Thursday, 26 March 2015

How I Lost You - Jenny Blackhurst 5* review

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you?

My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life.

This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead?

If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

Under the new name of Emma Cartwright, Susan Webster has just been released from a Psychiatric Unit for the murder of her baby son, a murder which she can not remember commiting. They labeled her condition as the rare and extreme for of postnatal depression, Puerperal Psychosis. She was quite sure she had neither though.

She relocates to a small Shropshire town and tries to keep under the radar hoping people will have no knowledge of the woman she used to be and hopes to put to bed the woman she once was. But someone posts a recent photo of a toddler through Emma's door with her son, Dylan's name on the back.

Emma goes into freefall as more chilling objects arrive and when her home is vandalised things take an extremely sinister turn that forces her into action, to find whether her son really is still alive.

WOW! I love a good psychological thriller, I'm a really big fan of Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, Rachel Abbott, Nicci French et al, but this debut from Jenny Blackhurst blew me away. I have often stayed awake until the small hours reading, but never coupled that with a 5am start the next morning to finish the book. I think the phrase 'I couldn't put it down' is much overused, however in this case. . .

The modern day tale of Emma/Susan (this may seem more complicated than it actually is) is interwoven with a story of a gang of boys in the late '80s spanning the '90s. They're turning rapidly more disquieting and it takes a while to see where this fitted in to the plot (but when you do)!

It's very fast paced which is what gives is the page turning compulsion and has the most amazing twists. But the really clever element of the book is how well the plot is written, there are no holes, no real questions left unanswered and the characters all fulfill their roles well. For a debut novel Blackhurst really does present a huge talent and I can not wait for more from her.

Many thanks to Georgina at Headline for exchanging a copy for an honest review.

Find Jenny here on Twitter   

If I could give this more than a 5 books rating I WOULD!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Red Notebook - Antoine Laurain

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street, and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

Laure was mugged as she was going into her apartment building, she sustained no injuries except a bang to the head - but her handbag was stolen containing her keys, purse, phone etc, so she begs a room overnight in a nearby hotel.

Laurent Letellier, owner of Parisian bookstore - Le Cahier Rouge, finds the discarded bag while walking the following morning. After a failed attempt to hand it in at a local police station, Laurent decides to do his own detective work to try and track down the owner. However apart from what turns out to be some extremely sentimental possessions he only finds a small red Moleskine notebook with snippets from Laure's life written in it, her likes, dislikes, what she's scared of and other ramblings - but no information of where to find her or what her name is.

There is though, an unsuspecting clue hidden in the bag that will open up opportunities for Laurent, but even with a name, Paris is a big city to search for an elusive woman.

Oh how I enjoyed this whimsical book! It's relatively short at just about 200 pages but perfect to tell its story. It oozes Gallic charm and has been translated beautifully by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce. 

This book is not a cut and dry detective story, or a run of the mill romance by any means, but I found it magically strange in parts, but highly entertaining and seriously brilliant.

A highly recommended read!

Many thanks to Gallic Books for supplying me with a copy in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Appleby Farm Part Two - A Family Affair by Cathy Bramley - 5* review

It’s impossible not to feel cheerful at Appleby Farm, so Freya is putting her doubts about her love life to the back of her mind for now.

But when she discovers the truth about its financial troubles, Freya has to face up to reality: they might lose the farm. There’s only one person she can ask for help, and it’s the last thing she wants to do… Can a trip to Paris change the farm’s fortunes?

As Appleby Farm’s fate hangs in the balance, Freya is surprised as her own dreams for the future take shape. But who will be at her side as her dreams become reality?

Appleby Farm is an irresistibly charming novel told in four parts – following the adventures of Freya Moorcroft in love, friendship and a spot of farming. A Family Affair is part two. It features some friendly faces who appeared in Cathy's bestselling series, Ivy Lane, but it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone story.

Each part of Appleby Farm contains 10 chapters.

Getting back into the familiarity of Appleby Farm didn't take a second, and I was pleased to find Freya back at the farm she loved, with her equally beloved aunt and uncle.
Remembering that she rushed back to be with her uncle that had suffered a heart attack, we find all is relatively well with Uncle Arthur although he is still ill in hospital, but it's the farm that is suffering worse health, albeit financially, as Freya remembers the red reminder bill that she saw.

Freya puts her thinking cap on and draws on every resource she can, until she can go no further and has to take the leap of contacting her parents who she has always vowed never to go cap in hand to, but when needs must...she makes a trip to Paris to see them even though she doesn't have the best of relationships with them. The scenes with her mother are touching and give away a lot of background story as to why she grew up on the farm with Aunty Sue taking the mothering role.

She just seems to be making a dent in the debts and getting Appleby Farm on the up when another disaster strikes, which could be last straw for Appleby Farm, even with the new workforce she has managed to get in place. 

Another really lovely story, beautifully researched as ever and plenty of cliffhangers to keep the reader guessing until part three - although I really with there were to be ten parts, not just four. I am already enjoying this series even more than Ivy Lane (which I adored) and cannot wait for the next installment. 


Here's my review of  Appleby Farm Part One 5*

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Bookish things I love - World Book Day Special!

Happy World Book Day 2015! I wonder how many parents were up way into to small hours putting the finishing touches to their children's favourite book character costumes? I must admit, although we used to try really hard to always make these, I used to find it a challenge for boys and several years we did resort to buying costumes from Woolworths that may possibly have been film characters, unless there were many books with Darth Vader or Storm Troopers in?

This was my favourite costume - Cat in the Hat - that we did actually make for our son when he was 6...a very long time ago!

And one of me when I was celebrating World Book Day at school, much to the disgust of the children who informed me that my scar was the wrong way round (I did it in the mirror!!)

Bookish goodies:

Imagine my joy when I saw this collection of stamps the Royal Mail have released!

See the full collection here: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I love Jenny Colgan's The Little Beach Street Bakery, and more recently Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery. I loved the characters, the writing, the storyline etc...but most of all I LOVED Neil the Puffin and the magical essence he brings. 
I was delighted when Jenny gave him his own book for little ones!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review: The School Gates by Nicola May

The school gates are a great social leveller, with parents from all walks of life brought together whether they like it or not at the start and end of their children’s day. For a few, friendships forged there will bring drama, for others consolation, for some romance… When single working mum Alana reveals the identity of her love-child’s father, she isn’t prepared for the consequences. Dana knows she should be content with her perfect house and perfect husband but finds herself longing for another child and wishing for more fulfilment. Mo’s life has always been hard, but the violence of her alcoholic husband could be the last straw, which only friendship with super-mum Joan can get her through. And what of gay Daddy Gordon? Will he be able to juggle parenthood and cope with his broken heart at the same time? 

Featherstone Primary, a good school in an affluent area, yet the school gates certainly do not present the peaceful manner you may expect.

The School Gates follows the lives of five families; the wealthy Alana - Eliska has everything she could want except time with her mother who works every hour, Dana, ex au pair who has made a perfect life for herself and her family - but there are cracks under the surface, Joan - with a large family to care for and money tight things are a struggle but she still finds time to help her lovely friend, Mo. I loved Mo, she keeps her little family together even when things really are at rock bottom, and lastly the wonderful gay dads, Gordon and Chris - adoptive fathers to Gordon's nieces after a family tragedy. Will he cope?

Their lives, however different intertwine and they are all certainly not what they seem under their well constructed exteriors. 

The mixture of characters works perfectly and each family/character is well developed. The plot is complex to begin with - keeping track of who's who but you soon get to grips with it. It must have been difficult for Nicola May to write as there are many sub plots but kudos to her as it never goes off track or gets too confusing. 

My favourite character has to be Mo, mother to little Rosie and wife to alcoholic Ron. She does have an incredibly tough time of it, I just wanted to wade in and rescue her. I was thankful for her friendship with Joan, mother of four, most of whom always have nits.

I look forward to working my way through Nicola's newly published back catalogue (have a look at more of Nicola May's work here at Accent Press)

Witty, heartwarming, VERY racy in places, and a well deserved

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Interview with Helen Phifer plus 5* review - The Ghost House

I am so happy to have one of my favourite authors joining me today, for the first interview on my new blog! I thank her so much for fitting it in with her busy life! Helen...thank you! 

Firstly, Helen, I’d love to congratulate you on the paperback release of The Ghost House, the first in the Annie Graham series. This may be a very silly question, but how did holding your first book baby feel?

It was truly amazing, the first thing I did was open it and have a good old sniff. It’s something I’ve dreamt about for so long that I can’t actually believe I have one, well several copies actually because the kids are all getting one for their birthdays.

I don't blame you at all! I'm sure your family will be proud and thrilled to receive them!

I absolutely love this series of books, I first discovered you on NetGally and very thankful I am for that. I love the character of your leading lady, Annie Graham, could you tell us a bit about her?

I love crime stories but they always focus on the higher ranks like Detective Inspectors which is good but I wanted to write about a police constable who was just like you and me, with the same insecurities that a lot of women have. I wanted readers to see what it was like from someone’s point of view that is first on scene at the incidents as they get called in.  She is a great friend,  she has a crush on her best friend even though he is  gay, she’s fun and forever worrying about her weight. She also doesn't have much self confidence and has no idea why she attracts all the wrong sorts of men.

Well we readers are up to book three in the series, and life for Annie is going well (except that someone out there in the shadows has murderous intentions in mind), in your mind is there a finale to Annie’s story or do you think as with many crime novels this story has a lot of life left in it?

I originally thought that there would be possibly two, maybe three books in the series but thankfully my publishers love Annie as much as I do and my lovely readers so I think her story can go on for quite a while yet.

I am so pleased you said that! I am really not ready to step out of Annie's world!

Although I have referred to your novels as crime, which is a huge element of the plot, but also a major part is supernatural. What gave you the inspiration to combine the two?

I love being scared, I was brought up on Hammer House of Horror films because my mum loved them. My favourite television programme when I was a kid was The Munster’s closely followed by the Adam’s Family. Then when I was old enough I discovered Stephen King so I blame him and my mum,  plus the fact that I couldn’t find enough of those kind of stories which are my favourite so I thought I’d write my own.

Now I know how you manage to create characters like that AWFUL shadow man (from The Secrets of the Shadows, book 2 in the Annie Graham series) who I have to admit, as I may have mentioned to you before, scared me more than any other fictional character that I have read?

You did and I’m sorry about that Donna, I’ll be completely honest with you, I have to admit I was terrified. I scared myself so much when I wrote about him that I would have to leave the house if I’d been writing about him when I was on my own.  Which I suppose in a way is good.

Yes, as  writer I think if you scare yourself then you're definitely halfway there! Out of your books do you have a favourite ghost (maybe a less scary one!) and which villain did you have the most pleasure in seeing get their comeuppance?

Ah my favourite ghost, can I have two? I love both Alice from The Ghost House and Sophie from The Secrets of the Shadows. I think that my favourite villain is Henry Smith who is one very, cold calculating man.

I would have chosen exactly the same as you, although I also loved 'the witch' from The Forgotten Cottage and hearing her tale. And Henry Smith is absolutely wonderful!

Who or what are your main influences in writing?

Stephen King’s early books scared the living daylights out of me, Dean Koontz, Graham Masterton and James Herbert. I used to love hiding under the bedcovers reading their novels when I was a teenager and I think that has always stayed with me.

I think you have accomplished such a huge amount in your writing career, I remember well you beating Stephen King in the Amazon bestseller charts and I cannot imagine your jubilation, but are there any other writing ambitions that you have?

Aw thank you so much Donna, I have to say that in such a short space of time I managed to achieve what I’d always dreamt about so I’ve been very blessed. I’ve also worked very hard the last eighteen months to meet my publisher’s deadlines. The day my little old book pushed Stephen King my hero from the #1 spot in the Amazon Contemporary Horror chart was one that I’ll never forget, it was so surreal it took a couple of days to sink in.

I have so many writing ambitions they will keep me going for years but I really, really admire Sally Wainwright’s writing. Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey are two of the best programmes I’ve watched in a long time so I’d love to have a go at screenwriting. I’d really like to see The Ghost House made into a film or television drama, you have to dream big.

I would say it would be my happiest moment to see The Ghost House made into a film or drama, but I think also it would terrify me. I'd so still watch...

Well thank you so much for this interview, Helen. I have enjoyed your take on your writing so much, all the luck for your future work! I can't wait to see you back with your next book!

5* Review for Helen Phifer's debut novel

The Ghost House

I was gripped by The Ghost House from the absolute beginning, when Annie Graham began exploring an old mansion in Abbey Woods where her brother was the caretaker.

She found far more than she bargained for though when a ghostly voice scared the living daylights out of her. She escaped back to her brother’s house, determined never to set foot in the eerie old house again – when she remembered grabbing an old leather bound book that she had been flicking through, and stuffing it into her bag before she ran out. She realised that she had taken the journal of a housemaid, Alice Hughes, who had lived more than a hundred years previously in the manor house in the woods.

The story then flashes back between the late 19th century and the present day, with the diary of Alice helping to illustrate the story of the house in Abbey Woods and its inhabitants, which holds the most terrible and gruesome secrets.
While Annie is delving into the secrets of the mansion that she feels inexplicably drawn to, a young girl has disappeared in their town, and the police fear that time is running out to find her safe and well. As the death toll rises, they realise they are dealing with a serial killer who is very much on the loose, and he seems to have his sights set on Annie to be his spectacular finale.

The Ghost House is a gripping tale, full of spine chilling mystery and suspense (and a lovely romance!) I loved to read Alice’s tale and the flashbacks of the 19th century, as harrowing and heartbreaking as the were, and felt her fear and heartbreak as though it were a true story.
The police aspect seemed extremely true to life and well researched, and the murders were as gruesome and chilling as you would expect in a book about a serial killer – although not too awful to deter me at all, even though the ghost story at times left me peering round doors when I was alone. Having said that, it took me less than 12 hours to complete as I really couldn’t put it down.
I found the conclusion brilliant and it ended exactly how I would have liked. I loved the kick-ass heroine, Annie: definitely not a simpering female and I enjoyed watching Will’s character change around her!

The Ghost House is the most exciting book I have read in a very long time, and would make an absolutely perfect Halloween read! Amazing d├ębut from Helen Phifer.

My review of The Ghost House has previously been published on


Find Helen here at:
Helen Phifer on

Sunday, 1 March 2015

5* Review: Ivy Lane by Cathy Bramley

(Ivy Lane is currently in Amazon's 3 paperbacks for £10 deal!)

Tilly Parker needs a fresh start, fresh air and a fresh attitude if she is ever to leave the past behind and move on with her life. As she seeks out peace and quiet in a new town, taking on a plot at Ivy Lane allotments seems like the perfect solution.
But the friendly Ivy Lane community has other ideas and gradually draw Tilly in to their cosy, comforting world of planting seedlings, organizing bake sales and planning seasonal parties.
As the seasons pass, will Tilly learn to stop hiding amongst the sweetpeas and let people back into her life – and her heart?
Ivy Lane was originally published as a four-part serial. This is the complete story in one package.

Tilly Parker moves to the small market town of Kingsfield in desperate need of a fresh start. She's clearly been through something traumatic which remains a mystery until later in the book. I attempted several theories of what had happened to Tilly, none of which turned out to be correct which I loved, I get bored easily with predictable plots. 

Tilly finds a part time job teaching at a local infant school, and also feels the need to embark on a new hobby to get her out of the house. After a serendipitous moment when a flyer comes through her door advertising a vacant allotment, she decides to take the plunge. She assumed that gardening might be an easy, solitary pass time, one which she hopes that no-one will ask any awkward questions about her past.

The gardening fraternity quickly welcome her and she begins to forge new friendships, some keener than others! The Ivy Lane community is wonderful, each member with their own quirks. Their own stories weave nicely in with Tilly's first person narration; some sad, some funny, all heartwarming. 

As the seasons change we learn the tragic secrets of Tilly's past and follow her on her journey to rebuild her life, which is helped along when reality TV show Green Fingers come to film at Ivy Lane Allotments, along with dishy producer, Aiden. Through the seasons, The Ivy Lane allotments hold many functions and parties in which Tilly plays an active roll, it is like watching a friend rebuild their life which is quite wonderful.

I loved Ivy Lane, and I love Cathy Bramley's writing, I find her the most effortless of storytellers with total knack of drawing the reader in, her dialogue is so 'true', genuine and witty and her characters are extremely well developed. 

She has rapidly become one of my favourite authors, I could read her books every day, forever.

Read what other bloggers think of Ivy Lane and join in the rest of the tour:

Many thanks to Sarah at Transworld books for sending me a copy of Ivy Lane in exchange for an honest review.

Read my 5* review of Cathy Bramley's Appleby Farm part 1 here: