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Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

I’ve been a fan of the Strike series of crime novels for a while now, and have been looking forward to this latest instalment, which focuses on the detective’s first cold-case. The last book in the series, Lethal White, contained an interesting mystery but was a little slow-going at first, and could probably have done with a little more editing (although I felt it grew on me during a second reading), so I was a little worried when the newest book arrived and I saw that it was over 900 pages long. Would it be another book that contained an interesting plot but could have withstood a little more editing?

The plot centres on Margor Bamborough, a doctor who disappeared in the 1970s. It was always believed that she had been abducted and murdered by serial killer Dennis Creed, but he has never admitted killing her and now her daughter wants more answers. Robin and Strike agree to take on the case, and are shocked by the notes that they find from the initial investigating police officer. In the middle of a mental breakdown, he kept a notebook that centred on using mystical connections, tarot readings and the zodiac to find the killer. The case takes the private detectives on a year long journey, unpicking truths from lies. But so many years have passed, and in this case nobody is quite what they seem.

The mystery plot in this novel was good. It contained some very dark moments but there were plenty of twists and turns, and I did not guess at the solution to the mystery at all. The mystical elements certainly added another element of interest, and I really enjoyed reading about the characters unpicking a mystery from such a long time ago.

And coming back to the question of editing… well, the beginning definitely was a little slow going again. I felt like this would not be a book that would draw readers in if they weren’t already fans of the series. I felt like we needed a little more drama and excitement and a little less domestic detail to begin the story. Once I got into the middle, I was gripped, and raced through the book, making short work of the hundreds of pages, and I enjoyed the intricately plotted mystery.

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you will know I always enjoy reading about Strike and Robin’s ‘will they-won’t they’ relationship’; there was little of this in the first half of the book, although they do have a pretty spectacular blazing row, where Robin finally lets him know exactly how difficult his behaviour can be to deal with. The second half did contain more moments of them growing closer, and it was interesting to see the characters develop.

An interesting addition to the series: maybe a little too long and in need of some editing, but certainly an engaging and gripping book.

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The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

Earlier this year I read and enjoyed Blood Orange as part of a virtual book club, so when I saw that Harriet Tyce had a new book out, I knew that I would want to read this. The blurb also sounded so interesting that I decided this was definitely a book I wanted to buy and read.

Sadie Roper has made a hurried return to London from America, following the break down of her marriage. With her daughter Robin starting Y6 at her old primary school, Sadie can’t shake her bad memories of both the school and her mother’s old home, which they have moved into. To fulfill her mother’s will, Robin must attend Sadie’s old school, but Sadie was miserable there herself, and it seems that the school mums are determined to make her feel unwelcome.

Whilst all of this is going on Sadie manages to find some junior legal work through an old friend and finds herself involved in the defence trial of a teacher who has been accused of grooming one of his pupils. Sadie balances work with her childcare needs, so is pleased when some of the school mums become more welcoming and allow Robin to spend more time at their homes.

However, nothing is quite as it seems. Sadie discovers the shocking truth about her client at the same time as Robin goes missing following a weekend with her friend. Sadie involves the police but quickly becomes terrified that it may be too late, especially when she realises another child from the school died in suspicious circumstances only months before.

This was a fast paced psychological thriller and great fun to read. Both the trial and the issues with the school mums made for dramatic storylines and you really felt for Sadie as she tried to fit in but also to make the right decisions. The other school mums were definitely the kind of characters you love to hate: really cruel playground bullies who had grown up to continue with this cruelty.

I read this book in just a couple of sittings and would highly recommend it.

Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I pre-ordered The Thursday Murder Club, written by television presenter Richard Osman, a while ago, as I had seen lots about it online and the synopsis sounded really interesting; since it arrived I’ve not wanted to put it down, and have really enjoyed reading the story.

The Thursday Murder Club is a society formed of 4 retirees at Cooper Chase retirement village. Four members meet each week to discuss murder cases from the past, and try to solve any unsolved mysteries. The group consists of Elizabeth, Ron, Ibrahim and newest member Joyce, an ex-nurse. When a murder occurs on their very doorstep they are thrilled, and begin their own investigation. Amazingly they manage to involve themselves in the police investigation, and even uncover some key facts that the police have missed. When another murder occurs under their very eyes, and a hidden skeleton is unearthed, the mystery becomes even more complicated, but the Thursday Murder Club aren’t going to let complications stop them from investigating.

This book was a real pleasure to read; it contained an interesting murder plot and plenty of humorous moments, which helped to keep it quite light-hearted. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the group managed to manipulate and infiltrate the police investigation.

The real strength of this story lies in the characters, who draw strength from their age and experience. Like an elderly Famous Five, they manage to outwit the police throughout the investigation, eventually earning their respect.

This was a truly brilliant story, and one that I would highly recommend. There is a sequel on the way and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan

Siobhan Dillon is on holiday at her sister’s villa in France with her family when the police come calling. They want to question Siobhan’s husband Callum about a murder and child abduction; the murder victim is Callum’s lover Caroline, who he has been seeing in secret.

Caroline was babysitting for some friends when they returned to her flat to find Caroline stabbed and their daughter Eve missing. The police are fairly sure that Callum is to blame, but they still cannot find any trace of Eve and as time passes there is much less chance of finding her alive and well. However in this case more than one person is keeping a secret, and the police need to unpick the lies to uncover the truth.

I really enjoyed this story. I like books that are written from multiple perspectives as you can see different sides of the story, and I also liked how this story also contained sections that jumped back in time and were narrated by the murder victim; it really added to the build up of tension within the story. The reader has some idea of what is about to happen but doesn’t now how the events will unfold, which adds to the suspense.

There were plenty of twists and turns and whilst I began to have some theories and suspicions as I read, I didn’t see the final twist coming. The plot really drew me on through the book, and I enjoyed trying to figure out who was responsible for the murder.

Well worth a read, this is a fast paced novel with plenty of twists and turns.

Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the paperback of the new Dr Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths, so when it arrived this week, I was really excited to start reading it. I’ve read my way through the whole series since May this year, when I started with The Crossing Places and I’ve really enjoyed every book in the series.

This story begins with the conviction of Ivor March who has been found guilty of murdering two women after their bodies were discovered buried in his girlfriend’s garden. DCI Harry Nelson is convinced that he was responsible for murdering two other women, but hasn’t been able to find enough evidence for this, and he’s also not yet found where their bodies have been hidden. Ivor tells Nelson that he’ll let him know the location of the bodies, but only if forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway is the one to lead the forensic dig.

Ruth has now moved in with her partner Frank in Cambridge and accepted a new job at Cambridge University in an attempt to move on with her life. She is surprised not only to find herself drawn into a new case but also to find that there are strong links with a writer’s retreat that she visited a few weeks before to finish her latest book. She agrees to take part in the investigation, even though it causes her anxiety, especially having to deal with the unsettling and creepy Ivor March.

As the bodies of the two missing women are discovered, the case is further complicated when a third skeleton is uncovered on the same site. Then, a young woman is discovered murdered in similar circumstances. With Ivor March in jail is it just a coincidence or a copycat killer? Nelson doesn’t believe in coincidences and he heads up both investigations alongside newly promoted DI Judy Johnson.

The tension builds with the discovery of a photograph of March alongside several of the victims including the most recent, and a large group of his friends; they are definitely hiding something but the team can’t quite figure out what. This comes to head on the day of a cycle race that Nelson’s eldest daughter Laura is taking part in and leads to a dramatic finale to the story.

As with the other books in the series, it is the characters that really help me to get into these stories. As a protagonist Ruth is as likeable as ever. She’s incredibly strong and yet very human in the way she doubts her own strength. She’s the kind of main character that you can really empathise with. And of course her complex relationship with Nelson continues to develop, adding further tension to the story.

This story, like most of the others also blends myths in with the history and crime elements. In this case it is the story of The Lantern Men; a myth about men bearing lights leading women astray on the marshes. This then ties into the group of men at the centre of the mystery who named themselves The Lantern Men and claimed to be helping lost women. However a story written by one of the victims suggests a more sinister intention in the actions of at least one of the men.

The crime presented a challenging puzzle for the characters (and the reader) and it definitely kept me guessing as the story progressed. There were plenty of red herrings along the way, although the truth was actually hinted at very early on in the story.

An exciting, well plotted crime novel, with plenty of familiar characters and a nice blend of mystery, myth and history. This book is well worth a read and I would highly recommend it.

Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

I saw this book recommended on twitter as an exciting and fun adventure story, with some romantic elements, so it seemed the perfect book to read to vary what I’ve been reading recently.

The story begins in 1898 when Eleanora Mallory (Ellie) is fired from her job at the Public Record Office. Despite having a University degree, she has never been valued as much as the male staff, and when her boss learns that she was arrested for taking part in a suffragette rally, he decides it is time to ask her to leave. Before she goes, Ellie finds herself drawn to a strange book within the office. She takes it with her and discovers an ancient artefact and a map to a mysterious lost city hidden within it.

When Ellie finds herself pursued and threatened by the ominous Professor Dawson and his even more sinister associate, Jacobs, she decides that rather than let the map fall into their posession, she will follow it herself, in hopes of making a significant archaeological discovery. Under an assumed name, she travels to Belize, to find a guide and begin her adventure.

On arrival in Belize, Ellie finds that engaging a guide to take her, a young woman, into the jungle, more difficult than expected. She also encounters Adam Bates, an infuriating American surveyor and map-maker who happens to be staying at the same hotel, and who tries to come to her rescue when she encounters a snake. Things take a turn for the dangerous with the arrival of Dawson and Jacobs, who intend to steal the map and get rid of Ellie; so she adopts a disguise and reluctantly agrees to engage Adam Bates as her guide on her journey into the jungle.

Ellie’s journey into the jungle in search of the hidden city contains many dangers, and she must rely on Bates more than she wants to in order to survive. When they are captured by Dawson and Jacobs who have mounted their own expedition, Ellie and Bates must play along to ensure their survival as they reach the dangerous city, with its unusual and threatening artefacts.

This book was great fun to read. It was fairly predictable in terms of the relationship between Ellie and Bates progressing from animosity to romance, but that didn’t really ruin the story; a little predictability can be a good thing at times.

The adventure plot was fast moving and contained plenty of peril, especially as Ellie and Bates move through a series of ever more challenging caves towards the end of the book. There are lots of similarities with the Indiana Jones films, but again this adds to the fun, adventurous feeling of the story.

If anything, I felt like I’d like a little more detail at the end of the story about what happened next; it seemed to end a little abruptly. But again, there was something very film like about the ending. I suppose it leaves it open for possible sequels or to become part of series.

A light-hearted adventure read in a Victorian-setting; this book was an engaging read to pass a few hours with.

Romance/ chick-lit

While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

I decided to continue with my ‘break’ from crime fiction this week by reading this romantic story that I saw advertised online.

Beatrix Babbage starts the story in disastrous circumstances as she ruins her best friend’s wedding by accident. She decides to move across Australia, from Perth to Melbourne and takes a new job there. She has very few friends and is very lonely. On top of this she hates her new job coming up with slogans for toothpaste.

However, she feels her luck is beginning to change when she picks up a second-hand book filled with poetic and inspiring inscriptions. Bea becomes determined to find the mystery writer who scrawled such fantastic words, until suddenly he walks into her life by accident. Zach works in publishing and tells Bea that he is her mystery writer; but is Zach really everything that he seems, and will Bea’s relationship with him ruin her friendship with barista Dino?

On top of all of this, Bea is fired from her job and must find a way to make a success of her new literary speed-dating idea, whilst juggling her disastrous personal life.

If I’m honest at first I didn’t really warm to the protagonist, and it took me quite a while to get into the story. I’m not sure what it was that I didn’t like, but I almost gave up on the story at one point.

I did stick with it and enjoyed parts of it, but at times I felt annoyed with Bea’s obsession with a few notes that were hand-written in a novel. I also found myself annoyed by some of the other characters rather than amused (Ruth in particular; I didn’t find her character funny, but rude and I was a little annoyed at how much of a role she ended up with in Bea’s life). The love story was fine, and it was good to see Bea becoming successful in her own business after losing her job.

Overall, it was an alright book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as some other romantic comedies that I’ve read.

Children's/YA fiction

The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

I picked this book up for my children but couldn’t resist reading it myself (and just look at that gorgeous cover – who wouldn’t want to read it?). It looked like an interesting adventure story to spend a few hours with.

Nice young girls don’t go chasing after adventure.

Aleja’s grandmother is always insisting that she behaves like a normal nice young girl, but Aleja, who is growing up in Seville in Spain, dreams of adventures. She sneaks out at night to explore the city and to read books in the city’s library. To do this she teaches herself other languages, so she can read a wider range of books. Some stories interest her more than others though, and she wants to learn more about both the mysterious explorer Thomas James, as well as a magical pirate ship called The Ship of Shadows.

One day a mysterious ship arrives in port and while Aleja is investigating she runs into trouble with some counterfeiters. Forced to hide on board the strange ship, Aleja finds herself taken on a journey across the sea. The mysterious ship turns out to be the legendary Ship of Shadows; this is no ordinary pirate ship. Crewed entirely by women, it is filled with strange shadows and magic that creates unique rooms on board. The magic is powered by the many legends and stories that are told of the ship and Aleja begins to explore this mysterious magical ship.

Whilst beginning to enjoy her time on board, Aleja is also determined to explore the ships links to explorer Thomas James, and soon discovers that they are on a quest to find a treasure map that has been split into 4 and hidden in magical locations around the globe. Their first quest leads them to Morroco, but it is not an easy journey. The crew faces danger, both at sea (in the form of pirate hunters and the Kraken) and on land, as they take a perilous journey across the desert, fighting against mythical beasts to discover a hidden city.

I have to say that this children’s book really grabbed my attention and created an exciting and dramatic story. There was plenty in there to enjoy: as a protagonist Aleja was likeable and someone that the reader can empathise with. We can see that she is conflicted as to whether she should return to her family or stay and enjoy her adventure, which is entirely understandable. The rest of the pirate crew were also fascinating to read about, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It was lovely to see Aleja’s friendships grow, as at the start of the novel she was very much isolated from other girls of her age.

The descriptions of the locations in the story painted a really vivid picture of the places Aleja and the pirate crew journeyed too, and the addition of magical elements added another level of drama to the story, particularly in terms of the magical creatures that the pirates have to battle against.

A fantastic and exciting adventure story; I’d particularly recommend it for children of around 9 and upwards, but I also really enjoyed it too, so it’s a story anyone can enjoy.

Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

I have been continuing to read my way through the Dr Ruth Galloway crime series by Elly Griffiths (the book immediately before this one is The Dark Angel) and The Stone Circle is the next one up on my list – the next book The Lantern Men is the most recent one to be published and I’m looking forward to reading it when the paperback is out at the end of August.

DCI Harry Nelson is shocked to receive an anonymous letter than links back to anonymous letters he received over 8 years ago in his first case involving Dr Ruth Galloway. The writer of those letters died, so how can he now be receiving more communications that sound just the same? Just like in the previous case there are references to religion, literature and an archaeological site on the saltmarsh. As Dr Ruth Galloway works on the named archaeological site, she discovers bones that are definitely more recent and once again becomes involved in a murder investigation. As Nelson and his team work to solve the cold case uncovered, a new murder and then a child abduction both add a more immediate sense of danger.

As with the other books in this series, there is a fantastic mixture of crime, history and mysticism to this story. The links to the bronze age site allow Ruth to become engaged once more in a complex murder mystery, and the crime itself has plenty of twists and red herrings.

I also feel by this point that you really know the main characters in this series and their personal lives, which allows the reader to feel more invested in their decisions and lives. The relationship between Ruth and Nelson continues to change and develop, but in this book his son (with his wife Michelle) is also born, which changes the family dynamic.

I also enjoyed seeing DS Judy Johnson, one of Nelson’s team, really coming into her own in this story. She is the one who ultimately solves the case, and it is interesting to see her character continuing to grow.

A really great read and a definite page turner (plus there was a sneak peak at the start of the next story at the end and I really cannot wait to read it!).

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Like a House on Fire by Caroline Hulse

This is another book that I saw on Twitter and knew that I wanted to read it – it looked like a slightly more light hearted book than some of the others I’ve been reading recently.

Stella and George are about to get divorced; their attempts at marriage counselling have failed and now they have decided to separate. However, Stella hasn’t told her family yet and when her mum asks for them both to attend one last family party before she undergoes cancer treatment, Stella feels like she can’t break the news yet. She persuades a reluctant George to attend the party along with her, although neither of them are quite so keen when they realise that it’s a murder mystery party, with roles to learn and costumes to wear. Over the course of the party the family learn more about each other and relationships change and develop, with some shocking truths revealed.

This book was an interesting read, focusing on family relationships. I felt a real sympathy for Stella, who had such an undeserved bad reputation within her family, whilst her brother and sister seemed to get away with an awful lot. Her parents Margaret and Tommy were frustratingly annoying, especially Margaret, who wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her perfect party.

There were some genuinely funny moments and it was nice to see George and Stella mend their relationship over the course of the book. It was a shame to see that Margaret still hadn’t changed her attitude towards her three children by the end of the story, but then that may have stretched the believability of her character.

A funny and insightful book that explores the strained relationships that can occur in families; well worth a read.