Saturday, 31 December 2016

End of Year Book Survey 2016

First of all, an apology. I haven't posted anywhere near as often as I'd have liked to this year, and I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't read as much either! At least my New Year's resolutions are easily decided this time. Anyway, as the New Year rolls around it's time to look back on my year of reading, and although my stats aren't as high as I'd like them to be, I have read some great books!

Hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner

2016 Reading Stats
Number of books you read: 32
Number of re-reads: 0
Genre you read the most from: Historical Fiction
Shortest Book: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith (215 pages)
Longest Book: Florence Grace by Tracy Rees (544 pages)

Best in Books
Best Book You Read In 2016?
Florence Grace by Tracy Rees. I just adored it. You can find my review here

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
I was hugely exited about Kate Williams' novels about the de Witt family during the First World War, but the first two books of the trilogy took some getting through. I'll still read the third though!


Best series you started in 2016?

Easy. Outlander! I'm around halfway through it now and totally get what all the fuss is about!


Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

Kate Riordan. Both The Girl in the Photograph and The Shadow Hour are gripping!


Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Maestra by LS Hilton. Weirdly compelling - and be warned it is explicit! 


Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Girl on the Train. I read it pretty much in one sitting! Worth the hype!


Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I don't generally re-read so probably none of them!

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. I was obsessed with the TV series and the companion novel is gorgeous!

Most memorable character of 2016?

Florence 'Florrie' Grace. I just loved her.

Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

If I Forget You by T.C Greene. It's practically poetic.


Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It's inspirational.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I've been brought up on the TV adaptations but have never read one of her novels until now - and I loved it!

Book That Shocked You The Most
We Were Liars by E Lockhart. This one floored me!

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne. As much as I ship them I know it isn't to be.


Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
Florence Grace. I loved Tracy Rees' debut novel Amy Snow, and I adored this one even more!

Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Murder at The Brighwell. My mum adored it and pestered me about it until I read it. I bought her the sequel for her birthday!

Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?
Jamie Fraser...

Best 2016 debut you read?
Pengelly's Daughter by Nicola Pryce. If you're missing Poldark I would heartily recommend it!

Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
Rebel Warrior and King's Knight by Regan Walker bring Medieval Britain gloriously alive.

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?
Love From Paris by Alexandra Potter. Cheesy Chick-Lit at it's finest!

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?
We Were Liars. It's rare for me to cry at books and this one killed me.

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Florence Grace. More people need to read this so I can fangirl with them about it!

Book That Crushed Your Soul?

We Were Liars. Enough said.

Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?
We Were Liars. The plot, the writing style, it's everything.

Book That Made You The Most Mad?

The Girl With a Clock for a Heart. Because that ending was not an ending. Gah.
So there you have it, my year in books! Here's to another great year of reading!


Friday, 25 November 2016

Blog Revamp... and Bookstagram!

There's been a few subtle changes going on here over the past few weeks. 'Good Friends, Good Books and a Sleepy Conscience' is no more! I'd never actually intended on keeping the name anyway, it was a sort of stop-gap until I decided what I actually wanted to call it  - a stop-gap that ended up lasting over two years!

After much deliberation my sister came up with the idea of Reading in Wellies (like Running in Heels but with farmers and books, geddit?)

The url is staying as lilmissvixreads for now - if anyone has any expertise on changing urls on over 200+ posts I would greatly appreciate it. Do I need to make custom redirects for all of them? Technology is hard.


In other news, I've finally joined the wonderous world of instagram. You can find me there @readinginwellies.
I had no idea how many amazing bookstagrammers there are out there, and while I'm still very much a novice I'm loving all the beautiful book photography!

A photo posted by Vicki 🇬🇧 📚🐄 (@readinginwellies) on

A photo posted by Vicki 🇬🇧 📚🐄 (@readinginwellies) on

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Review: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

I've always been very interested in the life of Queen Victoria. It's hard not to be when you're named after her! So it was with some delight that I discovered ITV were making a television series all about her early years, penned by the wonderful Daisy Goodwin. Despite my initial frustration to discover that the majority of the series was filmed within an hour's drive of my house and I knew nothing of it, I was glued to my screen every night for the eight week duration (Captain Poldark had to wait for iPlayer).

So when I heard that Daisy had written a novel to accompany the series, complete with extra scenes, well I headed straight online to pre-order it. The cover is beautiful and perfectly fitting, and I dived right in as soon as it arrived.

"In June 1837, the eighteen-year-old Victoria wakes up to find that she is Queen of the most powerful nation in the world. But will she be queen in her own right, or a puppet controlled by her mother and the sinister Sir John Conroy? Can this tiny girl prevail against the men who believe that women are too hysterical to rule?

Everyone wants her to get married, but Victoria has no intention of entering into a marriage of convenience with her cousin Albert, a shy bookworm who didn't know how to dance the last time she met him. She would much rather reign alone with a little help from her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. He may be old enough to be her father, but he is the only man who believes that she will be a great Queen, and he knows how to make her laugh. A husband would only get in the way..."

From the very first page it is clear that Victoria is a headstrong and stubborn character, determined to rule the country her way. Despite her incredibly sheltered upbringing and her naivety she quickly adapts to her role as Queen, with her loyal aide and advisor Lord Melbourne by her side. There are constant comparisons between herself and Elizabeth I, and it seems to me that she would have been perfectly capable of ruling without a husband, despite all that her interfering family thought of her. She has a tendency to be childish at times, but that's to be expected, and as she grows into her role as Queen, she also matures into an adult.

The revelation in both TV series and novel for me was Lord M. Having only previously encountered Paul Bettany's portrayal of him in the 2009 film The Young Victoria, I didn't think much of his character. I knew Victoria depended on him more than others deemed proper, and the film seems to suggest that he uses her to gain and retain power. Daisy Goodwin's interpretation of his character shows him in an entirely new light, as a man conflicted between emotion and duty, as a man devoted to his Queen. The moment Rufus Sewell appeared on screen I knew I was a goner. Full of wit and one liners, with a painful vulnerability below the surface, the novel portrays him in a similar fashion, and whilst the description differs from Rufus (the real Lord M was blonde), you get an even deeper sense of his and Victoria's inner turmoil and their confused feelings towards one another. Indeed, it is no surprise that some people have dismissed the novel as 'Vicbourne' fanfiction, as Albert doesn't actually appear until page 360. Like in the TV series Victoria and Albert's relationship feels rushed somehow, and whilst the insta-love trope may well be true for the real Queen Victoria, for fictional Victoria to transfer her affections from Melbourne to Albert in a matter of pages is a little unbelievable.

Although it is written as a companion piece to the TV series, there are some significant differences in the novel. The servants for example are given a lot less attention, and whilst I may be in the minority here I preferred it that way. They still have names, and all their major storylines feature, but I do feel as if their role was amplified unnecessarily in the TV series to give it that Downton/Upstairs Downstairs vibe that proves popular with audiences. Another major difference is that the novel ends -potential spoiler ahead- with Victoria's proposal to Albert. There's no wedding, and therefore, most regrettably to me, there is no goodbye scene between Victoria and Lord M - a moment in the TV series which broke my heart.

That being said, it is still a book that I would heartily recommend, to historical fiction and period
drama fans alike. Those who frown on anachronism may want to steer clear, although alongside the dramatic licence there are also some surprising truths to be found - Albert actually did slice his shirt open at the ball to wear Victoria's gardenias close to his heart!

If, like me, you're interested in how much is true, I would have a trawl through Daisy Goodwin's Twitter feed; she live-tweeted some of the TV episodes when they aired and has answered many viewer/reader questions about Victoria.

I'm very much looking forward to the second series of Victoria (even though I fear that Lord M is gone for good), and to what I hope will be the second novel to accompany it!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Review: Maestra by L.S Hilton


A spectacular fraud in a London auction house. 

A barefoot lover running through the Paris streets. 

A colossal theft from a billionaire's yacht. 

A vicious murder under a bridge in Rome. 

They started it. she'll end it. 


The simple yet deceptive blurb on the back of this novel is what drew me to read it.I had no idea what to expect, and it was nothing like I could ever have imagined.

Maestra comes with the tagline 'The Most Shocking Thriller You'll Read This Year'. I'll admit that I haven't read that many thrillers, but this is  certainly true for me. Maestra is unpredictable, graphic in every sense of the word and left me feeling very uneasy. I couldn't put it down. So I suppose that makes it a success.

Having looked at the reader reviews I'm surprised how many negative ones there are. Yes it's explicit, designed to shock, but Maestra is reflective of the baser aspects of human nature - lust and greed. Although the gratuitous use of the 'c' word did lose its impact after a while. The book has been described as The Talented Mr Ripley crossed with Gone Girl, and whilst I haven't read either of the works, I have seen the film adaptation of the former and can easily see where the comparisons come from. Judith isn't a character you can relate to, which is perhaps why some readers detest her so much. Driven by 'rage' and determination to work her way up in the world she finds herself resorting to increasingly desperate measures, measures which soon become habits. Yet despite her dangerous flaws, her appalling language and her skewed morals you can't help but want her to get away with her actions. I'm very curious to read the sequel.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train...

Last weekend I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Less than 48 hours later and I knew. I daren't say too much for fear of giving anything away. True to form it's a thriller packed with twists and turns, and although I predicted pretty early on what the big twist was going to be, I was gripped to see how it would play out. I finished reading at 1.30am- when a book keeps you up that late you know it's a good one! What makes this different from other thrillers is its narrative. It's told from the viewpoints of three women, all of whom are connected and none of whom are reliable narrators. Rachel, an alcoholic, takes the train every day past the homes of Anna and Megan. Then, one day, she sees something she shouldn't. A few days later Megan has gone missing and Rachel wakes up bruised and covered in blood, with no memory of what happened the night before. It's fast paced, intense, and you can't trust a single character. Compulsive reading at its best.

As for the film adaptation - I'm yet to see it but I have some reservations. I'm interested to see how they get the multiple viewpoints across without causing confusion. I had seen the trailer before I read the book, so in my mind Rachel looked like Emily Blunt and Megan looked like an actress who looks like Jennifer Lawrence but isn't Jennifer Lawrence. I do wonder how they would have looked had I been imagining them for myself, especially as having googled the rest of the cast Tom and Scott in the film look nothing like I pictured them in the book.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Film Review: Bridget Jones's Baby

It was with some trepidation that I went to see Bridget Jones's Baby. In fact, and friend and I had previously written off the idea, as it surely couldn't come close to the cosy charm of the original (I tend not to think about Edge of Reason). However, as the positive reviews poured in curiosity won out and it was time to see for myself what the writers had come up with.

I was saddened not to see Richard Curtis' name on the credits, but equally delighted to spot Emma Thompson's. Her role in the film - which she may well have written with herself in mind - as Bridget's brilliantly deadpan doctor is a great addition to an already top notch cast. Aside from Hugh Grant's conspicuous absence it's lovely to see the whole original gang back together; Bridget's trio of best friends are all in check, with husbands and children in tow, and her parents - and her auntie Una - are all thankfully still alive and kicking. 

If you've seen the trailer you'll know the plot; after a couple of drink infused one-night-stands - a festival hook-up with American love guru Jack Qwant and a one-off reunion with her ex Mark Darcy - Bridget Jones is pregnant. And doesn't know who the father is. Colin Firth is on familiar Mamma Mia territory here.

I was a little concerned about Patrick Dempsey's character on paper - an American in a quintessentially British film!? But I needn't have worried. Rather than the nice guy/bad boy dynamic that Mark and Daniel Cleaver shared, Jack is so kind, lovable even, that it's impossible to dislike him. I'd almost go as far as to say that he is actually a better man than Mark Darcy, and so I genuinely didn't know which man Bridget would end up with, if either of them.

Although the other two Bridget Jones films came out over a decade ago (let's not dwell on that), this third installment doesn't feel dated in the slightest. It's brought bang up to date with jokes about modern technology, and how the world has changed since we last saw Bridget and co. The characters themselves have grown up too. Bridget gets up to make a speech, we watch through our fingers, waiting for her to make a fool of herself, and yet miraculously she doesn't. Tension and anger mounts up between Mark and Jack, they take it outside, only for Jack to say 'I don't want to fight'. It is these breaks from the formula of the first two films that refresh the franchise completely (although a comic fight scene wouldn't have gone amiss for old time's sake!)

As for the rumours about a fourth, maybe even a fifth and sixth film, I'd say leave well alone. This film was perfect in its own way - like a one off reunion episode of your favourite TV show, but to treat it as a reboot to the Bridget Jones franchise would be a mistake. Bridget gets her happy ending, every box has been ticked, and it would fast become stale should they start churning out more films. Leave it be, please.

As the credits rolled, my sister turned to me and said that of all three Bridget Jones films, this one is her favourite. I can see why - it's more relatable to today and the humour is more current, less cringeworthy. But for me there is no movie scene more iconic than Bridget Jones chasing after Mark Darcy through snowy London in her pants. The coat, the kiss, and the final lines that look so vulgar written down, yet somehow sound breathlessly romantic on screen. 'Wait a minute, nice boys don't kiss like that...'. It's everything.

Bridget Jones's Baby is so much funnier and lovelier than I was expecting. Well worth seeing in the cinema too - that's an experience I never had with the first two films (I was too young), and you get the feeling of sharing something special. Like the first film, this will leave you smiling and feeling stupidly sentimental - job well done.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Review: King's Knight by Regan Walker


Dubbed the Black Wolf for his raven hair, his fierceness in battle and his way with women, Sir Alexander of Talisand attacked life as he did the king’s enemies. But acclaim on the battlefield and his lusty escapades did not satisfy. King William Rufus would bind him to Normandy through marriage to one of its noblewomen, but the only woman Alexander wanted was a commoner he had saved from a terrible fate.


The shame of being the child of a Norman’s rape dogged Merewyn’s steps from her youth. Determined never to be a victim of a man’s lust like her mother, in Wales she donned the garb of an archer and developed extraordinary skill with a bow. Despite her fair beauty, men now keep their distance. No longer in need of protection from other men, can Merewyn protect herself from Alexander when he holds her heart yet can never be hers?

Regan Walker's novels never fail to capture my imagination, to transport me to another time and place, and her Medieval Warriors series is definitely up there with the best of her work!

Alex is a young man fulfilling his destiny as the famous Red Wolf's 'cub'. He has a fearsome repuation to live up to, and is more than capable of the job. With his flowing black locks and striking grey eyes he is every inch the perfect warrior. Yet the moment he sets eyes on Merewyn we begin to see his softer, protective side, and I fell for him the moment he rode through the gates of Talisand.

Merewyn was a lovely character. Determined to shake off the 'damsel in distress' label and to defend herself from unwanted advances she takes up archery, and amazes everyone with her skill. She is fearless, unconventional, and yet vulnerable in that she can't seem to get past the circumstances of her birth. Her constant worrying that she wasn't worthy of Alex, and that he must marry a bride chosen by the King, really frustrated me - I just wanted her to see how great she is!

Whilst each novel in the series can be read as a standalone, it's lovely to see some familiar faces appearing now and again. Main protagonists aside, Regan has created a medieval world full of wonderful characters, all of whom are worthy of having their stories told, and some of which I'm sure we'll be reading more about in the future.

Wonderfully researched historical fiction, filled with romance, danger and intrigue. What more could you ask for?

*Thanks to Regan Walker for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Review: If I Forget You by T.C Greene

Twenty-one years after they were driven apart by circumstances beyond their control, two former lovers have a chance encounter on a Manhattan street. What follows is a tense, suspenseful exploration of the many facets of enduring love. Told from altering points of view through time, If I Forget You tells the story of Henry Gold, a poet whose rise from poverty embodies the American dream, and Margot Fuller, the daughter of a prominent, wealthy family, and their unlikely, star-crossed love affair, complete with the secrets they carry when they find each other for the second time. Written in lyrical prose, If I Forget You is at once a great love story, a novel of marriage, manners, and family, a meditation on the nature of art, a moving elegy to what it means to love and to lose, and how the choices we make can change our lives forever. 

Compact, neat, beautiful. This is one book that you can judge by it's cover. Sure, the plot is nothing new, but whole novel is just beautifully written. It's poetic in places, which of course perfectly reflects Henry, the poet turned creative writing professor.

Margot from appearances is your typical all American rich girl. Summering on Martha's Vineyard - just using summer as a verb is indicative enough of her social status- she is expected to do little more than marry well and maintain her rung on the social ladder. Yet on the inside she is different from the others. She strives to break the boundaries set for her, she feels restricted. And in Henry she finds herself. Margot and Henry couldn't be more different in upbringing, and while Henry strives to better himself and find his place in the world, Margot has her rich-girl life mapped out for her by her parents and peers. The two complement each other perfectly, and knowing that they end up leading separate lives makes the chapters detailing their youthful college romance all the more poignant.

There is more than an echo of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence in Margot and Henry's mutual longing for each other, their desire to break the mould and find a way to be together. And fans of the TV show Gossip Girl won't be able to help but make comparisons between these two and Serena and Dan, one an infamous upper eastside social darling, the other a budding writer from Brooklyn. Forbidden love is an age old story, but one that still resonates to this day.

I devoured this book in a couple of days, eager to find out what would happen when Margot and Henry eventually met again. I'd have liked a bit more of a definitive ending as I couldn't help thinking there was more to be said. I'm surprised at the negative reviews though, this really is gorgeous.

*Thanks to Corvus Books for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for a review!*

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Review: Late Summer in the Vineyard by Jo Thomas

Working for a wine-maker in France is the opportunity of a lifetime for Emmy. Even if she doesn't know a thing about wine - beyond what's on offer at the local supermarket.

There's plenty to get to grips with in the rustic town of Petit Frère. Emmy's new work friends need more than a little winning over. Then there's her infuriatingly brash tutor, Isaac, and the enigmatic Madame Beaumont, tucked away in her vineyard of secrets.

But Emmy will soon realise that in life - just as in wine-making - the best things happen when you let go and trust your instincts. Particularly when there's romance in the air... 

Pack up your suitcase, it's time for another holiday with Jo Thomas! Her books never fail to transport me to another place, with a wonderful cast of characters that by the novel's end you will consider friends.

Emmy may be a tad stereotypical as a chick-lit lead character, but her love interests most certainly are not, and my feelings towards both Isaac and Charlie fluctuated throughout the novel, leaving me wondering which, if either, she would ultimately end up with. Another staple of Jo Thomas novels are the animals, often characters in themselves. This time we have Cecil the dog, and Henri - the beautiful wise old workhorse.

The plot is fairly predictable stuff but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable - if anything knowing what's going to happen makes for relaxing worry-free reading, exactly what I need at the moment!

Whilst I'm not a wine drinker I fully appreciated the amount of research that must have gone into this book, and left it feeling a little more cultured, educated, and wanting to visit France myself!

**Thanks to Bookbridgr for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!**

For more on Jo Thomas, check out my reviews of The Oyster Catcher, The Chestnut Tree and The Olive Branch!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review: The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd

Lavender House is the third and final installment of the Quercus Summer Reading Challenge.

Nancy de Freitas is the glue that holds her family together. Caught between her ageing, ailing mother Frances, and her struggling daughter Louise, frequent user of Nancy's babysitting services, it seems Nancy's fate is to quietly go on shouldering the burden of responsibility for all four generations. Her divorce four years ago put paid to any thoughts of a partner to share her later years with. Now it looks like her family is all she has.

Then she meets Jim. Smoker, drinker, unsuccessful country singer and wearer of cowboy boots, he should be completely unsuited to the very together Nancy. And yet, there is a real spark.
But Nancy's family don't trust Jim one bit. They're convinced he'll break her heart, maybe run off with her money - he certainly distracts her from her family responsibilities.

Can she be brave enough to follow her heart? Or will she remain glued to her family's side and walk away from one last chance for love?

Hilary Boyd is an author I have never read before, so although the blurb didn't sound like something I would have picked up for myself, I was interested to give it a go. The main characters were of an older generation than I usually read about, but this actually made for quite a refreshing change. It was a cosy and heartwarming read. Jim was a lovely character, gentle and charming despite his steroetypical 'country and western' appearance. Nancy's inability to say 'no' began to grate on me a bit, and I just wanted to have a word with her and tell her to do something for herself for once.

There's a joyous message to be found in this book - it's never too late for love. No matter your age, the awkwardness and charm of a new romance remains the same, those early days where you're feeling your way blind into the relationship, unsure of your feelings, let alone the other person's.

This book is not something I would have chosen for myself, but it is a lovely read, and a book that I will happily pass along to my mum and grandma.

*Thanks to Quecus Books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review: The Girl With a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson

George Foss never thought he'd see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack's Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl's grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece - the one who had committed suicide - was not his girlfriend.

Now, twenty years later, she's back, and she's telling George that he's the only one who can help her...

Boy meets old flame -his first love in fact- and she urgently needs his help. I'm hooked.

George is a kind of anti-hero, an average Joe thrown into circumstances far beyond his comprehension, and this isn't this first time that it's happened to him. He spends the majority of the novel being overwhelmed, queasy, paranoid or terrified - but then wouldn't we all be if we were in his shoes!?

It's a fast paced book, and I raced through it in a couple of hours. True to form there's an obvious baddie, an ambigious female character, danger, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading. It's a different kind of thriller to others I've read this year - and a very welcome change in tone and content. However - what kind of ending was that!? I was expecting at least another chapter and I turned over to find a load of blank pages, for a while I was convinced that my copy of the novel was somehow missing a chunk. I don't know if a sequel is planned, but this girl needs closure and you can't leave it like that!

Frustrations at the ending aside I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the impending film adaptation!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Review: Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

The second book in the Quercus Summer reading scheme is Florence Grace by Tracy Rees. I absolutely loved her debut novel Amy Snow, so I was really excited to read this! And I wasn't disappointed. Quite the oppsite in fact - Tracy has surpassed herself!
Florrie Buckley is an orphan, living on the wind-blasted moors of Cornwall. It's a hard existence but Florrie is content; she runs wild in the mysterious landscape. She thinks her destiny is set in stone.

But when Florrie is fourteen, she inherits a never-imagined secret. She is related to a wealthy and notorious London family, the Graces. Overnight, Florrie's life changes and she moves from country to city, from poverty to wealth.

Cut off from everyone she has ever known, Florrie struggles to learn the rules of this strange new world. And then she must try to fathom her destructive pull towards the enigmatic and troubled Turlington Grace, a man with many dark secrets of his own.

Avid readers will know the feeling - that moment when you read the blurb for a novel and know instinctively that you're going to love it. Such was the case with Florence Grace.

From the opening page I was transported utterly into Florrie's world; I was with her for every step of her journey and I was sad to have to leave her at the end. She is an incredibly likeable character, one who isn't afraid to speak her mind, one who refuses to be beat into submission by society and its conventions.

The landscape, the people, the lifestyle - in London Florrie couldn't be further from her homeland, and yet she is a survivor. She weathers the storm that is the Grace household and begins to forge her own path in Victorian society.

The plot is full of surprising twists, with events and revelations that quickly turn the story on its head. I love Tracy Rees' writing style, and although her novels are on the long side I race through them in no time at all.

I became oddly fond of all of the characters in this book, both the good and the bad. Old Rilla was full of pearls of wisdom, some of which I may well adopt for myself. Hawker was small yet foreboding, Aunt Dinah a force to be reckoned with. I especially loved Sanderson, and the contrast between he and his brother couldn't be starker. Light and dark, day and night; he is as fair and open as Turlington is dark and brooding. But as we learn even the kindest of people have their own secrets to bear, their own dreams and disappointments.

This is far more than just a love story, it is a coming of age story, a story of family, of friendship, and of finding your place in the world.

Florence deserves happiness, and that was all I wanted for her by the novel's end. Her transformation from country bumpkin to city darling is apparent, and yet we never lose sight of the true Florrie, the girl beneath it all who longs for nothing more than to run barefoot across the moors. This is her story, and I enjoyed every minute of it with her. My novel of 2016 so far.  

*Thanks to Quercus Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Review: The Last Kiss Goodbye by Tasmina Perry

The Last Kiss Goodbye is yet another wonderful novel from Tasmina Perry. In fact, I think it's my new favourite.
Everyone remembers their first kiss. But what about the last?

1961. Journalist Rosamund Bailey is ready to change the world. When she meets explorer and man about town Dominic Blake, she realises she has found the love of her life. Just as happiness is in their grasp, the worst happens, and their future is snatched away.

2014. Deep in the vaults of a museum, archivist Abby Gordon stumbles upon a breathtaking find. A faded photograph of a man saying goodbye to the woman he loves. Looking for a way to escape her own heartache, Abby becomes obsessed with the story, little realising that behind the image frozen in time lies a secret altogether more extraordinary. 

I enjoyed Tasmina's last novel, The Proposal, so I was looking forward to reading this. Dual narrative seems to be Tasmina's style, with one strand set in the present and the other in the past detailing events of a decades old mystery - in this case the disappearance of Dominic Blake. Abbey, a thirtysomething archivist with a troubled marriage throws herself into her work. During the course of putting together an exhibition she happens upon a photograph that takes her breath away, and sends her on a journey into the past.

Dominic Blake is immediately loveable, and knowing from the outset that he and Rosemary are hurtling towards heartbreak and separation lends their story more poignancy. As is always the case with dual narrative stories I preferred the one set in the past to the present - but this is simply because I'm a sucker for historical fiction. Both narratives work well together, and share one common character in Rosemary Bailey. Feisty and headstrong in her youth, not much has changed when Abbey tracks her down decades later. I didn't know right up until the last few pages how the story was going to end, and when I got there it was just perfect!

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Last Kiss Goodbye; I loved it so much that I passed it on to my mum to read, and she couldn't put it down!

*Thanks to Bookbridgr for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Review: Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley

This year I'm delighted to be a part of Quercus Books' summer reading scheme #QuercusSummer. The first book I was sent to read was the beautiful Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley.

The cows certainly enjoyed it!

Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he's the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro's army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her? 

England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother's untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulderto cry on - Grace's career is in flux, she isn't sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she's begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a Cuban born magician but even he can't make Grace's problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family's happiness?

I've never read any books set in Cuba before, nor have I read anything by Rosanna Ley, so it was refreshing to read something different. The majority of the novel follows three women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways: Grace, her Cuban born stepmother Elisa, and Rosalyn, mother to Elisa's first love Duardo. Sometimes novels with time jumps/multiple viewpoints don't work for me, but although this one had both I found it easy to follow the different strands of the narrative and piece everything together as the story swept me along.

The thing that really sold this novel to me was the settings. I've never been to Cuba (or Bristol for that matter), and yet I could picture the dust and heat vividly. The colours, the food, the friendly atmosphere, right down to the country's political history Rosanna has really done her research and it shows. I almost feel as if I have taken a holiday there myself!

There's one quote towards the end of the book that I think about sums it up: 'life was not a romantic novel; life always had a few surprises in store'. Life can change with one look, one dance, one turn of a card, and things will never be the same again.

*Thanks to Quercus Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review! #QuercusSummer*

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Review: The Revelations of Carey Ravine by Debra Daley

London in the 1770s is bursting with opportunity. It's a city fuelled by new ideas and new money, where everything is for sale - including entrée into the ruling class.

Making their way in this buccaneering society are Carey Ravine, a spirited young woman of enigmatic background, and her husband, the charming, endlessly enterprising Oliver Nash. Carey and Nash share a historic connection to India and a desperate ambition to better themselves. But as Nash's plans draw them into a restless association of gamblers and secret societies, Carey begins to question what's really hidden behind the seedy glamour of their lives. Her unease grows with the appearance of a mysterious man whose appearance unearths a troubling secret from the past. Carey finds herself forced to investigate the truth behind the stranger's claims­­ - and to confront her own illusions about herself.


It's refreshing to read a novel in this historical fiction genre centred around a married couple, albeit an unconventional one. As Carey and Nash navigate the trials and tribulations of married life, and of London, you soon become aware that in this society money and influence are everything. Carey is a great narrator. She is moral yet determined, and from the little we learn about her tragic backstory she deserves a good life. It's easy to see how Carey fell for Nash. Handsome, charming, and a chancer he is also determined, but his morals aren't quite so clear cut. The novel's settings are very well described, from the hustle and bustle of London - and the surprisingly debauched parties - to the languid heat of India. I was soon drawn into Carey's story and interested to know how it would end. I would also have been interested to find out what became of Hayle and his associates back in London.

The story is very well written, but beware of some unusual vocabulary - even as an English graduate I needed a dictionary at times! Then again it is nice to be challenged occasionally. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from Debra Daley!

**Thanks to Olivia Mead at Quercus for sending me copy of this book in exchange for a review!**

Review: Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

When your destiny lies far from where you began …

Scotland 1072

The Norman Conqueror robbed Steinar of Talisand of his noble father and his lands, forcing him to flee to Scotland while still recovering from a devastating wound. At the royal court, Steinar becomes scribe to the unlettered King of Scots while secretly regaining his skill with a sword.

The first time Steinar glimpses the flame-haired maiden, Catrìona of the Vale of Leven, he is drawn to her spirited beauty. She does not fit among the ladies who serve the devout queen. Not pious, not obedient and not given to stitchery, the firebrand flies a falcon! Though Catrìona captures Steinar’s attention, he is only a scribe and she is promised to another.

Catrìona has come to Malcolm’s court wounded in spirit from the vicious attack on her home by Northmen who slayed her parents and her people. But that is not all she will suffer. The man she thought to wed will soon betray her.

When all is lost, what hope is there for love? Can a broken heart be mended? Can a damaged soul be healed?

A new Regan Walker novel is always a treat. Packed with just the right blend of action, adventure and romance it never takes long before I'm hooked and racing through the pages to find out what happens. I have loved her Medieval Warriors series so far, and happily Rebel Warrior is no exception.

Medieval romance has to be one of my favourite genres of fiction. The costumes, the language, the castles, the noble heroes - it's the ultimate escapism and a world that I love to immerse myself in. Catriona made for a feisty and very likeable female protagonist, and Steinar was just a big softie under his warrior exterior. There's palpable chemistry from the moment they first set eyes on each other, and their bond only grows stronger with all the obstacles thrown their way. I adored little Giric too; he was a wonderful addition to the story and I would love to read more about him as an adult one day!

One thing that I love about Regan's work is how each character, no matter how minor, has an important role in the story. For example, in the case of this story Queen Margaret has many ladies, and yet we are introduced toeach of them in turn. This makes the characters more realistic somehow and makes the reader interested to find out what happens to them all. This book isn't just about Catriona and Steinar, it's also about the life and loves of the other characters.

Regan's stories are always impeccably researched, and this comes across in her writing. From the vast and colourful royal banqueting hall to the barren and Northman ravaged countryside, it's all so well described that you can picture it vividly. I was particularly interested to read the Author's Notes at the end - although the story is grounded in fiction there are some surprising links with real history!

**Thanks to Regan Walker for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review!**

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Same book, different cover.

Have you ever bought a book you've already read, just because it has a nice cover? Or, even worse, have you got multiple copies of the same book just because they have different covers? I'm guilty of both of these crimes and need reassurance that I'm not the only one!

This post was inspired by the paperback version of Anthony Horowitz's James Bond novel Trigger Mortis. I first read it last October when it came out in hardback (I reserved it at my local library to make sure I was one of the first to read it). I was pretty good, I enjoyed it, but promptly forgot about it. Until I spotted this beauty on my local supermarket shelf:

I picked it up and stared longingly at it before reluctantly putting it back. But I have a feeling it won't be long before it's on my bookshelf. 

You know the story inside will be exactly the same as the last time you read it, and that you probably won't even read it again for at least a couple of years, and yet you still want it. Because of the cover.

Similarly, but perhaps even more ridiculous, is that I own two copies of J.M Barrie's Peter Pan. I had the basic but still in perfect condition Wordsworth Classics edition that I studied at university, but during a temp job at a well known chain of UK bookshops I fell in love with the Puffin Chalk edition.

We only had one copy in stock, and I spent my shifts praying that no one would buy it. On my last day I caved and bought it for myself. I haven't even read it yet, but I do pick it up and look at it more often than I care to admit.

So time to 'fess up. Please tell me I'm not the only one so easily sold on beautiful covers! 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Review: The Storms of War / The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams

The de Witt family saga is a series of books by the acclaimed historian Kate Williams. Likened to Downton Abbey and Atonement the first two novels in the trilogy (the third is yet to come) follow the de Witt family, German of origin now living in England, detailing their experiences during the Great War, and its subsequent aftermath.

The Storms of War

In the idyllic early summer of 1914, life is good for the de Witt family. Rudolf and Verena are planning the wedding of their daughter, Emmeline, while their eldest son Arthur is studying in Paris and Tom is just back from his first term at Cambridge. Celia, the youngest of the de Witt children, is on the brink of adulthood, and secretly dreams of escaping her carefully mapped out future and exploring the world.

But the onslaught of war changes everything and soon the de Witts find themselves sidelined and in danger of losing everything they hold dear. As Celia struggles to make sense of the changing world around her, she lies about her age to join the war effort and finds herself embroiled in a complex plot that puts her and those she loves in danger.

With gripping detail and brilliant empathy, Kate Williams tells the story of Celia and her family as they are shunned by a society that previously embraced them, torn apart by sorrow, and buffeted and changed by the storms of war.  

The First World War is a period of history that I find fascinating, and The Storms of War serves to feed that fascination. It's incredibly detailed - from the horror of war to the decline of the aristocracy Kate Williams' experience as a historian shines through. However, in terms of characterisation I really didn't feel for any of the characters. The only one I felt any kind of empathy for was Michael and I wish we'd had a few more chapters from his perspective. The main protagonist is Celia, youngest of the De Witt family. Although the majority of the story is told from her perspective I couldn't help but find her a little selfish, and very naive for her age. I know she was only seventeen, but ambulance driving aside she could just as easily have been twelve. The relationship between her and Tom was an odd one - I initially got a sort of Dickon/Mary from the Secret Garden vibe from them - but of course war changes everything and by the end of the novel I was left wondering whether they would ever work things out. The Storms of War is a compelling narrative packed with historical detail - war was a storm to be weathered and no one emerges unscathed.

The Edge of the Fall

In the aftermath of the Great War, the de Witt family are struggling to piece together the shattered fragments of their lives.

Rudolf and his wife Verena, still reeling from the loss of their second son, don't know how to function in the post-war world. Stoneythorpe Hall has become an empty shell with no servants to ensure its upkeep.

Celia, the de Witt's youngest daughter, is still desperate to spread her wings and see more of the world. To escape Stoneythorpe and the painful secrets that lie there, she moves to London and embraces life and love in the Roaring Twenties
Eager to find out what happened to Celia and her family next, I dived straight into the sequel The Edge of the Fall. Again there is plenty of detail, and I learnt about things I never knew before despite my history degree (such as the creepy porcelain masks scarred veterans were made to wear). Like the latter episodes of Downton - which this series is continually likened to - war is over, the skirts are shorter and we're hurtling into the 1920s. Yet again though I cared little for Celia. She's so passive, spending her time worrying and complaining - just letting things happen to her. Her cousin Louisa isn't much better. The narrative I enjoyed the most was that from the perspective of the tormented Arthur, the one who eventually gives us the truth about what happened to Lousia. Characters aside the plot of this novel is really well thought out, packed with twists and surprises. I have to admit that I committed the most grievous of reading sins at one point - I was so worried about the fate of one particular character that i just had to read ahead! There were plenty of loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of this novel to leave me eagerly anticipating the next installment of the De Witt family saga. Don't leave me hanging too long Kate!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

Here's a confession - I actively avoid hyped novels. They rarely live up to expectation, and the more a book is pushed at me, the less inclined I am to read it. That said, when I spotted Disclaimer on the shelf of my local library I was

1) Very surprised that it hadn't been snatched up/reserved - I'd assumed the waiting list was a mile long!

2) Torn between leaving it on principle, or picking it up to see what all the fuss was about.

Suffice to say I chose the latter.

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Imagine if the next thriller you opened was all about you.

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is horrified to realize she is a key character, a main player.

This story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…

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Disclaimer was nothing like I expected it to be. But then, I'm not entirely sure what I actually expected. I write reviews that are spoiler free and so I can't say much without giving plot points away, but what I can say is that I was gripped from the start. This novel is packed with twists and turns, and the contrasting views of Catherine and the author of The Perfect Stranger - the fictional book detailing her darkest secret- serve to muddle the reader's head even more. As Catherine grows increasingly anxious and hysterical it is difficult to know who to believe and it is frustrating that she won't reveal the truth until the very end - even to the reader. I devoured this book in one sitting. It draws you in and won't let you go until you know what really happened in the summer of 1993.

Sometimes books do live up to the hype.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Review: The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

A few weeks ago I was kindly sent a proof copy of Kate Riordan's The Shadow Hour to review. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went to my local library and checked out her first novel The Girl in the Photograph.

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When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts – none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton, whose only trace remains in a few tantalizingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?

As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph – and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth's ... 

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I said in my previous review that Riordan's latest novel The Shadow Hour is atmospheric, well this is even more so! More than once I regretted reading it right before I settled down to sleep. As seems to be Riordan's style there is a dual narrative split between Alice Everleigh - a young woman sent to Fiercombe Manor under the guise of a widower after an affair with a married man - and Elizabeth Stanton, a previous lady of the manor whose presence seems to haunt every aspect of Alice's time there.

The one character both narratives have in common is Edith Jelphs, once Elizabeth's ladies maid, now housekeeper and sole occupant of Fiercombe. She, along with gardener and groundsman Ruck, seem peculiarly concerned and fearful for Alice's welfare, which only to make her more curious about Elizabeth's story and the dark secrets the manor has to hide. Alice is a particularly apt name for our protagonist; like her famous namesake she is thrown into a Wonderland - a world away from the hustle and bustle of London - where every character has their secrets and a story lurks behind every door.

The intense summer heat serves to heighten the tension, and you get the distinct impression that when the storm finally breaks past and present will collide and the truth will out. Kate Riordan is a very talented writer, and I felt as if I was with Alice throughout her journey. I was beginning to wonder if poor Alice would get another love interest, she certainly deserved one, and then along comes Tom! Heir to the Fiercombe estate with a tragic past of his own he and Alice quickly bond - and I was willing from the moment he appeared that they would somehow end up together despite their very different backgrounds. The main subject of this novel, without giving too mcuh away, is the troubling attitude that men used to have towards postnatal depression and female 'hysteria'. It's stories like this that make me glad I don't live in those times! Male ownership of women is another topic touched upon, and it's odd to think that it's barely one hundred years since attitudes were so archaic.

4/5 stars: Difficult subject matter tied into a richly atmospheric narrative. Kate Riordan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review: The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

I had previously read and enjoyed Lousie Candlish's previous novel The Sudden Departure of the Frasers. So when Lovereading offered up review copies of her lastest novel The Swimming Pool I jumped at the chance. The day it arrived, if you'll pardon the pun, I dived right in.

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 The swimming pool: a perfect stage. In the heady swelter of a London summer, the Elm Hill lido opens. For teacher Natalie Steele, the school holiday typically means weeks of carefully planned activities with her husband Ed and their daughter Molly. But not this year. Despite Molly's extreme phobia of the water, Natalie is drawn to the lido and its dazzling social scene, led by the glamorous Lara Channing. Soon Natalie is spending long, intoxicating days with Lara at the pool - and intimate evenings at her home. Natalie's real life begins to feel very far away. But is the new friendship everything it seems? Why is Natalie haunted by memories from another summer years ago? And, without realising, has she been swept dangerously out of her depth?

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When a book keeps you up until 2.30am you know it's a good'un. Once I really got into this I couldn't put it down. The whole novel has a seductive atomsphere that draws the reader in as much as Natalie is drawn to Lara. As the summer wears on towards its inevitable end, so does the story - and the tension really ramps up as the novel nears its conclusion. There are a lot of time jumps in this novel, from the present day, to the recent past, to Natalie's youth, and there's even a flashforward at the end. Personally I found that this approach worked really well and I easily kept track of what was happening. Throughout the course of the novel we are drip fed information within each of the timeframes, until we eventually begin to see the bigger picture - although I certainly didn't see the big twist(s) coming. I didn't actually like any of the characters - I think that's maybe the point - and a lot of the time I wasn't sure who's side I was supposed to be on. Just as you think you have events - or characters - sussed along comes another twist that completely changes your perspective, and I was kept guessing right up until the last few pages.

The epilogue, which was brilliantly done, serves not only to highlight how different viewpoints of the same events can be, but also brings home the fact that the centre of the novel is the relationship between teenagers and their parents, and how the need to be popular and liked is something that we never really grow out of. The whole story was very cleverly plotted and put together, and made for compelling reading. 4/5 stars.

*Thanks to LoveReading who sent me an advance-read copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Review: The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish

I was looking through my review notebook (which in reality is an old notepad full of jumbled ideas and half-asleep handwriting), and found a handful of short reviews, some of which are only a few sentences, that have yet to see the light of day. Life has been getting in the way of blogging lately for me, so writing up these  thoughts on a few books seems like a good way to get back into the swing of things.

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My name is Amber Fraser. I've just moved in at Number 40, Lime Park Road. You'll come to think of me as a loving wife, a thoughtful neighbour and a trusted friend.

This is a lie.

When Christy and Joe Davenport are handed the keys to Number 40 on picture-perfect Lime Park Road, Christy knows it should be a dream come true. How strange though that the house was on the market for such a low price. That the previous owners, the Frasers, had renovated the entire property yet moved out within a year. That none of the neighbours will talk to Christy.

As her curiosity begins to give way to obsession, Christy finds herself drawn deeper into the mystery of the house's previous occupants - and the dark and shocking secret
that tore the street apart . . .

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I had been wanting to read this for ages, and while it didn't quite live up to expectation I still enjoyed it. I found the parts of the story told from Amber's perspective much more engaging than Christy's - most likely because they are written in the first person. As Christy becomes increasingly frustrated about not knowing what happened to Amber I was beginning to feel the same - right up until the truth was revealed I wasn't even sure myself! It's not exactly suspense packed but it contains enough of a hook to keep you reading - even if I didn't actually like any of the characters (although I suspect this is intentional). What I do love is Louise Candlish's writing style - she excels at drawing the reader in and keeping them guessing righ until the very end.

3/5 stars: The dark side of suburbia.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Review: Kate Riordan - The Shadow Hour

*Thanks to Francesca Russell at Penguin Random House for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

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Harriet Jenner is just twenty-one when she walks through the gates of Fenix House. Reeling from a personal tragedy, she doesn't expect her new life as a governess to be easy. But she certainly does not foresee the spell Fenix House will cast.

Almost fifty years later, Harriet's granddaughter Grace follows in her footsteps. For Grace, raised on Harriet's spellbinding stories, Fenix House is a fairy tale; a magical place suspended in time.

But the now-faded grandeur of the mansion soon begins to reveal the holes in Harriet's story and Grace finds herself in a place of secrets and shadows. For Fenix House hides truths about her family, and everything that she once knew is about to change...

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The plot of this novel instantly appealed to me - I'm a sucker for a crumbling ancestral home full of secrets. The governess theme invariably draws comparisons with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - a novel which is actually referenced a number of times throughout the course of the book - but Fenix House hides far more than a mad wife in the attic.

Dual narrative plots don't always work for me, but this one drew me right in and it's tricky to say whose narrative I preferred - just as I was getting into Grace's story it would switch to Harriet's. The first and third person narrations make it easy to determine whose story we are in, and looking back on it there are so many subtle hints interwoven in the plot that come into play in the final chapters. The whole thing is very cleverly plotted and put together. The novel progresses slowly as we are essentially drip-fed information and begin to piece together what's happened - then all of a sudden it picks up the pace to the point where I couldn't put it down! Thanks to the dual narrative we are a few steps ahead of Grace in figuring out what happened to Harriet, and I had a couple of theories as to how both narratives might end - neither of which were accurate.

Kate's writing style and attention to detail made for an absorbing and atmospheric read. I found I could easily picture the house and grounds as if I were looking at photographs of it! By the end I was sad to leave Fenix House (a character in itself) and its inhabitants, and although all of the loose ends of the past were neatly tied up, I was left with questions as to the future of all of the characters - particularly Grace, David and Agnes (as it seemed that the family were on the brink of discovering her secret). My favourite character though has to be dear Bertie, who never had anything but the best of intentions in everything he did - oddly enough both the younger and older incarnations of his character reminded me of an eager puppy/dog.

5/5 stars: I've not read any of Kate Riordan's previous work, but I enjoyed this one so much that I have already started reading her previous novel The Girl in the Photograph, and am loving that so far too.