Welcome to my reading month!
May’s books have been just as fabulous as the ones I read in April. I always start these posts by explaining that if I don’t particularly enjoy a book, or don’t even finish it (rare) I don’t mention it at all. I move on and find a book I do love. So you’ll never find a negative review of any book on my blog, only positive ones. After all, just because I don’t enjoy a book doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it, and I’d hate to put anyone off reading it. I’m not a book blogger as such. I’m just sharing the love for the books I think others might love too. Here then are the books I’ve read and enjoyed during May.
The Chosen Ones
Broken Angels: crime thriller
My first read this month was Broken Angels by Gwyn Bennett. This is the first in the Dr Harrison Lane series, and was the first book released by my publisher, Storm Publishing, in early May.
I rarely read crime thrillers. I’ll admit I prefer the cosy side of crime as a rule. However, I have been enticed over to the dark side on previous occasions – by my lovely Write Romantics’ pal, Helen Phifer, and by the wonderful Phil Rickman. So I wasn’t totally unprepared for this story, and I’m really glad I took a chance on it, because I loved it.
Broken Angels had me hooked from the start. It’s a gripping story featuring an intriguing protagonist. Dr Harrison Lane is head of the Ritualistic Behavioural Crime Unit at the Met, and as such is called to some unusual crime scenes.
The case he’s dealing with in this story is a particularly difficult one. Not only is the victim a child, but the manner in which the body is discovered is chilling. Harrison must use all his skills to not only find the killer, but to prevent him from claiming his next victim.
I really liked Harrison from the beginning. He’s a quiet, thoughtful person with an unusual background. He was taught tracking skills by his Native American stepfather in Arizona, and can pick up clues that even the experienced forensics team miss.
Harrison’s not only trying to solve crimes in the present, but he’s dealing with the trauma of a crime that was committed in his past. When this comes back to haunt him during his investigation, it takes all his strength to put his feelings aside and focus on the current case. This made for a fascinating subplot which added to the tension of the story.
There is also the hint of a romance and it will be interesting to see if this plotline is developed in future books. This thread was useful in showing us the man behind the mask. Harrison is extremely focused and professional and incredibly driven in his quest to solve the case he’s working on. His unexpected feelings towards a female colleague reveal another side to him, and show there’s more to him than just work – even if he’s fighting it all the way.
I found the book easy to read, and it made me want to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. I was quickly drawn into the story, and warmed to the team, which is led by DCI Sandra Barker – a tough but compassionate woman, and how great to find a female boss and over fifty at that! There’s also DS Jack Salter, who I didn’t like at first but soon changed my opinion when I discovered what he was dealing with in his personal life. And then there’s Harrison’s assistant, Ryan, who’s another intriguing character.
I’m looking forward to learning more about them all, and will definitely be reading the next installment of this new series.
To catch a killer, you have to think like one. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Rachel McLean, J M Dalgliesh and Criminal Minds.
Harrison Lane isn’t like the other detectives at New Scotland Yard. Born to a single mother and raised in the American southwest – where he learned expert tracking skills from his Native-American stepfather – nobody knows what to make of strong, silent Harrison. The other cops think it’s strange he doesn’t touch coffee or alcohol, that women can’t keep their eyes off him, and that he’s always put on the cases no one else can solve…
When a body is discovered in the dark shadows of Fenton Woods, even Harrison’s rare abilities are put to the test. It’s a haunting scene: guttered candles dot the ground around the young victim’s lifeless body. Harrison recognises the ritualistic behaviour that is the mark of a dangerously twisted killer.
As he delves into the case further, Harrison visits an eerie Victorian cemetery, dredging up a chilling memory from his own past. His young, beautiful mother, shrouded in black and gripping his hand. He doesn’t know why they were there, but the terror he felt has stayed with him.
While Harrison tries to make sense of his traumatic flashback and how it might be linked to the case, a local child is abducted.
Can Harrison conquer the demons in his own past and catch this twisted killer before another innocent life is taken?
StormCrossed Magic: urban fantasy
I’m really enjoying T J Green’s White Haven Witches series, and I’m trying to pace myself because I’ve almost caught up with them.
This is Book 10 in the series, and in my opinion, it’s the best yet. The witches, along with Ghost OPS, Newton and his police colleagues, Shadow, and the nephilim, have not one but two dangers to deal with in this volume.
Firstly, there are hunters in town, and unfortunately for the witches, they might just be hunting them!
Secondly, there’s a series of unexplained deaths, which leads them to the dilapidated old house, Stormcrossed Manor, and the family that resides there. But with some of its residents seemingly terrified by what’s going on, the witches are no longer sure what to think.
As Alex’s visions become increasingly powerful and more violent, and with the hunters on the prowl, it’s nonstop danger and action for the White Haven Witches in this book. I enjoyed the fact that Briar took a larger part in this story, as I think she’s a really interesting character, and it was good to see the interaction between Reuben and Casper, and Casper and Alex. I’m hoping for some development with Briar and a certain someone, but as she’s currently with someone else I’m not sure how that will play out.
I really don’t want to give away any spoilers, but what I will say is this is a book I couldn’t put down, and I’m hoping this series will run and run! But if you’re new to the series, I would definitely start with Book One, Buried Magic, which is currently FREE to read and available on all platforms.
As the wheel turns, Lughnasadh heralds more than just the dark days of winter.
White Haven is full of visitors making the most of the summer holidays, but when two die in inexplicable circumstances, and unearthly screams resound across the moors, fear descends on the town.
The excitement surrounding the upcoming Lughnasadh festival turns to dread as more deaths follow. The witches and Newton scramble to discover the cause, but unfortunately, they have more than just the recent deaths to deal with.
Hunters have arrived in White Haven, and they’re prepared to hunt anything remotely paranormal—including the witches.
Faced with powerful storms and supernatural activities, the witches struggle with what little evidence they have, until Ghost OPS stumble across a clue.
Ancient magic has woken in White Haven—and it brings death to all.
Fresh as a Daisy: cosy mystery
R.A. Hutchins is a new author to me, so I started with this book, which is the first in her series, The Lillymouth Mysteries. Fresh as a Daisy features a female vicar, Daisy Bloom (love the name!) who arrives in Lillymouth to take up position as the village’s new vicar.
However, Lillymouth isn’t new to Daisy. She lived there as a child, but left after a traumatic event that she still carries with her in her heart – the murder of her own beloved gran. So naturally, she’s not exactly over the moon to be returning to the place.
Sure enough, things get off to a bad start, and before long Daisy’s embroiled in a case of murder. Now the former police support officer turned vicar must play private detective, solve the mystery, and perhaps, just perhaps, find some sort of resolution for her own troubled past.
I really enjoyed this gentle mystery. Lillymouth is a pretty little village set on the Yorkshire coast, and Daisy is a great character, living with both a physical disability and anxiety. There’s some humour, particularly around Daisy’s relationship with the various creatures that she finds herself landed with, including a bird and a grouchy cat who definitely thinks it’s in charge. There’s an interesting cast of characters in the village, and I can see this going on to be a long-running series. Recommended for those who like a comforting, cosy mystery in a lovely rural setting.
When Reverend Daisy Bloom arrives at her new parish of Lillymouth to see that a recently deceased body has been discovered in the graveyard, she finds herself needing to do some sleuthing amidst her sermons.
Reacquainting herself with the painful memories of her childhood home whilst trying to make a fresh start, Daisy leans on old friends and new companions. Playing the part of amateur sleuth was never in her plan, but needs must if she is to ever focus on her own agenda.
Will her new vocation be able to protect Daisy from the spirits of the past, or was her return to her home town on the Yorkshire coast always destined for disaster?
Furthermore, are her new neighbours all as they seem, or are they harbouring secrets which may be their own undoing? Worse still, will they also lead to Daisy’s demise?
A tale of homecoming and homicide, of suspense and secrets, this is the first book in the Lillymouth Mysteries Series. This series is best read in order.
The Rising Tide: police procedural (Vera)
I’m a huge fan of the television series, Vera, but I haven’t read many of the books. Last year for Christmas, The Husband bought me The Darkest Evening, and I absolutely loved it. Last month I read The Woman on the Island, which was a short story set on Holy Island. This month I read Ann Cleeves’ latest Vera book, The Rising Tide, and I was gripped from start to finish.
It’s set on Holy Island, a place that holds many memories for our Vera – mostly of visiting with her father who raided birds’ nests for their eggs. Years ago, a group of teenagers were taken on a school trip to the island (also known as Lindisfarne), and ever since then a small group of them have been holding a reunion there every five years. When one of them is murdered, Vera and her team are called in to investigate, and this case will have strong repercussions for everyone involved, in ways they could never have imagined.
I love the setting of Holy Island, which is such an enchanting place anyway. Even the cover of the book helps to build that sense of isolation and creeping danger. A car makes its way across the causeway to the island, but behind it the waves are already lapping where the car has passed, the sea beginning to reclaim the causeway and cut the island off from the mainland. It’s an eerie thought that, once that causeway is covered, the islanders are stranded. It gives this story an Agatha Christie feel, with a closed group of suspects. Someone on the island killed. The question is, who?
Holy Island is well described, and made me want to go back there, despite the murder! Vera – a marvellously flawed individual – is assisted as always by her loyal team, even though both Joe and Holly are sometimes exasperated by her actions. Holly is seriously having doubts about her future with Vera, and her need to impress her boss leads her to make some rash and possibly dangerous decisions.
The suspects, meanwhile, are doing some thinking of their own. They’re getting older, and can’t help wondering if they’ve lived the sort of lives they wanted. It seems clear that this will be their last reunion. Even so, they find it hard to believe that one of them could be a murderer. But if not them, who?
A really wonderful book with an engaging cast of characters, the perfect setting for a murder, and a lead protagonist in Vera Stanhope, who easily carries the weight of this impressive story. Highly recommended.
Shallow waters hide the deepest secrets. Vera Stanhope, star of ITV’s Vera, returns in The Rising Tide, the tenth entry in number one bestseller Ann Cleeves’ acclaimed series.
Fifty years ago, a group of teenagers spent a weekend on Holy Island, forging a bond that has lasted a lifetime. Now, they still return every five years to celebrate their friendship, and remember the friend they lost to the rising waters of the causeway at the first reunion.
Now, when one of them is found hanged, Vera is called in. Learning that the dead man had recently been fired after misconduct allegations, Vera knows she must discover what the friends are hiding, and whether the events of many years before could have led to murder then, and now . . .
But with the tide rising, secrets long-hidden are finding their way to the surface, and Vera and the team may find themselves in more danger than they could have believed possible . . .
The Shakespeare Sisters: historical fiction
This was such a beautifully written book, and I was enchanted from the first page. It follows the lives of the Shakespeare Sisters—a nickname given to the four girls in the Arden family: Bianca, Rosalind, Cordelia, and Kate.
When the story opens we find the sisters living at the beautiful but crumbling manor they call home. It’s summer 1938. The family is in the garden, receiving visitors, making small talk, teasing each other. We learn a little about the personalities of the different family members.
It’s clear that Rosalind, our protagonist, is independent-minded. She’s developing feelings for Guy, the friend of her eldest brother, Will, but is already aware that she’s expected to marry rich and aristocratic Henry—someone she despises, and with good reason.
With the fortunes of the Ardens depleted, Arden House is in need of repair. The estate village is in a terrible condition, with the villagers forced to live in damp, cold homes. The family desperately needs cash, and Rosalind’s father is hoping his daughters’ marriages will bring much-needed funds. Unfortunately, Will is of the same mind.
The first part of the book is very much about an old way of life. Privilege and class. Rural England. The expectations placed on women of a certain class to marry well and put aside their own hopes and dreams to become mere appendages to their husbands.
Then war is declared, and we move into the second part of the book. As the Shakespeare Sisters are scattered to each do their part for the war, and the two brothers go off to fight, Rosalind is separated from the man she loves, and from the place she has always called home. But her ambitions for a career are far from stifled, and it’s during this part of her life that she truly discovers who she is and what she wants.
After the war, we find in the third part of the book an England that has changed dramatically. But Rosalind’s father is not the man he was, and the family is faced with even more challenges. Rosalind’s hopes for the future are under threat once again, and it seems she is going to be forced to choose between her own happiness or saving the home she loves.
I really felt for Rosalind, who is a modern young woman trapped in a way of life that belongs to another age. You can see the way Arden, with its traditions and responsibilities, belongs to the past. The war changes that world forever, but Rosalind’s father is unable to grasp it. Rosalind is still expected to do her duty, and when she refuses to do so she’s subjected to bullying and blackmail.
There are some beautiful descriptions of the landscape, and the countryside around Arden House truly comes to life in the pages. There are also some very evocative descriptions of blitzed London, and the terrible scenes that unfolded in the streets of the capital. The fear, the desperation, the grief, the helplessness is depicted so well.
It’s a relief to get back to Arden. To return to a post-war village in Warwickshire, and the peace and quiet. Except we soon realise that, although it all seems the same on the surface, so much has changed. England will never be the same again.
I really loved this book. The family relationships were beautifully drawn, the snapshot of a different way of life was intriguing, and the photography and archaeology threads were fascinating. I’m very much looking forward to reading about the lives of the other Shakespeare Sisters.
Four motherless sisters, raised by a distant father in a crumbling, ivy-choked country estate. A terrible war on the horizon that will tear an ancient family apart.
Stratford-upon-Avon, 1940. Rosalind Arden, born into one of the oldest families in England, has grown up running wild through the walled gardens and secret passages of historic Arden House, known to have once been frequented by Shakespeare himself. But centuries of squandered wealth have left the family destitute, and Papa Arden plans to replenish the coffers by securing hasty marriages to the highest bidder for Rosalind and her sisters. Passionate and headstrong, Rosalind is quickly running out of ways to avoid this fate.
But then war comes to England, and not even Arden House can remain untouched. As food shortages grip the villages and England is shrouded by black-outs, Rosalind is unexpectedly swept into the orbit of soft-spoken aspiring architect Guy Thompson… just weeks before he’s sent to fight. Heartbroken, Rosalind knows she can’t return to the golden prison of Arden. With little more than a leather-bound book of Shakespeare in tow – a secret bequest from her mother – she runs away to London. There, she throws herself into the war effort, photographing the heart-wrenching aftermath of the blitz – building a life for herself she never thought possible.
Until death comes to Arden and Rosalind is called home to devastating news. With Guy having inexplicably cut contact and her father on the edge of ruin, Rosalind must choose between the life she has made for herself and saving her beautiful, broken Arden House, home to the man who has only ever tried to bend her to his will…
A heartbreaking and unforgettable story full of mystery that will have you reaching for the tissues. Perfect for anyone who loves Fiona Valpy, Lucinda Riley and Dinah Jefferies.
Murder by the Seaside: cosy mystery
I was drawn into this book from the very first page, as we find Detective Grace McKenna swimming in the ocean, the pull of it luring her on, until common sense makes her turn back for the shore. We can sense the sadness and unease in her, and it’s not long before we discover the burden she’s carrying. The pain from her past that can’t be resolved immediately draws the reader to her, making her a sympathetic protagonist from the beginning.
Grace has left the police force and has set up the Portobello Detective Agency. The office overlooks the sea, and she lives in the flat above it. Being divorced from her ex-husband, Brodie – another policeman, who used to be her sergeant – she now shares her home with her dog, Harvey, who is a wonderful character in his own right, and really comes to life in the pages.
Working alongside Grace are Jean and Hannah, who are keen to take on some serious cases and go undercover. Jean is an older woman while Hannah is still a teenager, which works well in this story as they both take on appropriate roles to help in the investigation..
When Grace is asked to look into the apparent suicide of a well-known psychic, Paul Gordon, it brings her into contact with investigative journalist Tobias Sloan. Like Grace, he’s suffered a terrible personal loss, and the investigation brings up issues for both of them. As Grace tries to find out more about Paul Gordon’s personal and professional life, and about his business associates, she is forced to confront her own demons, and struggles to retain control of her emotions at times.
When a second, particularly heartbreaking, murder occurs, events take another, darker turn. Soon Grace finds herself in danger. Who exactly can she trust?
I was gripped by this book and found the cast of characters interesting and well-rounded. I liked that the story unfolded not only from the viewpoint of Grace, but of Jean and Hannah.
I’ll admit I’ve never heard of Portobello but was intrigued enough to look it up and was pleasantly surprised. I had no idea! I loved the location, and envied Grace her seafront flat, while having every sympathy for her and the terrible trauma she’s gone through. Edinburgh is a brilliant location for a cosy crime series, and I did find the setting one of the major positives of the book.
I kept changing my mind about the murders and who was responsible and found the mystery aspect well written and suitably puzzling. Five stars from me, and I would definitely like to read the next in this series.
As dawn breaks over the empty beaches of Portobello, Grace McKenna emerges from the icy water after her daily swim, her loyal dog Harvey by her side. Little does she know, in the shadows, a cold-blooded killer is plotting his next move…
Edinburgh, Scotland. After the toughest year of her life, Detective Grace McKenna is grateful for her job running the fledgling Portobello Detective Agency… though another client or two would certainly help keep the wolf from the door. So when the glamourous widow of renowned psychic Paul Gordon entreats her to investigate his suspicious death, Grace sees a unique opportunity to make a name for the agency.
Joining forces with Tobias Sloan – a dapper investigative reporter seeking answers about his wife’s tragic passing – their search takes a dark turn when the body of a beautiful young woman is found at a nearby elite golf club. The evidence leads them straight to Merchiston College of Psychic Studies – the very place where Paul Gordon met his grisly end.
Uncovering a shocking secret linking the two murders, Grace finds her professional and personal boundaries are beginning to blur. She is left to face not only the ghosts of her own past, but also the prospect of a hardened killer stalking the quiet lanes of Edinburgh. With time running out and the lives of her team hanging in the balance, can Grace McKenna solve the murders, and save herself from the same deadly fate?
A gripping Scottish mystery with a sprinkle of small-town charm, perfect for fans of Faith Martin, Clare Chase and Frances Evesham.
Unfinished Portrait: Bildungsroman
As many of you will know, I’m taking part in the Read Christie 2023 Challenge (having already completed the 2022 challenge last year). I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and I’ve watched just about every television and film adaptation of her novels I can find. A couple of years ago I decided to work my way through her books, and the challenges seemed a good place to start. I’d previously only read the Miss Marple books, and that was several years ago, and I’d never read Poirot or any other of her works. I’m enjoying her stories immensely, but I’ll admit to having my doubts about reading May’s choice. Unfinished Portrait is written by the author as Mary Westmacott, and there isn’t a murder in sight. Would it hold my interest?
I could have chosen an alternative, as the challenge always lists other books that can be read instead, but I decided to go with this one, and I’m so glad I did. I absolutely loved it! No, it’s not a murder mystery. In fact, in one sense you could say that nothing much happens at all. And yet, so much does happen and I was carried along with the narrative and found myself gripped by Celia’s story.
An artist called Larraby is staying on an island in the Mediterranean. One night he spots a young woman gazing out to sea, and there’s something about her that nags at him. He realises what it is and rushes back to her side in time to stop her from committing suicide, then takes her back to her hotel room where he stays with her all night, urging her to talk to him and tell him what’s brought her to this point. And so Celia begins to talk, and we learn of her life from being a little girl.
There’s so much humour in this book, which doesn’t surprise me, as I’ve realised since taking these challenges that Agatha Christie is a very witty writer. I loved the character of Grannie. She was absolutely hilarious. A Victorian lady with firm opinions on just about everything, which she certainly isn’t afraid to share, she was a joy to read about. But Celia’s mother was an interesting character, too, as was Celia herself. We see her childhood, the expectations – or lack of them – for her, her first experience of loss and grief, her entry into the world of young adulthood and being courted by potential husbands. And of course there’s the shadow of a war which will have a profound effect on the whole world and change Celia’s cosy life forever.
What makes this book particularly poignant is that it’s semi-autobiographical. So much of what is written here is what Agatha herself experienced, and some of it breaks your heart. It really felt as if the author was using her character, Celia, to explain the things she had lived through, and how it impacted her emotionally, and I felt closer to Agatha Christie as a result when I finished this book. The skill of her writing means I was laughing out loud one moment and wiping away tears the next.
This really is a treasure of a book, and one I’m so glad I took a chance on.
A stunning novel of death and destiny.
Bereft of the three people she has held most dear – her mother, her husband and her daughter – Celia is on the verge of suicide. Then one night on an exotic island she meets Larraby, a successful portrait painter, and through a long night of talk reveals how she is afraid to commit herself to a second chance of happiness with another person, yet is not brave enough to face life alone. Can Larraby help Celia come to terms with the past or will they part, her outcome still uncertain?
Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work.
New Beginnings at the Farm on MuddyPuddle Lane: contemporary romance
Finally, this is my first book by Etti Summers, and I have to say I loved it!
It’s the story of Dulcie Fairfax, who – much to her amazement because she never wins anything – finds herself the proud new owner of a farm. Dulcie’s delighted, and quickly becomes lost in visions of the perfect rural lifestyle.
When she arrives at Lilac Tree Farm she’s in for a bit of a rude awakening. The previous owner, Walter York, is obviously a grouch – despite being jaw-droppingly gorgeous – and Lilac Tree Farm is perhaps a tad more rural than she’d imagined. For someone like Dulcie, born and raised in a city, it’s a bit of a culture shock.
She’s not prepared for the resident hens, who she views with terror. She’s also scared stiff of Walter’s pet sheep, who seems to have decided that, whoever owns the farm now, it’s still her home, and the owner should provide her with a bottle of milk!
Then it turns out that Walter York isn’t Walter York at all, but his son, Otto York, who just happens to be a well-known chef. So why is someone like Otto living back in the countryside? Why is he asking around for a job cooking in a local pub? And what possessed him to give away the farm in the first place?
This is a fun, easy-to-read, fairly short romance, which quickly draws you in and makes you want to read more. I’ve already got the second book in the series lined up to read, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of Etti Summers’ work.
She might have won the farm, but has she won his heart?
“Have you been yearning for a simpler way of life?
As the winner of Lilac Tree Farm, you could soon be living in the heart of the countryside, in a gorgeous, rustic, four-bed cottage with a large kitchen garden, an orchard, woodland with its very own stream and wildflower meadows – a perfect place to raise a family.
Buy a ticket today”
City girl Dulcie Fairfax can’t believe her luck when she wins an actual farm. Anxious to begin her idyllic new life in the country, she anticipates barefoot strolls through wildflower meadows, and searching the hedgerows for warm brown eggs. However, she is woefully unprepared for the reality of what she is about to face. To add to her woes, the brooding and handsome former owner lives at the end of the lane, and he doesn’t seem to like her very much.
When Otto Yok is forced to give up his prestigious job as a chef in a top London restaurant to look after his ailing father, he never thought he’d have to raffle off the family farm to pay off his dad’s debts. Unable to cope with someone else living in Lilac Tree Farm, Otto isn’t exactly friendly to the new owner, but neither can he stand by and watch her struggle. And it doesn’t help his mood that he finds Dulcie incredibly attractive, or that he expects her to throw in the towel at any minute.
Can out-of-her-depth Dulcie bring herself to accept the help that is so reluctantly offered, or should she say goodbye to her dream and leave the farm – and the man – she has fallen in love with?
That’s my round-up of this month’s books. I hope you’ve found something here that makes you want to read at least one of them for yourself.
Have a great month!