premise.

It was handled well, from the reactions and behaviour of the two families, and there was a sense of urgency from beginning to end as Kim and her team worked to get the girls home.

The relationship between Kim & Bryant was further developed > We know from the first two books that the only member of the team Kim is close to is Bryant, and while they never have any in-depth conversations, Bryant still showed he cared and worried about his boss, with Kim returning that by accepting his offers of food and coffee and even laughing at his jokes, which was a huge change from Book 1.

It works as a standalone and as a sequel > I mentioned this in my review of Book 2, but it applies for Book 3 as well. The previous cases and storylines are hardly acknowledged at all, so there’s no chance you’ll be left confused over what the characters are talking about.

Kim was nice > If you read my review of the first two books, you’ll understand the significance of those three words.

It was strange at first, and in the beginning few chapters she was as abrupt as ever, but as the story progressed, she became quite sedate compared to how she was in Book 1, though this made Lost Girls a far more enjoyable read.

Supporting cast > We didn’t spend much time with Kim’s team, and though that was a little disappointing given their past appearances and group dynamic, it was refreshing to get to see the consequences of the case on the people it was affecting while the case was unfolding as Kim was trying to solve it.

// Not So Much…//

There was no explanation for Kim’s personality change > While Kim’s development was a good decision on the part of the author, it didn’t make much sense in terms of continuity.

There’s barely any reference to Kim being impatient or lacking in social skills, which was a running theme in Silent Scream and Evil Games, and at one point she even picks the negotiator up on his cold and emotionless manner (which I thought was pretty ironic given that Bryant often had to intercede on her behalf on previous occasions when she upset a witness or suspect.)

And while it was a huge relief that she wasn’t constantly snapping at everybody or bemoaning the delay in post-mortems and lab results, there was no justification or explanation as to what caused the complete 180, so moving from Book 2 to Book 3 was slightly jarring.

The team barely existed > I’d enjoyed the dynamic between Kim and her team, but in Lost Girls, they only made an occasional appearance.

Stacey didn’t exist away from her computer screen, and Dawson was kept busy with investigating a previous case that had ended just a few days before the events of this one begins, so they were background characters and little more, which I felt made Kim’s insistence of having them work the case with her pointless.

Rating

3.5/5

In spite of Kim’s change in behaviour, the lack of logic behind it left me feeling like I was missing out on something (even though I hadn’t and had only just finished Book 2) so that detracted from my overall enjoyment of the story.

As a standalone, Lost Girls was interesting and quite addictive, so that earned it an extra half point.


Goodreads

Amazon/ Book Depository/ Waterstones

Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Review: The Cheerleaders &The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes

I haven’t started making a list of my favourite books of this year, but both of these will definitely be on it when I eventually get round to reviewing my reads of 2020.

Below you’ll find by thoughts on The Cheerleaders and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and the link to their Goodreads page via the covers.


The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

The Cheerleaders

I loved this book. It had an intriguing mystery at its core, a lot of developed characters who had backgrounds and secrets, and a good character as its protagonist.

The reveal is also worth a mention, because it was satisfying in how it was handled, and I loved the epilogue which takes us back to the very beginning and answers the question of what really happened to the cheerleaders the night they died.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games, #0)

I was so happy when I heard that there was going to be a new Hunger Games book, and Ballad did not disappoint.

Like everyone else, I was a bit hesitant over how Suzanne Collins was going to get us to invest in the story by having Coriolanus Snow as the main character but she did it well, and his slow-burn development was executed perfectly.

Along with the development of Snow from kid who misses his parents and his old glamorous lifestyle in the Capitol before the war to the beginning of the character we know from the original trilogy, we learn more about how the Games themselves.

There are no fancy apartments for the tributes to stay in before they’re put into the arena, no wardrobe teams, no parades, and no parties- they’re treated as criminals because they’re from the districts, and hated so much by the citizens of the Capitol that when the Games begin, very few people actually tune in to watch the fighting.

But that changes over the course of the book, and it was interesting to have that insight and watch the world of Panem change from war-torn country to totalitarian state we know from when Katniss comes along 60-plus years later.

Rating: 4/5

Posted in Reads Rated

Mini Reviews: The Chain & My Dark Vanessa

While I’ve written more blog posts over the last couple of months than I have in a long time, I’ve been slacking when it comes to my book reviews- which simply comes down to some books being easier to review than others.

Doing mini reviews instead seemed like a good way for me to share the books I’ve enjoyed, but without taking the fun out of them, or the post turning into either a massive rant or a massive spoiler.

The book covers include a link to Goodreads, and if you haven’t heard of either of these novels, please do a little bit of research before reading because they both contain potential triggers.


The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain

I haven’t read a lot of thriller fiction this year, but I loved The Chain. It was dark and chilling and totally deserving of being shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award.

I felt it’s worth noting, though, that I didn’t really feel there was much of a relationship between Rachel and her daughter Kyle, or even Kylie and her dad, or her uncle. Neither did Rachel feel like a mother, at times, but maybe that was only because Kylie is a teenager, and she and her family were growing apart.

Rating: 4/5

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa

This was, to say the least, uncomfortable. It was twisted, and dark, and pretty miserable at times, when Vanessa was struggling to identify what was happening to her and everybody around her was oblivious. (Some were even enabling, or turning a blind eye, which amounts to the same thing.)

Though that was the point, I think, and why the author chose to tell Vanessa’s story with a dual timeline- now and then- and showing us how her abuse and Strane’s influence on her affects her as a young teenager, and then again as an adult trying to find her way in life.

And that worked well, for the most part. But what a lot of reviews have said is that this should have been a novella, and I agree with that. The story and the writing were powerful, but they lost a bit of their focus with the book continuing past 200 pages in length.

Rating: 3/5