Review of The Bell Tower By Sarah Rayne (Nell West #6) – 4 Stars

The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery (Nell West/Michael Flint, #6)The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #6 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “Deadlight Hall”. In this story, Nell returns as the primary character with Michael returning to the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive. Returning to Nell’s perspective as a primary character gave this story a new refreshing take and also allowed Nell as a character to really develop more. It was also interesting that Nell’s daughter Beth featured a bit more in this story and is a little more grown up in this book. Great use of character progression.

In this story, Nell has bought the shop next door and is working on and extension. When some old plaster is removed Nell finds a hidden message on the wall referring to someone called Thaisa. This leads Neil on a chain of discovery where she uncovers a link with a village in Dorset (where her daughter is holidaying this summer), a mysterious piece of music called Thaisia’s song and a derelict bell tower with a silenced bell. The story is told from a variety of historical sources and also from the view of an old woman living the life of a recluse. She is desperate to protect her family’s secrets at all costs.

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book. I think there was a little less mystery than others in this series and this was quite a dark storyline. I do like that Rayne still experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.
I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. The books are well written and well plotted and the historical details are always interesting.
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Review of With Deadly Intent by K.A. Richardson – 4 Stars

I was very lucky to discover this author at a local writers talk at

KA Richardson - Book Signing

Image of K.A. Richardson with her debut novel and novella.

my library. Her passionate for her story-telling came across immediately. Not to mention the fact that she has actually worked in the local crime units described in the book, so her credentials for crime drama are superb. I knew immediately that I had to read her novels and I was not disappointed.

 

This story follows three characters:

  • Cass a crime scene manager for the North East police force, who along with some awful murders has her own personal traumas to deal with. Shutting herself off from the world and creating her own isolation comes with some very big risks.
  • Alex, DCI on the murder investigation. Alex grows increasingly frustrated with the case and lack of sufficient evidence linking the victims. Alex also finds a conflict of emotions when he discovers he has feelings for the slightly odd, very private Cass.
  • The Killer. The author allows brief looks into the killer’s world and his patient observational hunt, prior to the murders.

I enjoyed the authors writing style in this novel, especially the dialogue it is very well written and doesn’t rely on heavy accents as some stories do to represent regional areas.

My only slight (and it is slight) complaint was the introduction of Alex’s brother, it felt unnecessary to introduce the character at a late stage, it was maybe to get out of the tricky situation or to introduce him for any future novels but for me it didn’t quite sit right for some reason. That being said it didn’t detract too much from the rest of the story which is very fluid and very enjoyable.

Readers of any crime novel will really enjoy these books. The use of a crime scene manager gives this novel a really unique perspective, which makes it stand out in the genre. The closest in author style that I have read is Karin Slaughters Grant County series (medical examiner with a police officer) but it’s quite nice to come across something different written like that (with a slant on the police team).4 stars

Summary – A very enjoyable read, and a fresh take in the crime genre. I am looking forward to reading more from this exciting new author.

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Book Review of The Ritual by Adam Nevill – 4 Stars

The RitualThe Ritual by Adam Nevill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric book about four old university friends who begrudgingly take a trip together to go hiking and camping in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. The story is told from the viewpoint of Luke, who is looking forward to a trip with his old friend Hutch. Frustratingly Hutch invites two additional friends from the group Phil and Dom onto the trip. Immediately tensions have risen as Luke begins to analyse the friendships and the differences in each of their lives soon coming to the realisation they have little left in common. Eager to get the trip over and with the poor fitness level of Phil and Dom hindering progress, the group soon decide a shortcut is the best solution. Quickly the men are lost, isolated and terrified as the forest begins to unveil its strange secrets to the group.
This novel is very intriguing from the first page, and the old folklore of the forests is quite addictive. Nevill really ramps up the tension throughout and the forest atmosphere and “abandoned” building as a backdrop really help add to this. I did enjoy some of the challenges the group came across more than others but I did enjoy the overall story that was woven together. I think this book has such vivid story-telling it really could be a movie or even a TV series (although a heads up there is an odd gory scene but I do think it adds to the story unlike some other horrors).
Characterisation for me was the foundation of this novel. From the off the main character is a bit selfish, a bit irritating and quite ‘unfriendly’ despite being on holiday with friends. Yet you still feel sympathy for him, and his frustrations and of course his fear. You also sympathise for Hutch, playing peacekeeper of the group. You want the group to get out of the forest safe, yet you also want to find out what is after them.
A really great read that is certainly full of intrigue, horror and the unexpected. As other reviewers have said the first half of the book is so much stronger and scarier than the second, but I wouldn’t let this put you off as the second half of the story is still very good, it’s just that the first half is superb.
Very creepy book, along the lines of something James Herbert would write for those that enjoy his work.
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Review of Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella – 4 Stars

Can You Keep a Secret?Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the summary describes, Emma is a nervous flyer, when she gets on a very turbulent flight, she anxiously spills all her secrets to the passenger next to her. With relief she gets off the plane and tries to forget it ever happened, only to find out that the man she divulged her deepest darkest secrets to… is the boss of the company she works for. However, far from being put off by Emma’s outbursts he seems to take delight in being in her company and if he can make a little statement that Emma knows is directed at one of her little black lies, even more joyful for him. Can Emma recover from the embarrassment and compose herself to work alongside him? Only time will tell.
This book follows Sophie Kinsella’s quirky playful writing style and what the story lacks in storyline, it does make up for in sarcasm, and that strange delight in watching it go wrong for our heroine. In classic rom-com Bridget-jones-style-humour, you really do wonder if she can get any more embarrassed. Yet that is also the book’s main attraction, our heroine gets up, dusts herself off (or I should say powers through the blushing statement) and just waits until the next embarrassment takes hold.
I wasn’t overly fond of Emma as a character, she does tend to strike you as a bit of a bimbo rather than someone who just happens to be that unlucky. Still, that makes it easier when stuff doesn’t quite go her way. By the end of the book though you are willing her to get her happily ever after.
My overall opinion is this isn’t as good as the shopaholic series, those storylines are better and the characters in it are a little more fun. However this really isn’t a bad book, I did enjoy it, a very light, fun and easy read.
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Review of Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd – 4 stars

Savage MagicSavage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction novel set in Georgian-era Britain. Savage Magic is told from several viewpoints but mainly that of Constable Charles Horton. The book gripped me early on with a brutal and bizarre multiple murder investigation in an aristocratic area of London. Several of London’s elite are found together dead with bizarre masks covering the face, only the room is locked from the inside with no way for an intruder to escape. With plenty of questions but few clues and answers the police are left stumped.

We follow Constable Charles Horton who has travelled to a small village that is surrounded by fear and folklore. Charles has the difficult job of unravelling the truth from the tall tales told at Thorpe Lee House and are the events connected to the brutal killings of aristocracy in London?

Savage magic also follows the story of Abigail (Horton’s wife) who has checked herself into a Hackney Madhouse with the hope of stopping the lady in her head. Instead of escaping the torture Abigail finds herself in the cell next to a woman that seemingly can control the minds of those around her.

In a tale of sweeping madness, can Charles and Abigail believe what is really happening before them and connect the pieces together in this large magical historical puzzle?
Shepherd’s characters really help drive this puzzling story forward. He weaves a lot of themes into this story including madness, murder, remote villages, prostitution, and witchcraft, using his skills to keep the reader guessing.

This is such an unusual novel, I have noticed that it is actually the third from Shepherd with the others featuring some of the same characters but I read it purely as a standalone and it didn’t detract from the story or need background filling in.

I would recommend this book for readers of Phil Rickman or similar. Historical fiction with a hint of other (very big hint in this case). I would also recommend if readers enjoy this type of novel to check out The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker, a great book in this genre.

Summary
The Good – Great plot, unusual story and characters with a great mix of settings too.
The Bad – A little slow in places as other reviewers have said, but overall worth continuing.

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For a quick look at my review for The Witch of Napoli – visit here.

Review of The Guardians by Andrew Pyper – 4 Stars

The GuardiansThe Guardians by Andrew Pyper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor, Randy and Carl return to the small town they grew up in for the funeral of their friend Ben. They are surprised to find that Ben had become a recluse after they left town and spent most of his time watching over “Thurman House”. The house brings back tortured memories for the boys and they find themselves struggling over whether to confront their past or not, but after another friend goes missing the past can no longer stay hidden.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Trevor and his Dictaphone diary entries with occasional flashbacks to the boys’ childhood. This captures the story really well and Andrew manages to weave a lot of subtler subplots into the story, which really kept the suspense on top form. Trevor is a very likeable character. His journey to discover whether the house is haunted or if it’s all just his imagination brings out the strengths and flaws in his personality, but underlying throughout the difficult situation is his brotherhood “in-it-together-no-matter-what-happens” attitude.

Other reviewers have suggested this is similar to Stephen Kings writing and while at some of the more suspense-driven parts I can see this, for me it wasn’t scary. It wasn’t really a horror, the plot certainly had darker elements but there was very little fear factor. However, I enjoyed the mystery of the novel, and the friendships and relationships throughout.

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I would have preferred this book to be a little scarier (to be put in the same category as a Stephen King/James Herbert style horror) but it was an enjoyable read and I will look out for more works by Andrew Pyper.

Review of Two Strangers by Beryl Matthews – 4 Stars

Two Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s LondonTwo Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s London by Beryl Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is set in London after the First World War. Vicki is a troubled teenager who has had a very poor upbringing with a mean father who never wanted a daughter and a continuously pregnant mother who keeps desperately trying to provide the much sought after son. When her father tries to send Vicki to work for an untrustworthy man, Vicki refuses. Her father responds by throwing her out on the streets. Vicki struggles for survival but at the two points when she is lowest she meets two strangers who offer her the much-needed help she needs. These fortunes turn Vicki’s life around and she soon starts to have a life that is better than she ever dreamed possible. Her heart never forgets the kind gestures of the strangers and she sets on a mission to find them.

This book is a really easy read, at quite a slow pace. It’s not a fast-paced high drama kind of book but enough to keep you interested. The story grows and develops along at a steady pace, almost like a diary.

The descriptions of the City in this book are superb. The author really takes you back in time, and captures big city hustle and bustle, with the markets, abandoned warehouses and the traditional barbers all incredibly vivid.

Vicki is a very likeable character, smart but vulnerable, headstrong but humble. She easily pulls you into her world and her quest to find her two strangers. Some of the other characters such as Flo and Alfie are also very heart-warming and you do find yourself hoping everything turns out okay for them all.

This book is very easy to read and is very slow paced. It would suit those that like Linda Page, Jessica Blair, M.L. Gardner or similar.

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