Book Review: Truth or Dare by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

Truth or Dare
A Helen Grace Thriller #10
M.J. Arlidge
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., November 2021
An Hachette UK Company
ISBN 978-1-4091-8846-9
Trade Paperback  (CA)

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is back in another thrilling and hard to put down read. A rash of random crimes; an arson at the docks, a car jacking gone wrong, a murder in a park, all happening within days of each other are tying Inspector Grace and her team in knots. The powers that be are breathing down her neck, pushing for results, but little progress is being made.

Helen feels defensive and tries to reassure her bosses that her team are working hard…. but in truth she’s at a loss. On top of this Detective Sergeant Joseph Hudson, an officer with whom she had an affair when he first joined the team, seems to be determined to dole out some payback after she ends their relationship. He has been undermining and questioning her every move on her handling of the spate of puzzling crimes and intent on following an unsubstantiated lead of his own, ignoring her orders and creating tension within her team.

Helen has a strong feeling that the crimes are connected…in some bizarre way. But while acknowledging this as merely a hunch, and totally off the charts, she trusts her instincts.

Slowly but surely she starts to see a pattern emerging. However, Hudson goes behind her back to push his own investigation and suggests to the bosses that Helen is losing it and should be removed from the case.

Her confidence has taken a hit and her team continue to struggle, but it’s fascinating to watch as she deals with the ambitious and spiteful colleague intent on replacing her, while she also unearths solid facts to prove she is indeed on the right track.

The plot while rather bizarre is very believable with an ending that will leave you breathless! Yes, Detective Inspector Helen Grace is often unorthodox in her methods to uncover the truth… but she takes us on one heck of a ride.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.

Book Review: Murder at St. Margaret by Lynn Morrison @NomadMomDiary @mktgchair @AnAudiobookworm

 

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Author: Lynn Morrison
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Series: Oxford Key Mysteries, Book 1
Released: Sep. 27, 2021
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery

 

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“Grief can change us… rewire our brains and shift the way we look at the world…”

A dead chef. A ruined gala. And the ghosts didn’t see a thing.

As Oxford’s new Head of Ceremonies, Natalie Payne’s first task is to organize St Margaret’s autumn gala. However, her plans are dashed when she finds their famed chef dead in the kitchen.

And then a centuries-old cat informs Nat she has her own magical legacy…and responsibilities. A murder in the halls is a sure sign that something has gone wrong with Oxford’s magical protections.

Now Nat has to solve the murder, find a new chef for the gala, and figure out why Oxford’s magical defenses are down. With the help of Oxford’s magical Eternals and some new friends, Nat has a chance.

But can she do it before St Margaret loses its connection to the magic of Oxford?

If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, creatures play, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.

Buy on Audible

Lynn Morrison lives in Oxford, England along with her husband, two daughters and two cats. Born and raised in Mississippi, her wanderlust attitude has led her to live in California, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to the UK. It’s no surprise then that she loves to travel, with a never-ending wish list of destinations to visit.

She is as passionate about reading as she is writing, and can almost always be found with a book in hand. You can find out more about her on her website LynnMorrisonWriter.com.

If you want to chat with her directly, join her Facebook group – Lynn Morrison’s Not a Book Club – where she happily talks about books, life and anything else that crosses her mind.

Website

Narrator Bio

Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her twelve-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka moment, and she’s never looked back. Pearl immersed herself in training and pursued a career in general voice acting but in 2012 she decided to focus her attention to narrating audiobooks in a wide range of genres. It was then that her professional career blossomed. She regularly works directly with indie authors but also narrates for a number of major publishers and has gained lots of recognition in the process including IAAIS awards, a Voice Arts Award nomination and Audiofile Magazine reviews. Pearl’s is comfortable narrating both fiction and non-fiction titles and has been very successful reading British Regency romance, cozy murder mysteries, fantasy/science fiction, children’s literature, the classics, history, biographies and more.

Website

Q&A with Author Lynn Morrison

  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • I wish! Murder at St Margaret was the first cozy mystery I wrote, and at the time, my only thought was about writing a story which would hold together. I could not have imagined how many copies of the book would sell, or even begin to dream of making an audiobook. It wasn’t until the fourth book in the series came out, and I started to see a steady income, that I began to think about making audio versions.
    • Now that I am farther along in my career, I do keep the idea of audio in the back of my mind as I write. I try to cut down on the dialogue tags and introduce more motion and movements instead. But, I think some of that comes along as part of your natural progression as you get better over time.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I didn’t start thinking about producing an audio version of Murder at St Margaret until a year after it was released. By then, I had good information on what other books my readers liked. I looked up those titles on Audible and checked which narrators the authors had chosen. Pearl Hewitt’s name came up again and again. She has an incredible ability to effortlessly switch character voices as she reads, and really brings the story to life in a way only audio can. It was no surprise that listeners love her. I contacted her out of the blue via her website, and lo and behold, she said yes!
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • I put together character bios for each of the main characters, and prepared a 15 minute test script pulling out different excerpts from the book. I specifically chose scenes which were dialogue-heavy so I could hear how she would differentiate between the characters. There were a few smaller characters which I didn’t include in my advance preparation. After reading the book, Pearl came up with suggestions for how their voices should sound – and I have to say that she did a brilliant job of it. She recorded the 15 minute sample and I circulated it to a few fans for feedback. Pearl took on board all their comments and then took care of everything from there. I didn’t have to do anything else until the book was ready to approve in Audible.
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • I pulled from both my own experiences of living in Oxford and being a professor’s wife, along with doing a ton of background research into the colleges themselves when writing this series. Oxford is such a unique city, and the university is full of quirks and traditions which are fascinating to outsiders. I wanted to bring my readers behind the closed doors of the colleges and let them see what life is really like. I haven’t seen any ghosts in Oxford, nor have any of the paintings come to life as I’ve walked past, but my imagination was more than happy to fill in the blanks when it came to dreaming up the magical elements.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Writers talk a lot about the importance of refilling your creative well, and I fully agree with that sentiment. I read a LOT of books each year – 150 or more on average. I need to lose myself in someone else’s story to remember why I write.
    • I also spend a long time thinking about a book idea before I sit down to start a project. I flesh it out in my mind until I am super excited to see the story come to life. I am usually thinking one or two books ahead of whatever project I’m currently doing. This helps me keep up my writing pace – each finish line marks the start of something I’m excited to tackle.
    • One of the funnest parts of being a writer (and one of the weirdest) is seeing your characters take on a life of their own as you write the story. I am a plotter. I write a synopsis and outline before I put the first word onto paper. But no matter how much I prep, there is always a moment where a character will suddenly veer in a new and interesting direction. Wherever that happens, I can only sit back in amazement and see where they lead me. It keeps me guessing, even though I’m the writer.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • I wrote this series in first person, present tense because I wanted the reader to feel like they are experiencing everything at the same time as my main character is doing so in the story. When put into an audio format, this gives the story a real sense of immediacy. I think it allows the listener to sink deeper into the tale, and feel as though they are sitting in on the conversations and making each discovery along with Natalie and her friends.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • As an author, I want readers to enjoy my story in whatever format is most comfortable for them. That might be a paperback, or an ebook, or the audio version. Arguing over “which format is better” misses the point – the main focus should be on accessibility. The only person who gets a vote on the format is the reader.
    • On a personal note, my younger daughter is dyslexic, and for a long while she hated reading. She has, however, always loved listening to stories. Audiobooks were a natural fit for her.
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • We ate cake! I started a tradition of either baking or buying a cake whenever I finish a book. It gives me something to look forward to when I am elbow deep in edits, and it also reminds my family there is a reward for putting up with my book deadline stress. As I start to get close to the end, we all discuss which cake we want to eat when it comes time to celebrate.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • Don’t stress over the quality of your first draft. I am a strong believer that anything can be fixed in edits – even if that means you have to do a major rewrite. Major rewrites aren’t that bad! The key thing is to get a first draft done so you can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from writing a book. It is an incredible accomplishment – and the warm feelings you get will support you through the editing process. I would also suggest that you start networking with other writers in your genre as soon as you can. Join author groups on Facebook or Discord, or post comments and replies to authors on other social media platforms. The writing community is filled with supportive people who are happy to cheer you on or lend a hand (or be a sympathetic ear). Writing can feel lonely at times, and knowing other writers can make a big difference on dark days.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I am hard at work on the next book! I jump from one project to another, and always have at least one book in progress. At the moment I’m working on two books – one is for the Oxford Key Mysteries and the other is for my Midlife in Raven series.

Review

I love a good mystery and then you throw in a magical cat AND a wyvern (who’s really the cat) AND a few ghosts AND a setting at Oxford…well. I ask you, how could I resist?? Needless to say, I didn’t, and I’m here to tell you this story is packed with charm and appealing characters and a good conundrum to be solved. Nat and her cohorts, Kate and Mathilde, find lots of clues leading to who killed the chef that are frequently red herrings and, of course, the bigger question is what is causing the magic to fail?

Well, actually, the biggest question might be how did Nat not know about her own connection to the magical world, not to mention where did this curmudgeonly cat called H (because he hates his name) come from? But I digress.

All in all, Ms. Morrison’s Murder at St. Margaret was a most satisfying blend of mystery and urban fantasy, enhanced in a delightful way by Ms. Hewitt’s audiobook narration. I really savored the latters intonations and pacing and I think these two ladies together present an awfully enchanting tale. Now, on to book #2, Burglary at Barnard.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Lynn Morrison. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

View the full tour schedule here!

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Book Review: The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves @AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @MinotaurBooks

The Heron’s Cry
The Two Rivers Series #2
Ann Cleeves
Macmillan, September 2021 (CA)
ISBN 978-1-5098-8967-9
Trade Paperback
Minotaur Books, September 2021 (US)
ISBN 978-1-250-20447-9
Hardcover

This is the second book in a new series by Ann Cleeves known for two popular series, both picked up for Television viewing; Vera with DI Vera Stanhope and Shetland with DI Jimmy Perez. This new series is set in North Devon in an area off Bideford Bay where DI Matthew Venn grew up and where the first book, The Long Call, is debuting on television.

In this novel Matthew and his team are called to crime scene at the home of a group of artists. Dr. Nigel Yeo has been murdered, the victim of a stabbing. His daughter Eve is one of the artists. She works with glass and was expecting her father that day to help her with her work but instead she finds his dead body stabbed with a shard of glass from one of her broken pieces.

Nigel Yeo is well known in the area and seems to be the most unlikely person to be a victim of such a horrible crime. Devastated by the discovery of her father and having lost her mother not that long ago she can think of no reason for someone to kill him. Eve is also a friend of Matthew’s husband Jonathan, who runs the local Community Center, and Matthew knows he’ll have to tread carefully in this investigation, sensitive to how it affects the close knit community.

Matthew and Detective Jen Rafferty set out to interview everyone Dr. Yeo has had contact with in the past few months. Dr. Yeo had recently retired and has taken on a few new challenges including looking into the suicide death of a young man with mental issues.

When another body is found, killed in the same way as Dr. Yeo, it would appear someone is trying to point the finger at his daughter, Eve. Matthew and his team are frustrated as they attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding these murders before more deaths occur. Who is lying? Who would gain from these deaths?

This second Matthew Venn mystery is complex and intriguing. The community where he lives with his husband is well known to the author and comes across as a character in and of itself.

Ann Cleeves writes an interesting and enjoyable tale here and with each book the reader becomes more involved with these characters and I for one look forward to another entry, hopefully not in the too distant future.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, October 2021.

Book Review: Séances Are for Suckers by Tamara Berry @Tamara_Morgan @KensingtonBooks

Séances are for Suckers
An Eleanor Wilde Mystery #1
Tamara Berry
Kensington Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-1496719621
Hardcover

Ellie Wilde doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as her alter ego, Madame Eleanor, she hunts ghosts for a living. Ellie is a triplet, she has a brother William, an elementary school teacher, and a sister Winnie, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident that killed their mother. The money Ellie makes pays for her sister’s nursing home care.

Ellie’s not a con artist. The ghosts she investigates usually turn out to be mice in the walls or resentful teenagers hiding objects from their new stepparents. Her clients are satisfied and the “ghosts” disappear.

When the rich and handsome Nicolas Hartford III flies her to his ancestral estate in England, he tells her that he does not believe in ghosts, or her ghost hunting skills. But his grandmother believes that a ghost named Xavier is haunting the place, and he wants Ellie to put on a show to convince his grandmother that the ghost is gone.

The food and accommodations at the estate are less than what Ellie expected, in fact, they are disappointing, but she is enjoying her adventure with the family and the folks in the village. But an actual dead body appears, and then disappears from Castle Hartford, and Ellie discovers there is a sinister plot unfolding.

A cozy mystery, with dashes of romance and paranormal, this will appeal to readers of Kyra Davis and Victoria Laurie.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2021.

Book Review: The Art of Betrayal by Connie Berry @conniecberry @crookedlanebks

The Art of Betrayal
A Kate Hamilton Mystery #3
Connie Berry
Crooked Lane Books, June 2021
ISBN 978-1-64385-594-3
Hardcover

Here’s a long, carefully constructed mystery that becomes more and more involving as it develops. By the time readers reach the high level action two-thirds along, the narrative has a firm grip. The questions raised beg to be answered and the relationships, particularly between the two principals, Tom and Kate, our narrator, will not let us go.

Kate Hamilton, American antiques dealer is in Suffolk, enjoying time with her new love, Detective Inspector, Tom Mallory. While he works, Kate spends time helping out in a local antique shop. When an older woman brings her a startlingly important and valuable piece of Chinese ceramic, Kate’s instincts shift abruptly to high alert.

Murder, connected to a local spring fair and to events almost twenty years in the past, rise, tangle and provide both answers and murky fog. Both Kate and Tom are soon mired in the increasingly complex case. Who is the old woman? Why was she murdered? What, if anything, does an obscure ancient Anglo-Saxon phrase have to do with the case, and why does a white lotus petal appear on the floor of the breached Antique shop?

The number of interesting and useful characters are very well managed, the pace develops slowly to a surprisingly tense climax and the author’s handling of many details is professional, accurate and satisfying. Betrayals occur in many large and small contexts in the lives of the characters, all precisely handled and satisfying. An outstanding, well-designed mystery is properly resolved and leaves the reader with pleasure at recognition of having experienced a fine piece of literature and a cracking good mystery.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: All Fall Down by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

All Fall Down
A Helen Grace Thriller #9
M.J. Arlidge
Orion Fiction, June 2021
ISBN 978-1-4091-8842-1 (CA)
Paperback
Orion, June 2020
ISBN 978-1409188407 (US)
Hardcover

I’ve been a fan of this author since 2014 when Eeny Meeny, the first in this bestselling British series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace, was published.

All Fall Down, the 9th entry in the series set in the coastal town of Southampton, has been described as Chilling, Mesmerizing and Gripping, descriptions I’m hard pressed to disagree with.

Eight years ago a group of five teenagers from a local high-school, taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh challenge, were tortured physically and mentally by Daniel King, a man who held them captive in an isolated house.  Four of them escaped but the fifth was murdered by King, who set fire to his house and fled.  He was never found or brought to justice.

Now, after receiving a frightening phone call telling him he has one hour left to live, Justin Lanning, one of the four survivors of that torturous ordeal, is found murdered. It isn’t long before D.I. Grace and her squad of detectives start to wonder if King is back and his plans are to kill the remaining survivors.

As the Police try to warn the other survivors, the perpetrator appears to be one step ahead.  D.I. Grace’s frustrations grow as her superiors, pushing for a quick result, question her decisions.  The killer continues to challenge the detectives, one of whom has become Helen’s lover.  He’s ambitious and reckless and Helen begins to wonder if she’s made an error in judgement. This baffling case however is her priority.  But will she figure out the truth before more lives are lost?

D.I. Grace is a strong woman you quickly come to admire.  She’s multi-faceted, something of a loner, who would like nothing better that to have a solid relationship, a man in her life.  Over the previous books she’s had her share of self-doubt, and recriminations, but she’s fought hard to be where she is and I look forward to spending time with D.I. Grace and her team with each new novel.

Next up for D.I. Grace is Truth or Dare.   I can’t wait!

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, August 2021.

Book Review: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden by Janet Todd @Jan_Todd

Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Janet Todd
Fentum Press, September 2021
ISBN 978-1-909572-270
Trade Paperback

Fran is a retired professor of English literature, living in a cottage in Norfolk, and considering what to do next. Will she write a memoir or travel? Fran is joined by the ever present ghost of Jane Austen, who feels she must comment on everything from Fran’s teaching methods, to gardening, family matters, and relationships. Fran’s friends—Annie, Rachel, Thomas, and Tamsin—decide to take a trip to Wales and Venice to visit places of importance to the poet Percey Bysshe Shelley. Of course, the ghost of Jane Austen is along for the ride.

I don’t know enough about the life of Shelley and English literature to understand all the witticisms that were in this book. Even with watching a lot of BBC America, I didn’t get the references to contemporary British culture. Readers with a lot of knowledge of poetry, literature, and life at the British universities would appreciate this book more than I did.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2021.