paranormal romance · PNR · REVIEW TIME · Reviews

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J Pryor

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Leila McKay is both blessed and cursed. Her potent serryn powers are growing stronger, but they come with a heavy price. And to prove her love for vampire leader Caleb, she needs to bring his murdered brother Jake back to life. The only way is to cast a spell no one has dared to attempt before, that could tear apart the fabric of time itself…

But Caleb fears that treachery runs deep in Leila’s veins. Although the heat between them grows hotter by the second, Caleb’s past has left him with a hard heart and a mistrustful nature, and it was at her sister’s hands that Jake was killed… but with his brother’s life in the balance, giving in to his primal instincts is more tempting than ever.

Time is running out for Caleb. In a matter of hours, Jake will be past the point of saving: and around them, all-out war rages in Blackthorn. With genetically modified lycans and vicious convicts roaming the streets, Sirius Throme at the Global Council has secret plans that threaten to devastate the whole district… and Leila is the only one powerful enough to save them all. But can Caleb really trust her?

With countless lives at stake, will Leila and Caleb’s fierce attraction be strong enough to see them through the ultimate test? Or in unleashing the darkness within, will they destroy everything they hold dear? 

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It’s fair to say that I’ve been waiting for the last in the Blackthorn series with a bundle of mixed emotions. Any long-term readers of my blog will know that I’ve been a huge fan of this series from the start and have always looked forward to each and every book with nothing but a hefty dose of excitement and anticipation.

When I first discovered Lindsay’s debut novel, Blood Shadows, back in 2012, it felt right up my street. Fresh off a wave of American writers such as Anne Rice, J.R Ward, Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, it was refreshing to find a British writer of urban fantasy whose talent could rival that of my favourite authors, but who also brought different qualities to the table that could only come from a British voice. Blood Shadows was voraciously consumed and that was it: I was hooked.

I adored the world-building, and couldn’t get enough of the gritty, dangerous back alleys of Blackthorn and of the darkness that seemed to lurk around every corner. I adored the complexities of each third species and how they connected (although many of the connections were not revealed instantly, more drip-fed throughout). Lindsay has always worked on a tried and tested formula similar to that of many of her peers, focusing each book on a new character coupling – and sparking that ever inevitable discussion of which team you’re on and who’s your favourite (don’t even get me started on how many times I changed my mind!) – and as we have progressed through the series, I’ve adored (and been in awe of) how the individual character stories have come together, weaving into a far more complex web of plot than could have ever been predicted at the beginning of my Blackthorn journey.

Almost seven years down the line and each book has brought a sense of anticipation that no other book series has. Truth be told, I don’t get anywhere close as excited to hear of a book release as I do when I know another Blackthorn novel is on its way, so of course, now that book 8, Blood Broken is finally here, while I was just as excited as all the times before (if not, more so), I also dreaded it a little, because, quite frankly, I hadn’t realised just how much I didn’t want this series to end. 

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One of the most beautiful things about a series like Blackthorn is just how invested we as readers become in every character, every plot thread, every small detail. Books like these become a big part of our lives, whether just for the few hours it takes for us to read them (and re-read them), or whether we take those stories with us afterwards, allowing the characters to stay with us as we deliberate what might become of them in the next part of the story.

When stories are this powerful, it’s just so damn hard to say goodbye. 

Of course, there are some that will say that you never truly say goodbye to a book series when you love it that much, because there’s always the opportunity to go back and read again from the beginning and I will certainly be doing just that, because it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Blood Broken, and I already miss my Blackthorn babies. Sadly, there won’t be the WTF moments from the first time round, but it will be wonderful to go back and feel the familiarity of characters I have come to adore as some of my all-time faves.

Now, this is where it gets difficult reviewing a final instalment of an 8-book series that you love. How can you possibly sum up everything you want to say and feel like you’ve done it justice? In all honesty, I’m not sure that I will be able to.

I’ve touched a little on the complexity of the individual character threads above, but for me, the way all the books were woven together was one of the truly outstanding achievements of the finale. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be, when you’ve focused mainly on one couple for each book, to then bring all of the characters together and not make some of them fade into the background, but somehow, Lindsay manages to make each one shine. Undoubtedly, Blood Broken is ultimately Caleb and Leila’s story, but every single character we have come to love (or hate) plays such a huge part, that none were ever diminished in any way whatsoever. This left me in total awe and added hugely to the pace of the novel, to the point where it felt like one incredible rollercoaster ride that was unrelenting and exciting and nail-biting to the very end. It’s rare to find a book that doesn’t have some ‘slower, perhaps less engaging’ scenes – that always seems sort of inevitable to me – but Blood Broken never tired for a second and it definitely had many of those WTF moments I spoke of earlier, and definitely contained the biggest WTF moment of the entire series (no spoilers!) that left my jaw on the floor and my heart spilling out of my mouth.

I’ve talked in previous reviews about Lindsay’s ability to keep the story unpredictable, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you already know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to get excited about a story where only one outcome is inevitable. As readers, we need unpredictability. We need to be kept on the edge of our seats. We need to torture ourselves with a hundred different possibilities, because we’re all just weird little masochists at heart. Sometimes, we might get an inkling of what’s to come, but not once – and I genuinely mean that – not once did I ever see what Lindsay had in store for our Blackthorn babies. I think I stared at the page for a very long time, wondering WTF I had just read and wondering how the Hell I had never seen it coming. This is the kind of story-telling that makes my little reader heart a-flutter (and my little writer heart filled with jealous awe). I get such a kick out of being surprised by a story and Blood Broken definitely ticked ALL the boxes and then some.

It had everything we had come to expect from Blackthorn – adventure, action, romance, uber-hotness, dark twists and turns that kept me scrolling page after page.

By the end of this book, I was awe-struck, jubilantly punching the air, and sobbing (it’s the END, for goodness sake!!!) In fact, I sobbed that it was over for a good fifteen minutes, only then to realise there were epilogues (yes, people, EPILOGUES. PLURAL) and then I had to somehow gather myself together to read them, before sobbing again with joy and sadness and every other emotion you’re meant to feel when a series you adore has finally come to a close after seven years. For me, it really could not have been more perfect and I couldn’t have wished for a better ending.

With breath-taking, high-octane action, unpredictable story-telling and the plot twist to end ALL plot twists, Blood Broken is undoubtedly the crown jewel in Lindsay J Pryor’s urban fantasy masterpiece. This is a five out of five stellar fantasy book that deserves to be talked about for many years to come, and while I’m heart-broken to see it come to an end, I am so very glad that its been a part of my life for the past seven years.

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PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The Perfect Family by Shalini Boland

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‘Mummy, she’s gone…’

Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.

The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.

After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.

But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.

And she realises it’s only just beginning…

I always start reading Shalini’s books with a certain amount of apprehension, not because I think I won’t like it, because I know that within just a page or two, she’ll throw us into some horrible nightmare that’ll have me turning every page in anticipation.

The Perfect Family was no exception. I stayed up late to read as much as I could, then made myself late getting ready for work just so I could read another chapter and then I sat in the car outside the office just so I could finish it before I started work.

As always, I spent my whole time trying to work out which character was the villain of the story and was suspicious of practically everyone. Shalini has a knack of keeping the reader glued to every page, with situations that could be so real and I really do think it’s that which keeps you hooked – that sense of believable horror that these things could happen to you.

This was another fabulous page turner and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author. My only complaint is that I read it too quickly and didn’t want it to end!

A definite five out of five stars from me.

horror · REVIEW TIME

Review: The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

There’s nothing quite like receiving a £50 Amazon voucher. I mean, FREE BOOKS, right?

Gifted with the voucher and with money to burn, I headed to Amazon with no mission in mind, other than to find some great new reads that would captivate me and immediately, the first one I found was The Chalk Man, by C.J Tudor.

The cover itself is simple and striking, pitching a chalk-drawn hangman game against a stark black base, complete with fake chalk smudges, reminiscent of those games we used to play on pavements when we were kids, and I was instantly drawn to it.

At the time of buying, the Amazon posting was full of accolades from the national press, and since I bought it, it’s been updated with a fresh recommendation from the Horror Don himself, Stephen King, who said ‘If you like my stuff, you’ll like this.’ An exhilarating time for a debut author no doubt, and I read Tudor’s reaction to her hero King’s post on Twitter with a big smile on my face, in the same way I did when King also tweeted about Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.

Even without all this, I was already excited for this book from the blurb alone:

You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury . . . the fear that something or someone is watching you.

It began back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran – the Chalk Man.

He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun, until the chalk men led them to a body.

Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him, until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk, and a drawing of a figure.

Is history going to repeat itself?

Was it ever really over?

Will this game only end in the same way?

With Storm Emma in full effect in the UK and a ton of snow outside my house, what better way to spend a Saturday than fusing myself to the sofa with The Chalk Man, a hot chocolate and an endless supply of biscuits?

The result? I devoured everything, but nothing devoured was more enjoyable than the book itself, which is saying something because hot chocolate and biscuits would usually win hands down in any contest 😉

It’s 1986, and Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey and Nicky don’t have much to worry about other than where to hang out at the weekends, having to commit the ultimate faux-pas by wearing a bum-bag or what ride to go on at the fair. When the fair does come to town, however, bringing with it a horrific accident for Eddie to witness, plus a meeting with the mysterious new school teacher, Mr Halloran, events are set in motion that will change all of their lives forever.

The action moves back and forth from events in 1986 to 2016, where Eddie is now a teacher himself with a life that seems mostly grey around the edges, that is until his old school friend Mickey turns up at his door, with a plan to dredge up the past and write a book about the horrors of that eventful year of their childhood.

Back in 1986, what began as an innocent game of leaving secret messages for each other written in chalk, with their own codes and symbols, supposedly decipherable only by members of their own gang, soon takes a sinister turn when the same chalk drawings start mysteriously appearing at the scenes of crimes, culminating in the discovery of a dead body.

Years later, when the chalk men start appearing again, we discover that the gang, all now grown up and moved on from the traumas of their past, haven’t really moved on at all and Eddie is about to be thrown headfirst into a new nightmare of secrets, dead bodies and chalk drawings that terrify him.

Expertly weaving the past and present together, Tudor gives us (older readers) a nostalgic trip back to the 80’s, in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of King and with a kind of Stranger Things UK-style vibe, then flips us right back to 2016 where Eddie is being haunted by things real and not-so-real.

Seemingly unconnected happenings and events are revealed to have a connection after all, and stories within the story that might seem like background noise when reading and a device to draw us in and make it feel more real, soon become pertinent to the whole plot in a way that I never saw coming.

In The Chalk Man, every action has a consequence, and I loved the way how even the smallest, perhaps most innocent of decisions, had far-reaching consquences that sent waves rocking through the lives of these characters and the people around them.

Eddie, on paper (pardon the pun), perhaps doesn’t seem the most exciting of characters. Having remained in the town in which he grew up, he now works as a teacher in the local high school, has never married or had children, and has a rather tragic (by his own admission) crush on his much-younger lodger, Chloe. He looks after his mum’s cat when she goes on holiday (a cat which detests him) and he likes a drink with his mates Fat Gav (now wheelchair-bound) and Hoppo. Nothing too exciting about all of that, right?  But, I have to say, this is what I like about a good thriller: throwing a very normal, veering-on-the-grey-side kind of person into a situation which is anything but normal. In my opinion this just adds to the creep factor, because let’s face it, Eddie could be you or me, or your neighbour, or your teacher, or the bloke who sits in the corner at the pub every Sunday afternoon reading the paper and having a pint and we live every new horror with him, as if it was us.

Reading from Eddie’s POV, we’re thrown into the chaos that starts to overtake his life, wondering who he should trust, whether he’s about to meet a sticky fate at the hands of the Chalk Man, or whether what he’s experiencing is the collapse of his own reality. We start to look at everyone with a strong element of suspicion, trying to predict what horror might be lurking around every corner, and the path in which Tudor leads us, isn’t the one we imagined we would be on.

It was pretty clear to me a few chapters in that I wasn’t going to put this book down until I was done. I devoured page after page, desperate to solve the mystery and constantly getting it wrong every time I thought I’d worked it out, but I LOVE that in a book. This is a cleverly-constructed thriller with the right amount of twists (without being overkill) that kept me glued to the sofa and to the book all day. The creep-factor is tangible throughout without ever being OTT, and there’s no doubt I will NEVER look at a children’s chalk drawing in quite the same way ever again!

Five stars for this engaging, dark page-turner! 

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New Adult

REVIEW: DIRTY LYRICS BY LANA SKY

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I have to I admit that this isn’t my usual kind of read, I’m more of a paranormal/horror kind of girl, but having read Drain Me also by Lana Sky and loving her writing style, I was very intrigued to check out Dirty Lyrics too.

In short, I was hooked VERY quickly and not just because of the hot scenes (and trust me, they’re positively SCORCHING) but because it’s about time we had a heroine who isn’t your archetypal female MC.

Abby Newman is unashamedly sexy, feisty and can give anyone a run for their money in the confidence stakes. She knows exactly what she wants and how she’s going to get it – that is until country star Jason Daniels walks into her life and turns everything upside down. Usually taking the upper hand in all her relationships, music publicist Abby is knocked for six by the complex, brooding Jason who seems determined to persuade her to represent him.

I loved Abby and Jason and I also loved how this didn’t turn into one of those predictable romances, it was complicated and gritty and completely addictive and yeah it has those naughty scenes, but don’t be mistaken in thinking this is like every other ‘erotica’ out there. There’s a damn good concrete plot, intriguing three-dimensional characters and the writing is impeccable as I’ve come to expect from Lana Sky.

A thoroughly addictive five-star read – I can’t wait for the sequel!

paranormal romance

REVIEW: DATING THE UNDEAD BY JULIET LYONS

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Vampires in fiction have been given short-shrift in the post-Twilight years and perhaps in some cases, rightly so, but vampire PNR is still a favourite genre of mine, if the authors can do something slightly different and not wander down the path of well-trodden tropes.

Dating the Undead definitely brings us something new – it’s vampires for the Tinder generation, in a world where we know vampires exists and if the mood takes us, we can even hook up with one through dating website V-Dating.com.

Appropriately named Silver Harris, experiences her first kiss (and first bite) on New Year’s Eve with a mysterious Irish vamp and decides that V-Dating might just be the thing for her and who can blame her, because I think most women would definitely swipe right for male MC Logan Byrne!

As female MC’s go, Silver has a bucket full of sass, is unashamedly open about what she’s looking for in a man, and has the right amount of feistiness without becoming irritating – in short, she’s the heroine for the modern age. Logan is the cocky heart-throb who discovers WAY more than he was looking for, is more vulnerable than he lets on, and who knows he’s met his match with the sassy Silver.

A chance meeting on New Year’s Eve sets the ball in motion for what at first seems to be nothing but a few steamy encounters (okay, more than a few!) but soon transpires into something deeper (pardon the pun) and Silver and Logan discover they are connected in ways neither could have imagined.

Dating the Undead is a fun, hotter than hell read, with characters that I found instantly likeable. It has just the right amount of sauciness, a boat-load of action, and a sprinkle of romance that thankfully doesn’t make you want to up-chuck because of its saccharine sweetness. I enjoyed this immensely and whizzed through it in a day, not wanting to put it down.

If you’re looking for a vamp read that’s not heavy on the angst, and that might leave you needing a cold shower, this one is definitely for you. Highly recommended!