Book Review: Heat by Sally Emerson

An intense and addictive novel about lost love and the compulsive pull of the past. Passionate, tense and menacing, Sally Emerson’s classic tale of obsession in a claustrophobic city is an emotional thriller from start to finish. Susan Stewart thought her relationship with journalist Phillip Jordan was long over. But when Susan glimpses him again in a bookshop on the outskirts of Washington DC, the memories return. Is Phillip deliberately haunting her? Or are her own disturbed emotions turning a long, hot, oppressive Washington summer into a nightmare that threatens to unravel her whole life? This is a gripping story of obsession and love – and the difference between the two – by a formidable novelist. Newly re-issued as part of a series of six titles.

What I Thought:
I was asked a while ago to review Fire Child, the first of Quartet Books’ reissues of Sally Emerson’s novels and hot on its heels came Heat, an intensely disturbing but compelling domestic thriller.

Susan’s life is seemingly perfect from the outside – she and her successful journalist husband are living in Washington where they are raising their daughter in an upscale neighbourhood. Susan wants only one more thing, a son to complete her family, and when she starts to see her former lover, Phillip, in unexpected places, she wonders if she’s starting to come apart at the seams.

Heat is so aptly named, as Sally Emerson brilliantly uses both the oppressive humidity of Washington, and the exhausting social and political whirl to create a sense of claustrophobia in Susan’s life that only grows with Phillip’s reappearance. As it becomes clear that Phillip is really living in Susan’s neighbourhood and he’s not a figment of her imagination, she begins to recall details of their life together – a life marked by domestic violence and, possibly, murder.

This book is beautifully paced, with the tension building as Susan worries about contact with Phillip, but also when events begin to build in the lives of her husband and daughter. It is a chilling depiction of a woman who thought she had freed herself from an abusive relationship, but the tendrils of it keep working their way back to her.

Heat was originally published in 1998, but the themes in it are, sadly, no less relevant now with domestic violence and unwanted attention and stalking still all too real for some women. It’s a sad indictment on our society that, as with Susan, so many women are thought hysterical and not believed when they raise the issue of stalking to authorities.

As I said above, there are six Sally Emerson reissues in this set and, luckily for me I have some of the others to read too – look out for my reviews of those.

Heat is published in paperback by Quartet Books. To find out more about Sally Emerson, you can check out her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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

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Blog Tour: Caribbean Cocktails – a Guest Post from Daisy James

I was lucky enough to read and review Sunshine and Secrets, the forst in a new book series by Daisy James, recently and as part of a blog tour to support the release of the book, Daisy has kindly written a guest post about some of the fiery caribbean cocktails mentioned in the book – enjoy!

In Sunshine & Secrets, when Millie Harper isn’t baking up a storm in the Paradise Cookery School, she spends a great deal of her time at a beach bar called the Purple Parrot in Soufrière sampling the various cocktails that are on offer there. Of course, the Caribbean is famous for its production of rum, so there is a myriad of delicious cocktails for Millie to choose from.

Rum is made from fermented cane sugar and there are three main varieties – white, gold and dark. Light rums are not as aged as dark rums which are stored in oak barrels to give them that deep golden-brown colour and rich caramelly or molasses flavour. White rums are the most commonly used in cocktails, but they are also drunk on their own – infused with local fruit and spices, such as orange, mango, lime, starfruit or nutmeg and cinnamon.

Here are a few cocktails sold in the Purple Parrot:

Andy’s Blast
Andy is the owner of the Purple Parrot and he makes a mean daiquiri which he serves with a loose wrist and a flourish. It’s created by combining white rum with sugar syrup, a twist of lime and the flesh scrapped from the inside of a cocoa pod finished off with a sprig of mint.

Lottie’s Margarita
Lottie is a waitress at the Purple Parrot. She’s a gap year wanderer who has stayed on in St Lucia to swoon over the resident beach boy, Dylan. When she’s not partaking in the local beer, her favourite cocktail is the Margarita which is not made with rum, but with tequila, triple sec and lime to which she adds lots of ice.

Smuggler’s Mojito
This is a really refreshing cocktail when made with the freshest of ingredients; rum, lime, sugar, soda and the most important ingredient mint. It’s always served over crushed ice.

Rum Punch
Marc is a waiter at the Purple Parrot who is a dab hand at rustling up a pitcher of rum punch. His version uses golden rum to which he adds orange juice, sugar syrup, lime juice and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg that is grown on the island.

Pina Colada
This is a classic tropical paradise cocktail made from white rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk, served with a tiny parrot on a cocktail stick. It’s bit rich and creamy for some palettes but it is what I think about when someone says Caribbean cocktail. For a twist on a theme, why not try it with mashed banana?

Huge thank to Daisy for giving us such a great list of cocktails to have a go at, and while you’ve a drink in hand, why not check out some of the other reviews, guest posts and giveaways on the remainder of the blog tour?

Sunshine and Secrets was published by Canelo on 19th March. You can find out more about Daisy James on Facebook, or connect with her on Twitter.

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Book Review: Aurabel by Laura Dockrill

It has been two years since Rory drowned, and Lorali is in Hastings, living the quiet life of a normal teenage girl. But her safe life on land won’t last for long. Life in The Whirl has become a hotbed of underwater politics and as the council jostles to oust the king, one Mer in particular has her eye on Lorali as the key to her own rise to power.

Meanwhile, Aurabel, a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench, is attacked by sea beasts and left for dead – and without a tail. Raging with righteous anger, she rebuilds herself a mechanical tail and reinvents herself as a fearless steampunk Mer seeking revenge. But she never expected the most important job that was about to drop into her lap.

What I Thought:
I can’t tell you how excited I was when I heard about this book! I absolutely loved Lorali and Aurabel is as good a sequel as you could wish for.

I first picked up Lorali at YALC 2015, and did so because I went to a session that looked at books as performance pieces and heard Laura Dockrill read from Lorali – it was revelatory and, so being back at YALC in 2017, I was thrilled to see Laura back too.

As a book, it’s hard to categorise; part fantasy, part steampunk, part teen romance, part Shakespearean epic it also has some beautifully poetic prose – not surprising as Laura Dockrill also writes poetry. It’s so easy to race through this book as the language has an immediacy to it, it will rattle along and your job as the reader is just to keep up!

Although Lorali was a finished novel, with very few loose ends that needed tying up this book takes those loose ends, adds new characters and some loveable old ones and weaves an entirely different spell over them – I read another review that said exactly what I thought: Lorali was not a book that needed a sequel, but since it has one, I couldn’t have hoped for a better one.

Since reading Lorali and Aurabel, I have been recommending them whenever I can – it’s safe to say I’ve become a Laura Dockrill fan and I’m hugely excited to see what she does next – although I think she’ll be a wee bit busy, as she’s just had a baby!!

Aurabel is published by Hotkey Books. To find out more about Laura Dockrill, you can visit her website (which is, so appropriately, wallpapered in leopard skin), or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes (although I have also bought a copy myself…). All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Sunshine and Secrets by Daisy James

When newly heartbroken, michelin-starred chef Millie Harper is offered a job overseeing the setup of The Paradise Cookery School she jumps at the opportunity. Leaving London and her memories of heartbreak behind she hops on a plane to the hilltop cocoa plantation in St Lucia.

But this beautiful island break might be more work than she’d expected…. With only two weeks to have the kitchen installed, cocoa pods going missing from the plantation and the notoriously relaxed island workmen to contend with, she’s going to need some help. Gruff but charming estate manager Zach Baxter, is only too happy to offer his opinions. As the two clash heads can they remain focussed on the job in hand and get the cookery school finished in time?

What I Thought:
It seems an odd time of year to be reading a book set in the Caribbean, but I guess with the snow outside a burst of sunshine is most welcome! Sunshine and Secrets begins as Millie Harper has fled a failed romance and her dream job to live quietly as a pastry chef. Her sister is having none of this and manages to get her a job testing recipes for a new celebrity cookery school on a cocoa plantation in St Lucia – despite many reservations, Millie agrees.

From then on, this book is a whirlwind of exotic locations and descriptions of spices that you can almost taste, and a lovable cast of characters who both inspire and infuriate Millie in equal measure. From beach bums to love-sick gap year students, there is definitely a character that everyone will love, in addition to a sneakily included mystery plot that will keep you guessing.

Alongside the romantic storyline, I loved the foodie aspects of this book. There are lots of descriptions of the recipes Millie is testing, and traditional St Lucian food, plus in the scenes where Millie is cooking or baking, and when she explores the market, you can almost see and smell the spices and cocoa – definitely mouth-watering!

Ultimately, this book is just good fun and it would be a great addition to your summer reading pile – but whatever the weather, it’s guaranteed to bring a bit of sunshine into your day.

Sunshine and Secrets is published by Canelo on 19th May, and it’s available for preorder now. You can find out more about Daisy James on Facebook, or connect with her on Twitter.

I was lucky enough to be asked to host a guest post by Daisy James on a blog tour supporting the release of Sunshine and Secrets, so check back on 26th March to read that.

Please note: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley to participate in the blog tour. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too…

What I Thought:
Browsing Unbound is a dangerous thing – fantastic books just waiting to be supported, written and enjoyed. One such was A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan. I already follow Stevyn on Twitter, so it wasn’t a stretch to back a book which I knew already would be funny but, alongside this, it is also a well-plotted an affectionate nod to Agatha Christie and her ilk.

Starting out with a literal bang, any readers who have ever been to a convention will recognise some of the characters in this book – from those who have a passing interest in the subject, right through to the die-hard fans and having an army of cosplayers, any of whom could be the killer is an interesting device.

This book is clever in that it pokes fun at the Agatha Christie-type books, while also being one and having a solid mystery plot. Alongside this, it’s actually very, very funny, playing with the cosy mystery stereotype and – despite mentions of mobile phones etc – you could well imagine the setting to be timeless, especially with an army of 1920s flappers storming around Nasely trying to solve a murder.

As with all of the Unbound books I have backed, it is brilliantly produced with, as above, beautiful cover art and as a benefit to those of us who backed it, our edition is on heavier paper stock and has foiled lettering – and you know how I love foil…

I enjoyed A Murder to Die For so much that I have already backed the second book in this series, The Diabolical Club, and I would urge you to do so too.

A Murder to Die For is published by Unbound. To find out more about Stevyn Colgan, you can check out his blog, or you can connect with him on Twitter.

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Blog Tour: The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

Since her teenage daughter went missing four years ago, Kurtiz Ross has blamed and isolated herself. Until, out of the blue, Lizzie is sighted in Paris.

But within hours of her arrival, Kurtiz sees the City of Light plunged into terror.

Amid the fear and chaos, a hand reaches out. A sympathetic stranger offers to help a terrified mother find her daughter.

The other woman’s kindness – and her stories of her own love and loss in post-war Provence – shine unexpected light into the shadows.

The night may hold the answers to a mystery – but dare Kurtiz believe it could also bring a miracle?

What I Thought:
There really is a lot going on in The Lost Girl, flipping as it does between post-war France, and several modern time periods, most notably the night of horrific terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. Making sense of everything that is going on takes concentration, but it is well worth taking the time.

I did wonder initially whether setting a novel amongst a horrific event that is so fresh in the memory was a wise idea, but the scenes set during that terrible night are sensitively and written and feature just enough to give us a plot hook, without dwelling or sensationalising, for which Carol Drinkwater must be commended.

As a fan of historical novels, I felt more drawn to the post-war sections of the novel, but this is mainly because the relationship between Marguerite and Charlie is really lovely, even from humble, platonic beginnings, they are a sweet couple and the scenes of their married years are heart-warming.

I’ve never visited the Cote D’Azur, but the passages depicting this area of France, and that of the region around Grasse were beautifully descriptive, even down to the smells of the place and the warmth of the sun – there is a passage where Marguerite has been hanging around a movie studio in the hot sun all day and after her long journey home you can almost see her disheveled and with feet swollen inside her sandals. I know that a sweaty woman is probably not the best example of descriptive writing, but this particular section struck a chord with me!

Although I thought the story of this book was good and, on the whole, the characters were relatable, I did have one small niggle with it, and that was the author’s wording in some sections. I have no problem with challenging reads but I felt that sometimes some really complicated words were used when other, more straightforward, language would’ve done the job. For instance, at one point the word ‘gallimaufry’ was used and, while I like to think of myself as having a wide vocabulary, I have never heard it before and had to look it up. This in itself is not a bad thing, but it took me out of what was, otherwise, an excellent book.

The Lost Girl is published on 8th March by Michael Joseph. To find out more about the author, you can check out her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour which is ongoing – please do check out some of the blogs below for more:

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

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Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began…

What I Thought:
I was lucky enough to pick up an early copy of The Hazel Wood at YALC 2017 and I’m so pleased I did as it looks like it’s going to be the start a really imaginative series of books.

I’m not a huge lover of fantasy, but I thought that this was a really fresh idea, and I loved the Althea Propserpine back story – which I won’t spoil for you right now – that was unfolded at just the right pace.

The book itself is written beautifully and conveys Alice’s self-sufficiency and loneliness in never being able to put down roots, constantly being followed by the worst luck. She’s spiky and unlikeable, but she’s had to build up a thick skin to keep moving on and starting again and never beng able to put down roots. I really enjoyed Alice and Ella’s relationship as it is all about each other. Even though when we originally meet them Ella has attempted to settle the family by getting married, they still have that unique bond that is just the two of them.

At the heart of the book is Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland, a dark and mysterious volume of fairytales that elude Alice, and these are dark, twisty and written by Melissa Albert. I think in the age of Disney, we forget that fairytales like Cinderella are not the warm family stories that we remember – for instance, in the original Cinderella, the ugly sisters start cutting off parts of their feet to fit them in the slipper. The stories in The Hazel Wood align more closely with the dark origins of stories by the Brothers Grimm than with cartoon mice and pumpkin coaches!

According to Goodreads, this is just the first book in a series and, based on The Hazel Wood, I’ll definitely be reading more.

The Hazel Wood was published on 8th February by Penguin. To find out more about Melissa Albert, you can connect with her on Twtter.

Please note: I obtained a copy of this book at YALC 2017. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Villa of Secrets by Patricia Wilson

Rebecca Neumanner’s marriage is on the brink of collapse, as her desire to be a mother becomes an obsession. Then she receives news from her estranged family in Rhodes.

Called back to the beautiful Greek island of her birth, she realises how little she knows of the grandmother she has eluded for over a decade. Bubba has never spoken of the Nazi occupation during her youth, but there have always been whispers. What desperate measures did she take that terrible day in 1944 when her family was ripped apart? Can the rumour she had blood on her own hands really be true? But Bubba intends to take her secrets to the grave.

However, as Rebecca arrives on Rhodes, bringing the promise of new life, this broken family must come together. The time has come to tell the truth about the darkest of days…

What I Thought:
A book depicting the deportation of Jews during the war is not where you would first go when thinking of a summer holiday read, but while Villa of Secrets deals with some horrific things and is inspired by real events, it also gives some beautiful and evocative descriptions of modern-day Rhodes.

I consider myself to be fairly well-informed when it comes to history, but every day is a school day, and I was interested to learn more about Rhodes and the experiences of its citizens during the war. For instance, did you know that between the wars, Rhodes belonged to Italy? I had no idea… Alongside these new bits of information, is an epic family story in which two grand-daughters learn about the incredibly courageous deeds done by their grandmother under German occupation.

The novel was structured really well, with the modern-day sections interspersed with diary entries made by Pandora Cohen who was able to escape the mass deportation of Jewish Rhodians and survive in the mountains as a member of the Greek resistance. Although Pandora is not real, her story is modelled on a real-life woman who had similar experiences. There are also some interesting notes and further links at the back of the book to allow readers to explore the inspirations for the novel further.

It struck me that the novel was obviously impeccably researched, but it did not try to cram all that research into the narrative. Real historical fact and indicators of the time were included, but worked well alongside the original characters and situations. I love it when this is done well and it was a big plus on this novel for me.

What’s obvious in this novel is the very strong women at its core; strong-willed Rebecca, Naomi who is looking after everyone at the expense of her own interests and Pandora, who lost so much during the war and sacrificed herself again to raise her grand-daughters, form a tight and formidable family unit and their relationships are complex, infuriating and very true to life!

So in summary, if you’re planning your summer reading, Villa of Secrets would be a great addition to your list. Published by Zaffre and released on 22nd Feb on Kindle, a paperback copy will follow in May.

You can find out more about this book and the author, Patricia Wilson, by checking out her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

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: Redemption Point by Candice Fox

In a dark roadside hovel called the Barking Fog Inn, the bodies of two young bartenders lie on a beer-sodden floor. Only the night-time animals in the surrounding forest were close enough to hear their screams.

Crimson Lake’s resident private detectives are hired to take on the case. Disgraced former police detective Ted Conkaffey and convicted murderer Amanda Pharrell are uneasy allies working alongside DI Pip Sweeney on her first homicide investigation.

For Ted, a new case serves as a welcome distraction from his fight to clear his name over the abduction of a teenage girl.

For all three, the hunt for the truth will draw them into a violent dance with evil. Redemption is certainly on the cards – but it may well cost them their lives…

What I Thought:
Sometimes, being a book blogger can feel a little unrewarding – as though you’re sending your reviews out into the ether to be read by no-one – but on other occasions, the stars align and some real treats come your way. So it was when I was asked to preview an early copy of Redemption Point by Candice Fox. Not only was this a sequel to the excellent Crimson Lake, thus fulfilling part of my #40yrs40bks challenge, it was also something that I had been eagerly awaiting.

Disgraced police detective Ted Conkaffey and his quirky partner, Amanda Pharrell are back and investigating a double homicide at an outback dive bar while Ted is still dealing with the events in his own life that keep drawing him back to Sydney and threaten the life he’s built in Crimson Lake.

When picking up a sequel to a book you’ve loved, there is always a danger that it will not live up to expectations, but this sequel delivers as expected and then goes beyond, mixing moments of action, domestic drama and emotion seamlessly.

The central plot of the murdered bartenders runs side-by-side with Ted’s own case as he attempts to decipher any new evidence he can find that could prove his innocence and maybe reunite his broken family. These two cases are brilliantly interspersed with diary entries that may tell us some more about Ted’s case but – spoilers!

I really love Candice Fox’s writing – both of the Crimson Lake books are just so well put together – great plots, with twists that you would never see coming and her lead characters have such clear voices that you can almost picture them.

Candice has written with James Patterson, and also has a number of books that are currently being re-packaged for the UK, one of which I already have on my tbr (Hades), and it’s well worth seeking her out and starting Crimson Lake which, I hope, will turn into a much longer series.

Redemption Point is published by Arrow on 17th May 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

You can find out more about Candice Fox on her website, or you can connect with her 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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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin

Nell Crane has never held a boy’s hand.

In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts – an arm, a leg, an eye – Nell has always been an outsider. Her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs that everyone now uses. But she’s the only one with her machinery on the inside: her heart. Since the childhood operation, she has ticked. Like a clock, like a bomb. And as her community rebuilds, everyone is expected to contribute to the society’s good… but how can Nell live up to her father’s revolutionary ideas when she has none of her own?

Then she finds a lost mannequin’s hand while salvaging on the beach, and inspiration strikes. Can Nell build her own companion in a world that fears advanced technology? The deeper she sinks into this plan, the more she learns about her city-and her father, who is hiding secret experiments of his own.

What I Thought:
Quite simply, what a beautiful novel Spare and Found Parts is! There is so much woven into the story – steampunk, dystopia, a recognisable Dublin and glimpses of our world that are hinted at, rather than explicitly pointed out, plus echoes of Frankenstein in both Nell and her father.

All we know is that 100 years ago, The Turn caused devastation in Ireland, with countless deaths and many people touched by the sickness and that Nell’s father is pioneering replacement and augmented body parts. Nell herself is expected to make a contribution to the society, yet despite the eminence of her family she is lacking in her own ideas.

I really loved the book, especially the exploration of what it means to live – from the literal life of Nell’s companions, to Nell and her friends trying to build a life among ruins and make a real contribution to the city.

The language of this book is so intricate and lyrical, describing at one point what, to us, is merely a song, but to Nell is an expression of joy, a glorious sound of instruments and voice that she finds hard to express and can’t help but move to and want to hear again and again.

So many things within the book are revealed delicately and as you read you suddenly realise important things about the characters and their surroundings and that is paced so beautifully.

In summary (in case you’d not already guessed) I thoroughly recommend this book and am excited to read more by Sarah Maria Griffin.

Spare and Found Parts is published by Titan Books. For more information on the book and author, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of the blog tour for Spare and Found Parts, and there is lots more good stuff on the blogs listed in the image below. As an extra treat, I have TWO copies of the book to give away – one here and one on Twitter. Check out the Rafflecopter widget below to try and win one copy…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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