Book Review: The Yanks are Starving by Glen Craney

Mired in the Great Depression, the United States teeters on the brink of revolution. And the nation holds its collective breath as a rail-riding hobo from Portland leads 20,000 World War I veterans on a desperate quest for justice to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

This timely epic evokes the historical novels of Jeff Sharra as it sweeps across three decades with eight Americans from different backgrounds who survive the fighting in France and come together again, fourteen years later, to determine the fate of a country threatened by communism and fascism.

We follow these men and women from the Boxer Rebellion in China to the Plain of West Point, from the persecution of conscientious objectors in the Midwest to the horrors of the Marne in France, and from the Hoovervilles of the heartland to the pitiful encampment in the bowels of the District of Columbia.

Here is an alarming portrayal of the political intrigue and government betrayal that ignited the only violent conflict between two American armies under the same flag. 

What I Thought:

I was asked to review Glen Craney’s historical novel, The Yanks Are Starving, some time ago and I’ll admit I struggled a little on first picking it up. However, being a firm believer in books coming to you at the right time, I let it sit and when I picked it up again recently, it was easy to fly through.

Even though I would call myself a fan of Historical fiction and historical events, I had no idea about the Bonus Army as described in this book. After serving their country in World War 1, regular Army veterans were promised a salary bonus, to be paid in 1945. As the Depression begins to bite, these men begin realising that most of them will be dead before the bonus is paid, and demand it sooner. In a move that proves that veterans of foreign wars were treated with the same disdain then that they are now, this was refused, setting the scene for a war between the establishment and the veterans.

Glen Craney’s novel cleverly interweaves real-life and composite characters to get into the belly of the Bonus Army, following them from their pre-war lives, into the trenches of France and to the Hoovervilles of Washington in 1932. Whether real or composite, the characters are well-written and it’s clear that the author has done a huge amount of research.

Part of my degree course involved study of the Depression and the New Deal, but this period was not especially well-covered which is a real shame. A lot of the narrative surrounding the Depression is of hopelessness, but this episode proves that there were still people trying to take control of their lives and make demands on their Government. I guess it goes to prove that history is written by the winners and it’s no surprise that the US establishment would want to keep stories such as this out of History classrooms and textbooks!

The Yanks Are Starving is a mighty tome, dealing as it does with such a large chunk of time and a large number of individual characters but it is always clearly signposted and it’s easy to follow through the story of each main character and their interactions with each other as they approach the eventual climax of the novel in the heart of the US capital.

Many people take a dim view of history and dismiss it as irrelevant to today but, looking at today’s news, there are very many episodes in history such as this – particularly in the US – that can and should serve as valuable lessons to us all!

The Yanks Are Starving is published by Brigid’s Fire Press and, at the time of writing, is only 99p in ebook from Amazon.

To find out more about Glen Craney, you can check out his website, or connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Jog On by Bella Mackie

Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie ended her twenties in tears. She could barely find the strength to get off the sofa, let alone piece her life back together. Until one day she did something she had never done of her own free will – she pulled on a pair of trainers and went for a run.

That first attempt didn’t last very long. But to her surprise, she was back out there the next day. And the day after that. She began to set herself achievable goals – to run 5k in under 30 minutes, to walk to work every day for a week, to attempt 10 push-ups in a row. Before she knew it, her mood was lifting for the first time in years.

In Jog On, Bella explains with hilarious and unfiltered honesty how she used running to battle crippling anxiety and depression, without having to sacrifice her main loves: booze, cigarettes and ice cream. With the help of a supporting cast of doctors, psychologists, sportspeople and friends, she shares a wealth of inspirational stories, research and tips that show how exercise often can be the best medicine. This funny, moving and motivational book will encourage you to say ‘jog on’ to your problems and get your life back on track – no matter how small those first steps may be.

What I Thought:

Although the link between exercise and good mental health has, for the most part, been widely accepted, for many people with depression and anxiety the thought of pulling on a pair of trainers and going for a run is something like hell.

That’s why it is great to read a book whose author acknowledges that yes, her first run, and her second, third and fourth WERE hell, but that there is a light at the end of the running tunnel if it’s something you would like to try. There are by no means any quick fixes in this book – reading it will not make anxiety and depression disappear into thin air, but it does show that the author was able to make genuine improvements in her mental health, starting from her being prostrate on the floor and unable to leave the house.

Jog on by Bella Mackie is just one woman’s story of how she began to take control of her own mental health, but there is a lot in it whatever position you’re coming from. Alongside her own experience, there is a lot of information and stats about the state of the UK’s mental health and – most importantly I think – loads of information on where you can go next after reading the book, in the form of phone numbers and online information services.

All through the book, it very much feels like you’re reading along with someone who knows what it’s like to have really poor mental health (I hesitate to say suffer from…) and can offer something more than solutions – she can offer companionship and a sense that whatever your mental state, you are not alone.

I was inspired several years ago to start the C25K programme, after reading Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley, but with one thing or another I let it drop and my fitness lagged once again. Reading Jog On has persuaded me to don the trainers again and get back out there, with the ultimate aim of completing the Race for Life but, whatever your goals for your own fitness or your mental health, this book is definitely a must-read.

Jog On is published by William Collins.

To find out more about Bella Mackie, you can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.

Please note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Jen has finally got her daughter home.
But why does fifteen-year-old Lana still feel lost?

When Lana goes missing for four desperate days and returns refusing to speak of what happened, Jen fears the very worst. She thinks she’s failed as a mother, that her daughter is beyond reach and that she must do something – anything – to bring her back.

The family returns to London where everyone but Jen seems happy to carry on as normal. Jen’s husband Hugh thinks she’s going crazy – and their eldest daughter Meg is tired of Lana getting all the attention. But Jen knows Lana has changed, and can’t understand why. 

Does the answer lie in those four missing days? 
And how can Jen find out?

What I Thought:

After hearing such excellent things about Emma Healey’s first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, I was excited to read Whistle in the Dark although, based on reading reviews of the first book, I gather that it is very much plot driven, while this book is more focused on character.

That certainly isn’t to say that there are not dramatic moments in this book – coming from a starting point of a missing teenager is not exactly tame – but as the novel progresses, each flashback and each chapter from a different viewpoint carefully build a picture of a family and show that just because you are related, it doesn’t mean you can relate well to each other.

I don’t know yet what it is like to be mother to a teenager, but it seems incredibly hard work, based on the experience of Jen the mother in this book. I couldn’t help but empathise with her as she desperately tries to find out what has happened to Lana in her missing four days while, at the same time, trying not to alienate Lana and potentially make her disappear again.

Most of my sympathy, I will admit, was with Jen, which comes purely from the perspective of a parent, but I have no doubt that a teenager reading this book would have a different take on it!

As the novel goes on, it’s clear that Lana’s disappearance is not the most important element at play – finding that out is almost incidental – the real emphasis here is in the relationships of the family. Easy-going Dad, Hugh and older sister Meg who has had to take a backseat ever since Lana came along are almost shut out of the tense drama going on between Jen and Lana. So much so that Meg feels unable to share parts of her life with her parents.

As a character study, Whistle in the Dark is beautifully written and raises questions about support for young people struggling with their mental health, and also support for their parents who are often left alone to deal with situations that are beyond their comprehension and experience. It doesn’t necessarily provide any easy answers, but does remind us that families like Lana’s are out there in great numbers.

Whistle in the Dark is published by Penguin.

To find out more about this book, and Emma Healey, you can check out her website.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of Whistle in the Dark in paperback. Why not check out some of the amazing blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Second Chance at the Ranch by Maxine Morrey & Giveaway

It’s never too late to find love…

When Juliet Scott falls for ruggedly handsome Pete while away travelling, she never imagines how different her life will be to that of her sister, successful and beautiful model Hero. Based on a cattle station in the vast Australian Outback, Juliet’s life is now simple, down-to earth and honest, and the perfect antidote to the chaotic celebrity lifestyle that Hero leads in the UK.

With her striking brunette hair, perfect posture, and mesmerising green eyes, it is no wonder Hero has come so far in such a superficial industry. But when tragedy strikes, Hero finds herself in the arms of her sister, recuperating from a terrible accident on the other side of the world.

With her modelling career in tatters, and her scars more than just skin deep, Juliet worries that Hero will hide behind the mask she wears forever. But does Australia have something, or someone, to offer that London never could?

What I Thought:

Perhaps I’m mellowing as I get older, but I find myself reading more and more romance novels – purely because, although the path of the characters is not smooth, you can be assured that nice things will happen to them by the end.

This by no means is meant to say that Second Chance at the Ranch is predictable – the journey to the happy ending has its share of heartbreak and tragedy, and the characters themselves are appealing and worth rooting for.

Hero is beautiful, successful and it would be very easy to hate her, and yet she is a complex character with hidden scars and a deep-seated fear of rejection which, at some points can make you want to shake her as she can’t see what is in front of her. Luckily for her (and us!), there’s a rugged Australian farmer waiting to show her that she is loved and wanted.

This is the first one of Maxine Morrey’s novels that I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last if they are all of this standard. It’s a compelling story, peppered with likeable characters and definitely leaves you with a warm feeling – let’s face it, we could all use that right about now!

Second Chance at the Ranch is published by HQ Digital. To find out more about Maxine Morrey and her books, you can check out her website.

Giveaway to Win Second Chance at the Ranch and other Goodies (Open Internationally)

Prize includes:

1 x paperback copy of Second Chance at the Ranch

1 x notebook

1 x mini handbag keyring

1 x V&A museum lipstick shaped pen

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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This post is part of the blog tour for Second Chance at the Ranch – why not check out some of the brilliant blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content?

Please note: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Red Hand of Fury by R. N. Morris

June, 1914. A young man is mauled to death by a polar bear at London Zoo. Shortly afterwards, another young man leaps to his death from a notorious Suicide Bridge. Two seemingly unconnected deaths – and yet there are similarities.

Following a third attempted suicide, DI Silas Quinn knows he must uncover the link between the three men if he is to discover what caused them to take their own lives. The one tangible piece of evidence is a card found in each of the victims’ possession, depicting a crudely-drawn red hand. What does it signify? To find the answers, Quinn must revisit his own dark past. But can he keep his sanity in the process?

What I Thought:

I was lucky enough to read The Red Hand of Fury as part of a blog tour in the summer. It’s exactly my cup of tea, as I love crime novels and also the period around the First World War. What I am especially drawn to is the ability of the investigating characters to solve crimes without all the modern, CSI-style methods and equipment that are often in modern crime novels and on TV – deduction, brain power and investigation win the day!

Silas Quinn, R. N. Morris’ lead character, is unique in his dedication to solving the apparant suicides of three men, which he does not believe are just chance and unconnected. He gets himself committed to an asylum where the men were treated and we then find out that Quinn might not be such a stranger to mental health struggles.

This is my first experience of Silas Quinn but there are earlier books featuring the detective which have all now made it to my reading list as he is a compelling detective to follow, with his personal difficulties giving an interesting angle to his character. This book in particular has an interesting angle, given that the reader knows that the First World War is not long ahead for these characters.

The mystery of the book is excellent, constantly leaving you guessing and providing loads of twists that even the most avid reader of crime fiction would struggle to spot and the final act is dramatic and satisfying to read.

What I found most interesting to read – and what has fascinated me in my own family history research – is the depiction of an asylum of the time. Read any historical novel featuring mental ill-health and you will be horrified by how mental health patients were treated. Confined like criminals and often subjected to experiments that hoped to cure them, there is none of the empathy or treatment options that exist today. It really is awful to read and, although today’s mental health care is by no means perfect, we can at least be grateful that these horrible conditions no longer exist.

To find out more about R. N. Morris and the Silas Quinn books, you can check out the author’s website.

The Red Hand of Fury is published by Severn House.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Streets of Darkness by A. A. Dhand

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body.

Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away.

Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

What I Thought:

A. A. Dhand’s debut novel is one that refuses to out on rose-coloured glasses, even though he is writing about his hometown. In Streets of Darkness, Bradford is portrayed as a powerhouse of industry that has fallen into sharp decline, where multi-culturalism is a strained co-existence. When our (anti) hero, Harry Virdee finds the body of a well-known Asian businessmand and politician, it seems as though racial tensions are about to boil over.

It’s a real pleasure to read good crime fiction that is based in another city besides London. There’s nothing wrong with the capital, of course, but other cities have other issues and it’s great to see these explored further.

Streets of Darkness is really excellent and, as I said, there is no attempt to shy away from what is bad about Bradford, which is difficult when writing about your own home town. That’s certainly not to say that it is all bad, but there is definitely an emphasis on the city, the people and even the weather making Bradford a dark place. There are comparisons to Batman’s Gotham City in the novel, if you’re trying to get an idea of the atmosphere!

Harry Virdee is a complex character. Impulsive, and not afraid to use his own methods, when we join him he is suspended from the Police so being right at the beginning of an important case is frustrating and he can’t keep away from it. He is also rebellious in his personal life, being a Sikh who has married a Muslim, leaving Harry and his Wife as virtual outcasts from both their families.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and immediately grabbed the second book, Girl Zero, on Kindle. I need to hurry up though, as there is already a fourth book on the way in June 2019!

Streets of Darkness is published by Bantam Press. To find out more about A. A. Dhand, and his books (including the forthcoming title), you can check out his website.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Dreaming of St-Tropez by T. A. Williams

After a disagreement with a billionaire, architect Jess Milton is ‘let go’ from her job. However fortune intervenes – an elderly client asks Jess to dog-sit overweight, but loveable dog Brutus in St. Tropez.

Fed up with the mega-rich, Jess is reluctant to visit the playground of billionaires, but an all-expenses-paid trip and the promise of sunshine seals the deal.

Little does Jess know how much time she’ll be spending with the family living in St. Tropez. The sullen, but very good-looking David and his millionaire father are both welcoming but guarded, haunted by their pasts…

Can Jess bring some sunshine back into their lives – and, just maybe, find love in the process?

What I Thought:

Although it’s seasonally mild, it’s still getting chilly, so what could be better than escaping to the South of France for drama and romance?

Dreaming of St-Tropez is one of a series of ‘Dreaming of…’ books by T. A. Williams in which the main characters leave their old lives behind in favourite of exotic locations. These books have been previously only available as e-books, but some have recently been published in paperback through The Works – it’s great to have these books more widely available.

To sum this book up, I’d say it was pure escapism – two beautiful young girls travel to the South of France and enjoy all that it has to offer, while making positive changes in the lives of their hosts. The stunning scenery and locations are described with lots of detail to make you really feel as though you’re experiencing that warm sunshine with them, and the central romance plot is initially sweet, with a very dramatic ending!

Although I am happy to have read quite a few of T. A. Williams’ books, I think so far this is my favourite – Jess and David make a very star-crossed couple, but getting to their eventual resolution is an engaging journey.

Dreaming of St-Tropez is published by Canelo. To find out more about T. A. Williams and his other excellent books, why not check out his website? Otherwise, you can connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy by B. M. Carroll

Happy New Year one and all!

It was a very quiet December on the blog, as real life took over for a while but, I’m happy to say, that I read loads of great stuff which I can’t wait to tell you about.

The first of these is The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy by B. M Carroll which is one of a collection of interesting and gripping thrillers that seem to be currently coming out of Australia. The best part? This collection is being produced by some really talented Australian Women!

She’s the victim. But is she innocent?

Sophie McCarthy is known for her determination, ambition and brilliance at work. She’s tough, but only because she wants to get the best out of people.

Aidan Ryan is strong, honourable, and a family man. He’s tough too; the army requires it. 

When these two strangers are brought together in a devastating incident, Sophie’s life is left in ruins. Her family wants to see Aidan pay for what he did.

Aidan’s prepared to sacrifice everything – including his marriage and his child – to fix the mess he’s made. 

But some things can’t be fixed, and Sophie is not at all what she first appeared…

What I Thought:

My initial thoughts on starting this book ran along the lines of wondering how a book could be based on such an unlikeable woman. Sophie McCarthy clearly showed that, tragic as it is for anyone to be involved in a disabling accident, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are or were a nice person.

Moving past this, though and cleverly using multiple narrators to show different facets of Sophie’s character, B. M. Carroll subtly argues that a woman who was initially independent and capable had been shaped into something toxic by her early life and those around her. Sophie’s relationship with her dad is particularly interesting and, given what happens in the later stages of the book, you can see why this is unhealthy for the whole McCarthy family.

It’s a major feat to make a character like Sophie even the least sympathetic but it’s not hard to feel a lot of sympathy for Chloe and Jasmin, the family that Aiden Ryan has rejected in his efforts to pay penance to Sophie for the accident. The way he goes about proving how sorry he is, is warped at best and it’s a unique take on a strong man following his convictions down the wrong path.

In the age of instant gratification, this book is a good, old-fashioned, slow burn – you need to gather all the facts from each narrator before the fast-paced and dramatic final twist so I do recommend that you stick with it.

The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy is published by Michael Joseph. To find out more about B. M. Carroll and her work, you can check out her website.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy – why not keep an eye on the Michael Joseph Twitter feed for more great reviews of this book?

Please Note: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: The Lights of Time by Paul Ian Cross – plus a giveaway!

Engella Rhys is alone, adrift and on the run. Pursued by a secret agency, known only as the Hunters, she must stay ahead to stay alive. 

As she travels through space-time using dangerously experimental technology, she only has one wish: to be reunited with her lost parents. After a close shave with a Hunter on the streets of New Shanghai, Engella escapes to find herself on a deserted beach. When she meets a kind stranger, who offers her food and shelter, Engella feels safe and protected for the first time in years. 

But who is this woman? And why did their paths cross at the most convenient of times? 

Engella soon discovers their lives are intertwined in more ways than she could ever imagine.

What I Thought:
It’s a real delight to discover great books quite by accident, and this is exactly what happened with The Lights of Time. I love science fiction and the concept of time travel even more so, so this book was a pefect read for me.

As this is, perhaps, a book aimed at younger readers, it’s not really aimed at me but, nevertheless, Engella and her travels through the ancient past and near future were highly engaging and entertaining. I can’t even imagine being able to keep all your ideas straight as a writer when you’re, in effect, writing historical fiction as the same time as contemporary fiction and science fiction but Engella’s timehopping is perfectly explained and it’s not hard to follow her tracks – even when she’s doing a Marty McFly and observing herself while trying not to interfere!

To me, what makes Engella so likeable is that she is not super-powered in any way. Yes, she’s very intelligent, but she is just an ordinary girl who has been flung into exceptional circumstances, leaving her to deal with that as any ordinary girl would – with all the emotional fallout that that entails.

The villians in this story – The Hunters – are suitably evil, but there does some to be some history there and, given that this is a time travel story, I can only assume that more information is going to be revealed in a further book. I’m quite happy with that, as I would definitely read more about Engella and her companions.

Exciting and appealing are two words I would use to describe this book and I’d happily pass it on to my kids, and my reluctant readers at school!

The Lights of Time is published by Farrow Children’s Books. To find out more about the book and about Paul Ian Cross, you can check out his website.

As an extra treat, as part of this blog tour, you can enter a giveaway to win a Kindle Fire and a signed copy of the book – why not enter below, and then take a look at some of the other fab blogs participating on the tour?

Giveaway – Win a Kindle HD Fire 7” and a signed copy of The Lights of Time (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Please note: I was sent a copy of the book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Hope to Die by David Jackson

There was a hate in this killer. A thirst for obliteration rather than a mere desire to end a life…

A brutal murder takes place in the grounds of a Liverpool cathedral. A killer is on the loose, driven by a chilling rage. The victim: the last person you’d expect to be subjected to such terrible violence. Can DS Nathan Cody crack the case before another innocent is chosen?

What I Thought:
I read quite a lot of crime novels and, in the main, they tend to be London-based. I could probably name a dozen quite easily with the capital as a backdrop, so it’s great to see an upward trend in crime novels based in the regions. Hope to Die (and its predecessor, A Tapping at My Door) is set in Liverpool, which definitely gives it a different edge.

Crime is crime, wherever it is set, but there is some exploration of the history of the city here, which I think is always a nice touch – the book is then not just about the crime, but other points of interest come out as our detectives move around the city and, if you’re even a little familiar with Liverpool, there are things you can recognise.

I was a wary of reading this book straight off, as it’s number 2 in a series featuring DS Nathan Cody. I worried that I would have missed out on some of the back story and, although that was true, David Jackson did a good job of recapping the important points – so much so that I went and bought A Tapping at My Door immediately on finishing this book.

With the way the book is structured, it’s clear who the murderer is from early on, in that we see a lot of their history, and we know why they’ve started killing, but that doesn’t ruin the climax, as we don’t actually know the identity until much later on. The intercut scenes of a child and their abuse at the hands of their mother are harrowing at times, but necessary to the plot and not gratuitous.

The one thing that made me wish I had read book 1 first, was that Cody suffers from PTSD, due to events in the first book and I found it difficult to appreciate what was a huge part of this book withoout having read it first – it is a minor thing, however and easy to fix! In general, Cody is a good detective, and good at hiding his inner turmoil as he tries to solve what becomes a case of three murders. His team are a good mix too, and they bounce off each other well.

This book is left on somewhat of a cliffhanger as regards Cody’s state of mind and, when I read it, there was no book 3 to carry on the story – luckily for you (and me!), book 3, Don’t Make a Sound, has been published, so there’s not so long to wait to find out about Cody’s worsening mental state.

Hope to Die is published by Zaffre. To find out more about David Jackson and his other series of books, featuring Callum Doyle, you can check out his website.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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