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 The Whispering by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #4) – 5 Stars

The Whispering: A haunted house mysteryThe Whispering: A haunted house mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #4 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Silence”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed this shift of perspective and think it brought some freshness to the Nell West stories.

This story follows Michael visiting a reclusive old lady Luisa Gilmore at Fosse House in Norfolk. After viewing her collection of papers the ill-fated Palestrina choir, a storm hits and Michael is forced to take refuge and stay the night at Fosse House. Something Luisa is not overly keen on him doing. When he spots a young man lurking on the grounds of the house things begin to take an even stranger turn.

The secondary historical storyline for me is more intriguing than the ghostly presence of the modern storyline. There are various historical threads but it mostly follows a young man’s story of the first world war and his discovery of the beautiful Palestrina choir in a Belgium Convent. His desire to free them from the impending forces heading their way.

This young man’s story and all the connecting weaving threads that Rayne puts in are just phenomenal and actually quite beautiful.

The setting of Fosse House and the remote isolation provides all the dark brooding atmosphere required for any ghost story. Yet, Rayne’s description of the war imprisonment camp for me provided the more intriguing settings and all the goings on there made me really root for the characters involved.

This is just a great story. It’s not all dark and ghostly. It’s not all mysterious and menacing. It’s just a really great, enjoyable, intriguing storyline. With lots of odd-shaped puzzle pieces that fit together very well by the time you reach the end.

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. 

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Review of The Silence by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #3)– 4 Stars

The SilenceThe Silence by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nell West returns in another historical mystery. In this novel Nell is invited to Stilter House to catalogue its contents. Nell takes her daughter Beth along with her as it was Beth’s deceased fathers childhood summer home. Immediately Nell gets entangled in uncovering the past and the truth about the mysterious Isobel Acton.
This story is the third in the Nell West series and differs from the previous Nell West novels in that the historical plot is mostly revealed through the use of old documents, letters, diaries and the odd newspaper cutting. I think this format worked really well and was very intriguing as a reader to follow.
For me, Rayne’s writing really shines during the historical timeline. Edmund and his relationship with his father is brilliantly described and very believable. The characters Jack and Samuel were also really interesting and how each character’s story knitted together was brilliantly tantalising right the way through the story.
As with all Sarah Rayne’s books I have read, the settings and atmosphere are excellently written and the reader can’t help but be absorbed into the dark and mysterious environments.
The only minor downside in this novel was the modern storyline takes a very minimalist approach with Nell only really being there to discover the historic story. I do think Nell and Michael are both really great characters and would have liked a little more of them in this book (particularly Michael who was so interesting in the Sin Eater).
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. As a few others have mentioned it did take a little longer to get into that previous books by Sarah Rayne but I think that was mostly due to the historic storyline being revealed in a different manner. Once you get into it though, it is really intriguing and I must say I really enjoyed the outcome.
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. 
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Review of The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne – 5 stars

The Sin EaterThe Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Nell West series by Sarah Rayne (Property of a Lady being the first) and whilst they still have the historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, they aren’t quite as dark and unnerving as her standalone novels (such as House of the Lost). I did make the mistake of not reading the stories in the correct order and whilst this doesn’t detract too much from the story as it’s quite strong on its own, I do wish I had read them in the correct order as I think the character development of Nell and Michael is such a good minor storyline and would have been better to have read it in the correct order.

In the modern storyline we go with antiques dealer Nell to a Large London house. We meet troubled Benedict Doyle who has inherited the house from his great-grandfather. Benedict finds the house the house disturbing and soon finds himself having troubled dreams featuring the previous occupant, but the events he is dreaming about seem so real. When these dream events are revealed to Michael Flint (Oxford Don who featured in the first novel), his interest is piqued and he starts to research the historical facts behind Benedict’s dreams.

The second storyline for me, made this novel and is why I’ve given it five stars. The story follows Declan and Colm whom move from their Irish home to London city and get caught up in a situation and a world that they never expected to find themselves in.

Other reviewers have complained that Rayne’s writing style has changed with the Nell West series and whilst I agree she has reduced a lot of the darker elements of her writing, I think if anything she has increased the mystery elements of these novels. The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, this one surrounds a chess piece yet it is so well written you cannot help but get swept up in the storyline.

I also think Rayne’s characters are evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Benedict; his mental condition and how he is suffering as he tries to split what is real from what is imaginary. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

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.

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Review of Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine – 5 stars

Sleeper’s CastleSleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andy has been shunned from the home of the man she loved by his estranged wife and seeks somewhere that she can mourn her lost love in peace and begin to put her life back together when her friend offers her Sleeper’s Castle a remote dwelling near the town of Hay it seems like the ideal place. However, Sleeper’s Castle has its own problems and soon through her dreams, Andy becomes caught up in the lives of bard Daffy dap Hywel and his talented daughter Catrin and the part they play in the Welsh Marches rebellion against Henry. Both frightened and addicted to the dreams Andy cannot help returning time and again to the world of Catrin. Soon, Andy finds someone in her present life also means her harm. Both her worlds are now dangerous and threatening, but she is so close to finding out the truth, can she resist the urge to see the story to the end?

This is Barbara Erskine’s second novel set in Hay. Her first one “Lady of Hay” (which recently celebrated its 30th birthday) is one of my all-time favourite books and I would recommend it to everyone to read. The characters just leapt off the page and I immediately got caught up in the historical world. For me, this is Erskine’s signature style; strong and complicated characters who won’t run away from the challenge in front (or should that be behind) of them. It was through reading Erskine’s novels that I fell in love with the historical fiction/time-slip genre.
Sleeper’s Castle doesn’t feel quite as good as those stories. There is very little hint of psychological fears in this book that you find in some of her others such as “House of Shadows”. However, the story-telling is still superb in this book – I just missed these little moments of tension which do appear more vividly in her other books.

I really want to give this book a 4.5 out of 5, as I think there are other books Erskine has written which will outshine this one, but that is probably mostly down to personal enjoyment of the story and if I had read this book on its own without having read her earlier work I would definitely have given it a 5 without concern.

So:
To new readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it.
To returning readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it but it doesn’t really feature the darker elements found in Erskine’s other works.

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My visit to Hay Festival 2016 to see Barbara ErskineBarbara Erskine
With 30 years novel-writing experience under her belt, Barbara’s talk was actually really inspiring as a novice writer so I thought I’d share a few of her thoughts on here with you (written from my notes).

Hope you enjoy. KL ❤

Review of Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels – 5 Stars

Confessions of a GPConfessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Benjamin Daniels takes us right off the pages this book and into his GP surgery. This book is a combination of fly on the wall to some of his daily patient gripes but also an honest reflection of how doctors feel about the situations they find themselves in all as part of their job.

The humour in this book is above all the best thing, scenes such as the young doctor declaring he knew how to “save” someone in a pizza shop (who turned out to just be incredibly intoxicated). There are also several moral dilemmas included in this book that Benjamin had to face – for example if you are called out to do a house-call on a convicted paedophile, how would you feel about helping him? These really got me thinking just what would I do in these types of situations.

Daniels writing style is really laid back and very easy to read and the book isn’t filled with loads of technical nonsense that only other doctors could understand. It is just an interesting account of all the goings on a young doctor goes through while finding his feet in the medical industry. It feels very honest and pragmatic approach to the topics, patients and experiences.

As you can probably tell I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I passed it onto my husband who very rarely would read something like this, he also read it and really enjoyed it.

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Review of How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst – 5 Stars

How I Lost YouHow I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I even opened this book I was hooked, of all the taglines I have seen this has got to be one of the best – “They told her she killed her baby, She served her time, What if they lied?”
This book is about a woman named Susan Webster who is accused of killing her baby Dylan whilst suffering from terrible post-partum depression. Susan has no recollection of the incident but all those around her; doctors, police & even her husband tell her she has done this terrible crime. When she gets out of prison and starts her new life as Emma she receives a photo of a small child claiming to be Dylan. Throwing her fresh start out the window Susan (with some help from a journalist and her previous prison inmate) begins to hunt down the truth. Can she find it in the web of lies that surrounds her?
This is Jenny Blackhurst’s debut novel and she hasn’t half burst her way onto the crime fiction scene. Her writing style is very fluid, sharp and clear keeping you gripped from the very first page. Loads of twists and turns and hints of information and characters dropped in at just the right time. So many underlying secrets that you can’t tell who is a goodie and who is a baddie.
Psychological thriller huge genre with similar stories out there yet this still stands out very much on its own as a great storyline and excellent writing. If you liked Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson style of suspense writing then I think you will enjoy this novel.
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Wow! Dazzling Debut Novel. Can’t wait to read more from this author.

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